The Race of Truth
The past two days has passed in a whirl of excitable energy. Even getting to Liege from the team hotel was an experience I’ll never forget. The team convoy was stuck in gridlocked traffic outside town when a policeman on a motorbike appeared out of thin air. On his lights went, and off we drove into Liege through a two thousand car guard-of-honour that had pulled onto either side of the road to allow us through.
The cyclist David Millar described the original vision for the team as ‘more Formula One than professional cycling’, and it’s a fair comparison. Two minutes after parking the team bus, a perimeter had been set up and countless bikes were racked and ready for use, gleaming in the Liege sunshine thanks to mechanics Diego and Davide’s meticulous cleaning the night before. It was like a well performed pit stop. Of course all the mechanics appear blasé about it, but you can tell they take a great amount of pride in ensuring that the team area and equipment are the best in the business. They had even sprayed the tyres on the bus to ensure they were extra black!
Thirty seconds after the mechanics had finished establishing a perimeter around the bus, the crowd descended upon us. Cycling fans are a fanatical breed, and I love them for it. The Italian word for ‘fans’ is much better – tifosi. Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins have been superstars for a while in Europe, so the crowd was lined four deep when they appeared to start their warm-ups. It’s also like having front row seats to a massive fancy dress event. Colorful wigs, retro cycling jerseys, and a constant fluttering of different flags are par for the course when it comes to the tour. Full points for effort goes to the girls that had painted their entire bodies in the colours of the Kazakhstani team, Astana. Not that they distracted me, but Peta (Todd, Mark Cavendish’s other half) quickly pulled me back to earth by asking if I minded looking after their baby daughter Delilah, who was visiting with her for the day. She knows I’ve got two kids of my own and seemed completely at ease leaving me with her for twenty minutes. I was genuinely touched and Delilah could not have been better behaved, sleeping through the two thousand shutter-clicks that quickly ensued from the attendant hoardes of fans. All in a day’s work I suppose.
The other aspect of life that has changed completely is time. We’ve all experienced it speeding up and slowing down, but with Team Sky that effect is multiplied beyond anything I can compare to. I think it is the excitement that does it - our rider Chris Froome was so excited to start his time trial that he rode the whole 6km with his olbas oil nose plugs still in (they wear them during warm-ups to clear their airways)! The exact opposite happened when Bradley’s time trial finally arrived. The clocks seemed to reluctantly drag their way to seven minutes past four when Bradley started. I watched his time trial with Dave Brailsford and some of the mechanics in the team camper van - seven minutes and twenty seconds seemed to take hours. Time trialling is often referred to as the ‘race of truth’, as winning depends on each rider's strength and endurance, and not on help from team-mates or others riding ahead that will provide a slipstream. Luckily Bradley stormed through to go top of the rankings, but seven minutes and twenty seconds seemed like a long time whilst sitting in the motorhome with the team management.
The race began properly yesterday with stage one, and the whole cycle of activity was repeated again to perfection. It all passed in a blur of packing, car cleaning, checking engines, tyre pressures, oil levels and such that I don’t remember huge amounts, I might take notes next time. Perhaps the most eventful part of my day was hearing a huge scream come out of the mechanics workshop. I ran over thinking someone must have been mortally wounded, only to find our Spanish mechanic Diego cheering his team’s first goal in the European Cup finals!
Now it’s goodbye Belgium and off to France as we transfer to the next team hotel. The riders are all off for stage two now and we’re packing up the cars. Dan, our team physio, is gesturing for me to come and help him load some of the rider’s orthopedic mattresses. Off we go again.
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