When cyclist Chris Froome won his fourth Tour de France win, he had cycled 2,199 miles and raced through 635 cities. An incredible physical feat. However for Team Sky his victory also represented a triumph over a totally different challenge – germs.
Because for each of the 198 cyclists in the competition, catching a cold can be more disastrous than crashing.
With immune systems depleted from exhaustion and a lack of sleep, the riders’ bodies can succumb to a variety of illnesses because of the germs that thrive in extreme heat and the crowds of fans lining the route.
This year Team Sky’s hygiene protocol was the strictest yet after embracing techniques more similar to hospital operating theatres.
Every day an advance squad of cleaners, armed with antibacterial wipes, disinfectant sprays and powerful vacuum cleaners, was dispatched to hotels to meticulously clean each room the nine riders slept in.
“The entire staff knows how important hygiene is,” said Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Sky manager. “We make sure people take ownership of making sure they do their bit and also look out for areas where we can do better.
“If riders getting sick is in any way avoidable, we do our absolute best to avoid it. We have staff who go ahead to the hotels before the riders arrive – they clean all the TV controls, the taps and the lavatories. Anything the rider is going to touch is cleaned.”
The squad also targets the team bus: every seat, armrest, handle and button is wiped to kill off any lingering germs. Sanitary instruction stickers are posted throughout the coach.
At the completion of each day’s racing, Team Sky soigneurs, the staff who provide massages, carefully remove the competitors’ racing clothes, bag them and take them to one of nine washing machines, one for each cyclist. The machines are fitted into the team truck that travels ahead of the race. The clothes are washed separately to avoid accidentally transferring infections.
And every member of the support crew is issued with a hand sanitising gel dispenser and strict orders to use it before the slightest human contact is made with the athletes. Even journalists have to use the hand gel before interviewing competitors.
The war on germs continues in the kitchen truck where meals are prepared and the riders eat. The truck is off limits to anyone but the sportsmen, who settle down to a meal in one of the cleanest dining rooms possible.