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Cycling fans can get up close and personal as riders fly by on each of the seven stages during this month’s USA Pro Challenge, but what spectators often miss is the work the support staff puts in behind the scenes. “All you do during a race is ride your bike, nothing else. It can be quite boring a lot of the time,” says Will Frischkorn, retired professional rider and owner of gourmet grocery store Cured Boulder. “The support staff does all the work; it is amazing what they deal with daily.”
For the past two years, I spent 18 days on the road with two teams at the USA Pro Challenge (Team Sky and Saxo Tinkoff), as both a bus driver and a member of the support staff. Of the 20 or so people who make up each team, there are four distinct groups that must work together—often pulling long days shuttling from city to city—to get their riders across the finish line. While schedules and staff undoubtedly vary by team, here is a peek at some of the work happening behind the scenes during each day of the race, based on my first-hand experience.
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As the legs of the team, each of the eight cyclists is handled with care. Their diet is managed; they receive daily massages, and generally their job is to do nothing but race and recover. Race day begins with a wake-up call four hours before the start time, followed by a hearty breakfast. This meal is just the beginning of the 8,000-plus calories each rider must consume daily to maintain his weight throughout the Challenge. After they eat, the riders head back to their rooms to pack and hang out until it’s time to board the bus. After a few espressos and a team meeting to discuss the day’s race plan, it’s off to the start line and four to six hours in the saddle. Once the day is finished, the racers head to the hotel for showers, massages, and caloric refueling before they settle in for a good night’s rest.
The brains of the operation, the team director develops the race plan for the riders at each stage, spends the day on the course communicating with the team, and keeps everyone focused on the goals—whether that’s a placing in the general classification (GC) or a stage victory. With daily meetings with race officials, plus time spent previewing the next day’s stage, team directors often pull long days throughout the race. Luckily, most teams usually have an assistant director to help out.
The hands of the team, the mechanics ensure each bike is calibrated for perfection daily. A slight mistake could be the difference between victory and defeat, which is why most teams have up to four mechanics on the road with them the entire week.
The mechanics start each morning with an early breakfast followed by final prep for every bike that could be used that day—from the ones that each rider takes to the start line to the backups bristling from the tops of the support cars. Two hours before the race starts, two mechanics will pack up the mobile garage and depart for the finish line to set up for that evening. They also transport the team’s bags, check everyone in, and deliver luggage to their rooms. The other two mechanics will be on-course in each support vehicle, ready to repair any issues that happen during the stage.
The heart of the team, the three to five soigneurs (the French term for “to look after; to nurse”) exist to pamper and protect each rider, ensuring he’s in peak form each day. Most soigneurs are certified masseuses and often spend years traveling with professional teams. Their days are often the longest and the most chaotic.
Waking an hour-and-half before the riders, the soigneurs begin preparing food for the team and packing equipment into the mobile garage. Once the riders are awake, they spend the next four hours attending to their needs until the race begins. A half hour before the start, two soigneurs will head out onto the course with food for the riders’ feed zones. The others will stay in the support vehicles to help the riders with anything they need during the race.
After the race is over, they will begin giving massages to each rider, washing all the team’s laundry, and keeping a constant stream of food coming to replenish the athletes’ battered bodies. A staff meeting and dinner round out the day before bedtime and yet another day of racing.
The USA Pro Challenge takes place August 17 to 23 throughout Colorado. This year’s course will take riders from Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin; Copper Mountain to Aspen; Aspen to Breckenridge; Loveland to Fort Collins; and finally Golden to Denver, with a circuit race and individual time trial in between. Stay tuned to 5280.com for more coverage on the USA Pro Challenge.