By Bryan Jew, VeloNews senior writer
Kelme: A force in the peloton, a curiosity in the caravan
It has had an incredible 20-year run as a cycling team sponsor, but Kelme’s entry in the Tour publicity caravan doesn’t quite live up to the same standards as the team, yet.
While most sponsors in the caravan sport a whole fleet of elaborately decorated and rigged-up vehicles, Kelme really is an army of one. The green pick-up truck with the giant soccer shoe on top is kind of a lonely sight each day, looking like someone who sort of got swept away by a parade barreling down Main St. But is it effective?
Well, hey, they got their picture onto the VeloNews Web site.
Meanwhile, back in the race, the Kelme team has been quite a story, with its surprising fifth-place finish in the team time trial.
The team put special emphasis on preparing for the TTT stage this year, and it paid off. The team finished just 12 seconds behind Lance Armstrong and the Postal team, and 12 seconds faster than Jan Ullrich’s Telekom squad.
That put last year’s top climber, Santiago Botero, into great G.C. position heading into the mountains — 17th, sandwiched in between top contenders Armstrong and Ullrich. Look for the Spanish team to make even more noise once the race hits the high mountains, beginning July 17 on the stage to Alpe d’Huez.
This guy’s a pro cyclist, really
One of those Kelme riders who has helped the team make such a strong showing is the strong young climber Oscar Sevilla.
And young is the operative word. The Spaniard is 24 years old, but face to face, he looks more like he’s in his early teens. But he’s a crucial cog in the Kelme machine. Really.
Staking their claim
While there’s always a battle for positioning in the race standings, there’s also a territorial fight taking place along the roads of France. We’ve noticed that for almost every American flag planted by Armstrong supporters, there’s usually a black-yellow-and-red German flag very nearby. So while Ullrich will hope to shadow his American opponent in the mountains, his supporters are already doing so by the side of the roads.As the race heads southward along the eastern edge of France, thousands of German supporters will of course be filing over the border to cheer on their favorites. One interesting sight at the stage start in Commercy was a band of German fans who just happened to be in the right place at the right time when the Telekom team bus got stopped in traffic right in front of them. Three of the fans had letters painted across their chest to spell out the name of their hero. But it wasn’t who you’d guess. As the bus rolled slowly past, they chanted out in unison: “U-DO! U-DO! U-DO!” It must roll off the tongue easier than “Jan! Jan! Jan!”
The other race
While the bicycle race is the obvious focus of the Tour de France, there’s an unseen race that goes on every day: The race to the press room. Just like everybody else in the Tour, the press corps has to travel the same distance as the riders and, for the most, part negotiate the very same roads. So each day, it’s a race ahead to the finish for the journalists as well. And while you’d think that the car ride would be a piece of cake, with the narrow roads, small towns, and the entire publicity caravan to navigate through, the journalists often don’t arrive a whole lot sooner than the cyclists themselves.
Then, at the finish line, it’s a whole ’nother race for the press. Those down in the trenches will watch the finish on TV monitors positioned just beyond the finish, and then scramble madly after riders as they make their way past toward the team buses. Sometimes, in the mass field sprint finishes, it’s hard to even discern who the winner is before taking off and chasing after a few post-race quotes. Often times, the team buses will be parked as far as a quarter mile from the finish — an easy cruise for the riders, but a long haul for the journalists hoofing after the riders.
Sometimes, the narrow finishing chute is the only chance to grab an exhausted rider for one or two brief words before they take off to the buses. And if the team’s staying at a nearby hotel, sometimes it’s impossible to grab someone as they ride straight through and on to the hotel.
At times, it’s a slightly antagonistic relationship, but in other instances, there’s a real synergy between journalists and riders, such as after this year’s team time trial, when a couple of journalists helped push a battered Christian Vande Velde up the steep, narrow passage to the team vehicles after the finish.