Feeling: LIKE A LAD ON TOUR (of Alsace)
Right. Welcome to what was genuinely one of the best part afternoons of my life. I 'twas going to add this on to previous post but mate, the going-ons of my four hours or so serves a post in itself.
And man am I exhilarated.
So as I signed off in my last spiel, I was asked if I wanted to join the manager (Neil) and mechanic (Michelle) (Belgian man, just to clarify) in the chase car. Of course I was in the affirmative; I'm nothing if not in for new experiences, especially when they concern a certain someone who wears a helmet and bright coloured lycra (The Pedaller, I will clarify; not a road worker or some kind of new craze exercise instructor).
So in the car I went (with delft switchover skill, I might add).
I don't really know what I was expecting to expect. I mean, I've seen the cars following races on TV and what not (also to clarify; this is if Papa Henio has been a'watching, I do not have a tendency to view televised cycling races The Pedaller isn't in them myself) and I knew more or less their role, but actually being in the front seat and watching it all unfold was quite mesmerising.
So as I aforementioned, yesterday (the afternoon of topic) was a bit of a hard day. Lots of climbing up hills (eight rather high gradients), lots of heat and sun and sweat, lots of accidents and bike failures. And five and a half, clocking on to almost six hours of the stuff.
I got in the car at about 60km, going up right before a hella descent. The wallow talkie was going haywire as we climbed ("Bloody French, this guy just talks and talks and gets all excited, you just end up tuning him out," Neil said; the dude on said walkie talkie is the one who sits in the main commissaire car right behind the first group and pretty much commentates and informs all the team cars and what not) but we as flew downhill it faded into quiet; "It's radio silence on the descents," Neil explained. "That way if there is a crash or issue, you hear it straight away."
There had already been a to-the-wall; a British guy had smashed both himself and his bike, ending up breaking his jaw. And upon reaching the twirling roads flattening out at the bottom, the radio came alive: though in French, I caught the "Wiggins" (team) "122" (the rider) "Auto 14" (car). "Guy from Wiggins has come off," Neil clarified for me.
We rounded a corner and passed said Wiggins guy, hunched over his manager as a doctor (hooned straight to him in the medecin van) tested out his reflexes. He looked absolutely fucked – dazed expression, bit of blood trickling out his forehead, gingerly moving his limbs about. But three minutes after we drove on the call came over the radio; "That Wiggins boy is back on his bike," Neil said.
Mate, if that was me I'd be heading back to the swannys to recline in the camper and munch baguettes stuffed with jambon. (Well, I wouldn't, but you know what I mean).
Neil gave me some updates, letting me know how our boys were sitting and how Bas (Dutchie) had claimed the sprint and that Kasper (Pole) was sitting 2.3minutes ahead in the front group. I tried to look informed and not my actual clueless, giving appropriate reaction responses; I must have succeeded, as he then kept up an almost constant commentary filling me in on going on's. It was awesome, I even know what he was talking about here and there.
I figured out pretty early on while in the camper what "car two" and so forth mean. Your results from the day before decide what placement in the line of team cars you are. Obviously car two is pretty fab, while car 25 ain't so much. So the cars must keep in line – literally – with their count. What baffled me was how each car knows who to be behind and how the order for the day goes: was a list printed up and tacked on the dash? All the cars pointed to place upon kick off? But when I was actually in the car I clocked the stickers declaring status on the back left rear window, meaning placement can be seen with ease.
So the team cars feed to the riders. (Encouragement as well as hydration, really). The driver pulls up right alongside, and depending what side the rider is on, either he (driver; sorry, confusing) or the mechanic feed bidons (bottles) to the biker as he requests. "Energy", "Water", "Coke" or "Fanta", in our case. (Blew my brain a bit that mini cans of soft drink are given to the guys as they ride at first, but when you think about the sugary burst it would provide, it makes a lot of sense).
The first I got to witness was with Marky Mark; battling up a steep hill, he was swinging a fair bit (yeah mate), but he accepted an h20, an energy and gave me a, "Hi Poppy". I was touched he gave me an acknowledgment in his pain.
I was just drinking in the beautiful French countryside (I'm loving all these lilac homes; I wonder if when I eventually buy an abode, lilac would look out of place wherever I am?) when the radio sparked up: "An Post, 931, auto 19, something-something-something, ". Turns out The old (well, young) Pedaller's chain had fucked out again as it had did the day before, and he needed our aid. (Well, Michelle the mechanic's, but I was party to the change).
Shit those changes happen quickly. Bike down, into gear, rider on. Close-your-lids-for-a-sec-and-you'd-miss-it kind of stuff. Within a very rapid period we were back in the road – but wait! The Pedaller had pulled over again; the mechanic had the wrong sized wheel on the front and required another change. As tens of tens of riders flew by. And cars overtook. Mate, as I said – exhilarating.
And then he had to play catch up. Think about it; the other guys he was pedalling along with had continued at the same pace (let's say 42km) for the duration it took for the bike and wheel change. Rapid changes, yes, but that's still a lengthy stretch ahead for the other riders to gain. Even Neil remarked, "Fuck me we're a long way out."
But he powered, (The Pedaller, not Neil), he pumped, he took shield behind the car, and he was back in the group within no time.
I have to say I have never seen so many men relieving themselves – in a urinal sense, not anything untoward with their winkles – in my life. Spectators, riders, officials and organisers, just unzipping and having a drain all over the roadsides. Neil had to pull over to go for a couple; I had to be careful not to do a premature turn around and catch him in the snake eye. And the testosterone, wowie! As one of the very few females about I swear I could've gone for a backstroke in the stuff.
At one point Neil asked me what point, incline and location of the course we were on (I ''twas holding the race layout book). "We are at 112," he said, by way of deciphering an answer. Take a deep breath, I calmed myself. And casually responded (fingers crossed like fuck he'd been meaning km), "Just passed Walbach. About to crack into the Zimmerbach climb." Fucking nailed it mate. Took all I had not to do a self fist pump.
The whole way along the route within the villages and hills crowds of people were gathered along the roadside. Cheering, clapping, motivating the boys on, even handing out bottles of ice cold h20 and spraying them with the garden hose. And children, just everywhere! In dumbfounded entrancement and excited delight and wonderstruck awe. All the people waved at us in the car too, the kids and the adults and the elderly (as in, they did from outside, they weren't in the car with us); I had to get my queen hand gesture going.
One aspect I wasn't quite so ace on was the littering. When the riders finished their bidons, some of them would chuck them to the side. All well in the towns where children delightedly picked them up and claimed them as their own, but when it came to the areas no one was I found myself a bit peeved. I sincerely hope someone is going to collect all of those throwaways and take them to the recycling centre, I thought more than once. And as I watched The Pedaller skull a Coke and chuck the empty can into a bush, I made a mental note to have words with him later.
Neil asked if I was enjoying myself. "Mate, I'm frothing on it," I enthused, to which he had a hearty chuckle. "What a hobby aye," he said.
We shadowed the Irish lad for a fair while (we followed him down an insane descent, the speed of it was actually quite fear-inducing. Near the end of it, the radio crackled up that four riders had crashed – luckily non of our boys) feeding him a few times, put the foot down on to hang about the Pole (blew me a kiss as he rode the wee charmer), then rammed up with Dutchie Bas. It was silly, but I found myself getting all teared up as he climbed the big hill – I was just so proud.
At the next wee stop for the boys, I had to admit bladder betterment and take to the bush. (Even though I taught myself at a very young age while camping to pee standing up, I felt such an occasion wasn't so appropriate to showcase such talents). In my haste – twas scared the boys would suddenly shuffle up the hill and beyond and we would have to do some serious overtaking to get back to them – I accidentally peed all over my left Birky, but I got back to my post in plenty of time.
As the 120km mark approached Neil asked if I wanted to switch to the camper so I could see the finish or stay with; "Stay with!" I pretty much yelled at him, which saw me see the race through to the full 165.3.
The elusive "they" say that experience is the best teacher and in this instance it couldn't be more the truth. I learnt insane amounts about road racing in those few hours (did you know a "saddle shagger" is a rider who moves about on his seat more rather than pumps with his legs? Mate, I thought I knew some terms before – I discovered a whole new vocab in that car). I'm getting a handle on this points malarkey and think I've got a goodish idea on the jersey business. And while before I was entertaining ideas of being a swanny, my car ride had me think, fuck that – I want to be in the thick.
I could be the bike guy and sit in the back seat! Changing wheels and plastering up punctures and what not. Just need to get laser on my eyes so I could actually properly recognise the riders and I'd be good to go. But then again, I'd actually have to learn about how the bike mechanics work and I'm not sure I'm up for a fair few years of study to do so. That idea doesn't thrill so thoroughly, it must be said. To ponder, to ponder. (Today I figured out the perfect role; Motorbike rider for the photographer. Right up there in the midst, no need to keep to the car count line and the speed factor too! Ideal).
It's different with The Pedaller. It's not just a feeling of love, but there's also that sense of shared nervousness, fear, worry and excitement. The thought of him getting hurt makes my stomach drop out of my body and I want to bundle him up in the camper, never to do a descent again (though maybe that's more a being-older mother-like trait coming out). (Kidding; I may be a couple of years his senior, but such a feeling is just because I so deeply care). And after they finished I was a little bit in awe of him, so much so I didn't even really know what to say to him (I settled on, "Want me to cut you up some rockmelon?"). I now know why it's called endurance; there is a fuckload to endure.
Today Neil asked if I wanted to once again switch in. I tried to downplay my enthusiasm as I absolutely-yessed it, but his chuckle at my response made me think I hadn't achieved my aim. And 50km through 146.2 – what a treat!
A few observances from today's go:
– With Dutchie Bas quite ahead in the first group, Neil was considering us doing a car stop and stand side feed to the others. "Are you any good at handing bottles on?" He asked me. "I'll give it a crack," I replied, obviously quite bolstered up by my correct positioning answer from yesterday. Alas – or perhaps, praise be above – the swannys gave out a fair few at the first feed stop so I didn't get to give it a go.
– There were many surrounding fields with fresh hay bales rolled up on. I realised I'd never actually seen one up close before; what funny things they are! And picturesque too.
– The radio crackled with our favourite French commissarie, causing Neil and Michelle to have a giggle (sorry, "giggle" sounds extremely girly; let's go with "heart chortle"); "He's just said, 'Rider has stopped on the side of the road – oh no, he's just having a pee pee'," Neil explained. "Speaking of, I'm howling for a wee wee; do you guys want one?" (I reckon if the bladder had been good to go I would've even been bolstered up enough to do the stand up).
– Straight after the race we loaded up the truck, camper and car and headed the 5.5 hours back to Belg. We arrived in the early hours of the a.m, with The Pedaller, the Pole, Dutchie Bas and myself having to wait about 30 or so for the truck with our bags to arrive. As Bas had won a few jerseys and been loaded up with prizes, he had about 11 bottles of wine on board. After a brief discussion on whether a wine was wanted ("Want some wine?"; "Yes"), the boys uncorked a Gewürztraminer on the fence wire and we sat about sharing swigs for a wee while. Glorious end to the festivities.
Really feeling like a lad on Tour (of Alsace).