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Stage four of the 2018 Tour de Yorkshire, aptly named ‘The Yorkshire Terrier’, on paper looked to be one of the toughest stage ever put on by the organisers. With no less than 6 categorised climbs nestled between countless uncategorised climbs, the riders were certainly in for a tough day out. They were visibly nervous, even I felt a bit nervous just knowing the roads they were heading towards. I greeted John Herety, DS of Team JLT Condor and almost straight away he told me the team had packed a lunch for me; the perfect way to put a nutritionist/cyclist at ease. I think for as long as I have been in the cycling world I have known of John, and it’s common knowledge the amount of respect the man commands. A fountain of cycling knowledge and I was looking forward to a day with him.
The sun shone and the huge crowds stood proud as we rolled out of Halifax. There was a moment of calm in the neutralised section as the cars took formation behind the peloton, we were car 12, this is based on your best riders position on GC. This calm didn’t last, and if I’m honest never returned; from Km 0 the race was on! And it is at this point it quickly became apparent to me that the job of DS and team car is potentially slightly over looked. It’s no scenic drive around the lanes of Yorkshire, but instead a sensory overload of action all having to be met with composure. Let me break it down for you abit.
Obviously racing myself I know the temperamental nature of the race radio. Sometimes it’s your life line, others times it’s a frustrating nose that you just want to rip out your ear when things aren’t going your way. In the team car the radio is the centre of all activity. First off, you receive information from the race organisers. This can be information that needs relaying to riders, such as tight roads, gravel etc, and on Sunday there was a lot of these ‘hazards’.
Secondly, you receive the commentary of what is happening in the race, which riders are attacking off the front and making the break, or more savagely which riders are being dropped out of the peleton. In the car the job sits with both the DS & the mechanic to filter this constant information overload, take from it the stuff that is important to their team, and disregard the rest. O and just to make it a bit more interesting, sometimes it’s in French.
The third challenge comes when trying to communicate with the riders. As to be expected the connection to riders isn’t quite as clear as the car to car one. Trying to decipher the varying accents of the team, through poor signal and wind interference whilst they are racing along… is a challenge; I was struggling. John’s experience shone through, he was fluent in radio speak and seemed to be able pick out exactly what riders were saying whilst I sat there with a face of utter confusion.
The next big part of the role of the DS is the driving. From hill starts on 25% climbs to negotiating tight Yorkshire lanes at speed. The cars in the convoy drive close, worryingly close for someone new to the situation. They all have their place in the line on the left behind the race, but very rarely is the line linear and perfect. If a rider needs assistance a car can be called up to the back of the peloton, if a rider has a mechanical or crashes a car can be forced to pull over. The aim is always to get back to your given place in the line. But, imagine 20 teams all doing this, all with their own agenda, all placing their riders welfare higher than any others (and quite rightly); then this quickly descends into organised chaos. Now let’s add a few more obstacles into the equation: motorbikes, riders in amongst the cars, road furniture, spectators, tiny country lanes. A DS ideally needs eyes in the back and sides of their head and spatial awareness second to none. Not for a second can you take your foot off the ball.
Very early on in stage 4 I was introduced to John Herity’s potential as a WRC Rally Driver. Unfortunately descending off the first KOM Ali Slater was involved in a crash that forced him to abandon the race. Once we had stopped, checked he was ok and got him safely in an ambulance the race had long gone in front of us. Time to engage rally mode! We needed to get back to the convoy quick for radio signal and in case any more of the riders needed us. John was straight on the gas and we were hurtling at breath taking speed down hill, chasing the peloton, taking the racing line round corners, me reaching for the imaginary brake. I can’t deny I was slightly bricking it but feeling totally alive. This is one of many times I felt like this during the race. John didn’t even flinch.
Another job of the team car is to service the riders. This can be in mechanical terms; punctures, damaged equipment etc. They can pass up kit if the weather is bad too. Most commonly riders return to the car for nutrition. For a stage that is 180+km in length they can’t possible carry all they need with them. A designated feed station is part way along the stage where they receive their mussettes full of food and bottles from the sign of the road, but for more reserves the car is the place. Not all riders drop back to the car, it is usually a designated rider. This riders job is to fill their pockets and jersey with as many bottles of energy drink, duo bars and energy gels as possible and then deliver these back to their team mates. It’s not an easy job, it can require a lot of energy, and needs to be done a strategic time so as not to make it even harder for the rider to get back. If coming into a climb, heading back to the car is just plain madness. John whilst driving, passess the bottles out to the rider whilst giving some words of wisdom too. Who said men can’t multitask!
The final job in the team car is to take all the race information, the course knowledge, rider feedback and devise a plan to get your team the best result. No pressure. Once you have devised this bulletproof plan… you need to be able to quickly and calmly amend it multiple times over as the race situation develops. You need to be encouraging but firm with your riders, you need to think about the psychology of how you communicate with them. You always want to get the most out of them. You need to be realistic. All this whilst driving at speed, listening to a French radio and handing out bottles. Like I said…No pressure.
Think of all this like a layer cake; it’s never just one job at one time but all of the above, at once, for 4-6 hours. Yes some stages are more sedentary than others but the principles are all the same. And I think JLT Condor’s results at the Tour de Yorkshire are a credit not only to the riders but also to the fantastic, knowledge team ‘behind the peloton’. John’s excitability when we realised Ian Bibby had made the selection over the final climb of the day was infectious and memorable. It’s no easy job being a DS but we think John’s doing pretty alright.
All joking aside, we’re very proud to sponsor JLT Condor and we’re excited to see what the rest of the year brings.
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