Weeks before the races, they start to land in our inboxes. Flanders info sheet. Giro info sheet.
The sheet is the skeleton of a bike race, the structure on which an entire team’s functions are built. Who’s going to the race on what day, flight numbers, layover airports, a list of the cars and bus going to the first hotel. Who’s picking who up in what car at what terminal.
Sheet doesn’t do them justice, really. The sheet for the Giro is actually 17 pages of careful deliberation. It’s a written chart of the invisible lines we will trace across North America and Europe to all make it to one hotel. I imagine us all as yarn strings across a pane of glass in someone’s head. Move one string and it bends them all.
That person is real, and her name is Louise Donald. She’s the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team’s operations director, and she works with the directors and other staff to charts the courses of all these ships that eventually dock at a bike race. The information is kept in “the cloud” — that way there is one live copy and less room for confusion, as it changes by the hour sometimes.
“There’s a lot more travel now than there ever was before,” she told me. “In my dreamworld, I’d write software to make the whole thing connected and seamless. My dream is to type something once, just one time, and it’s populated in all the right places. If Rigo changed his jersey size I’d put it into the database, it would go into his next order, Castelli would be able to see it.”
The team will allot 10 complete kits for each rider over the season, roughly. We have 13 cars, seven of which have televisions in them, meaning they’re up to snuff to go into the races, piloted by one of our sport directors. The cars the soigneurs drive to the feed zones need to be race ready as well, in case one of the primary DS cars have an issue mid-race and they need to swap rides. This happens more often than you might think.
In total, we have two team buses, three mechanic trucks, one Sprinter van, and various rented vans and campers that keep the show on the road. It’s a constant game of both Tetris and Jenga; something may fit somewhere, but it may be holding another part of the organization up somewhere else. After Ardennes week, some of the cars, and the bus, remained in Belgium and were sent to the Giro start, while others were sent from elsewhere in Europe to the south of Italy for the team after the long transfer.
“As it grows and changes, more technology is required,” Louise says. Her greatest challenge? “To make sure that everyone who needs to be is accurately and quickly informed of all plans and subsequent changes to those plans. It’s ever-changing. I’m just the hub of the wheel — I’m in the middle, with the other operations staff.”
That staff processes e-mails while most people read them. Louise alone sends about 150 emails every day during the season. For the logistics staff, cell phones are the axis upon which their professions turn.
Sport directors and the performance team also churn out crucial information. They spend weeks of thinking and planning while riders were training just to get to be selected for the Giro. Most of the riders did 130 or so hours of work, each, on the Teide volcano.
Directors logged hours on Google Earth, looking at the roads and the corners and what might be a problem for a team trying to win the the race, as ours is. Sometimes a DS will look at one stage for five hours, just analyzing the roads from above, looking for the corners that can end a team’s GC dreams.
Fabrizio Guidi, one of our two directors leading the Giro team, said the work started going into planning the logistics of each day here more than a month ago, and that’s got nothing to do with the theater of the race itself. There are myriad races each day: to the start, the actual race with riders in it, to the feed zones, to the finish, to the hotels. To the buffet.
On the ground here, the information comes daily to our inboxes from director Bingen Fernández. Hourly breakdowns of each day land the night prior: Breakfast, staff: 7-8. Breakfast, riders. Bags out in hallway or to truck. Depart, start, bus with the doctor, riders. Race start. Drive to finish. You’re in car 7, drive it to the hotel if we’re on the podium. GPS coordinates of the hotels, sent out about four times. Those are the important ones.
My data allowance was obliterated after three race days.
All those words and numbers on the spreadsheet allow the machinery of the team to rumble to life each morning. New bike frames show up to be built, the washing machines roll all day long. Bags of kit, bags of food. There were 27 people in Holland traveling as a group and now we’re at 30 in Italy, all with one real goal comprised of hundreds of tasks each day that must be done in order to reach it. There’s 21 other teams doing mostly the same thing, too.
From the outside, this sport is so shiny. The veneer is one of clean glass, glimmering bikes, mechanics leaning nonchalantly on the hoods of race cars, no cares in the world. But there’s a stream of numbers beneath that skin, and they tick by all day.
The swanning about in the mornings at the starts is just gloss laid over the bones of the spreadsheets. Tomorrow, one of those names on the sheet will be fifth wheel, or have a flat on the side of the road, and another one of those names or flight numbers will be sprinting out of the car to fix it.
About the author
Matthew Beaudin worked for VeloNews for three road seasons, from 2012-2014, covering the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and spring classics as a journalist. He spent 2015 working for Rapha in content and social media, and is now communications director for the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He can be found on Instagram and Twitter. His work can also be found on the Cannondale Pro Cycling Instagram and Twitter accounts.