I’ ve been promised ride in a Team Car. I know this will mean lots of cool footage of the riders coming back to discuss tactics, pick up drinks and power bars; a chance to hear what they say over those radios; and a first class view of some amazing countryside. Even more importantly it means I get to find out what the drivers do about pee breaks following the Tour 6 hours at a time.
I’m in Car Two and on a stage like today, where the peloton sticks together for 5 hours of the day, I quickly discover that the reality is that what I’m really going to see is 6 hours of the back of the Team Columbia car (we travel in an order established by the TdF organisation) and an awful lot of my lovely driver, Lionel, chatting with his pals in the other team cars in a variety of languages. Most people in the peloton are at least bilingual – one of the riders I’m following, Magnus Backstedt, speaks 5 languages fluently, Swedish, English, Dutch, French, Italian and can tell jokes in German. Boy, do I feel inadequate.
The cars travel very close together and often at great speed. For the first three hours I see but one rider racing back to the front after a flat. However what I do see lots of is a number of men standing by the roadside, near to a brightly colored team car, with their equipment in hand taking a leak. It seems that the directeur sportifs stop for a bathroom break whenever they please. Indeed it is at this point that the true raison d’etre for car #2 is revealed as the radio comes to life for the only time all day: “Lionel! Take over – we’re stopping to pee,” yells car #1. While car #1 pulls over car# 2 jumps in to take its place. That’s what car #2 does? Covers for car#1 while it stops to pee? Five minutes later we’ re back where we belong staring at the brake lights of Columbia #2.
We’re 5k behind the action as the true heroes of the Tour fight for the line. Tour radio announces the results fluently in three languages. As has been the case much of the day the crowds view us like hyenas at the zoo as we pass – we’re strange, we’re watchable but we’re not sexy, huggable or famous like the lions, tigers and leopards up the front of the race who are already at the finishing line.
We’re a part of the Tour? Hell yes! But let’s not get carried away here – after all we’re only car #2.