Preparing for the biggest race in the world: Le Tour de France


Broadcast to 190 countries throughout the world, all eyes this summer will be on France –Denmark, Belgium, and Switzerland – as the peloton embarks on this year’s edition of La Grande Boucle. Taking on 3,349.8 kilometres, through 39 different host towns and cities, passing through 29 different departments and 9 regions; the Tour de France circus, as it is rather lovingly referred to in the media, is a well-oiled machine with teams, the organisers, local police and much more all working together in unison – taking the race from location to location, all whizzing past in the blink of an eye for those at the side of the road.

However, before any action at the race even begins, it takes a monumental amount of planning and effort to make it to the start line; with everyone in the team contributing towards that in some way or another. We wanted to highlight some of that work and peel back the curtain on what exactly it all takes to prepare for the biggest race in the world; so we sat down with Matt Winston [MW] (Team DSM coach), Narelle Neumann [NN] (Head of Science / Expert Group), Cindy Klomp [CK] (Operations) and Yannick Runhart [YR] (Warehouse Manager) to find out how everything comes together for that first flag drop – with the added spice of a Grand Départ in Denmark.

October 14th 2021, the date of the official Tour de France presentation and the moment that marks the beginning of planning for this year’s race – all but 259 days ago.

NN: “The Tour is a big goal for the year, so already last year in October we’re looking at what our goals are as part of the overall performance plan for the team. This is then foundation that we use for rider selection and our preparations for the Tour. Riders then work towards being in top shape for the Tour many months in advance with all the different aspects of preparation; physical training, high altitude camps, the other races they take part in and the nutrition plans that they’re on.”

CK: “When we have the presentation, we get an insight into what the parcours is like and we can start to look at our staff planning. We look to see if there are big transfers, how are we going to arrange it with the vehicles – all of those types of things – so that already starts months in advance.”

Although each department in the team has their own responsibilities, it takes everyone coming together to help make sure things go smoothly as possible in the lead up to, and at the race.

MW: “The race coaches first work with the operations team on how we get everyone to the race, which in itself is a big puzzle. We also work on preparing the riders in the best way possible so that they come to the race ready to go with all appointments fixed across different departments, and of course do tactical talks ahead of the race with the guys.”

Talking tactics, the varied parcours at the Tour de France with its mixed bag of terrain which this year includes some cobbles, and of course the potential ever changing weather conditions throughout the three weeks – means that the team has to be prepared for anything.

NN: “The coaching group looks at the tactics in detail together to decide the strategy, based on weather conditions day in day out, or key moments on the parcours where we need to be sharp.”

MW: “We start looking at the parcours once the route is announced so we know what stages we can possibly target and who with. We have the responsible coach, who is myself for the Tour, and I will look towards the parcours when setting up the tactics. Then one of the other coaches who will be at the race who normally drives the first car will look in detail at the parcours and give the presentation to the riders in the meeting on what to expect. The riders themselves also look at the route too and know what is coming up on that day, so it’s a real joint effort where there are 11 guys or so that know what to expect on the stage.”

With the tactical plans drawn up, the variety of terrain combined with the Grand Départ in Denmark also means that the team needs to take a lot of materials to the race.

YR: “Our truck as standard has almost 80 different wheel sets equipped with different sizes of wheels and different tyres. Then of course it depends on if there are any stages that require us to take different materials, so for this year and the cobble stage, we have extra wheels and different tyres. We also have two packing moments with one for the first part in Denmark then the next part in France. We have different vehicles and materials for the Grand Depart and the rest of the race so that is also something we have to consider.”

Likewise, it’s not just the different materials that are needed, but different staff groups are needed for the Grand Départ and the race as it returns to France – with a total of roughly 45 Team DSM members (including riders) attending the race at some point.

CK: “With the Grand Départ in Denmark we work with two staff groups, while of course some staff are part of both. That means we then have to arrange everything with the organisers as to who then gets the flight back, who we have to coordinate our own logistics for, and who then joins when the race is back in France. For the staff that do both, some of them have to then drive from Denmark and the organisers split it up so that they get a hotel on the Sunday and then continue their travels on the morning of the rest day. So it’s a lot of planning to make everything there run smoothly!”

MW: “It’s nice to start in different countries, take the race to other places and have fans experience the excitement of a race like the Tour de France. It does give us some challenges for us logistically and more things to think about. I think the positives outweigh any challenges, which to be honest are only logistical, and we have a really good operations team who are sharp on everything and as coaches we can think about that so it doesn’t cause too much of a headache.”

Making sure that everything runs smoothly isn’t always an easy task, but with a great group of staff organising everything, we know that we’re prepared as best as possible for when the riders roll out in Copenhagen tomorrow.