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I have now spent a few years working with teams at the Tour Down Under and it is always an absolutely fantastically organised and run event. The level of cycling talent that is put on display at this race is forever improving and year-by-year we are treated to spectacles of human performance.
Many wouldn’t know what happens behind the scenes at an event like the TDU and I thought I would take this opportunity to bring this hidden world of World Tour Cycling to the fore….
Teams arrive as early as two weeks before the event with some staff members spending the new-year in Adelaide in preparation, and by teams I mean not only riders but 2 soigneurs, a physio (myself), a director of sport, a media representative, a general manager and the team owner. Once teams arrive there is a flurry of training and acclimation to the climate of Adelaide. Most teams will embark on training rides and recon rides varying from 2-6 hours in length to get a feel for the conditions and to experience key points in of important stages. For EF Education First DRAPAC p/b Cannondale this involved a 5hr ride including multiple repeats of Willunga hill and other starts and finishes of various stages. As many riders are receiving new race bikes, which are built on site, and gear. This is the time for testing and tweaking equipment and checking and double-checking measurements transferred from training bikes
Other staff are busy working to preparation for the race, media and social media releases and sponsor relations, trying to get ahead as far as possible before the first stage. Riders are seen daily by soigneurs and for soft tissue work and spend most of the rest of the time eating and resting and eating again. Race tactics are formulated and rider lists are studied to determine opportunitiesand possible threats from other teams.
When racing starts things come together like a well oiled machine, soigneurs look after riders, mechanics look after bikes and the director of sport looks after tactics…
Meals are held in a central conference room with a table set for each team and a long buffet that runs the length of the room, some 20-25m in length. Riders are hungry…. While the riders are having their breakfast the mechanics are checking bikes and loading the cars while soigneurs are filling bottles and stocking race food, along with about 100 other odds and ends jobs. Riders come down and a 5-minute warning is issue from race organisers to signal convoy depart. Teams then travel in convoy to the race start, one team car and one team bus with race bikes and riders. Police escorts and roadblocks make for a smooth transition to the start line and teams begin their final preparation. Rides will stock food, check their race radio and lather themselves in sunscreen before signing on and then they are off.
On the road, given the condition this year, riders consumed about 12 600ml bottles each over the course of each stage, which equates to about 85 in total plus extras that they use as a road shower to cool down. They take these from the race car and from the feed zone where every riders receives a mousette containing 3 gels, 2 biddons, 1 ice stocking, 1 bar and 1 can of coke… that’s lunch.
Waiting at the finish line are the soigneurs who have travelled there in a police convoy from the feed zone. An area has been set up with rider’s bags, chairs, towels and extra drinks and sandwiches (usually subway). Riders come in and are immediately given extra water and protein recovery. One soigneur stays at the finish line with a bag containing fresh kit, caps and sponsor correct shoes in case any riders are required for the podium. The other stays with the bus awaiting the arrival of the riders, and team car.
Depending on the distance of the race finish line to the hotel, riders will either transfer back to the car in the bus or ride, and can clock up quite a few kilometres, for example the 145km stage finishing at Stirling plus the ride back clocked up 183km over the day…
After race transfer, riders drop their bikes to be washed, tuned and stored and head to the hotel to snack and see the soigneurs for a 1hr massage, during this time it is all about replenishing fluids and energy and promoting recovery. I will see riders for specific issues or niggles throughout the stage and deal with any injuries from crashes. Dinnertime is usually 7:30 at the buffet again with sometimes a race de-brief following. From there soigneurs head back to the team tent to prep bottles and race foot etc for the following day. Lights out by about 9-9:30 to get up and do it all again for the next day.