The Tour of Britain has come to town again, and we got lucky with a relatively local stage this year. When I first saw the Clitheroe-Colne stage it was a no brainer to try visit the Lotto NL Jumbo team there. I glanced at the stage profile. I kind of know the roads around that area, either drifting into them on long adventurous rides from home or taking in a few of them on my old (and very scenic) commute to the old OTE Bunker in Longridge. Even with my lack of real local knowledge I knew it would be a tough stage. The roads are notoriously ‘grippy’ and the hills steep and uncomfortably long for something of such a gradient. But sadistically, I knew something so tough for the riders would be quite action packed in the team car; I was excited!
I arrived in Clitheroe, this once sleepy Lancashire town had a brilliant buzz as the colourful team buses lined its little streets. The crowds were picking up, mostly around Team Wiggins, everyone desperate to get a glimpse of Sir Brad himself. I can’t lie, even I was slightly in awe later that day when he cruised past my car window effortlessly to join the back of the bunch after a ‘natural break’ (Note: The riders stopped A LOT more than I anticipated for the toilet, us ladies don’t have that luxury!).
It was great to catch up with the Lotto NL Jumbo staff again, and give a quick nod to the riders who seemed in the zone and ready for the tough stage. Another thing I have noted from the big races like The Tour of Britain and Tour de Yorkshire, everything is very relaxed, unnervingly relaxed for someone like me who tends to plan and worry about everything. Literally only 5 minutes before the off did the riders emerge from their buses, jump on their bikes and head off to the start line. Not the usual, manic warm up and then stand on the start line for 15 minutes that I associate with racing; maybe I have got it all wrong!
Before I knew it, I was in Team Car 1 lined up in the convoy behind Team Sky. The crowd were being warmed up by the man on the mic, the atmosphere was pretty special for 11am on a Tuesday morning. We were off, and immediately my eyes were opened to the ‘organised chaos’ of the race convoy. I think it was organised, at first I couldn’t be sure. Cars, bikes, riders everywhere. Multiple radios, car horns, tv, phone calls. It was a sensory overload! Being a passenger in a left hand drive car meant I very often found myself pushing the imaginary brake in the car. Kudos to Nico Verhoeven, the Team Lotto NL Jumbo’s DS. I have never known someone have such brilliant spatial awareness in a car! He was heading (at speed) for gaps between other cars and walls/bushes that I was adamant weren’t big enough. But they were, he knew they were. Yes ok, he does this week in, week out, but for me a newbie to the race convoy the driving skills of him and all the other DS’s are phenomenal. We have seen a fair few crashes involving the race convoy and riders this year, particularly in this Vuelta but it really is a testament to these drivers that accidents don’t happen more frequently.
But accidents do happen, and unfortunately Lotto NL Jumbo literally fell victim to them during stage 2. Only km’s into the stage Moreno climbed into the team car due to injuries he had battled with from a previous crash at his last race. It was sad to see the team’s strong sprint hope in so much agony. Then moments later whilst we haired down the descent after the first KOM we came round a corner to what every team dreads, their jersey laid out on the floor. We came to an abrupt halt, the mechanic was out the car before we had even stopped (or so it felt like). I sat there watching helplessly as paramedics tended to poor Brian, it was immediately clear he would not be carry on with the race. Team car 2 arrived, Brian and his bike were now in their hands, we had to get back to the convoy to service the rest of the riders. It all happened so fast, but in race terms we were now well behind so the chase was now on to get back to our place in the convoy. Let’s just say, empty roads, tiny lanes, steep descents, it was the closest I think I’ll ever get to being part of a Rally Super Stage. Team cars are not for those who get travel sick; I was happy I had had a light breakfast! We then had to squeeze our way back up the convoy to spot 10. Relatively simple task you would think. Well, no, not on the tiny Lancashire Lanes that were not designed for two abreast cars. Nico had it under control, his cyclo cross background meant he wasn’t afraid of getting two wheels in the dirt. As soon as we made it back to our position, we were called to the back of the peleton. Young stagiaire Koen Bouwman came back to the car to collect bottles. I was seriously impressed! His slender torso doubled in size as he shoved bottle after bottle up his top, whilst negotiating sharp corners at speed (Head to our Facebook page for video of this).
Sadly we were to then lose another rider. Nick crashed in a similar situation to Brian, and it was de ja vu. Repeat the carnage of before. Thankfully team car 2 was back in the convoy after having to take the other two riders to the team bus. 3 riders out in one stage, the cruel sport that cycling is. As we bombed round the Lancashire lanes the scenery was breathtaking, but it’s only when travelling at such speed up and down the steep inclines of these lanes that it highlights how dangerous this sport is. Just cruising round the lanes on a weekend club run, they seem beautiful, but averaging 45km per hour and touching speeds of 100+ km per hour, beautiful lanes take on a new menacing form.
Sadly leaving the Lotto camp with dampened spirits was on no one’s agenda. However all is not lost with 3 strong riders still in contention, we wish the Lotto NL Jumbo riders all the best for the rest of the week. I personally want to thank Nico for having me for the day, such a knowledgeable guy and really interesting to talk to. An incredible experience and has seriously opened my eyes to another side of cycling.
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