ASK RIDE… How do pros seem to ride for hours without a nature break?

These guys seem to ride hours in the mountains without anything more than a wee stop.  How is this possible?  Are they physically able to control their bowels to such an extent or do they live on a liquid diet?



This question begs for anecdotes as answers. And so let’s hark back to the 13th stage of the 2003 Tour de France for one such example. Ah yes, the celebrated centenary edition: the year in which Lance Armstrong would equal the victory tally of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. It was the season that Jan Ullrich defected from sanctity of magenta and signed on to be part of Team Coast, a sponsor which promised much but delivered little before Bianchi came to the rescue and became the naming rights supporter of the German superstar’s outfit.

Many aspects of the 2003 Tour de France have been told and retold for it was a great edition but on the day that the future champion Carlos Sastre first won a stage of that race, was an incident that not too many are aware of. It offers an example of what must be done when nature calls… for a “number-two”.

It was a 197.5km stage from Toulouse to the mountain top finish of Ax-3 Domaines in the Pyrenees. Only days before, on the approach to L’Alpe d’Huez, Ullrich was suffering headaches. So determined to prove to his rivals that he was indeed a challenger for the title, he refused to drop behind the peloton and consult the race doctor for fear of showing any sign of weakness. Instead, he sent his loyal domestique Tobias Steinhauser back to collect some medication.

Given that scenario, it was odd that, in stage 13, Ullrich himself would drop behind and talk to Rudy Pevenage who was at the wheel of the Team Bianchi car. That happened at the 100km mark. It seemed bizarre, and I remember reporting it during the live coverage on Unsure of the dialogue that was exchanged, one would assume that he may have had another headache. Wrong. He had pain, but — I would later discover — it was in his guts.

Generally, riders simply manage to cope with the urge to poo. It doesn’t strike too often in a race. There are instances when the only solution is to stop, take care of business, clean up and get back into the bunch as quickly as possible. With bib-and-brace knicks, this process can take a little longer than usual.

Brad McGee once told me an anecdote about a call of nature he couldn’t ignore. Matt Wilson was in his team at the time and the Victorian waited for his team leader and paced him back to the peloton after the business was done. On the way back to the bunch, McGee still had his mits on, but Wilson was riding without gloves. Wilson had taken his mits off, handed them to McGee and they were never seen again. Use your imagination to figure out what the domestique‘s gloves were used for…

During the stage to Mont Ventoux in the 2002 Tour de France, Anthony Morin was part of an escape group of 12 riders that arrived at the base of the final climb together. Moments before the ascent, he quit his effort, darted off the side of the road and into the vineyards… the helicopter camera panned in on him and, thankfully, the TV editors realised what was happening and cut away. But the act in the vineyards was still recorded and, those with a full suite of images (like myself in the office) got to see Morin squat between the vines, before cleaning himself up with some leafs, and remounting his bike and eventually riding to the summit in a grupetto.

Now, back to stage 13 of the 2003 Tour and what the solution to Ullrich’s problem was. Pevenage stated the obvious. You can imagine the exchange:

– Jan, you can’t stop.

– Rudy, I need to poo.

– Jan, you know what you have to do…

With over 90km to go, Ullrich was back in the peloton, but he was given a wide berth by many riders for some time. He had answered nature’s call, conjured “more than a wee” and kept on pedalling throughout the ordeal. With a few bottles of water he did his best to clean himself up without stopping but the stink was still there at Ax-3 Domaines when he finished the stage in second place, 1:01 behind Carlos Sastre and seven seconds ahead of Lance Armstrong.

Philippe Le Gars from L’Equipe was one journalist assigned to follow Ullrich in 2003. He spoke to him at the end of the 13th stage, but admitted, “I wanted to hear what he had to say, but it was one of the quicker interviews I’ve done… he had to get to the team bus, for his sake as well as those around him.”

Stuart, in other words, riders generally control their bowels for the duration of the race, but there are times when nothing can hold in what needs to get out. And so ends this scatology lesson…

Rob Arnold

Rob Arnold is the publisher of RIDE Cycling Review.

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