MONTAUBAN, France (CT) — The police officer appeared quickly, rolling his right hand around until our window came all the way down.
Turn on your lights.
Drive on the right side of the road.
“Right, riiiiiight,” Jonathan Vaughters told him out the window.
The 2016 Tour de France had been on for about one kilometer, and everyone was still in the process warming up, police included. This was snippet one of thousands of conversations that will be had in 30-second bursts through windows here over the course of July.
The Cannondale-Drapac CEO and co-founder was in France to check on the Tour team and announce our new sponsor, Drapac Capital Partners. But rather than glad-handing in the French countryside and drinking wine, he found himself put to work in the race, immediately.
One of our directors was feeling under the weather, and rather than chance getting the riders (or the staff) sick, he stayed in.
On professional teams, there’s a healthy paranoia regarding sickness as training and racing demands mulch immune systems. There’s hand sanitizer everywhere, and staff are routinely sent ahead to the next hotel if they feel something coming on.
Problem was, we needed a driver for the avant car, which drives about 20 minutes in front of the peloton on nervy stages like those in windy and twisty northern France. Someone in the car communicates to the in-race directors all sorts of information; we have a text thread that began on stage 1 and will run through the Tour when the stages merit.
12:30 PM: KM 2-11, cross/tail wins. Turns left, crosswind but covered.
KM 13.5: 2.5 opens up, crosswind. KM 13.5, very, very narrow tunnel.
12:44: Last 100 meters of KOM, flat, tailwind. KOM line on a big road.
About 30 kilometers outside of Mont-Saint-Michel, Vaughters threw the door open of the race car and hopped out. He held up a makeshift gauge — a piece of a musette taped to a dowel. He held it up. A steady crosswind blowing off the sea. Every time the trees or houses parted, a plane of wind advanced.
1:06 PM: KM 33, fairly open. 35.5 open, strong cross.
The boss has still got it, turns out. At the top of the sport among staff, directors, and riders this knowledge is intrinsic. Those who have to think too hard as racers or directors can’t make it that long — the feeling of the race has to come easy.
Those opening stages of the Tour probably didn’t look that rough if you were watching on TV, but for GC teams like ours just trying to make it to the mountains without losing time, narrow roads and pushy winds like that are the knives that cleave a team from a season-long goal.
To stave that knife off, there’s a braid of information that begins at the front of the race and weaves backward, through the directors and racers. Think of all the teams that do this and there’s an unseen blanket of information over the entire peloton for hours a day.
2:24 PM: Orange Alarm: feed zone is open [unprotected from wind] cross tail wind, right after feed zone wind gets considerably worse.
2:25: After feed zone red alarm. Very strong cross-tail, stays wide open. RED ALARM. KM 99. Ride through feed zone on the front.
It goes on like this for another two hours, ending with this, at 4:25 pm: Opens up at 4.5km to go, cross wind. RED ALERT.
When we can see the TV, the boys go to the front around the times suggested, along with what seems like everyone else. Contador crashes. It looks like things are going to shatter as everyone’s rested Tour legs ache to force a selection. We remain anonymous, which was the goal for the opening stages of this Tour. It’s funny, to train for months and months in order to remain anonymous for just the right amount of time.
“We don’t give any medals yet,” sport director Charly Wegelius said in the team meeting prior to Stage 4. “But we’ve done a good job of protecting Pierre [Rolland] so far.”
The definition of a “good job” varies widely. Some teams try to win stages, job done. Other teams are just trying not to lose stages in the future.
Internally, the riders have taken to calling Pierre “l’oeuf” — the egg. And they must protect the egg. You drop an egg and it cracks.
The Tour never lets up, even when it looks easy on TV. On Thursday (Stage 6), another one of our directors was back in the front car, in spite of plans to not send anyone before the race a few days prior.
12:56 PM: KM 24 enter absolutely shitty, narrow roads. If the race is still ongoing I suggest to ride a bit in front to make life easier.
1:31 PM: KM 30-37, dangerous downhill!!
And so it goes on, a text-message thread that mirrors the road each day. We can’t let the egg break.
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.