Roger Palfreeman, a Team Sky doctor who has previously worked with British Cycling and BMC, has suggested that 'functional dehydration' could be employed to improve a rider’s climbing ability. Speaking at a conference on heat and cycling in Qatar last week, Palfreeman suggested that Chris Froome would be able to cut 47 seconds off his time up Alpe d'Huez through employing the technique.
According to El Pais, Palfreeman believes that Froome could safely lose 2kg through controlled, functional dehydration over the course of a stage, without compromising his power-to-weight ratio.
"Optimal hydration is not balanced hydration," he said, suggesting that athletes can learn to tolerate the sensations that come with drinking less than they would normally think necessary.
Research carried out at Brock University in Ontario in 2015 countered a commonly held belief that even minor dehydration will hamper sporting performance.
The study saw trained racing cyclists riding stationary bikes while hooked up to either real or fake IV drips. The idea was to separate the conscious awareness of hydration so as to test only hydration status itself.
Researchers found that even at up to three per cent body mass dehydration, no impairment was seen in exercise in the heat.
This contrasts with advice given by British Cycling, with the organisation referring to previous research when asserting that a two per cent drop in body weight due to sweating ‘will impair performance noticeably’ while a five per cent drop will see ‘your capacity for work drop by up to 30 per cent’.
Using Froome as an example, Palfreeman said that if he lost 2kg during a stage – the same weight as two litres of water and equivalent to three per cent body mass dehydration – he would be able to climb Alpe d’Huez 47 seconds quicker.
As the setup of the Brock study makes clear, the ploy could only work if the rider were uninformed about their state of hydration, which raises certain moral questions about a team’s management of its athletes.
Among other measures, Palfreeman suggests using mouthwash with menthol as a means of deceiving the rider’s thirst by generating a sensation of coldness.