It is spring now, but in some countries the cold is still biting; especially in those areas of Europe that play host to the great Northern Classics. The very classics of cobble, cold and mud. The races that have built the history of cycling and that can only be conquered by means of class, good fortune and great attention to details. Almost unthinkable details actually, things on which only a specialist like Davide Martinelli, the rider of the Team Quick Step Floors team, can shed some light on for us.
“It is fair to say that the racing conditions are quite unique and so it is important to take appropriate precautions – Davide tells us right away – I will give you an example. People believe that the warming cream must only be used over parts of the skin that are exposed. Actually, we use it all over. It is especially important over hands and feet. We use a lighter type under the clothes and a thicker one outside. I recommended this method to some friends of mine who were going to participate in L’Eroica, and they loved it. Wrists and ankles need to be prepared using the thicker cream too. These areas are usually overlooked, but they are often left uncovered by leg and arm warmers”.
Is this trick about the cream something you learned from the Belgians?
“Yes, they taught me that. And not only, of course. For example, I also learned about a type of patches that you stick on your back: 2 behind the shoulders e 2 in what corresponds to the lower abdomen and the side of it, as this is where a lot of blood flows throughout before reaching the legs. Instead, the cream should be avoided on the back: this area is protected from the cold air in any case and if the sun breaks through the clouds then it can be a nightmare ”.
“There are other details to consider too, such as thick tights. Some are made of wool and when it’s really cold I am happy to use them. They are part of the official team kit but they are the same the skiers use. Hands and feet are always critical”.
More in detail, here’s another gem: “I put a 5×10 cm foot warmer inside the shoes and this helps create warmer conditions. Kind of a sauna for the feet, that – thanks to this little help – are ok for a few hours. Then, when you are in the thick of the race, the harsh bit is almost over. You are completely focussed on the race and the problem of being cold becomes secondary”.
Does the machine need special modifications as well?
“The 25mm-wide tubulars should be inflated a couple of bars [approx. 30 psi] less than usual, for sure. From 8 to 6 bar [116 to 87 psi]. It is an effective measure to improve the traction when it’s wet and to better tackle the cobbled sections (and in this case the pressure goes down to 5.5 bar [80 psi] for a 70 kg [11 stones] rider, like Davide). An other element of the bike setup that during the last three years seems to have worked well for us is a small rear mudguard ”.
Other good measures concern instead the nutrition:
“What we often do is keep ready some gels under the shorts, in the bib, somewhere in the abs area. 3 to the right and 3 to the left, just enough to know you have all you need. Another thing to do is to place a couple of energy bars between jersey and windshell. There are special considerations for hydration too. Instead of water, we prefer maltodextrin and very sweet drinks. This type of race puts the body under a lot of pressure and that’s why we try to take in as many calories as possible. We prefer carb drinks instead of electrolyte drinks because in any case the electrolytes lost through sweat are not as much as during the summer races”.
Riding gear is important too; especially when it comes to gloves.
“You definitely need neoprene gloves. Those used by divers are common. 2 mm, 5 mm or 1 cm thick, depending on how easily affected by the cold you are. We are inspired by other sports. The important thing is that sensitivity while braking is maintained. I like the 5 mm thick ones, or even 1 cm if the temperature is as low as 2C”.
Another aspect to consider is how to deal with gloves while racing. “You should not change them when they are wet. I think it is a big mistake, because the water that gets inside is heated up by the body in any case. And changing them during the race is not good at all, it makes your hands turn very cold”.
Another very important detail: “If it stops raining, then it is actually better to change them. I can’t remember who taught me this, but I put this lesson to good use right away. When it is very cold, you should try to make more blood flow towards the extremities, perhaps clapping your hands. The problem is that when the speed is low, you can really get cold. It is when you better try to stay in front of the peloton: those extra 10-15 heart beats will help your body heat up and keep warm. Overtake the group and keep around 120-130 bpm, that won’t get you tired.
Getting cold can be a no-return point. When you are cold, it’s game over: you cannot brake or change gear”.
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