In recent years, Team Jumbo-Visma has taken big steps towards the top of the professional peloton. Last year, the team achieved a neat fourth place in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. This year, the team has been considerably strengthened and this is one of the reasons why Primož Roglič is now even tipped for the final victory of the Giro d’Italia. This grand tour has three time trials and starts tomorrow with a tough prologue. But what does a time trial day look like for the team and the riders and what is involved? We spoke about this with Mathieu Heijboer, one of the driving forces behind the success of Team Jumbo-Visma.
Big step forward
Heijboer was a professional cyclist in the past and during his sporting career he focused on kinesiology studies, in which he obtained his Master of Science. Since 2016, he has been Head of Performance at Team Jumbo-Visma. At the time, he indicated that they still had a good way to go in the field of time trials to join the top teams. This year, however, the team made a big step forward: during the UAE Tour they won the team time trial in a strong field of competitors and in the Tirreno-Adriatico they narrowly finished second.
Were they surprised by this success? “Certainly! We have made a big leap and of course we wanted that too,” says Heijboer. The success, however, was not hidden in a different approach: according to him this was serious as always, but they had not changed anything. He does have another explanation for the success: contracting Tony Martin. “He is a key figure! He has a lot of experience and can cycle very fast. Because of his way of riding and how he manages the others, he has improved this.”
This has given the team spirit an extra boost. Add to that the excellent form of Roglič (classification winner of the UAE Tour, the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie) and you understand why the team is confidently heading towards the Giro. The Dutch team uses the Tacx NEO Smart for warming up at both time trials and stages where it is immediately full course. We asked Heijboer what such a day would look like and he gave us a look behind the scenes at Team Jumbo-Visma.
A day at the office during a time trial
Heijboer is usually present during time trials of the grand tours. In the morning of a time trial, he goes early to the course for an extra exploration. “The reason for this is that they’ve then put the fences on the course,” said Heijboer. “That gives it a different look. For example, you suddenly have to take a different turn on a bend.” If the team stays in a hotel that is a little further from the start, then they are already heading with the riders to the course as well. They stay there for the rest of the day. When the hotel is close to the track, the riders will stay in the hotel until they are expected to do something.
Heijboer also creates the warm-up program and the pacing plan for the time trial. This is discussed in advance with the riders. During the warm-up itself he has little contact with the riders. “I don’t want to disturb them in their concentration. I am of course close to the riders and available if they have a question. I also try to see the television footage from the other riders. If, for example, many riders have problems in a certain corner then I can pass that on to our riders.” Just before the start, there is still a moment for him to speak to the riders. “I sometimes mention the key points of our strategy, but that really depends on the rider. Some like to hear this, others don’t and would rather be left alone.”
For the riders, a time trial day looks roughly as follows: in the morning they cycle for 45 minutes to an hour at a leisurely pace. Afterwards they will take a look at the course. If they have not seen the course yet, they will perform their morning training on the course itself. Then they eat a good lunch 3.5 hours before their start time. They all eat at a different time because of the different start times. An hour to 1.5 hours before the start, they go to the team bus and half an hour before the start they start warming up on the Tacx.
Ten minutes before the start of their time trial, they finish the warming-up, dry themselves and prepare everything once more. They place the communication equipment on their body, put in the headphone and put on the helmet. In the meantime, the bike is removed from the Tacx by the mechanic, who also does a final bike check and checks the tire pressure. “This is always a hectic moment because of the rising tension before the start of the race and you have little time left. Stopping earlier with the warm-up before the start is not ideal due to too much cooling of the body and stopping too short before the start is also not pleasant due to an even higher stress factor. You have to find a balance here,” Heijboer said.
The main purpose of a warm-up is to get a rider’s body up to operating temperature so that he can immediately start at full pace. At Team Jumbo-Visma, every rider carries out the standard warm-up protocol of the team, although they can give it their own twist. “Some do a slightly longer warm-up, others a little more intensively or a little shorter at the end. But they all work according to the same blueprint,” says Heijboer. Everyone wants to know the tricks of the trade, but Heijboer answered firmly: “I am not going to give up our protocol, of course, but it is not rocket science either. Let me put it this way: we tick all the zones briefly. They start slowly and then go through all the zones. One zone a bit shorter than the other.”
Of course, one time trial is not the other, so the warm-up varies per time trial in terms of both duration and intensity. “We vary by type of time trial. So we approach a long time trial a bit differently than a short time trial such as a prologue. In that case, we perform a longer warm-up. If there is a long time trial on the program or if we are already a bit further in a grand tour then a little shorter. It also depends on the temperature. When it is warm, we perform a shorter warm-up and when it is colder a longer one. We then vary in particular in the length of the endurance training zone.”
Zones and cadence
The team does not categorize these zones by heart rate but by power output. This is because the heartbeat is flatter during the big rounds because of the fatigue. In the third week, the riders are a lot more tired than in the first. In terms of cadence during the warm-up, the cadence of the time trial is simulated (which also differs per rider). With a climb time trial, they sometimes end with a low cadence. But this depends on the course and the warm-up is adjusted to that cadence.
Warm up for a mountain stage
Apart from the time trials, you also regularly see riders warming up for stages that start straight uphill. When does the team determine whether a warm-up will be done in such a case? “Sometimes you can already see clearly from the profile of a stage whether we are going to choose a warm-up. The competition is already on the bike trainer and you obviously don’t want to be left behind right at the start of such a stage. And sometimes we leave this choice to riders themselves,” said Heijboer. The team uses the same protocol as for a normal time trial, but then varies it in length and intensity. “For example, in the last Tour de France we had a short ride of 64 km; then we use the time trial protocol. You also look at the first climb of a stage. If you expect that it is immediately full course when climbing, then we opt for an intensive warm-up.”
A time trial is of course a completely different discipline than a long race day, but in terms of nutrition this does not matter much for the riders. “They do eat a little earlier so the stomach is empty when they start. After all, they start immediately at high speed and then you don’t want the food to get in the way. In principle, they eat enough before a time trial, but some riders still eat half a banana. Of course, they do ensure that they drink sufficiently and you should think of sports drinks and thirst quenchers.”
The riders receive guidelines from the team when they need to cool their bodies during the warm-up. From 15 to 20 degrees Celsius they are advised to consider a cooling vest, but they can choose this themselves as some need this more than others. When the temperature is even higher, the riders are urgently advised to definitely use a cooling vest. Such a vest is not adjustable and has only one position, but an extra option is to use cooled arm pieces when it is really hot. In addition, in such a case the team can also use ice gels, place extra ice blocks in the neck of the riders and use a fan including a nebulizer. If, on the other hand, it is very cold, which rarely happens, the team ensures that the riders do not get cold in the run-up to the warm-up. On the Tacx, they heat up quickly, so they won’t be bothered by it; otherwise they use warm clothing.
- Time trial bike
Not every rider does his warm-up on the time trial bike with which he starts. Some do this on their normal racing bike. The advantage of this is that it saves time for mechanics: they do not have to remove the time trial bike from the Tacx just before the start and prepare it for the ride. Heijboer prefers that they do use their time trial bike though so that they are already warmed up in the right body position.
- The devil is in the detail
Every second counts during a time trial. So together with their partner AGU, they’ve been updating the time trial suit three times in the past months. All to gain even more time.
- Rest mode
During a grand tour the riders, apart from the rest days, ride great distances almost every day. It is sometimes said that there is a chance that the body will go into rest mode on the day of a time trial. Heijboer sends this story to the realm of allegory: “No, that does not happen in a time trial. Those days are so intense. Sometimes they also perform a fairly solid training in the morning. It is so intensive that they don’t get into rest position.”
- Clogging the nose
During the warm-up you sometimes see riders with crumpled paper in their noses. The paper is equipped with Vicks so that the airways are opened further. According to Heijboer, the effect of this has never been proven and it works more like a placebo.
You also often see riders with headphones on their heads during a warming up. Not everyone uses this, but Heijboer does believe in its usefulness: “The riders get in the right mood with music. In addition, this also has an extra positive effect. Many fans are watching the riders during a warm-up, so in this way they can isolate themselves and focus on the race.”
The time trial itself
The warm-up is of course only part of the main objective of that day: the time trial itself. In addition to all physical preparations, course knowledge is also very important for clocking a fast time. Does every rider know the course by heart? “Not all. For example, if you look at a long time trial, then the riders for whom a good time is not important do not choose for this. But for the top riders this is naturally applies. Weeks before the Giro, Roglič already knows the course of every time trial by heart. He has already ridden them himself and even knows every gearing that he will use. We also make video footage with the car for additional analyses.”
At a time when almost everything is measured and almost all data is available, you would expect the riders to closely monitor their wattage, heart rate and cadence during a time trial. Nothing is less true, says Heijboer: “The top riders sometimes look at their bike computer for their wattage, but they cannot be controlled. Their feeling is the main indicator of a time trial. Course knowledge is of course also important and it is also very crucial that they constantly maintain their concentration. They can’t wander with their thoughts, because they are constantly on the limit. During the ride they must drink enough and have to know at what moment it’s best to take a gel. But in essence, they must be fully focused on their task. The greatest danger lies in inattention.”
During the time trial the riders also get information from the team car. For this, the team has a separate coach card with instructions for each rider. “One rider wants factual information during the trial, the other doesn’t want to hear any split times and another wants full coaching in his ear so that he almost steps off his bike deaf. After all, you want to deliver customized work per rider, also in terms of coaching.”
After such an intensive time trial, a cooling down is very important. Heijboer explains the usefulness of this: “It is especially important that you gradually lower the heart rate, lower the body temperature and remove the lactate acid. This works simply better when you move than when you do nothing. And also mentally they always have to land a little after such a heavy effort.” The team does not have a protocol for the cool-down, but they do want the riders to actively recover on the Tacx for at least fifteen minutes. Mostly this is based on their feeling, but preferably as calmly as possible.
When the time trials are over, the team will analyse the performance of the riders. Among other things, they take a look at the average power output and the mutual results of the riders on the different segments are compared with each other. They look at where time is won and lost. This does not have any influence on the warm-up protocol of the team. “No, this protocol has proven its value. However, if necessary, we can rearrange the next time trial based on this data,” Heijboer concluded.
La Corsa Rosa will start tomorrow and the expectations are high around this team. Can they immediately make the first strike and fulfil their favourite role in the prologue? On behalf of Tacx, we wish Team Jumbo-Visma, as a long-standing loyal partner, a lot of success in this round. Do not miss it!