Hola! Hoi! Bonjour!
From my last update caught some of you up to the week leading into our preparation of Paris-Roubaix for the U23 riders on our team. We actually started this prep way back in Feb when Mechanic Mike started looking over the wheel/tire choices. The effort for 6 riders to race a single day race is sometimes pretty intense, but well worth every bit! Here is a bit of the story.
I last updated on my 10th trip across France. I did the solo drive to meet the team who stayed up north after the Olympia’s Tour in the Netherlands. I arrived just in time for dinner – as always perfect timing! As we travel to these races, we stay in a wide variety of hotels. Luckily this hotel was super cool with us. The manager rode with us some days and helped us out a bunch. Letting us use the basement area and “salon” area to have lunches, store equipment and work out of. Each day of our week prep was focused on some part of the race. They looked at “sectors” of the cobblestones Tues and Wed. Our director Chann helped the riders analyze the parts of the parcours. Mostly the riders rested and recovered from the last stage race. Nothing too exciting happens! The riders rest in and around the hotel. The staff of course hard at work! Mike took endless hours with each race bike and spare bike for the riders. Everything needed to be perfect. Mike and Chann went over tire pressures several times. Each bike was super looked after! This race was going to be complete chaos and a 100% good bike is going to be needed. For me, we dialed in their nutrition each day. Cutting out bread and excess sugars. Amazing what can be whipped up with a rice cooker! Sometimes I feel like I am camping as most times I am working out of a trunk of a car or hotel room.
Our big day was Thursday. I tried some different wrist wrapping options with the guys. We ended up using RockTape which is the Kinesio Tape and it worked great. We brought in a “cobblestone specialist” (sounds important huh?!). Nico Mattan was our guy. A funny character and well known Belgian racer who has completed many classics and of course Paris-Roubaix. If you are familiar with the ProTour race, the U23 race starts after the Arenneberg Forest sector. Nico and Chann went over some details of the day and away we went! We also had his side kick Jean-Marie who was the personal mechanic to the late Frank Vandenbrouke. We our course got lost and turned around a bit. They put out a million signs the week of the race but we think some got moved around. It was ok though we made our way to all the sectors. I lost the guys at one turn which was totally fine with me! I wasn’t enjoying driving our rental van over the pave. I headed direct to Roubaix Velodrome where they will finish. Also should be mentioned that our team car has a steel plate mounted under the engine area. The cobblestones are not easy on anything. Most of the time cars don’t even make it! There are even tow trucks around the course ready to pull a car away if needed (deppanage – french word for you!) Back at the velodrome, I waited for the guys. Had a look around the Velodrome Cafe. Lots of history here…walked around the velodrome. It was weird to have no one else in it. The last time I was in that velodrome was 3 years ago when I was working with USA Cycling. We had the Juniors race finish before the Pro race. There were thousands of people there but today it was just me! I saw some other teams arrive at the velodrome and had a chat with them. Finally our guys showed up. 5 hour recon ride made a few tired…! Then major traffic getting out of the city and then straight to dinner.
Friday….a few tired legs and bodies. Normal rest day at the hotel. The bikes got another full once over…another 12 hour day for our awesome mechanic Mike! Some other minor tweaks to the bikes were completed. We ran double wrap on the bars. Double and triple checked that every bolt was maxed out to full tightness. Like I have said if there are any gaps in preparation Paris-Roubaix will find them!
Saturday…getting closer! The nerves of some where starting to show. At any race when you have to move hotels it is a huge fiasco! Big bags, small bags, gear! I hate moving hotels. We had to move hotels because our hotel was full and was booked up for months. For some reason that weekend was the weekend to get married. We moved to what would be a great small French town if we weren’t working…St. Quentin. I got there early to hotel to set it up. The riders were riding there. I get there….it’s in the middle of a huge square with tons of people walking around. Not easy to unload from. No parking anywhere. We finally got set up. Mike set up shop in an alley way. He found power and electricity. You pretty much need to figure it out for yourself because some hotels have no idea. We got to work on final prep. Recovery, Lunch, Rest, Massage, Eating and Hydration. Sunday was going to the warmest day to date in France. Doesn’t seem right to have the Paris-Roubaix on the hottest day of the year thus far?! I set up a dinner at restaurant around the corner. Lucky for me the manager spoke a bit of english. I explained that we needed extra portions of rice or pasta – no problem. So we had a typically long French dinner. Riders headed to hotel while I waited for check. We topped off the riders with a bottle of carbo drink mix after they had their pre-race meeting. The day ended with me filling bottles in the hotel room while drinking a beer. Seems fitting huh? Usually happens that way. We prepped 80 bottles for the day for 6 riders. 20 ounces each bottle.
Pre-Race: Sunday! Big day! We were leaving the hotel that morning and going back to our other hotel post race. The riders were told what time to eat in order to eat proper time before start. We supplemented breakfast with lots of variety of cereal. Also prepped was rice. They can mix it with cinnamon, yoghurt and museli. Works great. Also they had some cold meat as standard in European breakfasts (French word….Petit Dejeuner). Chann and Mike left earlier. Manager meeting and Mike set up bikes at race site. Typically we arrive 1.5hrs before start. Lots of coordination pre-race. Before I knew it was time to head out! I didn’t get to even walk around to see some of the other teams gear. Typically Paris-Roubaix brings out some interesting gear for the bikes. I saw some were on Cyclocross bikes (Rabobank Off Road Team). We choose classic 32, 3 cross, box section Mavic Reflect rims. We used Mavic Tires and another unnamed brand. The riders used their standard Cervelo R3s. Some teams used special extra clearance bikes, etc. Leopard-Trek and Livestrong-Bontrager used bikes from their associated proteams or other specific bikes. Many teams rode between 25-28mm tires. We rode 25.The riders also gave to the team car a “Rain Bag” which today included no actual rain but normally it includes life saving gear like their nice Castelli gloves, jackets, vests. Also important a spare set of shoes! (one rider had to change shoes mid race today). I gave a head nod and thumbs up to Chann and Mike – sort of a “well lets see what happens” look. They were both in for a very stressful day in the car. You can’t take a break for one second while driving. Mike is Chann’s eyes on the sides of the car. With the dust expected, riders will just appear out of nowhere. You obviously never want to hit a rider. These riders are super skilled in the cars and expect the drivers to drive with the same respect back. Today will test all that! Today the riders will be everywhere!
During Race: Sunday! Typically the feedzone swannies have to leave about 10mins before start depending on the course. If we have to use the same road as the riders do on the way out of town then YES! You don’t want to get stuck behind the peloton. We headed out. Like I have mentioned before we have formed some good alliances with other teams. Our good buddies at Leopard-Trek team helped us bring our Equipment Van to the finish via the feedzones. I drove the passenger van and their other Italian Swanny drove their Van. We had our coordinates and GPS all set. Away we went! Driving around race sites requires very careful driving. Always tight parking and curbs you have to drive around. Plus there is always a bunch of people watching you! We made it out onto the course and worked our way towards the direction of the first feeding area at 55kms into the race. Each of these races produce a Itinerary – a timetable for the race. Normally, they produce it for average speed of 40km/hr and 45km/hr. You really live by the estimated time to expect the riders. I am always checking it. If you are super organized, you can get a time check from team car via text to see if race is ahead or behind schedule. Each race has a neutral roll out and a KM Zero sign to allow for the race to set its timers and distances. Very helpful!
During – Feedzone 1 at 55km: Today the officials were allowing for feeding anytime after 30kms. We arrived plenty of time thankfully. Quick chat with Leopard guys. One is Italian so I try to just say silly Italian words to him that I know which are mostly food items! The other one is German and speaks English well. We went over our next Feedzone, the actual official feeding area where we can hand up musettes which will be at 105km into the race. This first feed was after 2 sectors of cobblestones and we found a slight uphill. We did our typical park the van before me as I stand up the small hill. The riders sometimes will look for the van and then can guess that I am somewhere after that. This time I am just handing up bottles. It becomes tricky to try to hand up with one person to 6 riders. As I knew at the start the riders started with 3 bottles. Most likely they have lost one off the bike at this point however our bottle cages are super tight. I handed up about 4 bottles to the riders. Even with a hill they weren’t going slow that is for sure. The end of the sector was about 500m down the hill which they came off of and turned 180 on gravel on to this big road. Always something…Plus there was probably a traffic island at the apex of the turn out of the cobbles…We wait for the caravan to pass by. The sounds of the bikes were pretty bad. Most had very dry sounding chains and other bad noises coming from the bikes. Riders were everywhere. Small groups spread all over. Our guys for the most part were “tete de la course” (front of the race). Lots of riders in the caravan trying to get back onto some larger groups and many looked were covered in dust and/or blood. Since the race is pretty much an off road road race the vehicles used are somewhat modified. Some official cars are AWD or raised a bit. Some of the lead cars were Safari looking trucks! The ever present Gendarmerie (French National Police) rode off road motorbikes.
Transfer Feedzone 1 to 2: We were lucky to be able to only follow the race for a short bit. As Paris-Roubaix is a tricky course that runs and crisscrosses French farmland you may intersect the course more than once which causes major traffic backups. At this point the poor French non-race people that get stuck between other team cars trying to get through must think we are crazy. Usually we need to beat the race past these intersections otherwise it is like a 20min delay! There is plenty of driving in the other lane and passing carefully. The Gendaremerie will see us coming and see our race stickers on the cars. They give us priority and get us through the intersections very quickly. Eventually we got onto a big road. The big roads can be good and bad thing. You can drive faster but there are not as many exits along the road so you need to make sure you don’t miss you exit! You could drive 10km down the road to next one, then back track 10km more to the missed exit! The Italian and German Leopard-Trek guys were arguing about something as we pulled off the road. In the end we made it with about 20 minutes to spare.
Feedzone 2: The official feedzone that is marked at 105km into the race. All set for the riders, however since Paris-Roubaix isn’t a hilly race you will need to be expected to hand up musettes while the riders are going 50-60km/hr. Sometimes I wonder if the organizers think about the placement of the feeding areas. There was a good sized over pass which was slightly up hill right at the end of the marked feedzone. I have also seen FZ marked on descents with corners and trailtracks at the bottom when there was a perfectly good hill 200m up course! My trick is to look for the blue Giro helmet. I spotted Tom and Andzs. Andzs is our Latvia rider and for this race he was able to ride in his National Champs Jersey for winning the U23 race in Latvia in 2011. I got 2 to the guys. We had Rob Bush, Andzs Flaksis and Tom Scully in front group. Pretty good! I handed up 2 musettes however last second Tom pulled his hand in as race was really starting to break up and he didnt want it. No problem them the other guys could cover him with drink. They should have enough race food. I got our other guys and then run back to the cars. We went straight away to the finish. There is only one of me doing the feeding and we don’t have an army of people around the course with bottles and wheels as you might see in the ProTour race.
Finish: So off to the Roubaix Velodrome went. Once we exited the big road after driving for about 30kms, we were on the course (ahead of the race). If you know the race we entered about 5km from the 2nd to last sector, then it is the big boulevard all the way straight on to the final sector. The final sector is really just decorative paving stones about 200m before entrance to the track. We get great parking in the shade and set up. Oscar from Leopard-Trek (the Italian) watches my gear I put out and their stuff while I head to the finish 200m away. We are getting some reports from the road. I didn’t expect any really but it is good to know something! I heard top 12 we had 3 riders at about 25kms to go. Found out that Andzs flatted in 2nd to last sector, got neutral wheel but now out of that group. We had Rob and Tom now. The lead rider had 1:30 at that point at 20km to finish, it was a Leopard-Trek rider. Then it was Tom and a Belgium guy. So if all went ok we were sprinting for 2nd. I lost track of where Rob was but he was in no man’s land between a group riding for 4th. The lead rider now has 2minutes, he would need a very big problem to take that down. My buddy Matthais (Leopard-Trek Swanny) was pretty excited as he should be! The rider was Bob Jungels from Luxembourg who one (watch that name in the future). I am standing at the entrance of the velodrome where the riders come flying into it. Tom came in front of the other rider. So he was leading going into the bell. The riders do 1.5 laps of the velodrome at the finish. Tom is a super track rider from New Zealand. This is his thing! He took the Belgium rider high on the banking coming out of turn 2. You have to remember the riders are on about 60-70PSI on their tires. Tom said to me after the race that the tires were doing wanting to creep down the track and not hold which is fine for a short bit. Last time he rode on the track he had 200PSI in his tires! It was a close sprint and were side by side coming out of turn 4. The Belgium got him by about a wheel. He was 3rd. Rob crusied in for 4th solo. There was a bit of chaos after the finish with people hanging around the track. This race had no security around so it was just everyday French people hanging out watching the race anywhere. Plus add the million young kids asking for bottles! I got Tom over to the grass where he need some time to recover. Usually you just are silent during this time other than a good work or nice job comment to them. They don’t want anything at this time. He finally came around once Rob was with us and celebrated a bit! Shortly after Mike and Chann come running into the velodrome to congratulate our top 2 guys. Andzs came in for 20th place. So we had 3. I cleaned up Tom. He got as much dust, dirt and grim off his face ready for the podium! I carry a Podium or Finish Bag. It contains full size run of our clothing SM, MD and LRG. Plus some food, drink and towels. I throw a clean jersey and socks on him for Podium. They don’t wait around for this! I look over from the Podium presentation and see all our guys yelling and jumping around in the in field. The riders have this “yell” they have assumed (it was a from a YouTube video). That was hollered out several times! Within 15minutes he was up there, then couple quick interviews and off to anti-doping control. I stay with him during the whole time. Also for this race it was chaperoned for the Anti-Doping so he kept his eye on Tom and got him to the Velodrome Office. Got all the details taken care of there and we made it back to the car within about 30minutes. Couple minutes of celebration and then off to the famous Roubaix Velodrome showers. They have names of the multiple winners in each stall. Pretty cool. The rest of our riders finished and were all pretty whipped! The Leopard-Trek team was parked next to us and they popped some bubbly! We congratulated them.
To end, it was great result. We did our jobs 100%. Bikes – Food – Prep: All perfectly organized (as best a small staff can do). Team tactics were executed. The riders did their very well jobs. We didn’t win but in the end 3rd and 4th is amazing. To reflect back now after the dust has settled a bit, it was pretty amazing to be standing in that Velodrome where for over 100 years team soigneurs have stood with their riders celebrating success and defeat! It was a nice feeling to have our guys do so well (and to some of the nicest guys in the peloton on/off the bike). We couldn’t of asked for more from this crazy race. We also celebrated a big weekend with the whole organization with a Giro win (Ryder) and the USPRO Time Trial win (Dave Z). These results just keep staking up!
Now, off to Germany! 6 day race. Then mad rush back to Toulouse, clean up, repack and get ready to leave for Augusta Georgia USA. We do National Champs U23 starting on June 20th. Should be nice and warm/muggy by then. Then drive our team car and truck/trailer from east coast to Boulder HQ. Clean up and reorg few items for Garmin-Barracuda for Colorado and Utah races. Then jump on plane on June 28th at 1pm bound for PDX! I have a tour of all things Portland starting upon my arrival! I’ll set up visitation hours… Thanks for reading. I am currently taking a nice 5 day break from the riders and the house in Girona. I am very lucky to be able to crash out here with fellow Portlander and Garmin-Barracuda rider Jacob Rathe (who placed 3rd at P-R in 2011!). Have been able to ride a bit here and do some rides way out of my fitness range! Other than that quick stop off at our Girona Service Course for a few items on Monday then back to Toulouse France. One last cool thing was other night was walking back from dinner. I spotted a gold shimmering object in the distance. It was of course the Giro Trophy. It was just hanging out on a table at a bar outside with a gang of other riders and staff. Of course Ryder was there and I met him. We connected on our Pacific Northwestern-ness (he is from Vancouver BC) and I said nice work on the Giro win…We also had a celebratory beer with him. He had a tab going…
Tot ziens, good night, au revoir, bonne wei, etc etc