Nothing sounds more inviting on the surface than an official, planned "rest day." Everyone with a job can relate, so surely everyone whose job is to ride a bicycle up and down mountains, day after day, under a blazing French sun, can really relate. So Monday should be sheer bliss for the riders, right? Right?
Eh, not so simple. Riders often disdain the rest day, particularly the second rest day when the end of the race is nigh. Here's a look at why rest days aren't purely restful.
Riders Gotta Ride
I'll defer to the physios in attendance here, but everyone riding the Tour has to get on their bike Monday. If nothing else, there's a backup of lactic acid in the muscles that has to come out, or Tuesday will be one long, sorry day. Every day brings sore legs, but usually the solution is to just line up and ride the next stage. With no stage, the riders will stroll out in their groups for a couple hours of reasonably hard riding, enough to really work the muscles, but not too hard and not for too long.
Leadership Has Its Burdens
The cycling world media and the rest of the Tour de France caravan aren't going anywhere on this rest day besides hanging around the hotels, and the teams are under much pressure to feed the press. So for the Contadors and Armstrongs (especially Lance, now), there's nothing restful about being around the hotel. Press conferences are a way to structure the media access, give everyone what they need at once, and send the riders back to recuperate. Efficiency is everything in this sport. But there's only so much you can do to really wind down. This is especially true of the second rest day and the yellow jersey. Whoever is in the lead will be feeling the pressure, in most cases, and without a race to relieve that pressure the day can be rather hellish.
Worst of the Worst: Transfers
Fortunately the Tour de France is good about minimizing the transfers between stages. Usually if the Tour finishes in one place, that's where they start the next morning. France has a good number of stage finish locations to choose from, and entire swaths of the Alps go ignored because of the ease of finishing a massive enterprise (riders, staff, media, fans, etc.) in an established resort like Avoriaz. Other races, most notoriously the Giro d'Italia, will start the next day a few hours' drive away from where they finished the day before, so after all that work there's a long bus or train ride too. Sometimes a race will use a foreign staging and require a really long (plane) transfer on the rest day. That's when you really hear the griping. Because despite what I typed above, there are a lot of riders outside the top 30-50 big names who really can go about their business without too much trouble on a rest day. For a domestique who has just spent the last week turning his body inside out in service of his team leader, rest days involve riding but little other pressure. Take that guy and tell him he has to squeeze in a long transfer, and you're gonna hear about it.
Like I said, thankfully the Tour avoids transfers and this rest day will be spent in one lovely town, Avoriaz.