Being around these races you learn some things about cycling you might not otherwise. You can be sure there is going to be a breakaway, every day. Within the first few miles of the start the peloton will figure out who it wants in the break; if some riders try to get away that are too close in the GC, the peloton will chase them back. If a break goes that has a bunch of people nobody cares about, they’ll be allowed to go up the road. You can be almost sure that it’s going to get swallowed up eventually—despite the announcers best efforts to sell viewers on the break.
Second to the officials we have the most people in the race with communications equipment, so we know more about the race situation than anyone else. Long before you hear it on the broadcast, we know about the gap extending or shrinking. People don’t realize that if they’d ride in our car, they’d be privy to all of this information. They could have a much different perspective on the race. We do give rides, mostly connected to marketing stuff: dealers, contests, that sort of thing. And it is eye-opening for those poor people who have no idea what it’s like to drive one of these stages. Following a race, especially one through mountain passes and windy roads, requires one to let go of ‘traffic laws’ and ‘defensive driving.’ They’re usually equal parts horrified and impressed. You don’t get used to having cars pass you on either side with six inches to spare in everyday driving.
At any given point, you’re constantly looking in ten directions looking for moving parts.
When you’re in one of the races you’re surrounded by local authorities, but we’re allowed to drive around them—carefully—at extremely high rates of speed. It’s not that the riders are moving at 100 mph, it’s the fact that we need to move, quickly, in between the peloton and the break and the grupetto and everyone in between, who are spread out over miles of road. It’s against your normal nature to blow by a State Patrolman at 110 mph, but you have to be quick. Sometimes you’ll be shooting down the road and, seeing a yellow light turn orange, you have to stop yourself from hitting the brakes. And on the other hand after the race, it’s a tough adjustment to be a civilian, to see a red light and tell yourself, “I need to stop.” Sometimes local cops will give you the stink eye when you’re squealing tires through their corners, but they have to let you do it.
People also don’t realize the monkey business that’s going on in the caravan, the chaos caused by different teams in different spots being called up at different times to go feed or do a mechanical or what have you. And you’ll see riders literally being towed back up to the group, things like that. MFS has witnessed countless ‘sticky water bottles’ and ‘brake adjustments’ over the last three years. So far everyone in this race has been pretty courteous though. We actually saw one of the Garmin riders come back to the car yesterday with a jersey malfunction.
The mechanic was halfway out of the car with a pair of shears trying to snip something on the guy’s jersey at 35 mph. If they hit a speed bump, they’re down a rider. They’re down a human.