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Cycling bug tightens its grip after day in Garmin support car

Posted on 6 June 2012 | 8:06am

I am well aware that there are millions of cycling fans who would want and deserve more than I do to have been where I was yesterday, but who said life was fair? David Millar got in touch, asked if I fancied going in the Garmin support car at the Dauphine, and I said yes. I’m glad I did.

Cycling – at least the road- racing variety – has always struck me as the sport that vies with golf and cricket as the one where the spectator is most disadvantaged by being present at the event, compared with the TV viewer able to follow every angle with expert commentary at home. But none of the many hours I have spent watching cycling on TV quite compare with the thrill David and his directeur sportif Charly Wegelius gave me yesterday.

Charly, a former cyclist, half Finnish half English, who speaks half a dozen languages, was my driver for the day. Given the pace at times, you’d think that was a full time job. But he was also in charge of radio contact with the riders, giving encouragement and tactical advice, he was having to stay across the official race radio and pass on any relevant info to his team, he was the man who had to drive like a maniac through all the other team cars whenever one of his own required help and support, often just a bottle of water or a bit of encouragement to ride through the pain. And he was having to answer all my daft questions.

At various points, we had David or one of his team-mates chatting through the car window. It is when you see the drip drip drip of sweat falling from their chins that you see close up how what looks easy is actually the product of relentless effort. These guys were going up steep climbs faster than I go on the flat. As for the descents, Charly kept asking me if I was car sick. I certainly should have been. At one point the speedometer topped 80kph, and we followed three riders weaving their way through turns and half turns with barely a dab on the brakes. I was scared just watching them.

Then there’s the whole community thing. Everyone knows everyone and so even along narrow roads, cars will chase along together, chatting and bantering out of windows. I told Charly I knew Johann Bruyneel, Radio Shack team boss, from his Lance Armstrong days and an event we did together a while back. So Charly pulls alongside, windows go down, and Johann and I are talking away, the cars millimetres apart, police bikes and media bikes weaving in and out, and me resisting the urge to grab the wheel.

The logistics of these big races – and the biggest is yet to come with the Tour de France – are stunning. All the teams were set up in a car park at Lamastre for the start, and by the time we reached the finish at St Felicien the whole lot of them – buses, lorries, hoardings and the like – had got there ahead of us. Within minutes athletes had warmed down, showered, got the bikes packed onto car roofs, then off to hotels for food, drink and massage.

Some of the top guys earn really good money, into the millions. But there are plenty there who are on as little as 35,000 euros a year. Unlike football, the big TV revenues have ended up less with the performers than the event organisers. To be fair, they organise good events, but what with France now having a socialist president, a bit of socialism getting injected into cycling wouldn’t go amiss.

One thing cycling does retain ahead of football however is the accessibility of the athletes. Bradley Wiggins was warming down on a static bike feet away from young and old men and women who had cycled up to gawp at the impressive Sky team set up. David Millar and his colleagues, despite having just spent four hours flat out on the bike, responded with patience to endless requests for autographs and souvenir water bottles.

Good bunch, great atmosphere, lovely day out. And now, I shall struggle into the Garmin kit they gave me as a souvenir, and head out on the bike, while they go through the whole thing again.

  • Cbirch73

    Lucky fella, Alistair! Glad you enjoyed it though, and it is always nice to have someone in the wider public domain championing our great sport. 

  • Wow – sounds excellent. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed following the World Cycle Racing Grand Tour since February – an amazing event which has enabled followers to experience some of the immense challanges that participants are living through day by day.
    Quite extraordinary. 18,000 miles circumnavigation in under 100 days!

    My mere, modest cycling efforts are a dismal shadow. Next week I embark on my second fundraising and awareness raising venture for Mind, the mental health charity. Very little, but something at least.

  • Ehtch

    Road-racing cycling fans tend to be motor sport rallying fans also – has an element of being out in the environment on your own, albeit with fellow competitors. And yes, not having millions of eyes on you, as with the roundy-roundy racing variety of cycles and cars.

    Nicole Cooke I have always been impressed with, had injury problems, and I think she stills cycles for an european team up and down the alps and pyrenees and flats lands just across the water. And of couse she won GB olympic gold last time around. Ex-World champ too.

    google – Ah right, looks she is back to fitness for 2012,
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/18098637

    Good pics on her homesite, from all over the World as well,
    http://www.nicolecooke.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=18

  • Anonymous

    “Some of the top guys earn really good money, into the millions. But there are plenty there who are on as little as 35,000 euros a year. Unlike football, the big TV revenues have ended up less with the performers than the event organisers. To be fair, they organise good events, but what with France now having a socialist president, a bit of socialism getting injected into cycling wouldn’t go amiss.”

    Funny I come to the exact opposite conclusion. I want football to become more capitalist. At the minute Man City and Man Utd players pay for mansions and bentleys for relegation strugglers. Do I want Keiron Dyer, Michael Carrick and Joey Barton living in mansions and driving Bentleys after their services to their teams? Er no. I want to see how they’d behave if football mattered to them. Would they stroll around so nonchalantly if the bread on their table depended on it?

    I think football should be more like boxing, ie world champion is a multi millionaire, top 3 or 4 fighters around him earn a few hundred grand, everyone else needs a second job. To me the league champions and champions league winners should earn millions, the rest should earn nothing. I think the team I support might show a touch more aggression were that the case. Kerrunch.

    If that is too capitalist, lets try a nice socialist plan, backed by Roosevelt, Nixon, Labour in the 70s, Ken Livingstone today – price capping! Lets cap footballers wages at 35k euros like the cyclists, except those who do their job ie win trophies!

    P.s. see Alastair fancies Germany for the Euros – me too. Spain have slightly stronger squad, so do france, but you can’t beat Germany if you are only slightly stronger.

  • Ehtch

    And by the way Alastair, why do you talk to Gary Lineker on twitter, if that is him? Isn’t he a tory and a beeb puppet with a sore toe? All I think him and his mates from MOTD care for is their own back pocket, and when they can arrange to get another round of golf in next. But it was nice to see Savage turn up every now and then. How about Joey, Gary?

    Educate us Alastair, if I am missing something here. And I buy my crisps from Aldis, own brand.

    : )

  • Ehtch

    Anyway Alastair, with the association football european champs starting end of this week, two vids  which reflects my perverse humour, which happens to be on footie, following on from previous comment, which is nice for a change,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4CXY6TVBMc
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur5fGSBsfq8

    Both very beeb references, if you actually get the winding up humour, and it is done in the best possible taste. I have already told England off somewhere else here to sort their shit out and do something this time. Here speaks a savage welshman, coats for goalposts. And no, not that Savage, me. Anyway his name starts with rrr, not Ehtch.

  • Anonymous

    Lineker’s a Tory?! Any evidence for this?! I doubt it.

    Sure you are not mixing him up with Seb Coe lol. Both goody two shoes 80s sporting heroes, but the difference is Lineker is likeable, Coe is insufferable!

  • Libdem

    Now we know…Olli has been training to drive and talk at the same time for the bikes!

  • Ehtch

    oh shut up reaguns, he is true blue, I can tell….

    Let’s argue. : )

  • Ehtch

    meaow… it seems the fucking pathetic beeb builds it up to be.

    UK should be proud Nicole still wants to ride for GB, you little english shits. Fucking twats. Ans they ask me why I am anti-english estabilshment preset day? Because they are beeb manipulative total amateur right CUNTS! Fumes me it does Alastair.

    Cooke has more talent in her, umm, watch your words now Huw, in part of her body thanyone that spouts crap from the bbc and their brainwashing mates.

    I have heard how she was treated on that crap sports personality of the year, and it disgusts me, crap treatement all around. Beeb bastards,London Shepherds Bush losers. Watsh and see what happens. shites

  • Ehtch

    repect is all I call for, irrespective, BEEB!

  • Ehtch

    oops, sorry, got a bit strong there, but if UK wants to get golds, I need say no more. I will be watching.

  • Anonymous

    He’s big mates with Alastair and Piers Morgan on Twitter! Surely they wouldn’t befriend a Tory!

  • Ehtch

    Anyway, I think he once wrote for the Telegraph and the Snail on Sunday, so there might be a clue in that.

  • Michele

     LOL  😀

  • Ehtch

    Twitter Alastair quote “did I ever mention that I played football with Maradona?”

    Is that with the Virgin Mary, or a cocaine sniffer?

    Sorry Alastair, had to be done. : )

    Greece missed penalty, oh dear Perociltes.

  • Ehtch

    Herocities, or whatever it translates from an alpha beta gamma delta type of alphabet. I was alpha in maths you know, got A in o-level maths, a subjunction to philosophical thought.

    Stop showing off Huw!

  • Ehtch

    well. I think Alastair has a quite a few dozen more braincells than those tits, Piers Knobman and Willy Lineker – he is playing them, I can tell.

    HOW’S THAT?

    Well played Alastair, is all I have to say, reaguns. : )

  • Anonymous

    Yeah but was he writing a football column for them, or was asking for gypsies and asylum seekers to be rounded up?!

    Sol Campbell is writing a column for the guardian, but I doubt if he has ditched armani suits and bentleys for grass skirts, sandals and push bikes!

    That reminds me I was thinking today… I find it easy that people who call themselves “progressives” want us to revert from the car to the bike, and from having less washing up to do (advent of the dishwasher) to more (the stuff we recycle.) Me, I’ll bin rubbish, I’ll burn rubbish, I’ll even put it in the right bin – but I’ll never wash rubbish, NEVER!

  • Anonymous

    I was going to say maybe he is a Tory because he sent his son to those ultra posh schools, but then so do practically the entire labour government.

  • Ehtch
  • Warcrimes

    Time to run and hide, I don’t doubt the shooters will be after you if not all ready.Many think you have blood on your hands….

  • Ehtch

    suppose it would be too preposterous for me what she says at 2:13 above, in what she says. Or am I paranoid? maybe the later, you think… taught lessons… sat on knees… recent past times…

  • Nick Warner

    Wow – can’t get much closer to the action than this!  I’d have given my right arm to have been in that support car and would have been talking about it for years afterwards.  Good to hear about the accessibility of the athletes – spot-on about the comparison with football – easier to get past the Swiss guard at the Vatican and demand an audience with the Pope than for my 10 year old to get an autograph at Sunderland AFC!  Thanks for sharing.