It's almost eight o'clock in the evening when Mark Renshaw makes his way down the stairs from his hotel suite and into the masseur's room. It's been a long, tough stage, fraught with crashes, and even though his teammate and captain Mark Cavendish has won the stage into Cap Fréhel, Renshaw isn't entirely happy.
"I think we're eating too early," he tells the team doctor as the masseur goes to work on thighs.
Renshaw had been dispersed within the final kilometres of the stage, unable to help Cavendish pick his way through the field as he normally does so well.
"The first week has been full of crashes and today was really tough. I had nothing left at the end and I think it's because of eating too soon and the fact that the stage was so late," he tells Cyclingnews. "But as soon as I get on the bus I try and start my protocol for recovery."
Outside the massage room HTC-Highroad's chief doctor Helge Riepenhof flicks through his notes, eager to visit all nine riders before dinner.
"I always say that recovery these days in a stage race like this is more important than the race by itself. The guy who recovers best will be the winner of the Tour de France for sure, so that's why we put a lot of effort into the whole recovery process," he says.
Back in his room before dinner, Renshaw is on his own bed and surfing the web for a replay of today's stage finish. With his compression tights on to aid his recovering muscles, and a drink by his bed, he's used to the tedium of stage racing. His suitcase illustrates it. There are no civvies, just layer upon layer of Lycra mixed in with the odd pair of socks, kit bag and laptop case.
"We get a case that stays on the bus for when we get to Paris. It's got one change of clothes in it for when I meet my wife, but that's pretty much it," he says before turning his attention back to Youtube.
The bedroom is modest to say the least. His roommate Matthew Goss is already at dinner, leaving Renshaw alone to catch up with events from the real world, but it's not long before there's a knock at the door and Mark Cavendish enters.
The two share a quiet word, an embrace for helping towards the stage win, before it's the Manxman's time to hit the treatment room. Say what you want about the glamorous life of professional sportsmen but this isn't it. The accommodation is bereft of comfort and riders are constantly disturbed by fans creeping up to their hotel doors for a glimpse of their heroes. One takes it too far though, knocking on one rider's door and disturbing his sleep.
Helge Riepenhof spares Cyclingnews a moment from his rounds once Renshaw and his teammates have made it to the dinner table, where they'll consume a meal tailored to their needs of recovery and preparation for tomorrow's race.
"For the riders it's something like a really rough protocol they have to go through, and it starts straight away with the first drink they get at the finish line. From there on we have different types of nutrition protocols they have to follow, and other stuff as well, like some cold plunges and we have different stretching things we do with them. And of course the massage which is something to protect the muscles. And in between we weigh them a couple of times during the day to see that their fluid intake is good and we measure the urine density and pH also to make sure fluid intake is alright for this day to be ready for the next day."
Renshaw's recovery plan will differ to that of a non-sprinter or someone like Tony Martin, HTC's main GC threat.
"Yeah, sprinters and GC riders have different types because their muscles work differently. The biggest difference is the massage. It's totally different because sprinters need to get out the maximum work in a very short time, and for the endurance work with the GC riders it's a kind of softer massage in getting the riders over the days.
"The temperature and the cold plunges are also a bit different for sprinters because the amount of lactic acid produced after sprint is much higher than in a GC rider. So there's always little things in general they do the same and other things are different."
There will be no cold plunges today though, the weather has been miserable and the apparatus works best after long hot stages.
"It's a bath with circulated water and in the end it's only the pressure from the water and cold temperature which brings the soft tissue in the legs and the lower body… it's like I said a different recovery process. What's going to happen there is you enhance the metabolism and you reduce the lactic acid and you stop the little bruises the little bleeding.
"Actually today was a problem because our hotel was pretty far away from the start and we had to be early in the start because the protocol in the Tour says this.
"What we normally try to do is have a full, good breakfast there hours before the start and then continuous snacking until the start. He had his breakfast actually closer to five hours before the start, which is definitely too late, so we tried to move it to this three-hour line as good as possible.
"But because of organisational stuff it's not easy to do this, so we already talked about this and we will change this for tomorrow. So the plan is to change his diet a bit, we will get a few different things in this early breakfast and during this snacking time he will eat a few more calories."
With dinner dispersed, the riders and staff gather in the cramped lobby for a toast. One suspects that the real back slapping and praise has been handed out at the riders' own private dinner but with a stage win comes the obligatory press invasion and the riders are summoned to toast Cavendish's win. The man himself is on the water – ever the pro – while Renshaw stands in close proximity.
The toast completed, Cavendish must now make time for live television interviews, while Renshaw, keen to get a decent night's sleep, leaves his glass and heads up to his room.
Tomorrow breakfast will be served later, as per Renshaw's request but for now the priority is sleep. These riders are not just racing on the roads, pitting themselves against each other to be the best, they're doing it off the bike too.
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