Getting from point A to point B every day in a stage race takes the combined efforts of all, with each member of the staff fulfilling his duties for the common good of the group – truly a team effort. So what goes on behind the scenes to make a team function smoothly every day on the road of a stage race? For the Amgen Tour of California we have a squad of seven riders and 12 support staff: 2 directors, three mechanics, four soigneurs, one press officer, 1 doctor, and one fitness coach for a total of 19 people to move from place to place each day. For transportation we have a team camper, two race cars, two family sized vans and one large box truck for the mechanics. Every night around 7 the next day’s “daily plan” is put together by the directors and distributed to all. This includes all information that starts with that night’s dinner time, but is mostly for the next day’s travel, as well as the stage information. The day starts with wake up and breakfast time, suitcases to the truck per the schedule, and then departure time for the stage start. In general, the same staff members are assigned to a particular vehicle in the fleet and it stays that way all week. But things have been going on well before departure time: the mechanics have loaded the luggage into the box truck and outfitted the director’s cars with spare bikes, tools and wheels, as well as mounted the race bikes to the vans. At departure time the box truck and one soigneur rolls out to the next hotel, where they will set up for our arrival later, assign all rooms, and deliver all luggage (our advance team), while the camper and four vehicles head for the start line, with the intent to arrive 1 hour before the start. This means the vehicles are all re-fueled and cleaned up the night before, as once the group starts to roll, there is no looking back. Be prepared and never be late!
At the Start: Once in place, all parked together in the start area, the mechanics line up the bikes and make any last minute adjustments, the soigneurs pick up sandwiches and drinks from the organization (staff in all of the cars need to be fed during the stage), grab ice for the coolers to keep the drinks cold, and prepare the musettes for the feed zone. Much of the food and bottle preparation has been done the night before so at the start what’s left to do is put things in the right places. All of this activity is going on while the riders are in the camper with the directors making a plan for the day. Once they are finished, the riders have the obligation to sign in at the start (or face a penalty), which they do much to the delight of fans who wait in “autograph alley” in hopes of seeing their favorite cyclists. Once back at the camper the riders make their final race preparations and head to the start at the designated time (written in the daily plan the night before, remember?) and out they roll for the day. Taped onto their handlebar stems are key components to the day’s race – number of kilometers, location of sprints, mountain designations and lengths, feed zone and finish. The head director follow behind in the caravan with car 1 (odd numbered car) in the first part of the group (one from each team, in the case of the Amgen Tour of California there are 19 teams) and the second car (even numbered) with the second director follows behind the first group (plus ambulances, police, and other official race cars – it’s a big caravan going slow – you don’t want to get stuck behind it!)
Meanwhile, what has happened with the two vans? The soigneur van has gone ahead to the feed zone occupied by two soigneurs (third one has gone ahead to the team hotel with one mechanic, see above!) where they prepare for the upcoming feed. Sometimes one is dropped off at a strategic place to hand out bottles or even jackets in the case of a cold descent. The second race car usually does the picking up of anyone on course, and eventually everyone ends up at the finish line.
In the meantime, the van with the press officer and coach, as well as the team camper (in our case driven by the fourth soigneur) have made the transfer to the finish line – usually about a two-hour drive. Once in place in the designated Team lot for the finish, the soigneur/bus driver will go about making sure after-race food and recovery drinks are ready for the riders, while the doctor might work on his computer generating reports for the team management. Once the peloton has cleared the feed zone (usually midway through the stage) those 2 soigneurs out on course will drive to team parking at the finish line. Near the 20km to go mark, the soigneur assigned to work the finish line will grab the “finish line bag”, complete with clean clothes, hats, socks, plus the soft cooler of recovery drinks, and head to the finish area along with the press officer and the doctor. If we win, get on the podium or take a jersey, the press person needs to stay along side the rider to get quotes and later escort him to the press conference. The doctor is present in case of a mandatory anti-doping control, where he will stay with the rider throughout the process. After any press requirements, the rider (plus his bike - he might still have it because the winners cannot leave the finish area once the race is completed and he truly prefers to roll around on his bike than walk on his feet, so he keeps it with him), the doctor and the press officer load up and head for the overnight hotel, which also could be another hour or more away.
In the meantime, the riders back at the camper have eaten, showered and changed clothes and are eager to load up and leave to make the transfer to the next hotel. No hanging around after the race. The guys are tired and it's time for recovery. Once at the hotel everyone is greeted by the advance team who hand out room keys, while the mechanic takes the bikes and start the daily maintenance and cleanup so they will be ready the next day. The soigneurs do massage, laundry, food and bottle prep for the following day, and maybe even some food shopping if supplies are getting low. The press officer finds clever words to describe the day and the coach evaluates the data automatically uploaded from the rider’s Wahoo to help assess fitness or any concerns with the directors. Around 7PM the daily planner will go out for everyone with the next day’s schedule, starting with the time for the dinner that night…..and the process will start all over again. Tired yet?
Photos © Peloton Brief