Wash Your Hands

“What the pros do” is always a source of interest to cycling fans so here’s a glimpse into an unreported but widely-used technique that is an essential part of the job of a pro cyclist: hand washing. Sorry if you were expecting the latest on recovery products or power-training because, yes this is banal but it’s essential and as you’ll see below, some go to extremes to avoid those germs. Hygiene is more than marginal gain. Catch a cold and you can ruin your season.

Alcohol based hand sanitizer gels are everywhere including the team bus, it seems you cannot walk up the steps of many a team bus without passing a large dispenser ready to pump out alcohol gel.

Team Sky are famous for publicising every detail and they’re big on hand washing and it’s not just the riders but mechanics and others too. It makes sense because a mechanic will touch a bike which is then touched by the rider. I recall a conversation where a new joiner to the team explained he was even given a lesson on hand hygiene and the importance of washing your thumbs, apparently many overlook this – 20% of your digits.

Leukemans wears gloves… for warmth or to avoid trouble when shaking hands?

Nieuwsblad.be recently reported that Björn Leukemans is sleeping in a separate bed to his girlfriend during the spring classics season because he’s so worried about picking up germs. It raises the question of how far a rider should go to achieve hygiene and the intrusion in brings into family life. A peck on the cheek? Sorry, that’s risky. Are contact surfaces in the household cleaned, from doorhandles to light switches? As you can imagine it’s easy to start wasting energy and even getting paranoid, to see the world as one giant threat to the immune system. Makes you wonder what riders with kids would do.

Going viral
The Leukemans household is instructive for more than life as a couple. There are models to track the spread of a virus but you’re probably familiar with the concept of something “going viral” on the internet. In simple terms a real virus spreads like wildfire, or exponentially if you’re mathematically inclined. Once one person on a team gets a cold then it can spread to others, once two people get the virus then it spreads faster. It just takes one mechanic to get the snotteren before others on the team quickly fall ill.

But there’s only so far you can go with personal hygiene. You might be pedalling in the peloton only for someone ahead of you to clear their nose and suddenly an atomised viral cloud engulfs you. The same for riding down a farm track on a wet day that’s oozing bovine slurry. The same for air travel and other confined spaces; maybe riders should use face masks which are popular in Japan?

It’s a small and might seem banal but germs worry riders and managers. Shaking hands makes some nervous. Some riders will react faster to a sneeze than the squeal of brakes. As such this is more more than a marginal gain. Forget aero clothing or altitude tents because one cold virus can ruin weeks of work.

Handwash sign via MyDoorSign.com

55 thoughts on “Wash Your Hands”

  1. Aren’t the masks in Japan used by people who have colds to stop passing it on, not the other way round.

    I remember Cuddly Bob Stapleton was also big on the hand hygiene thing and it did make a difference with less illness on High Horse

  2. It makes sense that any endurance sport and it’s training regime would compromise the immune system that’s working so hard on recovery. Maybe a similar or parallel phenomenon to the prevalence of female children born to professional cyclists?

  3. I thought this was going to be an article about the omertà. The way sponsors and managers turn their backs and wash their hands of a dirty rider!

  4. Although it sounds counter intuitive, to have a healthy immune system a person needs to be exposed to germs. The body builds up immunity to specific germs by being exposed to small quantities of them.

  5. Very timely, I catch the train to work some days. I’m sitting in a carriage full of people sneezing, coughing and spluttering right now. I know what’s coming for me over the next few days 🙁

  6. Oh please! All this and then 200 guys get on their bikes and ride away in a huge pack, each one sneezing, coughing, spitting and who-knows-what-else, creating a giant fog of gawd-knows-what. I’m amazed that so few of these guys ARE sick at any given time when you consider their environment. There are enough pros with strange phobias, do we need to create a whole peloton of germ-o-phobes now? Perhaps they can just go back to abstaining from sex before a big race…does Sky’s “marginal gains” regime require that? 🙂

  7. Bjorn Leukemans sounds like a dick. Still, if it helps him to yet another 7th placing then maybe it’s worth treating his missus like a second-class citizen? #marginalgains #twat

    • Ha! I love it.
      Poor Bjorn’s girlfriend having to sleep in another room, in a bed, in a house, in a first world economy where she is able to determine what is or is not acceptable for herself. Amazing!
      Wait, there’s more.
      Dastardly Bjorn who is such a rubbish athlete he has to avoid germs to be a consistent top ten rider in one day races. Scoundrel!
      Funny you mention the marginal gains. If he was on that program it would be podiums all season long though.

  8. The days stage starts, comfort break 20km in, feed bags soon after and oh dear, I didn’t have chance to wash my hands before lunch! Never mind, nobody else has either.

  9. I remember meeting Thor Hushovd at the Tour of Britain in 2011, he politely declined to shake hands because he’d just washed them. At the time I thought it was just one of his quirks, but when I heard about the hand washing courses some Pro Teams utilise the penny dropped. Hushovd still gave me a fist bump though (through his cycling glove)

    • and probably wiped his nose on his glove a couple of minutes later as he rolled to / from the bus / start / finish line …

      Mind you any of us children know they bring a truckload of “new” stuff into the house every day.

      Like all things a balance between basic hygiene, fatiguing themselves totally to get fit and having an immune system that can cope with Belgian toothpaste as they run through the spring classics!

      Amazing that the human body can take such a pummelling yet one small virus at the wrong time & a season ruined

  10. Aside from the flu virus, why are riders always sufferinf from the stomach virus? So much so that they even drop out of races. Is this some form of sabotage?

    • The apologist’s theory is that the extreme physical efforts of professional cycling put a strain on the body, including the GI tract. A high daily caloric intake doesn’t help either.

      The cynic’s theory is that a stomach bug, back injury, knee problem, saddle sore, etc. is a convenient excuse for a doping snafu, such as an adverse reaction to a banned medical procedure such as a blood transfusion, or as an excuse to pull out of competition (not wanting to risk testing positive). Stomach bugs are particularly convenient because they tend to clear up within 24-48 hours so you can claim a stomach bug on Monday and drop the peloton 2 days later.

  11. Yeah, if there were problems with tainted food or unclean food preppers you’d probably see whole swaths of riders being sick rather than the the one. As for those face masks, usually made of cotton, they do little in terms of keeping virus germs from getting in because germs are microscopic, much smaller than the gaps between the fabric weave, but they do decrease the outspray spewing out of a sick sneeze or cough.

  12. There may be something in the theory of being exposed to as much as you can. Jens Voight has 6 kids and I don’t recall him missing many races due to illness. But then again the germs probably wear a mask to protect themselves from Jens.

    • Safe food? You mean to avoid the old “bad fish” excuse…even at hotel restaurants that didn’t have any fish on the menu? I think the chef idea started with the Italian teams who couldn’t stomach the awful French food, so instead boiled up some pasta in the team camper and used jarred sauce on it (with their own Parmigiano-Reggiano of course!) eventually deciding to bring someone who knew how to cook and installing him in the hotel kitchen while they were there. I’ve heard the French didn’t take too kindly to this, but finally the Tour organization brought some Italian chefs in to attempt to show their French counterparts how to properly cook the pasta. Sounds easy, but if you’ve eaten any pasta in France (at least back-in-the-day) you know they cook it to death! Never understood how a country that makes some of the best bread in the world, can’t seem to cook pasta to save their lives!

  13. 4 years ago, Dutch speedskater Stefan Groothuis got a cold because his son took back home a cold from the child day care center, Olympics ruined. This year their kids stayed at home the last month before the Olympics……..and look at him, he won a gold medal where he was a big favorite also four years ago.

  14. maybe this has something to do with the great unmentionable in cycling – weight loss. Having to exist
    with unnaturally low levels of body fat must play havoc with the immune system (as well as with your head)… As someone above said already, I’m also surprised there aren’t a lot more ‘virus’ type absentees from races…

  15. Wasn’t Leukemans the guy who claimed he had a high testosterone during OOC-testing because he was having sex with his girlfriend?

    The puzzle pieces don’t really match.

  16. We have all rode through polluted water and known that we are at risk from the wheel spray.

    Curious if Sky dispenses Cipro or like broad spectrum antiBiotic as a prophylactically during stage races?The new PED’s will be antibiotics.

  17. I understand that one cause of stomach bugs and other illnesses are riders drinking from bottles contaminated with “droppings” from animals as they pass through rural country side. I’ve heard this is particularly bad in a race like Roubaix, which is all farm country and where there is a lot of dust to kick up. Even if it doesn’t get into riders’ noses or mouths, the bottles pick up a lot.

    I suppose one remedy is to squirt out a little before they drink. Some bottle mfgs have designed flip covers that cover the spout.

  18. Hand washing is something that everyone should be doing, and doctors will tell you as much. It’s a simple way to reduce transmission of pathogenic diseases, especially diseases like the flu. It’s not just for your own good that you should be hand washing, it’s also for the good of young children and people with depressed immune systems (diabetics, transplant patients, the elderly……). None of this should come as a surprise unless you lack all common sense, haven’t had any education, or are just irretrievably dumb.

    • It’s not so much that professional cycling teams have “discovered” handwashing, more the insistence on it. I suspect outside of a surgery it’s hard to find a workplace where the practice has become so widespread and regular.

      • Surprised they don’t get a little pack of wet wipes in their musettes, as I doubt many riders “insist” on washing their hands after each roadside comfort break.

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