Since my first visit to Le Tour de France in 2000, I have become a passionate follower with many memorable encounters over the years. After my first three visits with organized groups including two with Outfitter Bicycle Tours, I embarked on independent journeys in search of the uncommon and/or situations where no tour operator would go. In the midst of those journeys I have been fortunate to experience the race staying at the same hotels as teams, race officials, media, caravan crews, retired pros, and technical staff.
Staying in teams hotels holds a special place in my heart. Seeing the riders and their staff going through their daily routine gives the race an added dimension versus watching it live on TV or on the roadside. Here are 10 things you might experience or observe staying at a team hotel:
1. A Rider’s Regular Day – Wake up, eat breakfast, go to the start line, ride the stage, go to hotel, get a massage, eat dinner, sleep. Repeat until Paris. Sounds pretty easy, no?
2. Dining – Depending on the hotel’s facilities, riders might be enjoying their meals in the same dining rooms with us mere mortals. Alternatively, hotel meeting rooms are used especially in the larger hotels capable of accommodating multiple teams. The team chefs often use the hotel restaurant’s kitchen facilities. Some teams have a catering truck.
3. Skinny – This might seem obvious but most of the riders are really, really skinny. Seeing them on pictures and television is one thing. Standing next to them is quite another. Their hips and shoulders are quite narrow. Very low body fat produces sunken hollow cheeks even on riders with more muscular builds. Thighs can be seriously oversized versus the rest of their build.
4. Room Assignments – A team roster with hotel room assignments is posted near elevators and key doorways. Some teams have stopped this practice because of the obvious security risk. Riders share rooms as does most of their team staff. Each team uses about 15 hotel rooms with riders in 5 of those. In 2007, I was staying on the third floor of a hotel in Bourg-en-Bresse with Quick-Step. In the room below mine was Tom Boonen. I did not get much sleep.
5. Team Support Staff – The riders have a tough job but it is made easier by the efforts of soigneurs, doctors, masseuses, mechanics, nutritionists, and race directors. Luggage gets moved. Team vehicles get driven to the next stop. Piles of laundry get washed. Grocery shopping gets done. Special meals are prepared. Bicycles get cleaned and adjusted for the next day. Water bottles are filled. Musette bags are prepared with the rider’s favorite snacks. The list of daily chores is long. While the riders are fast asleep, their staff is still working on something.
6. Rest Day Press Conferences – Press conferences on rest days are held in places like hotel lobbies, pool areas, and meeting rooms. Find a good spot and watch the media carnival. In 2010, I was at Andy Schleck’s press conference on the second rest day in Pau. He was second to Alberto Contador at the time after losing the yellow jersey following “chaingate” on the Port de Balès two days earlier. What was so amazing about that press conference was hearing Andy effortlessly answer questions in French, English, and German. The other amazing thing was Alberto Contador was staying at the same hotel.
7. Yellow Jersey Champagne Celebration – Immediately after a stage when a rider first gets the yellow jersey, the team typically has a champagne celebration that evening. A yellow jersey is an accomplishment that all are thrilled to share. In 2009, Rinaldo Nocentini was in a breakaway on a stage to Arcalis and was the new race leader. When Rinaldo arrived at the hotel, he was given a standing ovation by fans patiently waiting for him. What a smile! A bit later, the champagne and glasses appeared. The team looked very happy but also extremely tired.
8. Drug Raids – The use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is well known in professional cycling not to mention other sports. The French police might get involved due to a non-negative drug test or ongoing investigation. Rest days seems to attract the most action. I have stayed at 3 hotels where police made appearances due to PED-related matters. My most recently police raid was in 2012 with Frank Schleck’s positive test for an obscure banned diuretic during the second rest day in Pau. The hotel was very apologetic that police were on the property and a loud media mob was forming outside the closed hotel entrance gate. The night before this incident, Frank, his wife, baby girl, and in-laws had enjoyed dinner at a table adjacent to mine in the hotel’s restaurant.
9. Podium Flowers – Flower bouquets given to riders on the podium frequently end up at the reception area of the team hotel. It’s a nice gift to the hotels because of the stresses faced by the hotel’s staff in accommodating the special needs of the teams.
10. Elevator Meetups – Many riders are notorious for saving as much energy as possible for riding and refusing stairs when elevators are available. In hotels with multiple floors, there can be long waits for elevators during prime rush hours. As such, there are plenty of opportunities for elevator meetups if you are patient. What makes these elevators notable is their small size characteristic of European hotels. If you start at the top floor and head down, be prepared to be squashed by the time you reach the lobby. There was nothing quite so enjoyable as being compressed in the rear of an elevator next to Fabian Cancellara in 2011.
Dick Powell and I look forward to facilitating your very own team hotel adventures in July on OBT’s Combo Tour! Questions? Contact Sandy at email@example.com and Dick at firstname.lastname@example.org.