Three weeks is a significant amount of time. Enough to get to know people, to learn a few things, and enough to fall into a very regular routine. The Vuelta was an experience and one where I have some very fond, funny, and interesting memories.
Spending hours each day in a group of the same 200 riders, you start to notice little details. Day after day of seeing the same guys and after a while you become quite familiar with almost the entire bunch.
You know which guys go downhill poorly, which guys are riding strong, which ones aren’t going as well; you notice some guys are always in good position, while others always seem to lose theirs.
You learn which guys are hotheads, which ones to avoid, which ones are more relaxed, which ones let you have the wheel, and which ones fight you to the death for it. But what I was more surprised by in this Vuelta were some of the other details that came to my attention.
The first week of the race, one of my team-mates was telling me how one rider in the peloton smelled… let’s just say ‘not very good.’ He said it was known throughout the peloton that this rider had a particular stench, and always has.
My team-mate likes to tell some stories and I wasn’t quite sure how this could be true, especially considering the fact that we ride around at 40 kilometres per hour. Then, one day, I ended up behind this unnamed rider. And let me tell you, the scent that penetrated my nostrils was… foul. I couldn’t believe my nose. I was shocked.
A change of flow in the peloton and I ended up near a friend of mine, explaining what had just happened in disbelief. A veteran of the peloton, he was aware of this rider’s reputation, and told me a few others to sniff in the group.
I laughed. That was, until I was in the breakaway with one of them the next day, and sure enough, when I ended up behind him in the rotation, I couldn’t escape the stench. I had to swing out of my place in the group and sit behind someone else – it’s already hard enough to ride close to your limit while breathing fresh air!
While there are some stinky guys in the group, there are also the riders on the other end of the spectrum: the ones who apply cologne before the race. While I have to say, I did not experience too many of these in this Vuelta, I smelt it once or twice.
There was a French rider, wearing Abercrombie Fierce. How do I know that? A specific scent? Because at 14 years-old, in the ninth grade, Abercrombie Fierce was THE cologne to wear.
And not only did this one guy in the peloton have that exact cologne, so did my French room-mate during the race. He did not apply it to his cycling kit, but he did put it on every morning before going to breakfast.
As a late riser, I awoke to the unfortunate reminiscence of popped collars and pink t-shirts, of polo shirts, braces, and bad haircuts. I thought I escaped the ninth grade at the end of my 14th year, but it came back strong this summer…
Having a room-mate for three weeks straight exposes some cultural differences. One of the main ones you can see in a race like the Vuelta has to do with the temperature.
You see, when it gets hot, us Americans love our air conditioning. When the mercury starts to rise, we turn it to the max. I find the ideal temperature for sleeping is somewhere between frigid and polar apocalypse. In my own apartment, I sometimes wake up shivering before eventually turning it up one degree.
If we have a love for it, then it’s safe to say many of my European team-mates have an aversion. Many would even prefer not to have it at all. They think it will make you sick. The ‘clime’ as they call it, is the enemy. Creator of ailments, destroyer of health.
My room-mate, Clement, was kind enough to let me turn it on, so long as I did not freeze him out, and the ‘windâ’ it created was not blowing on him. I have to thank him for that. But our team doctor disagreed.
Often, if you ask our doctor a question regarding whether something is good or bad, his answer will be: I have not seen a study that says that it is so. So when he was reluctant to turn on the air in our scorching car one day, for fear of our health, I asked him how many studies linked air conditioning and sickness. I didn’t really get a verbal response…
For the most part, our Vuelta with IAM went superbly, on the bike and off. Two stage wins, some top placings, always present, animating the front of the race. Unfortunately, the only problem this year was that the team decided that we would race the Vuelta without a chef. They hired one for the team’s main goals – Tour de Romandie, Tour de Suisse, Swiss National Championships, and the Tour de France – but we were not so lucky in Spain.
In anticipation of some nutritional challenges, I brought my own rice cooker. This way I could make my own porridge in the morning, and rice when it wasn’t provided. It felt funny, showing up to one of the biggest races in the world and cooking my own breakfast, yet it was one of the best decisions I made the whole race. Hot delicious oats, whenever I wanted them.
I got my fair share of looks, first from team-mates, later from competitors, giggles from team chefs, staff, and even random other guests at the hotels. I’m used to being the oddball as the only American on the team, so this wasn’t really much different. By the end, I think my team-mates were envious of my €36 culinary machine.
Without a chef, you end up becoming a machine. One of the nicest things about having someone to cook every night is that you have variety. You can rotate your carbs, your meat, your vegetables. They can create different dishes every night.
My friend on Sky told me they never ate the same thing twice during the entire race. We got white pasta, white rice, white chicken, and the exact same mixed salad twenty-one times. After two weeks we started to crack. I struggled to stuff another bite of overcooked greasy pasta into my stomach (our Norwegian team-mate Vegard had no problem, however, regularly downing three plates of carbs per night).
The mental strain, partly due to this lack of variety, led to our team’s biggest crisis of the race, which I have titled ‘Magnum-Gate’. You see, after a few weeks on the road, nearly everyone on the team is at wits’ end, both riders and staff.
Before the second rest day, one of the guys asked a soigneur to purchase us a box of Magnum bars to share after the stage, celebrating the end of a successful second week. When we arrived on the bus after the stage and our team-mate opened the freezer, pulling out a box of mini sized frozen treats, we cheered with excitement. It was probably one of the nicest surprises of the race. We enjoyed our chocolate coated ice cream on sticks before showering and heading to the hotel for the night.
Somehow, word of our ‘poor nutritional decision’ spread, all the way to the ears of our team nutritionist. And so began an eruption of emotion from all sides.
We were reprimanded for destroying our diets, for having a lack of respect for the staff (how eating an ice cream shows a lack of respect, I’m still not quite sure), the soigneur was reprimanded for being an accomplice to our despicable activity, and pretty much all hell broke loose. A crisis meeting was called for the staff. Later we had a separate one for us riders. I never knew three bites of sin could cause such chaos!
In our team meeting following the stage, our director/coach told us we better ride well, or else we might never get ice cream again. Needless to say, Matthias Frank won the stage. I’d like to think it was the Magnum.
In reality, I think this all went down the way it did solely because everyone was fatigued after two weeks of racing, but looking back on it now, I think it’s quite funny. I’m pretty sure we’ll all remember that for the rest of our career.