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Office politics: Philippa York on the nuances of team car seating etiquette

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Back before team buses, personal motorhomes and private jets, riders travelled in their team car. But there was still a complex pecking order at play.

I can imagine the shock on the Aqua Blue Sport squad’s faces when they found their bus and its contents torched by a mattress-hating fire-starter at the 2017 Vuelta.

 

No privacy, no coffee machine and no approved playlist on the video monitors would have been their first thoughts, but little did they know that they were about to be dragged back to a time 30 years ago when buses were for going to school and team cars ruled the Earth.  

 

The dinosaurs amongst the staff would just about remember the unwritten rules of which car to get into, but the riders would be learning office politics, cycling style. This is how it goes.  

Tour de France 1956
Who sits where? An age-old kerfuffle.

RC1 is the lead race car. It’s where the lead directeur sportif (DS1) sits, does the driving and directs the riders during the race. As you go down the pecking order, there’s RC2, DS2 and so on, all the way to the soigneurs’ cars and the truck if things get desperate.

 

The only time a rider gets in the truck to go to the race is if they’ve punched another team member and haven’t yet been sent home, so we’ll leave that out. There’s no going in the second soigneur’s car either, as you might eat the goodies they’ve bought for that day and it’s their space. They’ve had enough of rider demands already.  

 

Read: Hail to the Tour de France bus driver

 

In each car there are four available seats. The driver doesn’t count, so P1 is the front passenger, P2 behind them, P3 in the middle and P4 behind the DS.  Still with me? Good. 

 

Now, P1 in RC1 is the team leader’s position and it’s only given up in the case of the big boss being on the race. Then the rider is relegated to P2, though it might be P4 if the boss is feeling the urge to impart motivation to the team leader and doesn’t want to keep twisting round to talk.  

 

In this event, P3 is left empty and the remaining rear space is filled by the road captain or the boss’s favourite. Call it moral back-up

Contador, Tinkov, Tour de France 2014
Uh-oh, the big boss man is here. Get in the back Alberto.

If the boss isn’t present, then the rear seat – still only two spaces used – is for the DS1 favourite and the team leader’s room-mate. 

 

In RC2, it’s a more relaxed affair and here sits in P1 the number two rider for the race with their friends and – more than likely – the former top rider in the team, now relegated by fate, age and circumstances to a lower level. 

 

Read: What a carry on – Philippa York on her new identity

  

In RC3 are the young guys who squabble over the P1 seat and generally haven’t yet learned the rules.  So nine riders in three cars and everybody is cushty. Well, almost.  

 

When seated in P1, you are the DJ for the selected music, except in RC1 where you don’t touch anything as that’ll make DS1 grumpy, so you put up with their dreadful choices gracefully. Complaints aren’t possible but you can risk turning it down a bit when being lectured. 

Laurent Fignon, 1984, Giro d'Italia
RC1, P1. Laurent Fignon enjoys full race leader privileges at the 1984 Giro d’Italia

In RC2 things are rocking, everyone is happy with the DJ’s playlist and there’s the normal amount of tension. Back in RC3, there’s a bad disco, the skip track button is being abused as the P1 occupant has inflicted his dubious taste on the others and those in the rear are complaining. Now, this is all normal when the team is doing well, but if results aren’t coming, then DS1 turns grumpy and it spreads to DS2. 

 

Bad news. The team leader is in poor form, so retreats to RC2, still in P1 back there. If they’ve been usurped by another rider in the team, then no-one talks and there’s no music either. 

 

Read: Punk rock to PR – why ‘on tour’ has dual meanings for Giro’s bass-playing liaison man

 

The final move for them is P3 in any car, hiding from the glare of the public. This is when their form is dreadful and they want to go home. Actually, everyone wants to go home. 

 

On a normal day, leaving positions are respected but if it’s bad weather, then cars load up early and just go. The coldest rider is best off choosing a P3 position, as then there’s body heat each side and warm air from the centre vents on the dashboard. There’s also the opportunity to stretch stiff tired legs between the front seats, but only if they aren’t totally filthy. Trousers or a towel will do – remember, this is someone’s workplace. 

Franck Bouyer and Joseba Beloki, team car, Criterium International 2004
Joseba Beloki’s wearing a hat and gilet. But Franck Bouyer is warmer in P3.

If it’s been hot, then the savvy rider will change to the shaded side for the hotel journey, unless they came in P1 then they have to assume their fate and get on with it. In the case of a heatwave, P1 is in charge of climate control at the expense of their DJ duties, though once cooled, they’ll be expected to choose something soothing. Windows are opened at your peril at all times as someone will get upset. This guide only covers seating, not temperature or air flow.  

 

Sitting on the shaded side for any journey is something I still try to do. Not that I’d claim to be intelligent, but the scars run deep. A magnificent bus would have saved me from the nightmares. Mattress man doesn’t know what he’s done. Team Sky’s idea to have separate motorhomes doesn’t look that crazy now. It could be cheaper than years of counselling. 

 

A version of this column was first published in Rouleur 17.7

 

Mavic car