Train like pro cyclist – learnings from Africa's first Tour de France team


With technology at our fingertips, it's becoming easier to understand how our bodies work on a bike. Discovery is no stranger to using digital tools to track physical activity, and who better to offer insights than professional sportspeople?

Discovery is the official wellness partner of Dimension Data for Qhubeka – the first African cycling team to compete in the Tour de France. In the wake of this year's race, we caught up with the team to learn how they harness technology to drive high performance.

"From on-the-bike performance and training to medical and logistics, we use any and all technology available to us to help us operate more efficiently and give us an edge over our rivals," says Damian Murphy, spokesperson for Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka (DDFQ). In the wake of this year's race, we chatted about how amateurs and enthusiasts can apply the team's approach to their own training at home.

You obviously use tech to measure your riders' performance, but how involved are they in this process? Does tracking themselves affect their psyche?

DDFQ: There are certain performance testing procedures the riders are subject to at certain points in a season. The data from these tests is recorded and analysed, and all the riders have access to their own training and racing data. Our team coaches use the Training Peaks software to help the riders understand their data, to show them where they have improved and to advise them on what they need to work on.

Before a race, the riders can also see what form they are in and compare it to what form they once were in. If the numbers have improved ahead of a race, this obviously boosts the rider's confidence. Knowing they're in better shape than before gives them that assurance and motivation to give the race their all.

Application: Research shows that by setting short-term goals that are realistic and measurable can go a long way in helping you achieve them. Sign up for Vitality Active Rewards to capture your daily physical activity, monitor your progress and keep you motivated to achieve weekly fitness goals.

How do you use technology to adapt training for specific riders?

DDFQ: Our High Performance team analyses all the riders' races and training data. We have data sets ranging back as far as 7 to 8 years for certain riders, which means we have insight into how different riders respond to different training loads and under various conditions. Armed with this knowledge, we can to adjust training programmes and race plans according to what brings the best out of each rider.

Application: Building up a historical track record of your performance under different conditions can help you understand when and how you perform best. Track all your training sessions and earn Vitality points while you're at it by linking your qualifying fitness device to Vitality. Don't yet have a fitness device, or want to upgrade to a better one? Get up to 75% total cash back on a qualifying heart rate fitness device with Device Booster.

Does the team use tech as part of the recovery process?

DDFQ: Absolutely. The coaching staff conducts regular fitness checks to ensure our riders are in peak health and get enough rest. Monitoring training load allows them to regulate levels of fatigue based on the data available. From a wellness point of view, managing nutrition is also vital to the riders' recovery. We have two chefs who work closely with our medical team to provide nutrition for our riders at races. Together they formulate the best nutrition plan per rider, using the latest technology available to them.

Application: Complete a Vitality Fitness Assessment to get a handle on your cardio-vascular fitness, strength and flexibility. Afterwards, your biokineticist will show you what you need to focus on to get fitter. If you meet the qualifying criteria, you can do a Vitality High Performance Fitness Assessment instead. This is an advanced assessment for athletes. Plus, fuel your body for its next ride by visiting a dietitian for a personalised, healthy eating plan, or visit the Healthy Food Studio and learn to prepare tasty, nutritious meals yourself.

Are there any specific apps that help you pick up potential health issues?

DDFQ: Yes, in fact, Dr Carol Austin, Head of Performance, Support & Medical for the team, specially designed a low-maintenance, high-impact app for our riders to use on their phone. The riders can answer questions about their mood, energy levels, sleep quality and patterns, and how they're feeling about their training and performance overall.

It takes just a few minutes for them to capture this information on their smartphones. The app helps us assess how they're doing on a daily basis, and acts as an early-warning system to the entire team, so the right person can step in quickly to offer the rider the support they need. Our medical team is now able to pick up on illnesses quickly and start treatment early, for example. It's also helped us feel a lot more connected as a team.

Application: Annual wellness check-ups such as a Discovery Vitality Health Check are key to the early detection of any medical issues that might hamper your performance. This screening includes checking your blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, weight and smoking habits, plus you can earn up to 20 000 Vitality points for completing it.

Investing in technology that helps you get fitter and healthier is well worth it when it comes to maintaining a strong and consistent performance. By using digital tools to better understand your specific strengths and weaknesses, you'll not just improve your general health and wellbeing, but also become faster and more efficient on your bike.

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Are you a running or cycling enthusiast, or keen to become one?

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You'll also receive a great Team Vitality starter pack with race gear and vouchers worth over R1 000. Plus, you'll have access to our VIP hospitality at certain events on the Team Vitality race calendar! Get into gear by signing up today.

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