Editor’s note: VeloNews is proud to announce our newest rider columnist, U.S. professional road champion Ben King of Team RadioShack. King, 21, is of course a super talented racer — he’s a two-time junior national champion and last year, riding for Trek-Livestrong, he won the U23 national road race and criterium championships, in addition to his pro title, won with an audacious solo breakaway. You may not know that King is a budding journalist, who has contributed several articles to VeloNews magazine in recent years. He also contributed a great video of Taylor Phinney’s prologue win at the Tour de l’Avenir last year. The combination of journalistic and athletic interests will make King’s columns must reads, we’re sure. Our other regular diarists are: UnitedHealthcare’s Chris Jones, Garmin-Cervelo’s Andrew Talansky, Team Bissell director Omer Kem, former world time trial champion Amber Neben and of course our longest serving rider journalist, Team Sky’s Michael Barry.
A few years from now, the team bus will be old news, and I’ll be calling shots in races. For now, allow me to share the new, the exciting, the hard, and behind the scene curiosities of this sport’s top level.
Race day: Part 1- Breakfast to Bus
Falling asleep stuffed, waking up hungry at midnight, standing over the toilet with Jell-O legs, hoping the forecast for rain is wrong, and savoring morning comforts like an email from home and the first sip of coffee, my commiserative teammate and I wake ourselves up for another race day.
Five days totaling 551 miles of steep Sardinian (Italy) terrain has comprised my intro to professional stage racing with Team RadioShack. My roommate, Matthew Busche, made his debut with Team RadioShack at this same Giro last year, and boosts my morale with encouragement and noticeable improvements since then. I’m also encouraged to hear from experience that this has been a particularly hard race, one that has allowed me to truly appreciate the resources of a professional team.
Most mornings follow a predictable rhythm. As a rider, we could overlook the background sacrifices made by our staff to insure such artful timing.
At the hour posted on our schedule, we head to breakfast. Each hotel receives the same menu from the race organizers. Since we switch hotels each day, however, the quality and size of available courses can vary. That’s why our team keeps a “food box” stocked with cereals, yogurt, nuts, and other essentials. Most days that is breakfast, supplemented on big days by a serving of pasta and, on a lucky morning, an omlette from the hotel. Vitamin C, B, and some minerals sit beside the team doctor.
The room is a din of clattering plates from sleepy eyed cyclists, greetings from upbeat staff, and shuffling of overwhelmed waiters. Beside our table the staff, who ate before us, go over logistics and build post-race sandwiches from the buffet.
After a relaxed meal, we put our luggage out for the soigneurs to take to the bus. Fifteen minutes later we follow with our race bags. From now until pre-race sign in, our business is on the bus, the luxurious bus. Not long ago everything operated from the back of a Suburban.
We assume our regular seats and, as we pin on our race numbers, anticipation builds. Since the mornings are cool and there is a chance of rain, I take cues from the older riders on how to dress. “In Italy you pull up the weather on your phone, hold it outside, and if it comes back with little wet splotches on the screen, it’s raining. Just ignore the website,” explains Robbie McEwen. “Yep, it’s raining.” He lends me a pair of toe covers, customized neoprene booties. We each have a rain bag in the follow car so it’s better to overdress and strip during the race.
Once we’re parked beside all the other teams, we use the bathroom on the bus, take waters from the fridge, brew coffees in the espresso machine, and stock our jerseys with race food from the pantry. In the back soigneurs rub warming oil on a few legs, and outside, the mechanics line up our bikes.
Our director, Alain Gallopin, leads a brief meeting. Today is the Classica Sarda, a 210 km one-day race, the day after the Giro di Sardegna. “Everybody is tired. This race is a matter of motivation. Ben, you don’t have a race for a while. You can go as hard as you want.” My nerves sigh fumes of adrenaline. It makes my tired legs burn slightly. Gallopin continues, “I think it’s a good day for you. Smile. Remember, these are the best days of your lives.”
(Editor’s note: King was the top RadioShack finisher, at 13th, in the Classica Sarda)