Ever wonder what it's like in the caravan of a big pro race when the terrain is extreme and the pace is full-on? It's speed and calm decision making amid seeming chaos. Here's a report from our ride with SRAM Neutral Race Support from the Amgen Tour of California:
Late in Saturday’s Amgen Tour of California’s queen stage to Mt Baldy, a Drapac Pro Cycling rider raised his right hand – the international gesture in pro cycling that an athlete is requesting service. He needed a bottle.
Rider Rob Eva with jumper Bart Miller.
This raised hand triggered a quickly coordinated response from the race caravan, a process that happens multiple times every race mostly out of the view of TV cameras and fans. First the race commissaire announced on race radio – which is heard by the team cars and SRAM Neutral Race Support vehicles – that a Drapac rider was requesting support. At this point, the select lead pack of 30 or so riders was on the narrow twisting roads before the final climb to Mt. Baldy. The caravan was stretched out, and the Drapac car did not have immediate access to its rider because it was further back in the caravan.
The beautiful mountain roads of the Amgen Tour of California demand a high level of skill for riders and caravan drivers alike. Photo by Darrell Parks Photography
However, the SRAM NRS motorcycle – with Rob Eva piloting and mechanic Bart Miller on board as the “jumper” – was close by. Eva dropped back and pulled alongside the SRAM NRS car, driven by Jose Alcala with mechanic Joe Devera as the backseat “jumper.” Devera handed Bart a bottle, which was then delivered to the thirsty Drapac rider. Later, the Drapac driver gave a thank you wave. Such an action may seem routine. Yet this was done with calmness at high speeds, in extremely close proximity to riders, on technically demanding roads, with each step coordinated over race radio.
SRAM NRS – with its red Volvos, two motorcycles – is at the ready to help any rider, regardless of team affiliation, at the Amgen Tour of California and other major races across the globe. The job requires full focus, awareness and cooperation within the caravan.
View from SRAM NRS moto... Quick reactions to avoid a rider down on descent of Stage 3 of #amgentoc10th. #GOPROPosted by SRAM on Wednesday, May 13, 2015
“I liken it to playing a video game. You have to be so alert. There are so many different things going on. But it’s real world. You have riders going back. You have riders going forward,” Eva said. “We’re looking after the safety of the riders. You have mirrors. I have two radios in my head. There’s a lot going on.”
A race such as the stage to Mt. Baldy is especially demanding with technical descents and a splintered peloton that has riders spread over the road and throughout the caravan.
Riders amid the caravan is common and requires constant attention.
“It’s very important to not be in the way of the race line – to be in the race line when we’re going around turns. There are a lot of blind turns,” Alcala said. “I use the GPS (with its screen built into the dashboard of the SRAM NRS car) and it lets me know when tight turns are coming up. I glance at that. I glance at the road. I glance behind me in the mirrors. There’s a lot of triangulation that is keeping the riders out of harm’s way. You want to be close to provide service, but you always have to understand what is happening on the road, not just my car but other cars and the medical car and the comm (commissaire) car and the motorcycles. It’s an amazing amount of road inventory that has to be done on a regular basis.”
SRAM NRS has full bikes, equipped with SRAM Force 22, in a variety of sizes and Zipp 404 Firecrest and alloy/carbon Zipp 60 wheels. SRAM NRS crew must quickly determine what issue the rider is having, if they need a wheel whether it’s a wide rim Firecrest or a narrow rim 60, and whether the rider’s team car is nearby to provide the service.
SRAM NRS has everything a cyclist needs, or wants.
“After a week of racing you get to know who the riders are and what they’re doing in their moves. A lot nature breaks happen, and you have to stay out of the way of that as well. There are mechanicals that we can only service on the right hand side of the road because that’s the rule,” Eva said. “I like to pull in behind him because what we’re doing is I’m protecting that rider… We’re also mindful if it’s a ProTour team, they like to change their own wheels… I’ll pull up to protect the rider and I’m signaling for the cars to go around.”
The SRAM NRS crew also is ready to help in other smaller ways. It could be lending a rider a pump before the race, or giving a shout of encouragement to a struggling rider. Alcala even carries licorice.
“For the riders,” Alcala said, “sugar.”
Jose Alcala, right, shares a laugh with Joe Devera. Photo by Darrell Parks Photography