In the summer of 2019, Violinde den Breeijen went as an assistant cook with Jumbo-Visma on the BinckBank Tour, a cycling tour of the Netherlands and Belgium, for the first time. Den Breeijen, herself an experienced cyclist at the WTOS student cycling club, was asked along by the Jumbo-Visma chef who she knew from the cycling world. They spent a week cooking in a truck.
This year she was supposed to have gone to the Giro d’Italia, the Tour of the Basque Country, Paris-Roubaix, the Deutschland Tour and the BinckBank Tour 2020. But then corona struck. She hopes to join next year.
How important is the right nutrition for cyclists?
“Hugely important. I believe it helps them win races. They used to say that you win the Tour asleep in your bed. Everyone knows that now, but the attention given to nutrition is relatively new. Over the last few years, Jumbo-Visma has concentrated more on personalised nutrition, a separate diet for each competitor. You see this happening in more teams, but not all of them are working on it to the extent that Jumbo-Visma is.”
How do you decide what each cyclist should eat?
“Every day the trainer estimates the cyclists’ level of effort based on their ability and heartbeat. The dietician knows what each cyclist needs in terms of nutrition to recover after a race and then compiles a list of ingredients for each cyclist, specifying the weight in grams they need of each ingredient. It’s then up to the chef to make a good meal using these ingredients. We separate everything in different dishes on the buffet. These could be pasta, sauce, pumpkin seeds, olives, and so on. The cyclists weigh everything to make sure they get the right quantities.”
Is that enjoyable though, having to calculate and weigh all your food?
“I’m studying physics and actually enjoyed the technical side of cooking. The recipes were incredibly exact and, given my scientific brain, I enjoyed weighing exactly 3.7 grams of something. The cyclists really want to eat healthily. You can imagine that they look forward to a treat when they come back from a ride. We once made a tiramisu as a sweet recovery meal and used very little fat and lots of protein. While the cyclists enjoyed the tiramisu, they associated it with unhealthy food that they would normally avoid after cycling. It made them feel uncomfortable and they did not want tiramisu anymore.”
What is it like being part of Jumbo-Visma?
“Joining the team was one of the best experiences in my life. I cycle too and always looked with awe at the circus around the major cycling tours. And then suddenly you’re right in the middle of it. The first time you see the cyclists in real life is unreal. You also see other teams’ cyclists in the hotel without their helmets and safety goggles and they look just like ordinary people. You listen to them giving interviews on the TV, but it’s very different when you sit with them at table. The atmosphere in the team was really good. None of them look down on you. They all enjoy chatting with you and they want to know who you are.”
How do you look back at the Tour de France?
“I think I experience the Tour de France like any other cycling fan. I’m glued to the TV for hours and try to watch whenever I can. I now often even have a second screen next to me during lectures. At first it felt strange watching all the races – I wanted to be there too! But that feeling soon gave way to the hope that I can join in next year. It feels a bit like it’s ‘my team’, especially if I watch the evening stage in my Jumbo-Visma shirt. I am in touch with the cooking staff there, even if not that much. It’s a ridiculously busy time for them and I think I’ll hear all about it after the Tour!”