My education in embrocation (say that three times fast) came not from some Dutch soigneur who had prepared the legs of legions of chiseled Euro PROs as near-freezing rain fell. No, I got the decidedly less sophisticated advice from teammates. They were smart guys who had raced in Europe, but as it happens with all third-hand information, there were helpful bits that either no one ever told them, or were simply omitted by accident.
When I began purchasing embrocations, sorting through some of the Euro product lines was as difficult as making Hollandaise sauce, something I’ve still never done correctly. There were the embrocations themselves, but there were also pre-sport oils and liniments. And then there was post-riding stuff, too. The great source of my confusion was in distinguishing between an embrocation and any other pre-sport sauce. I mean, you’ve got to put the embro on before sport, so aren’t they both, technically pre-sport?
Eventually I came to understand that sometimes you put on a little extra heat before using another embrocation to seal your legs from cold rain. God how that helped me during spring races. And if you have an actual soigneur to do a massage before your race, you live in a realm where embrocation takes on the complexity of calculus.
That was never me. Post-sport rubs and their mission continued to elude me for years.
Funny how one injury can change everything. There are times when you need to ice something. I’m thinking a body part, not a gangster. There are also times when either keeping ice on that body part will be impossible (driving is one good reason) or there is simply no ice available. That’s when I realized that a cooling cream can be handy.
That said, most smell like a Mid-Century Modern medicine cabinet and leave the skin greasy to the touch even an hour later. Not a fave. Recently, I’ve been using a cream from Sportique called (obviously enough) Cooling Cream.
It’s heavy on the peppermint, menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oils. Wearing this stuff while eating a Peppermint Stick Clif Bar leaves me feeling like I’m at a candy cane factory at the North Pole. A terrific feeling, on balance.
There’s probably even less science on how a cream like this will do the same good (or even nearly so) as actual ice. I consider it a hedge in my favor; it has got to be better than nothing. Any time I have to drive to the start of a ride, I pack this tube in my bag so I can hit my shoulder with it once I’ve finished my field shower.
The 6-oz. tube has a suggested retail of $19.95. As I use only a little dab at a time, it could last me a few years, or at least until Alberto Contador’s case is adjudicated.
Learn more here.
Sportique is a European brand of skin care products. They specialize in all-natural creams, balms and oils. In addition to any number of products for ordinary folk, they offer some athlete and cyclist-targeted products. Frankly, in looking around their web site, I was a little overwhelmed at the sheer number of products they offer. These people really care about skin.
Last spring I got the opportunity to try some Sportique products. The first two I pressed into service were the Warming Up Cream and the Century Riding Cream (a review of which will follow shortly). As should be evident from the name, the Warming Up Cream is an embrocation.
One thing that immediately impressed me about Sportique was their, shall we say, New World approach to skin care. On their mission page there is a long paragraph devoted to all the ingredients they don’t use. From sulfate derivatives to parabens, the list is long and dominated by five- and six-syllable words.
Of course, the first thing you discover in any embro is the smell, and in this Sportique is pure Old World. It smells like what I imagine a Swedish massage therapist’s studio would. A wave of camphor, some spicier notes, it conveys comfort on a cold morning.
The cream is light and rather orange colored, and is as easily squeezed from the flip-top tube as toothpaste. This latter detail means you end up with no more on your hand or leg than is really necessary. And because it’s so light in consistency it goes a long way.
Capsicum is the coal that fires the furnace and this stuff is warms up reasonably quickly. How hot is it? On a 10 scale I give it a 5. By comparison, I give Mad Alchemy’s Russisch Thee a 6 and Record’s Pregara Forte a 3. And for those of you who need a nuclear option, there is the Get Going Cream which professes to be for “extreme conditions.” I’ve been dying to try it but just haven’t had any weather in the 90210 that could be called “extreme.”
This stuff has staying power. I’ve noticed it keeping me warm four to five hours into a ride, or after the ride, as the case may be. I don’t tend to use this stuff if I’m not going out at least three hours. I use Dawn to wash it off to the best of my ability, but on chilly days, I kinda like having personal leg warmers inside my jeans.
I took the Warming Up Cream with me to France this past summer because I knew there would be some days in the mountains that were both cold and wet. The fact that it came in a tube with a flip top made it ideal for traveling; I squeezed a little air out of the tube and shut it. There was no need to scoop it off the lid as with some brands.
I’ve yet to get through the 6 oz. tube, but then this wasn’t the only embro I used last season (and a few times this season). A tube goes for $19.95. You can find this and other Sportique products here.