Quick Bit: The Tour de France 2022 is well underway but what do the riders eat during the gruelling weeks of cycling? What are the support cars there for and what to they do if they need the toilet? Here’s all those questions answered.

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The 2022 Tour de France is underway and for fans watching on around the world, their thoughts tend to come back to two things.

Why and how?

Why on earth would you want to put your body through all that? Chalking up marathon levels of output each day, up and down huge mountains and sprinting for points and the finish line.

As a challenge of physical and mental endurance, Le Tour is more or less unparalleled in elite sport.

However, there are more practical questions that provoke a bit of head-scratching.

What are all those cars for? What do the riders do for food during the race? And, most importantly, what happens when nature calls?

Here at The Sporting News, we’ve put together a few of the answers.

What do support cars do at the Tour de France?

The purpose of all those Skodas driving around is not to mock the poor saps having to go the same distance on bikes. Well, perhaps with the possible exception of the official race VIP hospitality programme cars.

Those account for a small number of the 200-plus feed of Skoda cars supplied to the race, with the automobile manufacturer a long-time partner of Le Tour. These are split into a few categories.

Race director’s car

If you don’t see it coming in its signature red velvet shade, you’ll certainly hear it. The race director’s car leads the peloton and boasts its signature modified honking horn to greet fans and clear the roads as the race progresses.

There’s also a fridge in the car and champagne flute holders for when the director has special guests to entertain, the most prestigious of whom tends to be the President of France.

However, it’s not all expensive booze and cool sound effects, the director also has a job to do. Current incumbent Christian Prudhomme has a retractable panoramic sunroof from which he can observe and evaluate the race and dish out flag commands, such as the white kilometre zero flag to launch a stage.

The director’s car is effectively a mobile command centre, kitted out with a radio console that allows them to communicate with the other eight marshalls cars that are stationed throughout the convoy, along with the individual teams.

Neutral support cars

Usually found at the back of the field and now in a distinctive shade of blue on account of a sponsorship with Japanese competent company Shimano, neutral support cars are ready to swoop in and assist any rider marooned without their own team for company.

With spare tyres, chains, crank sets and whole bicycles, they’re essentially an emergency mobile bike shop.

One neutral support car remains nearby to the race director’s car with three bikes specially adjusted to the specifications of the three leading riders in the general classification, should they run into trouble.

However, more often than not, star riders are able to fall back on a team at their beck and call.

Team support cars

From replacement bikes and parts to first aid, refreshments and anything in between, team support cars are vital to all riders bidding for glory. Put simply, you’re not completing Le Tour without them.

Team cars are assigned a rank depending on where their leading cyclist is in the general classification and are only allowed to break rank with the permission of the race director.

Even if everything is running smoothly on the bike, riders have a very good reason for keeping their team support cars close by.

MORE: Doping at the Tour de France: From amphetamines to Armstrong, the scandals that have rocked cycling’s premier road race

What do riders eat during the Tour de France?

You know how it goes when you head for a Sunday cycle with your friends. Stop off at halfway at a nice cafe for a decent breakfast with bacon, eggs and whatever else you fancy. Then maybe a cake and a coffee as you trundle home.

Naturally, the nutritional considerations for Tour de France riders are somewhat more refined. That’s not to say they don’t have to take plenty on board, with anything from 4,000 calories on the day of a flat stage to 9,000 for the most punishing mountain stages.

Breakfast is obviously a very important building block for all of this, but it goes without saying that riders cannot take on all of their calorific requirements before hopping in the saddle and collapsing in a heap of indigestion.

Regular replenishment throughout the stage is required. Food that’s easy to handle and consume, while having nutritional benefits is key. Small rolls with jam, rice cakes and energy bars are all staples. Think of it as a finger buffet for toddlers, just for grown-ups in excruciating pain.

Then there are caffeinated gels (please do not give these to your toddler). They are essential and provide the bulk of calories once the pace of a stage increases, at which point it’s tough to chew and swallow solid food.

Caffeine gel is also deployed strategically, around 30 to 45 minutes before a rider might need to put in a big push. Competitors will keep gels and bars in their jersey pockets, but the team will also need to keep them in steady supply, along with water and energy drinks.

Without putting too fine a point on things, all this consumed food and drink has to go somewhere…

How do riders go to the toilet at the Tour de France?

Wout van Aert was the early pace-setter in this year’s Tour de France and extended his lead in the yellow jersey with a stunning stage four win.

It’s something of a contrast with the same stage last year, when he was fined 200 Swiss francs for “urinating in public”.

That isn’t to say that stopping for a pee is banned, more that there’s a time and a place. Indeed, there is a Grand Tour tradition that determines the general classification leader can decide when riders might take a collective comfort break.

It’s an unwritten rule that anyone still in the saddle while their rivals lighten the load must not attack, but seven-time points jersey winner at Le Tour Peter Sagan has noticed some breaking with convention.

“I first noticed it when as a leader in a stage race I stopped to pee. They kept on attacking, while that used to be a moment of rest in the peloton,” Sagan told Het Nieuwsblad in a grumble about “young riders” who were creating “total anarchy”.

“The bathroom break just doesn’t exist anymore. You used to have the fixed time to stop to pee together.”

Kids today, eh Peter? No respect.

There are a couple of alternatives that we probably don’t need to spell out, but Sagan isn’t a fan of one of those either, so we’ll leave him to do the honours.

“Now everyone is peeing from their bicycle,” he observed. “I then ask: is that normal? I understand if you ride the final of say [one-day classics] the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. But at a dead-end race? You don’t lose anything by stopping for a while. And they don’t even bother going to the edge of the road.

“No names, but they just p*** in the middle of the pack. Everyone pees on everyone. Disgusting. And if you say something about it, you are supposedly arrogant, because you can’t decide what someone else should do.”

Sagan has enjoyed memorable jousts for the points jersey with Mark Cavendish over the years, apparently in varying levels of disgust.

His British rival is an advocate of sorts for another method which, frankly makes our earlier comparisons between elite road cyclists and toddlers feel a little more apt.

“In races that are soaking wet and freezing cold, I like to p*** myself,” Cavendish told GQ. “It warms me up for a split second. You get warm and you don’t have to fuss around.”

Nice and warm, no fuss… what’s not to like? Well, a lot.

We’ll happily take advice from the man who has won the joint-most Tour stages of all time on a host of topics, but you’re on your own with this one, Cav.

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