It’s a sick sport, professional road racing.
Sometimes it seems so extreme and bizarre that you wonder whether you should be watching it. (Maybe go back to the NFL and all those concussions.) Such was the case when we read Team Sky’s team doctor Roger Palfreeman talking about the benefits of functional dehydration.
Here’s a sport where GC riders literally starve themselves to a Nazi concentration camp level of emaciation (Hi Rasmussen, hello Froome) and now, well, that’s not enough guys. Now you have to limit your food intake and fluid intake to a dangerous degree in search of another kilo lost and wattage gained.
This is a doctor outlining a program that sounds like something a sadistic interrogation expert might use on a terrorist suspect in a secret jail. Starve them of food and limit their water consumption and make them wear really tight lycra.. This just sounds messed up and we’re beginning to wonder if things have gone too far.
Here we are reading this week about reducing the size of the pro peloton for safety reasons and the rider union making the usual calls for a greater focus on said rider safety. Yet here is a team doctor on a high profile, highly influential squad seeming to advocate a dangerous protocol for his riders to induce dehydration.
There is a truckload of irony in that. It makes cycling seem like some kind of warped freak show. Is this something that we want to advocate for young athletes? Something we want them to emulate? If you’re a parent, do you want your kid in a sport so willing to play dangerous and irresponsible games like that?
Seriously, this is messed up.
Palfreeman goes on to suggest even more bizarre ideas to go with his functional dehydration approach. He actually wants to keep the rider ignorant of the process and not let the rider be aware of his fluid starvation so as to avoid “negative thoughts.” Like, what, dying? Well, that’s thoughtful of you, doc.
He also recommends menthol mouthwash be used to fool the thirst and ‘generate a feeling of cold’ — dehydration leads to over-heating. And he’d use a medication like paracetamol to help in altering the perception of heat. He even mentions using an anti-depressant to help with the emotional ramifications of dehydration.
That’s crazy talk.
One side-effect of Dr. Palfreeman’s dehydration plan is that it reflects poorly on Team Sky. First, it shows the borderline dangerous lengths they’re prepared to go to win at all costs. A Lance Armstrong attitude. And second, it makes it much easier to believe that Sky did in fact intentionally manipulate the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions to give Bradley Wiggins a competitive advantage in the Tour de France. Any team doctor willing to go on record with an extreme idea like functional dehydration is not good PR for a team that’s already embattled and trying to save their “clean cycling” reputation.
Functional dehydration? What is Dr Palfreeman drinking?