The soigneur sees his first rider approaching and holds out his first of four musettes in time-honoured fashion, strap lightly balanced on fingertips, ready for collection.
This particular feed zone is positioned in the green hills before the race disappears skyward to the bare mountains beyond. There is a strong breeze, which catches the edge of the rectangular cotton bag and sends it spinning rapidly until, within seconds, the strap has tightened around the alarmed soigneur’s index finger to such an extent that it has become a tourniquet.
Before any corrective action can be taken, the rider has swooped by, grabbing the musette and, bizarrely, collecting a solidly-built south Londoner at the same time.
Thankfully, the now unbalanced rider realises he is towing more than usual and releases the strap with the big man attached. He’ll have to drop back to the car and pick up his food and drink, but at least another comedy feed zone crash has been averted.
This is just one of Cannondale soigneur Garry Beckett’s cautionary tales when asked about the disadvantages of probably the most antiquated piece of equipment found at any professional cycling team’s service course – the humble musette. There’s plenty more stories where that came from.
The spinning bag situation described above is more often seen as riders grab the musettes, the rapidly gyrating bundle forcing them to do a precarious no-handed reverse action spin before slipping the strap over head and shoulder. Poorly sewn straps can come away from the body of the bag at the point of handover, the whole shebang hitting the deck with an almighty thud, its contents skittering across the tarmac. Bottles and mini Coke cans frequently dislodge on impact, escaping either side of the usually centrally-positioned single popper, causing chaos in the peloton. Once emptied of its contents, the musette is scrunched and thrown (hopefully) to the verge. They don’t always make it…
Any number of feed zone comedy crashes can be found on YouTube, should you require further evidence. Jack Bauer’s spectacular bike throw into a ditch, in a fit of pique following entanglement with another rider’s carelessly discarded musette at the 2015 Gent-Wevelgem, is a classic of the genre. These apparently harmless little bags can be race-ending, if not lethal.
Which leads us to the burning question. Why, in this age of massive technological advances in equipment, does the musette remain unchanged after all these years? Bikes, wheels, clothing: all are unrecognisable from the versions used by the original convicts of the road, yet exact copies of the kind of flimsy bag Maurice Garin may well have had slung round his neck at the turn of the 20th century, whilst pilfering baguettes and vin rouge from roadside bars, are still in use today.
A WorldTour team will get through 10,000 musettes in a season. They need to be economical to manufacture and branded in team livery – made highly visible for the riders to pick out from the feed zone frenzy of bodies and bags.
But they also need to do be fit for purpose. And we’re not convinced that is the case.
In this series of features, Cannondale-Drapac pro Joe Dombrowski is our guide to the dangers of the feed zone, design team Guy Holbrow and Matt Hurley take a radical approach to the Rouleur brief, then we take their prototype to the ultimate testing ground, the Tour de France, to see if the idea flies. Literally.
Part two, in which Joe Dombrowski describes his perilous journey dodging flying Coke cans and airborne banana skins, to follow