Tour de France Interview Series: Dr. Max Testa
Read what Dr. Max Testa, BMC Racing Team doctor for the Tour de France, has to say about the daily challenges of being a Tour doctor and why he likes his job so much…
- Name: Dr. Max Testa
- Tour de France No: 22
- Years with the BMC Racing Team: 9
- Nationality: Italia
1. Apart from the job of looking after riders at the race, what other details do you go into before the race to check the rider’s health?
Normally we check them in the morning when they get up. We check their blood pressure and heart rate, some of them are even weighed. Then we ask them how they feel and we have a look at their injuries if they have any, from previous stages. We change all the bandages and check if they’ve got an infection. If so, they get some medicine to accelerate the healing process.
2. When the race is on, do you travel in the team car in case of an issue? If not, what do you do while the racing is on?
Normally I am not in one of the race cars. I go straight to the finish in an extra car, so I have the freedom to move if something happens during a stage and a rider, for example, has to go to a hospital. When the riders finish the stage, if there is someone who has had a crash, we then clean the wounds and do a drainage. During the transfer to the hotel, it is best to use the time and do some taping. Sometimes we also have medical control. Then I have to pay close attention to all the protocol and keep a copy of the doping control document.
3. You have more than 20 years of experience in professional cycling. What was the biggest change in your point of view during this time?
The general work of a team doctor hasn’t changed much. Because of the problems the sport has had, we now keep an extra eye on prevention. Now the doctors also work together with the trainers of each rider and the performance team. Nowadays, we have a lot more information about the riders and are not just reactive, but also proactive.
4. You are also coaching some athletes. Is this correct?
Yes, I belong to the generation of doctors who were also trained to be able to coach. I don’t think the young doctors are still learning this. In the 80s, when I studied sport science, coaching was a big part of my education. I enjoy coaching some of the riders, but not too many.
5. What is your goal as a coach?
It has changed over the past 30 years. At the beginning, I was more of a numbers guy, I always compared numbers and checked that they are right. Today, I know that numbers are just one part of the picture and I focus on many more aspects of a rider. Every rider is different. Some need more, some need less numbers. Some need encouragement from time to time and are more sensitive and need more psychological support. My main goal is to keep them healthy and this certainly hasn’t changed.
6. What did you learn in the past 20 years? What has improved the riders’ condition?
We focus now much more on recovery today. Let’s say 20-30 years ago the focus was on training, but recovery was not so discussed. We just told them to take it easy sometimes. Now we have special modalities of the speed of recovery, mainly nutritional. We try to enhance recovery more. Nowadays, I think athletes train better, because they have a coach who is well educated. Some years ago, most of the riders were training only by themselves. Now it is the norm to have a coach.
7. You also mentioned the mental part. We know from other sports that athletes work with mental coaches. Do you see this as well in the future of cycling?
Oh yes, I think many have already a sport psychologist or how they are called today, “a mental coach.” It is hard to have one for the whole team, because we have so many nationalities in this team, and I think it is important not to have any cultural barriers. We have Americans who have an American mental coach, or the Italians have one from Italy, because they can express themselves better in their native language and share similar life and cultural values.
8. You are from Italy and you live now in Utah. Cycling is a big part in your life but also not your full-time job. How does it supplement your ‘day job’?
Yes, I always liked cycling and it is great to work with professional cyclists. Even before, when I was a family doctor, I liked to travel from time to time with some smaller teams on the weekend. But I never wanted to be just a doctor of one team. I think it is important to work also with regular patients and learn from them for your work with pro athletes. Professional cyclists are not getting sick to often and you need the skill from practice with “normal” patients, to see what is best for the healing process.
9. You were a former soccer player. How does it come that you have such a passion for cycling?
I grew up watching cycling, I was not good at it though, so I took up soccer, at which I was much better. But also not good enough to go professional. So I ended up studying medicine (laughs). I grew up near Lake Como and I vividly remember when the Tour of Lombardia finished in the soccer stadium and guys like Eddy Merckx or Roger De Vlaeminck won those races. This inspired me a lot.