A lot of you had asked to hear what is going on over here, so I thought I’d write about a few things. Sorry if it gets long as sometimes I can’t get online and (like now) will have to wait a few days till I can. Sometimes it is just to late. If you don’t feel you wish to read this, let me know and I’ll omit your e-mail address.
June 6: I’ve landed.
I arrived (with the rest of the team from Pro Road Championships-Philly) in Brussels at 7 am Tuesday. We are met by Emma and Geoff and instantly are loading bikes and luggage into the team truck while the riders are carted off if in the team camper (small motor home). 3 mechanics (and 3 soigneurs) for 8 riders should make this race run smooth.
About 11 am we arrive at the hotel we will be staying at for our first event. The tour of Luxembourg. Luggage out and we hook up water and power as is standard operations.
Up until this time I have felt fine, but the adrenaline has worn off and I am now feeling the affects of the jet lag and wish for a nap. After a little lunch (which I find out later will be exactly the same thing, to the letter, that we have for dinner) we prepare the bikes for an afternoon ride. We also prepare a few new white bikes for the riders who will be doing the tour including our tour alternate. We have our old (small) truck here and it holds an amazing 32 bikes and 40 pair of wheels on the wall and it is only a little bigger that the Saturn truck. Not to mention that there is a soigneurs bay that takes valuable room making the effective mechanics space only a pinch larger that the Saturn truck. We are the first team here so we get the choice pick to park the truck. This hotel will house 9 teams including Telecom, Rabobank, AG2R, Farm Frites, Fasso Bartolo and more.
I am told that we are staying at an unusually nice hotel. Our room is sort of small and the bed is half the size of the queen bed I had in Philly. What could be less than this big closet? I need to stay awake for a while so I go for my first run in 2 years. Only 20 minutes and I’m totally shelled. Legs are dead but at least I’m still awake!
I am wasted now and will be going to bed soon after my first day of my first European campaign. Wasted but still have just a bit of adrenaline coursing through my body. Just enough to type this.
June 7th: Crowded parking lot
Closing the door to the team truck after work last night I surveyed the lot and it was pretty empty. All that changed after breakfast the next day. After eating a bit of breakfast I walked out to a packed parking lot. Rabobank was the only team without a big truck. They had a small truck, a van and about 4 cars. Their big truck is at the Dauphine Libere. Even though, they managed to bring 32 bikes and a ton of wheels etc. Not all of them for this race, so some of their bikes will go to Tour DE Sues. Every other team though had a huge truck that made the Mercury truck look like a toy. Add to that, teams also bring a camper (transport the riders and for rider privacy before and after the race), A caravan car and a feed zone car that also carries the race bikers to and from the race. That makes for a busy parking lot.
June 8th: The big league
This is my first European caravan. Things here are different. The races are longer, harder but mostly, just plain more. The caravan ride was crazy. For those familiar with Disneyland, this was an e-ticket ride for sure. Most roller coaster rides are not even in the same league after doing this. The road are so narrow and we need to pass at 75 plus kph. I don’t think I could drop a tennis ball between our car and the next (because we are so close) as we pass going down hill.
The fans are unstoppable. I don’t get two steps out of the team car (as we arrive at the start) and we are surrounded with fans asking for postcards, bottles or hats. It is so tough to keep a hold of the swag for very long. Once you bring out one postcard, hat or bottle. Then the rest of the fans around will see you do that and ask for more postcards (or hats or bottles). Passing the feed zone was equally crazy. There the fans (about 40 or so I saw) were waiting for discarded bottles, musettes or hats. These silly fans will risk life, running just after the pack passes but just before the caravan passes, to grab their goodies discarded by the riders. They come so close to getting hit for that silly musette or whatever item was dropped.
June 9th: Camper man
Today I was camper man. Two mechanics go to the race and one stays at the hotel. Yesterday I was in the caravan car so today I was camper driver. Tomorrow I get the morning stage off but all three mechanics will go to the evening TT. Good thing as I hate TTs. There is so much work involved so having all three of us will help a lot. As the camper driver, I drive to the race and then help the other mechanic get the bikes off the car and ready to go. Immediately after the start, I drive directly to the finish. Many races here are point to point (as opposed to loops or circuits in the US). So since I drive directly to the finish, I get there at least a few hours before them. Plenty of time to scout a place to park so that we can also make a fast exit straight after the finish. We left the finish area not more than 6 or 7 minutes after our last rider crossed the line. The bonus of camper driver (for me at least) is time to relax (meaning a badly needed nap). I was out cold for an hour and a half while parked at the then quiet finish area. Yes!
June 10th: Rest day
Today I got to stay at the hotel for the morning RR but later will have to go to the afternoon TT. So after getting the bikes ready for the AM RR and seeing the riders off, it is time to relax myself. Straight to bed for a late morning/early afternoon nap. I’m close to getting used to this time zone but after a good weeks worth of travel and races, I needed it. Good thing we are at the same hotel the whole stage race. Transfers would have made the jet lag that much tougher. My second agenda for today was to get a short run. Second run in a long time and it hurt. A good thing I ran though as it has been a long time since my last bike ride. Benoit Joachim is one of our riders who is from Luxembourg. He is one of the countries top cycling stars. Fans will pass right by Hincapie to get to Benoit for an autograph.
Now it is time for a short (one drink) union meeting.