La Fuga’s John Deering is embedded with the crack US / Canadian squad Optum-Kelly for the duration of the Women’s Tour to provide the team support.
One of the things that is making the Women’s Tour such a hit with riders and team staff is the lack of transfers. For many races, each night brings a new hotel and a new set of obstacles to cross. Stage racing can be broken down into 5% talent, 5% brainpower, 40% sweat and 50% logistics.
The beauty of the Women’s Tour is that we only have to conquer one mid-race transfer. After spending the first part of the race in Corby, Northants, we’ve now reconvened in Colchester, Essex, for the closing stages.
I’m the fourth of four workers at the Optum-Kelly team for this race. There’s a full-time US-based staff of Kevin Field, the DS, Michelle Siebert, the soigneur, and Bill McPherson, the mechanic. I’m the extra pair of hands. To give you an idea of what staff get up to at a race, here’s a rundown of my day for Stage Two.
1. Up at 6.30 for breakfast. We cleaned and checked the bikes, cleaned the cars and filled up on petrol in the vehicles last night, so no need to do that today. Michelle stayed up after finishing all the massages to prepare sandwiches for the feedstop today. Time to destroy a Holiday Inn breakfast buffet in style.
2. All the bikes go on to the roofs of the cars. The soigneur’s car, a Ford S-Max, has the riders’ bikes on, whilst the race car has the spares on.
3. Time to fill up the van. As we’re moving today, that means packing all the riders’ bags, plus the soigneur’s massage table, a couple of staff bikes, extraneous wheels, a time trial bike that another team returned to us after they borrowed it for another race, a pop-up tent for finish areas and moveable workshop, two workstands, toolboxes, trackpumps, cleaning stuff, hoses, race food, normal shopping, and a couple of hundred bottles.
4. The race car and the soigneur’s car head for the start. Kevin and Bill are accompanied by two riders, Michelle has the other three plus a photographer named Sam who is on the race with us today. I’m off in the other direction, headed for tonight’s hotel. Well, it should be the other direction, but they start off going the same way as me as Kevin hasn’t quite grasped the Satnav. A frantic phone call later and they’re steering right.
5. Holiday Inn Colchester. I check in the riders and staff into six twin rooms. This caused us a problem at the previous hotel, as a twin room is known as a double in the States, leading to a little confusion and an unexpectedly cosy night for some. There are thirty bags to be decanted and deposited in their corresponding rooms. We’re on the first floor and there’s no lift. Sigh. I set up the soigneur in the one room with a fridge, fill it with Cokes and unfold her bench.
6. Back outside, I find a tap and rope off enough room for our three vehicles. The tent goes up, hoses are attached, workstands assembled and tools laid out for the arrival of our battered steeds later. It’s pouring with rain, so there will be a fair amount of cleaning and degreasing going on.
7. Google tells me where the nearest launderette is. All the riders have a mesh laundry bag with their dirty gear in, which can go into the washers and dryers without the need to resort, which is a boon. Once I’ve pumped the equivalent number of pound coins into the machines that would let me park in the West End for about an hour, I’m off to Tesco.
8. Chocolate milk, bread, cheese, peanut butter, ham, Coke, fizzy water, ice, avocado, tomatoes, baby wipes, petroleum jelly, oats, granola, tortilla chips… that should do it.
9. Back to the hotel, drop off the various laundry bags back to the right rooms, run downstairs to meet the cars as they roll in with sodden, dirty, tired but chirpy riders. Optum-Kelly are a very happy little team, I must say. The bikes go into the first stand for a degrease and clean: just a bucket of soapy water and a soft brush once the chain, cassette, chainrings and derailleurs have been returned to shiny. The wheels get a sponge as the Challenge tubulars ride beautifully but are easily damaged. Once I’ve finished washing, they pass down to the next stand where Bill goes over each one with a fine toothcomb, resetting everything for tomorrow morning.
10. Next it’s the cars. It’s essential that the race car turns up spotless every day; a dirty DS’s vehicle a surefire way to have other teams turn their noses up at you. They get a full wash and dry.
11. Back to the launderette with today’s kit, which is filthy from the wet stage. They know me here now.
12. To the hotel with the clean kit just in time for dinner. Michelle has got through three pairs of legs on the massage table, she’ll do the other two after a slice of lasagne.
13. 9pm, in the bar with a pint, dissecting the day’s action. I thought I’d catch the second half of the football, but about forty people in various cycling team’s tracksuits and polo shirts suddenly descend and demand the race coverage on ITV4. Gah. Bike racing? Borrrring.