Sport Cycling

Sunday 25 February 2018

'Feed zone is one of the most dangerous places'

Tuesday, June 6 - Stage 3: Le Chambon sur Lignon to Tullins (184km)

Netherlands' Koen Bouwman rides (1st-R) during the 184 km third stage of the 69th edition of the Criterium du Dauphine cycling race between Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and Tullins. GETTY
Netherlands' Koen Bouwman rides (1st-R) during the 184 km third stage of the 69th edition of the Criterium du Dauphine cycling race between Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and Tullins. GETTY

Nicolas Roche: Criterium du Dauphine Diary

Designed to get the peloton out of the city centre intact every morning, each stage of a stage race begins with a 'neutralised section', usually a few kilometres long.

Used as a warm-up for the stage ahead, these opening kilometres also allow for any last-minute clothing changes or mechanicals to be fixed before the real racing begins at 'kilometre zero'.

In this neutralised section, riders aren't allowed past the lead car, which usually drives at a pretty sedate pace before speeding off when the flag drops.

For the past few days on this Dauphine though, the neutralised section has been harder than some of the racing and we've regularly been tipping 55kph just getting to the official start.

Today my cousin Dan Martin and I were riding alongside each other at the back of the bunch discussing these mental starts when the lead car took off and riders began screaming and shouting and fighting for position.

I dropped back to the race commissaire's car behind us and leaned in the window. "What's the story with the speed of the lead car? This is supposed to be neutralised!"

The commissaire just looked at me and smiled before talking into his race radio. I couldn't hear what he said but I reckon he told the lead car to ease off because the pace slowed a little after that.

When the racing began, six riders jumped away in the first 2km and happy enough with the combination out front, most of the peloton opted to stop for a pee at the top of the opening 5km drag.

With the lead sextet doing 60kph on the 15km descent that followed while we stopped, they took four minutes in a flash.

The gap rose to seven even after the Lotto Soudal team of race leader Thomas de Gendt put a couple of men on the front to chase.

Even though the route profile suited a sprint finish, it took a long time for the sprinters' teams to help but when they did the pace increased dramatically and we flew into the feed zone after 86km.

Musettes Here, soigneurs dressed in team colours line the side of the road holding musettes of food and bottles to hand up to us.

In order to spot their riders and hand us our meals on wheels as they go past, each soigneur stands out a little bit further in the road as the feed zone goes on, creating a funnel effect that means by the end of it, it's maybe only a couple of riders wide.

As everyone seems to ride in team formation nowadays, an octopus would be hard pushed to hand out bags fast enough, but instead of taking it easier and spreading out, some guys dive in front of you or stick an arm across your face in an effort to grab one. Add in a few bottles bouncing around the road and empty musettes being discarded willy-nilly and the feed zone has become one of the most dangerous places in the race.

Instead of joining the clamour we just try and get Richie through it safely and then send somebody back to the car for food for him if necessary.

The rest of the stage was pretty nervous and in the last 25km I started taking care of Richie (Porte), moving him towards the front of the peloton in my slipstream. The finale today was quite straightforward but even with the first six places gone, the sprinters still sprinted for points towards the green jersey so there were plenty of lead-out men dropping back through the peloton like rocks to look out for.

Despite the last-minute chase, the break managed to hold an 11-second lead to the line where Koen Bouwman of Lotto NL Jumbo won the stage.

Having achieved our first goal of getting him through the first three days without losing time to the other GC contenders, tomorrow's 23.5km time trial is the first big test for Richie. It's not perfect for him but hopefully he'll be within touching distance of the yellow jersey afterwards.

Irish Independent

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