That’s an old cycling adage, which Rigoberto Urán lives by.
“The main thing at the Tour de France is sleeping well and recovering every night. The nights are very important. I always sleep eight hours,” Rigo says.
Day in and day out for three straight weeks, Rigo and his teammates push themselves close to their breaking points during the Tour. To climb away from the best on a crucial mountain stage or win out of a break takes more than fitness, will, and nerves. Every stage of the Tour de France is a test of how they have recovered from their earlier efforts.
Our team goes to great lengths to make sure that our riders recover well. Massage, nutrition, ice baths, meal timing, meditation—our high-performance staff pore over the latest science and consider hundreds of factors that might give our racers a better chance to start each day well rested. The most important factor of recovery is the most basic.
“Sleep is the ultimate recovery method. Period,” EF Education-EasyPost team doctor David Hulse says.
"Sleep is the ultimate recovery method. Period."
- Dr. David Hulse
Sleep helps bike racers recover physically and psychologically. Those processes depend on different types of sleep.
Deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, as scientists call it because it occurs when brain activity is most subdued, is when physical repair occurs. Riders’ muscles relax, their heart and respiratory rates decrease, and the hormones that bodies need to rebuild muscles and strengthen immune systems are released. Rigo will try to get several hours of deep sleep per night, so he wakes up every morning strong.
Dream sleep, or REM sleep (rapid-eye movement), is a lighter form of sleep which occurs when the brain is more active and able to process experiences. Dream sleep is essential to performance, too. Tour de France stages require up to six hours of total focus, as riders have to make rapid-fire tactical decisions, avoid crashes, and endure great amounts of pain. By the finish, their senses are exhausted. Sleep rejuvenates their minds, so they can be sharp for the next stage.
Sleep consistency is a WHOOP pioneered metric. It looks at how consistent a person's bedtime is compared to the last four days. The average for all WHOOP members is only 67.9%. Higher sleep consistency correlates with better sleep efficiency, more slow-wave sleep, and more REM sleep (both restorative kinds of sleep). We also find sleep consistency to be important in the executive function studies we’ve done: Sleep Consistency + Sleep Need
With so much travel, heat in this year's Tour de France and exhausting days on the bike, Rigo's sleep performance shows very clearly in his sleep data. He's just as professional off the bike as he is on it. Rigo lives for the TDF right now and isn't leaving anything to chance.
For the Tour: Rigo's average sleep consistency is 86.6% with his highest value of 92% on July 13th with eight or more hours of sleep on 41.2% of the Tour de France days so far and only two days where he got less than seven hours of sleep. His average sleep performance is the highest on the team, at 86.1%, a full 5% higher than his next highest teammate and well above the WHOOP benchmark to perform at 85%.
Not only does Rigo have strong consistency, but he has been trending upward throughout the race, rising near 8:35 am every day and falling asleep on average at 11:50 pm, only deviating from his average bedtime by more than 30 minutes once.
Here are Rigo’s top tips for getting a good night's sleep during the Tour de France.
Eat light meals before bed
“The most important thing is to eat less at night. At the Tour de France that’s not always possible because the next day might be 200 kilometres, stages finish late, and you get a massage. Normally, dinner is always at nine o clock, so we eat a meal as soon as we get on the bus, and don’t have to eat too much at night.”
Make sure you spend enough time in bed every night
“At home, I prefer to go to sleep before ten, but here it is different. At the Tour de France, every stage starts at one o'clock or two o'clock in the afternoon, and you need to adapt. This month is a little bit special. Here at the race, I sleep until nine in the morning, though I prefer to go to sleep earlier and wake up at seven or eight, not nine.”
Wear an eye mask
“When I use my eye mask, it’s black out. It doesn’t matter how much light there is in the room.”
Bring your own pillow
“I don’t have many problems with sleeping in so many hotels. You move every day. Every night, you’re in a different hotel. The rooms are never the same. But I have done this for almost twenty years. It is normal now. I take my own cushion from home. Sometimes I arrive tired, but I wake up feeling good.