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.
RBR 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.
A typical musette bag is a shoulder bag with a long strap and a large main compartment filled with everything a cyclist might need to eat. Racers reach inside the musette bag and take out what they need and transfer the food and drinks into their pockets and bottle cages, and then discard the bag itself. It’s an easy way to supply the cyclist with a lot of food and drink in one go.
The bag is simple with a big strap so that it can easily be handed off by someone standing on the side of the road to the rider. But accidents still happen sometimes and cyclists crash when they get tangled up in a bag or it hits their handlebars and causes them to lose control. Most pros are very used to grabbing them however, so this is fortunately rare.
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.