Cervelo Test Team had set up camp for the Morzine-Avoriaz stages in the Hфtel Florimontane on Morzine’s Avenue de Joux Plane, which is where Liquigas-Doimo were also based for the two nights.
Once the press had stopped pestering the riders for quotes, and the guys had gone off to organize themselves for training, we got to see legendary cycling chef, Willy Balmat, hard at working getting meals ready for his boys. This is just a brief glimpse of what goes on in the kitchen of a Grand Tour team.
PEZ: What are you up to this morning, Willy?
Willy Balmat: I’m just making lunch for the riders. Today is a rest day, so it’s not so important compared to race day. But you want to eat right for the evening, so today started with a light breakfast with porridge.
[There’s a lot of noise and clattering, and the hotel’s own kitchen squad are hard at work, with the Liquigas chef quietly chopping vegetables and cooking mountains of pasta at another station.]
PEZ: Is it easy to work when you’re in someone else’s kitchen?
Willy Balmat: They are very nice. ‘Here, it’s OK!’ (shouting at Patrick, the hotel’s head chef!) I went shopping with him and he told me where the hotel and the restaurant go. It wasn’t just cheaper, but also really good quality.
PEZ: What’s on the menu just now, Willy?
Willy Balmat: For lunch, we make pasta with a light creamy sauce, with some bacon in it and vegetables. Tonight, the boys get a sirloin steak, but Carlos Sastre gets chicken filets. I bought it a couple of days ago, and it is still defrosting but it will be fine for tonight.
Then we have different kinds of salad. These (individual) servings are made just for the staff. The riders have a salad made in a big bowl served on the table so that they can help themselves. Here we have tomato salad, carrot salad, endive salad and green salad.
So, because it is a rest day and they’re not used to eating lunch because they are normally on the bikes (racing) they (the riders) cannot eat completely differently, so they just take a light meal … maybe a little omelette with ham and cheese or a plain omelette and then a little pasta. I make the sauce separately, and serve rice, too.
If they are not used to eating lunch a lot, they can’t have a big lunch then just train for an hour and then eat. They are used to eating a lot in the mornings and evenings.
Pez: Have you noticed that changing the eating routine can make riders sick?
Willy Balmat: It’s already bad, like this year in the Tour and the Giro because they might arrive at 5pm or 5.30pm, then they go to the hotel, have a massage … some of the Spanish riders can be starting their meal at 9pm! That’s much too late for a rider!
With Lance (Armstrong), we had to eat at 8.30pm at the latest, because he’s says you can’t go to bed on a full belly. It’s not impossible, but then the heart has to do all the work. If you walk around a little after dinner then it’s the muscles that help to digest the food. If you lie down, it’s only the heart that does the work.
With the Spanish boys, you can’t expect them to (change their culture) … the kids already stay up until midnight, asleep on their mother’s lap as she’s still eating!
Pez: Can you just give us a quick run down on the teams you’ve worked with since you came into cycling?
Willy Balmat: This is the 24th Tour de France! 24 years!! 7-11, Motorola, US Postal Service, Discovery Channel, Astana, Garmin and now two years with Cervelo.
Pez: Does it get easier as time goes by?
Willy Balmat: No! You know what’s the problem? I was 15 years on my own and I had no problems in the kitchen. Now, the big teams … they all have a cook. Liquigas is here as well and it’s fine. With two (chefs) it’s OK, but with four different chefs?! That needs a big kitchen! If you’re in a small hotel, like a Campanile, then you can get in a mess.
I have two induction plates in the car so that I can cook outside the truck. I can have more people around me watching than the guys cleaning the bikes!
Pez: Was Lance difficult to work with?
Willy Balmat: No, I had good years with him. He was still in great shape then. When he stopped, I stopped, too. Then Vinokourov came and asked me. I said: “For Vino, OK …” We were two years on the road.
Pez: Are the mountain stages harder to plan for and for getting your job done?
Willy Balmat: No. I have long experience of knowing what to I have to do. I also know I have to be one of the first to leave tomorrow, so I prepare everything tomorrow morning, put it on the table and then they have to help themselves. Tomorrow I make a couple of omelettes in advance: with ham, with cheese and ham, plain. I put the rice on the table, the porridge on the table … then I leave. There is only one road down from here and I want to be away quickly.
Pez: Do you have to bring your own utensils to work with?
Willy Balmat: This is my box! I have all the knives in here. The good stuff! They are special, they cut like a razor. I have Swiss knives but this [pictured] is the only Japanese one, otherwise it’s all from home.
Here in the little boxes are my special spices for making good sauces, all the ingredients.
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And with that, preparations kicked into full swing for the lunch service for Willy, for Liquigas and for the hotel, as well, so we took our leave. A big thanks to Willy, one of the true characters of the sport and a genuinely nice man to boot. Thanks also to Geert Broekhuizen, Cervelo’s PR man, for clearing the way for our brief look into a different side of the cycling world.