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A mob crowding around the Rapha tent bidding to purchase all of the rider’s kit and gear

What a week it was!  Working with the Rapha team and getting a behind-the-scenes look at a relatively large stage race was one of the coolest experiences of my life.  I’ve never seen a race from that end and it gave me an appreciation for the massive logistical challenge that it takes to run an event like the Sun Tour.   I started keeping a mental list of the things that the organizer could have done better, but in the end there were only about 5 nit-picky things out of about 50,000 details that could be improved upon.  Pretty darn good if you ask me.

A few things you may not know about The Sun Tour:

  • The Jayco Herald Sun Tour is classified as a UCI2.1 race.  This classification means it’s a multi-day stage race (i.e the ‘2’.  If it were a ‘1’ then it would denote a single day race).  The number after the decimal denotes that it’s a category 1 race.  A category 1 race would attract a better field, offer more UCI points and more prize money than a category 3 for example.   Another example is 2.HC, which denotes a multi-day beyond categorization race (i.e. the Tour de France).
  • To compete in a race like this, at very least you need to be a part of a continental trade team.  You can read about the different pro team structures here.
  • Teams need to be invited to a Tour such as the Sun Tour.  After a team is invited most of the race related expenses are paid by the organizer (hotels, food, flights, a car and 2 transport vans, petrol, etc).  Interesting to see how the different race organizers compete with each other.  For example, the Tour of Tasmania and the Sun Tour are run by different groups.  The Tour of Tas (which is held before the Sun Tour) organizer put a clause in the contract that riders who are flown down are not allowed to race two weeks before and two weeks after the Tour of Tas.   Therefore some teams flew their riders down to Aus out of their own pocket so that they could compete in both races.
  • A question I keep getting is “why are only some of the riders in the TT using proper TT equipment?“.  The answer to this is that many of the teams have traveled all the way from the US or Europe.  It’s a massive undertaking bringing only the most basic equipment, never mind extra helmets, wheels and bikes that are specific to a short 10km TT.  Also, this race doesn’t mean very much to most of these teams and they can’t be bothered with the extra effort it takes to set up for a 10km TT that’s their second last race of the season.  Remember, this is called the “Fun Tour”!
  • It’s rumored that the Sun Tour will not be run in 2010 and will be rescheduled to February 2011.   This is to make it shortly after the Tour Down Under so that it attracts more Pro Tour teams stay, use the warm weather for training, and then attend the Sun Tour.  As you might have noticed the Sun Tour didn’t have a particularly deep field this year.  If this plan pans out we may be seeing teams like The Shack, Quickstep, Astana AND local team like Prime Estate mixing it up in Melbourne early 2011.
  • To put on a race like this takes hundreds of people – many who are volunteers to take annual leave to be a part of this event.  Motorcycle drivers, corner marshals, worker bees, etc.  The passion that cycling brings out in every single one of these people is unheard of.

The Rapha team was an absolute blast to work with.  The videos and photos I posted don’t show the half of it.  Next time I’ll be wearing the helmet cam where ever I go so I don’t miss a beat.

They did put me to work however.  From 6am until 9pm (on most days) I was cleaning bikes, doing hotel runs transferring 2 van-loads of bags and bikes, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and blogging when everyone went to bed.   This was completely necessary though.  If I were just standing around taking videos and photos I would never have bonded with the team like I did.  I was part of the overall effort and therefore I was granted access to many things I would not have otherwise seen (team meetings, convoy car, race strategies, casual chats with riders, etc).  Even though it was hard work, if I ever to have the opportunity to do this again I won’t have it any other way.

After all the support work is done for the day it’s time for the race staff and volunteers to have a bit of fun.  Everyone usually gathers at the hotel restaurant or bar and unwinds for a few hours.  It’s a traveling circus and the support crew bump into each other time and time again in various parts of the world at the different races.  They all know each other and look out for one another.  A good example of this is our mechanic bringing dinner out to the other mechanics on different teams who are still working late into the night.  Even though the riders and staff are on different teams, there’s a real comradery that exists between them.

Doing a swany job in a Grand Tour has been described to me as the Sun Tour multiplied by 10 on steroids.  I can’t imagine how much work it would be but I’m keen to have the opportunity to do the same thing for a Pro Tour team (I’m working a strong connection to do this!).

A few random photos, thank yous and blatant plugs…

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Cantwell’s Parlee – the nicest bikes and wheels in the tour by a long shot.   Visit Cycling Edge to gawk at these.  Without their support I could not run this site.

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Andy and Dominic – two great guys who I had an absolute blast with this whole week.

Dom is an osteopathic guru who specializes in cyclists.  He’s also and extremely interesting and entertaining guy who is a pleasure to be around.  In fact Dom has so much to contribute I’ve hit him up to write up regular column on this blog. Visit his website here if you’re a cyclists in need of Osteo treatment.

Andy is the best masseur I’ve ever worked with.  In addition to specializing in cyclists, he’s also like talking to a personal coach on a massage table.  He’ll give you guidance on your problems, training and racing.  He’ll also tell you stories about his former pro days that’ll entertain you to get you through the excruciating pain of his elbow treatments.  Contact Andy on  0430 204 707 or at naylor@hotmail.com

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Thanks to Hayden and Michael from Soul Kitchen for following the race around all week and making us great coffee.  Also, thanks to SRAM for paying for all rider coffees.  Between you and me I managed to sneak a few freebies in ;-)

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A big thank you to John Herety (the Rapha Condor Directeur Sportif) for welcoming me into the team and giving me the flexibility and access to do whatever I wanted this past week.  He’s a one-of-a-kind character and responsible for making this team as fun and successful as it is.