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Armed with our ‘paddock’ passes for Stage 1 of the Tour de France, we placed all our faith in Google Maps to help us navigate central Brussels by foot and find Team Dimension Data, of who we would be shadowing for the next two days. After a bit of miscommunication, a few road blocks and a small hold up by the famous Tour de France ‘Caravan’, we found ourselves in a rather empty, fenced off cobbled clearing in front of the ‘Palais de Bruxelles’. First we heard the police entourage, then we saw the procession of Team Buses…The Tour de France had arrived!!
As soon as the bus & team cars parked up, a hive of activity started. Mechanics preparing bikes and soigneurs prepping the cars & nutrition. The media flocked to get the first sound bite regarding the heavily documented team selection for this years Tour. A mass of people swarmed the area but the riders were no where to be seen. The four walls of the bus kept them away from the fuss, providing serenity for just that bit longer before the 3 week grand tour began.
The first glimpse of the riders came when they spun to the stage to sign on and be presented to the crowd. We said a quick hello to Ben King, and had Steve Cummings show us the contents of his pockets. A couple of Duo Bars, an Anytime Bar and Gel for starters. The rest would be picked up from the team car or feed during the race. For this 195km stage the riders would be looking to take on between 360-405g of carbohydrates during the race. With Steve’s pockets full and two bottles of Energy Drink on his bike, he only actually had 220g of carbohydrates with him to start, so it would be essential to pick up more products during the stage.
You could sense the apprehension in the air. The first week of the Tour is known to be nervous times for riders and this year’s technical first stage was certainly going to test them.
We then jumped in a team car with two soigneurs and made our way to the feed. We were the warm up act for the crowds as we sped through the twists and turns of Brussels ahead of the race. This gave us time to get ahead and set up at the designated feed. Once parked up, the soigneurs opened their boot, and we watched as they set about preparing the musettes they would hand to their riders. This was their office for the day, the cool box their table. Their experience was evident; this wasn’t their first Tour de France and wouldn’t be their last; not phased by the reputation of this race.
The musettes contained two Energy Gels, a Duo Bar, an Anytime Bar, two of the homemade rice cakes and two fresh bottles containing Energy Drink. Here would be the next energy drop that Steve Cummings would need to fuel the rest of his stage and make up the carbohydrate deficit. The two soigneurs would do their best to get a musette to all 8 riders, but if missed the riders could always go back to the team car to get it, providing the the nature of the course allowed for it. Technical courses make jobs like that much more difficult, and rider really have to choose the right time to do this to use as little energy as possible.
As quick as a flash the feed was done and we we’re racing back through the crowds to the other side of Brussels for the finish. The pre-race predictions of a hectic stage were correct and a frantic finish resulted in a crash in the bunch with 2km to go. This splintered the bunch, with reduced numbers contesting the finish. Avoiding the carnage, Team Dimension Data set out their stall with a fantastic 4th place by sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo!
Stage 1 had been a hot and heavy start to the Tour and this was apparent on the faces of the riders as they rolled back to sanctuary of the Team Bus. A quick turbo spin to loosen the leg, the riders focused straight away on recovery mode. No hanging around, they were presented with Recovery Drinks to kick start this important process. A very short transfer back to their race hotel meant eating on the move wasn’t necessary today and they could enjoy a meal back at base. All eyes were now on Stage 2 – TTT day.
Sunday brought a (slightly) more relaxed start to the day and with the start being (thankfully) in the same place as the day before, our heavy dependence on Google Maps from the day before was not necessary. Despite the stage not starting until mid afternoon, the teams arrived early to take advantage of course recce time.
Whilst the riders were away, the staff quietly went about their long list of tasks. OTE stores were replenished on the bus and in the cars, and bottles were prepared and stored in the many cool boxes. Being TTT day, a clear warm up stage was set and left ready for the addition of riders bikes. The riders rolled in relaxed, a few quick bike adjustments then within a blink of an eye they were back on confines the bus. There they would change and have their final pre race meal around 2 hours before their start time of 3:30pm.
At the specific time of 2:53pm all the riders emerged from behind the curtain of the bus, fully kitted up minus the helmets.They each found their pre set up turbo trainer, draped with a towel and equipped with a bottle filled with OTE Hydro tab slotted in the front wheel. The aero bottles they would race with stayed in the cooler until very last minute. A prescribed warm up routine was stuck on each stem. No need for the riders to think; just ride.
A ride they did; hard! The crowds of fans and staff gathered round to spectate these guys putting themselves through some real pain, all in the name of a warm up. A team time trial is intense from the moment they roll down the ramp, and to be fully ready to commit to an all out effort is obviously very important. No time to wait for the legs to wake up, this had to all be achieved in the 25 minutes warm up.
Sweat poured off the riders, but each and every rider knowingly kept sipping their bottles, replenishing the fluids and salts being lost. Dehydration can negatively impact a riders performance; so taking on board fluid is just as important as taking on fuel.
It was our blackcurrant 100mg caffeine rocket fuel that was gel of choice pre TTT, taken discretely during the warm up. Caffeine helps to lower the feeling of perceived exertion, allowing the riders to dig that little bit deeper. As soon as the synchronised warm up was complete, the riders slide their sweaty heads in to their cocoon like aero helmets and rolled straight to the start.
Team Dimension Dat stopped the clock at 29 minutes 51 seconds, covering the 27.6km at 55.47kph!! Phenomenal speeds and good enough for 14th on the day, less than a minute behind the eventual winners.
And just like that our time with Team Dimension Data was done.
What an experience to spend a few days in the hectic but extraordinary Tour De France bubble. We’re very proud to have our products being used on the biggest sporting stage and to witness it first hand made it all the more real for us. We wish Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka all the luck for the rest of the Tour, we’ll be in your pockets all the way!
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