Milan – San Remo with ORICA-GreenEDGE
By guest blogger Andrew Rigg
Andrew Rigg was part of an exclusive quartet of guests with the ORICA-GreenEDGE team for the opening classic of the 2014 season, Milan – San Remo. He took time out on his return to tell us about the experience.
From the very moment we arrived in Italy, it was clear that this was no ordinary corporate jolly. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on a few behind-the-scenes type sporting affairs, funnelled through corridors, shaking hands with people you recognise on the tv at football matches, F1, etc. It’s all very nice, but you feel as though you’re on a bit of a conveyor belt.
This wasn’t like that. We went out for dinner at Shayne Bannan’s local restaurant close to ORICA-GreenEDGE’s base in Varese. Sitting next to the man who had set this whole thing up, relaxed and chatting openly over a delicious meal, I was one of the gang, more than welcome. I felt like part of the team.
No subject was out-of-bounds. Maybe it would have been different if I’d been an investigative journalist, but I’m not: I’m a cycling nut, and I want to know everything. Everything I asked got a straightforward, thoughtful and open answer. It was so refreshing, and frankly, very, very exciting. What was most interesting was Shayne’s policy on recruitment. Of course, you need to be a good bike rider, but more than anything else, he wants to know how you’re going to fit into the ethos, if you’re going to slot in to the culture of a very unusual, very laid back set-up. That explains why the openness and friendliness trickles down through the entire operation.
The next morning was an excellent case in point. Our tour of the state-of-the-art Australian Institute of Sport’s High Performance Unit wasn’t like a group stadium tour. It was an intimate look at the inner sanctum of one of the world’s most advanced facilities. We could go where we liked, talk to who we liked, and, amazingly, they all seemed genuinely pleased to speak to us too. The bikes and workshop were out of this world, as you might expect, but it was the little things that blew me away. I opened the door to a room the size of a double garage and found it full of Power Bars.
The coolest thing for me was to go on the team bus. It was already set up to go to Milan for the next day’s race, so as well as being shown the showers, the lounge at the back, the soigneur’s washing machines and the mechanics’ lab-like workshop, the riders’ wet bags were labelled and laid out individually on their seats. Wet bags, it was explained, were all the extra kit they might need for bad weather: caps, capes, arm-warmers, the lot, all personalised. I felt like I was touching a little bit of history.
The welcoming nature of the whole ORICA bunch obviously spreads to the women’s team too, as they took us for a beautiful training spin with them around Lake Maggiore. Again, we could chat about anything, and when we got back and had a cappuccino in a great little pavement café, the riders wouldn’t let us pay and leave after one, they wanted us to stay, chat, have another one and a cheeky slice of cake, too. It wasn’t corporate bonding, they liked us being there and sharing their stories with us. It was very cool. These are the best racers in the world: sitting next to the Australian National Champion’s jersey as I sipped my coffee and knowing that I wasn’t gatecrashing was a great feeling.
Checking in at our hotel in Milan the afternoon before the big race, I waited in line between Bjarne Riis, Brian Holm and Patrick Lefevre, three of the most influential managers in the sport. My heart was pumping and I did my best to keep cool. If ORICA were going to treat me like I was an accepted part of the team, I’d better act like one when the other teams were around. Tinkoff-Saxo and Omega Pharma Quickstep were in the same hotel, and I have to tell you a funny thing that happened…
I’d been reading a piece about Mark Cavendish and how he’s easily irritated. I was trying to snatch 40-winks after my busy morning and before the big dinner that night, but there was a baby crying in a room nearby. I thought to myself, “I hope Cav’s not on this floor, he’ll be well annoyed with that.” After a shower, I opened my door just at the same time as the couple opposite were leaving their room with their baby, who was calming down after her long screaming fit… and her Mum and Dad were Mark Cavendish and Peta Todd! I nodded hello, smiled to myself and headed downstairs.
At the dining room, it was a right turn for guests and left turn for teams. Which included me. Result. I sat next to Shayne and opposite Sport Director Matt White and we discussed plans for the next day with me slipping into my role as part of the team quite happily. I still had to bite my tongue when I found myself in the queue for pasta behind Matt Renshaw but I could get used to it. I had to reign myself in. Eating the same food as the guys about to ride one of the world’s biggest races was one thing, but I had to check my portions if I wasn’t going to go home the size of a house.
Mick Rogers strolled over for a chat and Matt White introduced us, which was a nice touch. It was noticeable that the other teams not only had no guests with them that I could see, but less staff too. The ORICA party at dinner was twice the size of the others, with everybody included, where other team staff were elsewhere. Over the course of a long night, I chatted one on one with many of the riders. Brett Lancaster told me he’d come back from a 150km training ride to pick up a message that summoned him here in place of Simon Gerrans after the Aussie Champ had to pull out at the last minute – and he would be heading straight to Catalunya to race on Monday too. We chatted about other teams, other riders… everybody was so down to earth, so relaxed. Shayne was very illuminating on every subject we talked about, going so far as to print some stuff out and bring it down to breakfast the next day to illustrate one of the things he’d been explaining. What a dude – you wouldn’t think a guest from England would be his priority on the biggest race day of the season so far.
Race day… our VIP passes waltzed us through the police and security to the startline, skipping out of Fabian Cancellara’s way as he “Scuzi’d” his way past. My heart rate was pinging to be in the middle of it. Then we were off to ride the closing capi for ourselves, speeding over the Cipressa and the Poggio just before the pros. We could see the gathering storm clouds and feel the salty rain on the air as we shot down the crowd-lined avenues into San Remo, and the storm struck just as we made it back. We knew our guys out there in the race wouldn’t be quite so lucky, so we quickly changed and raced out to our VIP slots on the finish line, stopping for a quick handshake and selfie with Mario Cipollini as we took our seats for the thrilling finale.
We saw Alexander Kristoff shoot past us to take the prize, then were right by the podium for his celebration, close enough to give Ben Swift a pat on the back and say “well done” for his brilliant third place.
Summing the whole thing up… ORICA-GreenEDGE are unique. With other teams, you sense that there is a hierarchy, that you’d need to go through layers of flunkies and management to talk to anybody of note, and then it would be in hushed, reverent tones. Here, everybody is a friend, everybody is respected. I went as a cycling fan and came back as part of the ORICA-GreenEDGE family. It’s not about making you feel welcome, that suggests there’s an effort involved. You just are welcome.
Find out more about our upcoming ORICA-GreenEDGE Experience tours to the Giro d’Italia and Tour of France.