Time trials are always difficult days at races. Firstly, the riders line up knowing their final position in the race depends on their forthcoming hour of solo work, and secondly, the logistics for the staff are super complex here at the TdF Stage 19.
We had a bus at both the start and finish, five different vehicles following riders, mechanics at start and finish, time check people stationed on the course, soigneurs at the start, press officer and doctor at the finish, and a several hour spread over which the riders competed.
Seeing Whitey plan it all the night before was an impressive sight, akin to footage of Kasparov playing twenty concurrent games of chess and winning. Start list with times in one hand, pen in the other, rattling off who had to be where and when. It was pure genius at work!
My role on the day was to provide Whitey with splits for Ryder and his four closest competitors: the two behind, and the two in front of him on general classification.
I had a list of the time that Ryder could lose to the guys behind him, and needed to gain on the guys in front, and then waited for the times to trickle in, pen & phone at the ready.
The way the race is organised is that last place on general classification rides first, all the way through to the race leader departing last. Thus the guys who Ryder was defending against were in front of him on the road, and those he was attacking were behind him.
It is a funny scene, I am sure, to see a grown man mumbling at a computer screen “Flash up now! Flash up now!” while awaiting Ryder’s time to come up, and then “Don’t flash yet! Don’t flash yet!” while awaiting the two guys Ryder was chasing.
As the numbers came in I started updating Whitey, who would be able to relay the key info to Ryder. It was a cool couple of calls.
The phone rings, then there’s the answer, and you here the noise in the car: race radio giving updates in French & English, and Whitey in a calm, yet animated voice encouraging Ryder.
My first calls were about the blokes Ryder was defending against:
“Yeah mate. HesJ has ‘em both on toast. Taken over 50 seconds out of them both. We’re apples for 8th.”
“Good stuff. Now we’re after 7th.”
A few minutes later…
“He’s taken a minute thirteen out of JQuan. Needs another minute and we’ve got him.” (JQuan is Joaquim Rodriguez)
Whitey (on radio to Ryder):
“Alright mate, you’re getting close to Rodriguez. Good rhythm Ryder.”
The next time check was even better.
“Ryder is 10 seconds in front of JQuan on general.”
“Now we’re gonna take 6th.”
Hilariously though, Ryder’s radio didn’t work, so he wasn’t getting any of our hard found, highly exciting time checks. So when he finished, he had no idea how he’d done, and actually thought he was out of the top ten.
When our finish line staff told him he’d actually moved up a place (literally on the finish line), he was super psyched: he had no clue! He learned he was 7th (not 11th as he’d feared) in front of the press.
With typical humility he said:
“That’s a good number. Wow. Anything in the top 10 is amazing. I don’t know what to say.”
Once again he rode brilliantly. We could not be happier with his performance.
That Zab also managed to finish in the top 5 for the stage maintained to Garmin-Transitions run of competing at the pointy end of the race, no matter what the stage was.
Now. Champs Elysee for a likely bunch sprint, then a well-earned celebration tonight!