Acupuncture Secrets of Tour De France Winner

August 20, 2014 Updated: August 20, 2014

Friends, we are extremely lucky that Eddy De Smedt, acupuncturist for the 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali and team Astana, has taken the time for an interview. I’ve asked him questions that I wondered about and I think you will be intrigued by his responses. (with Eddy’s permission, there has been some minor edits because his first language is Dutch although his English is excellent)

Jenny: Eddy, What is your background?

Eddy: I have a background in nursing and studied TCM for 5 years in Belgium and China. Now, I am practicing Acupuncture for 12 years in my private practice in Aalst, which is 20 km from the capital Brussels. I started working with athletes after being more educated in sports acupuncture and I see, on regular basis, athletes who are performing in cycling, tennis, motocross and soccer. Having some expertise, I now give workshops concerning sports acupuncture in Belgium at the ICZO.

Jenny: Is it different to work with elite athletes than to work with “normal” people?

Eddy: In preparing athletes (for elite competition), there aren’t any big differences from treating a “normal” patient. I hang on to the usual TCM screening to find (or not) energetic disturbances within Yin, Yang, Xue and Qi and adjust. During competition, when there is less time, I focus on recovery, relaxation (pure muscle relaxation if they are tense or psychologically distressed to ease the shen) and complaints of pain.

Concerning treatments when pain is involved, and after a daily briefing with the team doctor and osteopath, I mostly use distal acupuncture treatment (on Ting points and Jing Well), which gives a great result. If the results aren’t satisfactory, I re-evaluate and start to treat local acupoints on the involved meridian, xi cleft if tender, ashi points combined with Hegu and Taichong and depending on the condition, integrating electro acupuncture.

*Note from Jenny: For non-acupuncturists, ease the shen means to ease the spirit. Also, a distal treatment means away from the area of pain, so if Vincenzo was experiencing knee pain Eddy would not start by inserting needles into his knee but rather at acupoints away from the painful area. I’m excited to hear he uses this technique because it is one I often employ with great success as well.

Jenny: How did you get involved with the riders from the Tour?

Eddy: I was already working with the Team Doctor, Dr. De Maeseneer in Belgium, where I had referrals of athletes on a regular basis. He engaged me to become a member of the medical staff of team Astana at the end of 2012. Beginning with season 2013, I work 35 to 40 days for the team. I hope my colleagues in acupuncture will find their way to other pro cycling teams.

Jenny: Me Too!

Jenny: What types of assistance did you provide for the bikers?  How did you prepare for supporting them during the race?

Eddy: As I mentioned earlier, the focus of the acupuncture treatments is on recovery, relaxation and pain relief. The exact protocols would take me to much time to explain, but I ‘m thinking of giving some courses to explain in detail.

Jenny: Great, please keep us updated on your courses.

Jenny: What are the most common complaints of the Tour cyclists?

Eddy: Generally, the most common complaints that I treat are muscle tension in the lower and upper legs, pain in the lower back, neck and knee problems, quite common for cyclists. I also treat some stomach issues, and every evening before going to bed I treat the athletes with my “relaxation protocol” to promote rest, relaxation and recovery.

Jenny: Did the bikers like acupuncture? Find the treatments helpful?

Eddy: In 2013, when I started with the team, for most of the riders, acupuncture was totally unknown and new. Step by step, and with good communication with the riders, sports club, and medical staff, they soon got used to it and found the treatments helpful. I also wrote a paper concerning sports acupuncture, including its possibilities and mechanisms for riders.

I also needed to be critical of myself. I used ear acupuncture in the beginning, and  although I am convinced of its therapeutic possibilities, I skipped this method because of the discomfort for bikers due to the communication system they already have in the ear. For any treatment, including acupuncture, continuous education and adjustments are necessary.

Jenny: What was your experience treating the cyclists during this world famous race?

Eddy: After already working with the team for two years, I know the riders quite well and vice versa; they know I’m there if they need any help, which gives great satisfaction to my job as an acupuncturist. Now, some weeks after team Astana won the tour the France with Vincenzo Nibali, one of the biggest sports events in the World, I realize that the entire team did something special. I am proud that I was part of that!!

Jenny: You should be proud, quite an accomplishment and I’m sure you worked very hard. Congratulations to you, Vincenzo and Team Astana!

Jennifer Dubowsky, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in downtown Chicago, Illinois, since 2002. Dubowsky earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from University of Illinois in Chicago and her Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colorado. During her studies, she completed an internship at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital in Beijing, China. Dubowsky has researched and written articles on Chinese medicine and has given talks on the topic. She maintains a popular blog about health and Chinese medicine at Acupuncture Blog Chicago. Adventures in Chinese Medicine is her first book. You can find her at 

*Image of  Vincenzo Nibali via Radu Razvan /