Question: Watching the Tour de France this year, I noticed riders picking up little bags with a shoulder strap at certain points on the course. The commentator said this happened in the “feed zone.” I know the bags contain food and drinks, but what exactly are the pros using? — Patsy C.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: It depends a lot on each team’s sponsors. If a team is sponsored by an energy bar or sports drink company, those products will be in the bag.
But generically, the little bags (traditionally called “musettes” by the French and “bonk bags” by the Brits) contain food and fluids in the form of an energy bar or two, a couple of gel packs and a bottle of sports drink.
Early in a long race or in cooler weather, riders used to eat small sandwiches called panini. These were made with soft white crustless bread , smeared with jam and cream cheese. Some riders liked a slice of ham in there, too. Because modern energy bars are effective (and less messy to handle), panini has fallen out of favor on some teams.
That said, most pro teams today have their own team chef that prepares a variety of nutritious offerings in addition to the standard pre-packaged fare.
Sometimes riders will have special requests — cookies, a Coke or other drink with caffeine, maybe some ibuprofen if they’ve crashed or have mild tendonitis.
In the old days, team helpers used to hand up a special bottle in the closing miles of the race. Called the “atom bottle,” this was a secret formula to give riders a kick for the finish. It often contained strong coffee or espresso, some sort of alcohol and (it’s rumored) amphetamine. Owing to modern drug testing, this mixture is thankfully obsolete.