By Dan Marsh
At the time of writing this, I am heading back to Mallorca after a few days with ONE PRO CYCLING, the Pro Continental team I have been loosely involved in since its inception back in 2014. They were one of the 20 teams in the Tour of Britain. This year’s World Championships, taking place in Doha, Qatar (October 9-16), three weeks later than usual, meant that the national tour was a viable option for many of those who will compete in the Middle East. It was a strong field, with 10 teams from the top flight WorldTour, we saw Team SKY Orika-BikeExchange, Dimension Data, BMC, Movistar, along with well known riders such as Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Tom Dumoulin, Ian Stannard and Ben Swift.
Matt Prior invited me to spend the day with Head Sports, Director Matt Winston. I had the honour of spending stage 6 in one of the team cars – Sidmouth to Dartmoor (150km with 3,139m vertical). Given the high winds and relenting rain, the number of spectators on the roads and in the villages was really very impressive.
As is often the case where a race includes teams from all 3 levels of professional cycling, this stage was very much in the control of the World Tour teams. 4 guys broke within a kilometre of the start of the race, the peloton then sat up and made it very difficult for riders to get through and bridge the gap. The gap quickly increased to nearly 4 minutes, which is too much for a small group of riders to then race down. The 4 guys in the break then played it out for the intermediate prizes and were eventually caught by the big teams GC contenders – Sky’s Rihan Dennis eventually winning the hill top finish.
So what snippets of info did I manage to glean from my time in the team car? Plenty – namely that you have got to have “rally like” driving skills to power a team car though the winding country roads of Devon. The speed, control and driving awareness of the guys in the 4 wheel peloton is something to behold. The banter between all the team cars, police & team officials is generally cordial and light hearted. Whilst it is a serious business, there is a real feeling of boys and their toys or kids in a sweet shop.
The race is classified as an HC race, this means that each team has two cars on the road – in other races there is only one. Each car carries a spare bike for each of their riders and they are systematically positioned on the roof so that the most important rider’s bike is the most accessible. Inside the car there is food, drinks, wheels, tools and a mechanic… on the dash board there is a entire list of riders with their numbers and the key distance points on the day’s route. Many of the cars also have TV’s so that they can see for their own eyes what is happening further up the road.
Our logo wrapped BMW 3 series sport estate is connected by 3 radios…. to the other team car, to our riders and the official race radio. The first two are both ways, where as the official race radio is them speaking to us. The official radio updates us on the race, informing us of the positions of riders in the break, rider activity at the front of the peloton and then any time differences between the key groups. They inform us if one of our riders needs assistance, be that requirements of a consumable or mechanical nature. The coaches in each of the team cars discuss tactics hedging bets on what actions the other teams might take. How the One Pro Cycling riders are faring and what the next bit of the course has in store for the 6 guys on the road. As well as a test of fitness, strength and bike handling skills it is a calculated game of team chess and that team includes the entire support team as well as the riders.
Each morning the team cars get a coloured number (based on the GC standings), this is stuck on the rear screen and this dictates the order the cars follow the peloton. On closer examination, I see the car in front is that of the Madison Genesis team, driven by my mate Joan Horrach, one of Mallorca’s most well known road cyclists. We pull up along side, exchanging expletives and finger gestures.
During the early exchanges at the front of the peloton, the race commissionaires confirm a number of rules / stats for the days race – there is no 3km rule and that the cut off time is 15% of the finishers time. This means that in order to avoid elimination from the race, riders are allowed an additional 15% of the winning time to cross the line. An easier flat stage would be about 10%, with the percentage increasing the more challenging the stage, ie for the hillier stages or for the Time Trial days. The feed zone is identified as 50km from the start until 20km from the end – this is where the swannies stand with the musette bags and where we will get our coffee handed to us in the car! Along with the bidons, the Musette bags contain gels, bars, some normal snack food – each rider needs to eat approximately 60g of carbs an hour. There is also a green zone 2km before where the riders are to discard their rubbish. We raise our coffees to the other teams cars that have not been served such a treat and the race continues – The gap to the breakaway group has increased to almost 4 minutes again, this is very normal after the riders first enter the feed station.
With the inclement weather conditions and the challenging hill top finish it was a hard day on the road for all the riders… For me it was a fascinating day with the team.
I was also privileged enough to rejoin the team in London on the final stage. This was a 16 lap race that passed sites such as Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. The overall GC was won by the popular Steven Cummings from Dimension Data. If you get a chance to see the WorldTour teams in action you should go for it…. They are here in Mallorca in January for the Challenge Mallorca and it is worth heading off on your bike to see them.
Photos by JoJo Harper – www.jojoharper.com