Team Players: No.1: The Team chef

In the first of a new series, we find out about life at the big races inside EF Education-EasyPost, starting with team chef Owen Blandy

team chef
Name Owen Blandy Job title Team chef at EF Education-EasyPost Seasons in the job Three Teams worked with EF Education-EasyPost

Words GILES BELBIN Photography GETTY

I’ll get up around six o’clock, which is two hours before the riders tuck into breakfast,’ says Owen Blandy, who has been team chef at EF Education-EasyPost since 2021, having previously played for Arsenal FC’s academy and studied to become a chartered accountant.

He’s talking Cyclist through his routine at stage races. ‘I’ll pack up my case for another hotel and pack anything that needs securing in the kitchen truck. It’s then about prepping breakfast.

‘I’ll always cook rice, including risotto rice, milk, cinnamon and sugar. It’s a rice pudding, porridge thing.

There are nuts and fresh fruit, and always omelettes, which I’ll cook in the hotel in front of the riders.

It’s very much a copy-and-paste routine. Rigo [Rigoberto Urán], for instance, will always have three eggs, ham and cheese.

And he hates black pepper.’ Breakfast consumed, the riders head to the stage start and Blandy goes to the next hotel after leaving his imprint on the team bus, where there’s a fridge full of containers with energy-replenishing carbohydrates and muscle-repairing protein, often chicken and pasta for a post-stage transfer filler.

Depending on transfer time, Blandy is usually at the next hotel by midday. ‘The mechanics are often already there, and I’ll be greeted by the sound of laundry on the go.

They’ll direct me into my car-parking space.

I’ll then either head out to the shops for food or start prepping.

I try to avoid shopping every day as it’s an hour-and-a-half gone, so I’ll always keep food stored in my kitchen truck.’Ah, the kitchen truck, sanctuary of the chef and forbidden to all.

Storage is plentiful thanks to commercial stainless-steel, under-bench fridges. That’s the domain for prepped food and leftovers.

Then there’s a large, stand-up fridge near the door where Blandy stores fresh fruit and yogurt. ‘I’ll then get connected to the mains, open the side window and hope for a good view.

I tick off my jobs, then hopefully I can put my feet up before the riders come back or go for a run to clear my head.’

Pressure-cooker situation

At the last Tour de France, much head-clearing was required on the opening stage as EF’s star rider, Richard Carapaz, got caught in a crash that ended his race before it had really begun.

‘His knee exploded [fractured] on the first stage. That was a disaster. From the training camp in December 2022, JV [Jonathan Vaughters, team boss] said winning the Tour was the main objective.

We thought it was far-fetched but confidence in the team grew. ‘We built the squad around Richard, so for that to happen on Stage 1 was disastrous.

It took the wind out of our sails. Yes, James Shaw raced well at his first Tour and Neilson [Powless] wore the polka-dot jersey for a few days, but we were after a stage win and that didn’t happen.

I’m an emotional person so when the riders come to dinner I find it hard to say something positive when I know they haven’t performed as they’d have liked.’

That collective sense of foreboding at last season’s Tour was eased somewhat on the second rest day in the Alps where bottles of wine washed down Blandy’s homemade pizza – with a sourdough starter ‘that needs carbon dating but I think is 12 years old’ – in an effort to forget about cycling for one night.

Usually, it’s something a little less indulgent. ‘At a Grand Tour, we’ll run through standard questions: do you want rice every night? Pasta sauce separate? Different fish?

Mostly they want pasta every night even if it’s plain with olive oil. Riders are easy, although James Shaw is vegetarian for ethical reasons.

That said, I know JV would love him to eat red meat. If he had his way, every rider would have red meat after every stage.

But we tend to reserve that for the night before a rest day as it takes a while to digest.’

Course-specific fuelling

Dinner is after massages at around 9pm, with the menu also influenced by the parcours. If a time-trial awaits, it’s carbs ‘and something like sweet potato soup with coriander and courgette for nutrients without leaving them bloated’.

Most riders will chew caffeinated gum as it drives caffeine into the bloodstream quicker but also exits quicker so won’t disrupt sleep.

They’ll also supplement with the buffer sodium bicarbonate to prolong efforts at high intensity. ‘Some also use it for road stages,’ says Blandy.

‘Neilson had it at the start of a stage to get into the polka-dot jersey. But you don’t do it too much as it can play havoc with your stomach.’

Unlike some teams who employ ‘performance plates’, meals aren’t measured; each rider is left to their own devices, although there are scales on the table.

‘Some riders might weigh out their carbohydrates. That’s more common in climbers than, say, rouleurs,’ says Blandy.

‘It’s also a sign that riders might be under pressure because it’s contract year.’

What unites all, however, is that come the third week, fatigue or stomach issues means they’re struggling to eat sufficient calories.

‘They’re also becoming bored by rice and pasta. Very bored.’

Cyclist Australia/NZ