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PodiumJen Reports: Tales from le podium at the Tour de France

  • Editor’s Note: Jen Caudill is a model, podium girl, and journalist who also happens to be the girlfriend of Garmin-Transitions’ pro Steven Cozza. This is her fifth column for VeloNews.com this year.
  • Author’s Warning: This column contains fluffy content. Fluffy like champagne, ewwy gooey podium kisses and girls in fancy dresses.

Even if your significant other isn’t riding in the Tour de France, you’re still enveloped in the race. OK, at least I am. Steven trains early (mostly to avoid the extreme summer heat) and then returns home for a few hours of high quality recovery executed by watching the Tour de France on Teledeporte, our free Spanish sports station. I usually fall asleep to the lull of the Spanish commentary, but occasionally I wake up to Steven’s enthusiastic narrative of the race. “300 meters to go! Tyler’s got Dean and Hunter leading him out! Do you see how they’re doing that? Man, I wish I was there!” Or, “Ryder is STILL in the front group! This is so awesome! Wake up, Jen, you have to see this!”

PodiumJen Reports: 2010 Tour of California podium attire
Ashley and I in our V Australia podium attire. Everything was authentic - exact attire worn by V Australia flight attendants, except for the red heels!

The Andy/Alberto controversy is one thing, but remember that I am a podium hostess and therefore another aspect of the podium has caused my mouth to drop. If you’ve watched Cancellara, Voeckler, Contador or Schleck on the podium, you’ve probably caught a horrible glimpse of the podium attire at the awards presentations. Friends, family and fans email to me frequently to ask what I think about the full-body suits worn by the stage-win hostesses and the polka-dotted umbrella skirt/jacket combo donned by the KOM ladies.

My opinion? Oh, the shame! The stage win outfits look like SCUBA gear meets Buzz Lightyear. It’s awful, but the real tragedy of the awards presentation is absolutely the KOM hostess attire. Frankly, if I had been hired and then told I would be presenting in this outfit for three straight weeks, I’d ask my agent to get me out of the contract. Vain? Maybe. Necessary usage of survival skills? Most definitely. I’m not exclaiming that the V Australia get-ups we wore at the Amgen Tour of California in May were anything to write home about (come to think of it … I did email my sister back in Georgia to joke with her about how I would be wearing a nametag that said, “sally” all week), but at least I didn’t feel like a character out of Tim Burton’s most recent version of Alice in Wonderland.

The Tour of California has come and gone and I’ve made my peace with being sprayed head to toe with champagne by Dave Zabriskie and the entire Garmin squad, but still, cycling fans continue to ask questions about what it’s like to be a “podium girl” at the North American tours. These are my FAQ’s.

Q: Are the guys sweaty and smelly on stage?
A: I get this question mostly from women and it amuses me to think what must be running through their minds as they watch podium presentations. Most of the time the guys are completely clean when they get onto the stage. They don’t smell bad. Honestly, as I’ve experienced from being in a relationship with one of these athletes — they rarely have body odor after a long, hard ride. I guess they sweat so much and flush so many fluids that they rarely have toxin build-up. That’s my theory, anyway. And as soon as the winners cross the finish line, they are directed by a race official to head to the “green room” or “athlete tent” to freshen up. They are assisted by a soigneur from their team and then basically sponge bathed right there in the tent behind the stage. I recently learned, while at dinner with Tyler Farrar and discussing his podium experiences, that it is an honor to be the soigneur chosen to attend the winners at the podium — they are responsible for getting the riders where they need to go, cleaned up, redressed, etc. So that little white tent to the side of the podium — it’s an express pro cyclist washroom. And yes, I have accidentally been caught in that room as athletes are changing. They must be used to all the nudity. I’m not.

Q: Who chooses what you wear on stage? And why are you dressed like flight attendants at the Amgen Tour of California?

PodiumJen Report: Dave Zabriskie at Tour of Missouri
Trying to get DZ to cooperate on the podium at the 2009 Tour of Missouri. He can be a handful, but we adore him.

A: This year, the awards podium was sponsored by V Australia, Richard Branson’s newest international airline. For better or worse, Ashley (my fellow podium hostess) and I were outfitted in attire that the airline’s actual flight attendants wear while on duty. Right down to a starchy white button-up blouse and alias nametag for “Sally.” Honestly, we weren’t happy about this at first, but after hearing all week how classy we looked compared to hostesses of years past, we accepted our conservative fate and worked with it the best we could. On this note, don’t hate on the women at the Tour de France based on what they’re wearing. It’s all up to the sponsors!

Q: How did you get this job?
A: Ah, the age-old question! After being chosen from a nationwide casting call, I began working with Medalist Sports in 2005 with Tour of Georgia and have been invited back to work for many races since then. This return invite process happens with races in Europe as well. Hostesses who execute their jobs in a professional and elegant manner tend to develop relationships with the hiring companies and may return to different races sometimes a half a dozen times or more. For instance, Martijn Maaskant’s girlfriend, Lien, works as a podium hostess for several races in Belgium. She’s adorable, articulate and knowledgeable, so she is booked straight through the spring classics! Additionally, many of you may have noticed American girl, Laura Antione, has returned to work as a podium hostess for the best young rider presentations at le Tour.

Q: What are you saying to the riders on stage?
A: Fans and media alike so often greet us after a podium presentation and ask us “what were you saying to ‘that guy’ on stage this afternoon?” or they exclaim, “looks like you guys have a lot to talk about!” What we’re mostly doing is giving clear, simple directions to these guys all the way through their appearance on the podium. They’re worn out and can’t think straight, much less walk straight. So here’s how it usually goes, for instance, “Hi Roger. Congrats. Can you please step to the front and center for me? Thank you.” and, “You will now receive a gift. Please pose for a photo.” and “Great, thank you. We are going to kiss you on the cheek now for a photo.”

Since I have done this for so long, several of the guys who frequent the podium, such as Mark Cavendish, will say, “Hey Jen, good to see you” and give me the traditional European kisses as soon as I lead them to the stage. Another guy who likes to horse around is Dave Zabriskie. As often as I direct him on the podium, I continually have to plead with him to follow my direction. He isn’t trying to be a jerk … he’s just a goofball and I think he likes to make my job extra difficult just because he and Steven are teammates. On that note, sometimes if it looks like I’m saying a little more to the guys who are up there often, we probably are just having a little conversational banter.

Q: What do you do during the day when you’re not on stage?

PodiumJen Reports: Tour of Missouri
Erin, my fellow podium hostess at Tour of Missouri, getting ready for the daily drive. We drive ourselves from stage to stage, unless our awards coordinator is free and is able to drive us. We get to lug around our gigantic suitcases and any extra awards to be presented on the day.

A: We usually drive to the city where the stage begins and mingle with the crowd and riders. Then we make our way to the finish city and might stop for a bite along the way. When we get to the finish, we have more preparation — usually a little more make-up for the afternoon podium presentation. Then it’s more mingling with the crowd, hopefully grabbing another bite to eat in the hospitality tent and then on our way to learn who is presenting which award during ceremonies. We don’t just walk on stage and kiss riders. We are in a tent for an hour before the race finishes introducing ourselves to people such as sponsors, state officials and volunteers with whom we will be on stage. Then our coordinator comes over and says at lightening speed, “OK, today we’re going Amgen Leader’s jersey, then one-two-three, not three-two-one like yesterday. Then the mayor is speaking and we want you on stage for that. But then come off before jersey presentations. Jen, you have flowers on your side for all jerseys except Rabobank best young rider. The sponsor will have that winner’s flowers today. But you will need to carry the surfboard the winner on the day is receiving. And probably a trophy. And maybe a check. A big check. Yes, I believe there is a big check today. OK, you girls got it? I’m sure you do. Thanks. Go ahead and get on stage.” And that’s that. We do our best and hope it looks great.

It isn’t rocket science, but it’s all part of the program. The entire awards production, start to finish, requires a lot of man power, and in the end it’s up to two hostesses to make sure everything on-stage goes as it was planned off-stage. The winners deserve their moment in the limelight and we’re happy to help put on the show.

Well, for this month, I’m leaving the kisses and frills up to the ladies in France. Just south, here in Girona, the sun is out and it’s time for a ride. You guessed it — Steven has been training for the Brixia Tour in Italy, but today he has a rest day, which means he can casually ride by my side as I fight my way up a few hills. I like to joke my way through the pain. During our last ride, I did an immaculate imitation of Mark Cavendish sprinting to a win at the Tour. I’ve been working to get back in shape after spending almost two months stateside with Steven and my family.

Oh, that reminds me … Big news for the Caudills and Cozzas: Steven asked me to marry him while we were in Sonoma County visiting the Cozzas after Tour of California. I said yes (of course!) and we couldn’t be happier. This has been one big year for us and it’s just half way through! Thanks for your support, VeloNews fans, and I’ll be back next month with lots more to report.

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