The Team bus is also part sanctuary. With a huge number of fans at the start of the Giro everyday, you have to feel a little bit of sympathy with the riders who want to wait as long as possible before braving the dash to the line so that they can actually get their working day under-way.
The name behind the team also appears on the bus.
For that reason, we decided to pick a time when the riders would be least likely to be hiding out aboard their mobile team office and on the morning of the mountain time trial to the Plan de Corones, we ducked under the striped tape and climbed aboard Team Saxo Bank’s bus.
The man responsible for chauffeuring SaxoBank’s star cargo is ex-Belgian professional cyclist and 2007 amateur road champ, Danny In t’Ven.
Danny, the Giro and Pez actually go way back to 2007 when The Pez and Danny found themselves at the same table at a dinner party thrown by a race sponsor. That story itself is worth a re-read (it also features Pez mate Mino and my home city of Udine!), but today we have a bus to check out, so let’s get aboard.
With the door open and the camera’s rolling, this is about the extent of the view that most people have ever had of the inside of the team bus. With the first riders to set off for the time trial up the Plan de Corones not due for half an hour, Danny invited us in for a tour.
This is one of two buses that Team SaxoBank have at their disposal. This particular rig is actually a leased bus and comes fully kitted out (as you are about to see) from the specialist company that owns it. The other bus belongs to the team and while Danny was guiding the boys around the roads of Italy (and thhe Netherlands), the other bus was being driven at the Bayern Rundfahrt by Lolo.
With a set of curtains that can de drawn across the windscreen of the bus and special ‘one way’ transfers that form part of the sponsors logos applied to the windows, once the door is closed there is no peeking in by members of the public or even that pesky mob with their press passes and never ending questions.
The Saxo Bank bus is divided up into three sections. Immediately behind the driver are the “normal” bus seats, in five pairs, as well as a small bench seat and two small tables. Race mascot, Girbecco (won by Chris Sorensen on the 8th stage to the Terminillo) was the only resident on board was relaxing in the seats at the front where the riders tend to sit when travelling longer distances on the way to the the start.
With 10 seats plus the smaller bench seat, there is plenty of room for the nine riders and the sports directors to travel in comfort or have a race briefing on the morning of the race away from the prying microphones of the press, or ears of the opposition.
Danny told PEZ that one of his jobs on the morning of a race is to find a good spot to park the bus. He said that while there was a bit of competition between the drivers to get the best spot, normally they were directed by the organisers where to park and they had little say in their location.
Today, for the time trial, the bus would stay in position for the whole day and while the Giro entourage had taken over the whole village of San Vigilio di Marebbe, Danny had found a nice shady spot that also had a good clear view to pick up the satellite TV signals from the south, but more on that in a moment…
A nice shady spot with room to move. The bikes are out, the tent is up and tape is strung to keep the masses at a comfortable length.
Taking us through his day, Danny tells us that when he reaches the finish of the stage, usually having left before the riders roll out so that there are no problems being stuck behind the race, he sets up as close to the finish as possible and then hooks up the satellite TV. While he is of course interested to see how his team has gone, the main purpose of finding a signal is so that he can record the final hours of the race for the post-stage ‘post mortem’ once the riders are all back aboard.
The TV sits above the bus’ second entrance while the ‘control’ centre is tucked away above the kitchen.
“The guys really appreciate the fact that when they are back on board they can re-watch the final part of the stage. It’s great if we have had a win, but it is also really useful for the guys to see how the riders around them were going. When you have had a tough day ion the bike and you get on the bus and watch TV and see everyone else was having a tough day, then it helps make you feel a bit better about it.”
Making our way back, we get to arguable to most important part of the bus: The coffee machine and kitchen. While the race sponsors love the idea of the riders congregating in the start village to grab that final caffeine boost before heading out for a day in the open-air office, when it’s all on tap in the bus, they can delay their departure that little bit extra. Also, on a cold wet April morning when it’s raining in Brugge, what better place to spend those final moments before a six hour slog in the rain, than inside the bus with a fresh brew in your hand?
Hands up who used to (or still does?) put their news paper cuttings up on the fridge or pin board in the kitchen? Just because the races you are winning are Classics and the newspaper is L’Equipe or La Gazzetta dello Sport, doesn’t mean you stop taking inspiration from past glory. Danny tells us the pics go up to give the guys that extra bit of motivation before a race.
Check out the bottom shelf in the door. In this team, having the ‘champers’ on ice is never a waste of time.
“As well as the TV, the guys like to relax with some good music on the way to the start. With eight or nine riders, you always have different tastes in music, but I normally go for something not too hard. The guys can also plug in their iPod and I can play their music over the speakers.”
With a certain Australian on the squad racing quite well, the TripleJ covers album “Like a Version” was part of the music rotation late in in the Giro.
I asked Danny if he had sought out work in a professional team and then gone and learned how to drive a bus, but he explained that the whole situation developed the other way around.
“After I had finished racing in the professionals, but still wanted to race in Belgium in the amateur ranks, I needed a job where I could earn a living but still fit in time to train and race. It was for that reason that I signed up to work for De Lijn, who are the company that run the public transport buses and trams in Belgium.
“Patrick Lefevere was starting up a new team – Bodysol Relax – and needed someone to drive the bus for the races, so he called me. Initially I said no, but then they called me and asked me to do it for one tour because their mechanic was sick, and then I did it and then you fall back into cycling and then you are hooked!”
Danny also gets out the road three to four times a week too and during my short stint on the Giro, I saw him getting in a ride on two occasions. He told PEZ that he prefers to have his ride in the mornings to clear his head and get ready for the day’s work, but I have also seen him at other races arrive at the finish, clean the bus ready for the arrival of the riders and then hit the road.
There were some confused punters one day when Danny rolled out of the team area aboard a Specialized bike in full Saxo Bank kit and sporting a Fabian Cancellara Swiss champion gillet over the top of his jersey.
Danny juggled his racing at home in Belgium with his bus driving duties up until 2006. At that point he no longer had the time to train properly, so now makes do with a few two hour rides per week to keep in shape and keep his head clear.
Looking around the bus, there were a few personal items on the various seats so I asked if there was an unwritten (or even clearly verbalised!) set of rules about who sat where on the bus.
“No not at all. It’s more of a preference thing than ‘don’t sit there, that’s Cancellara’s seat’. During a tour, the riders tend to move too the same spot every day and it just kind of works out like that. There are no ‘forbidden’ places”
The EstaTHE mascot is presented to the Maglia Rosa wearer every day. This is the rear facing post occupied by Aussie Richie Porte for most of the three week Giro d’Italia.
Some riders do have their preferences, however, and when Danny is driving the classics squad to or from a race, Stuart O’Grady and Fabian Cancellara prefer to forego the bus style seats and lay down and relax at the back of the bus… which is where we are heading next.
There’s plenty of space for two Classics winners to stretch out back here and as the third section of the bus there are also a few other features of the back end of this particular team vehicle.
On the right hand side is a food preparation area where riders can load up on energy gels or bars from the team’s sponsors and on the left hand side, behind sliding doors, there are two single shower stalls.
More motivational clippings as well as plenty of fuel to go.
After a long day in the saddle, no one really wants to sit in wet bike clothes during the one (or two or three or hour!) hour drive to the hotel, so a hot shower as soon as they get on board, is just one more reason for the riders to love the bus.
As well as driving the bus to and from the stage starts and finishes, Danny is responsible for keeping it clean during the day and washing the towels that the riders use on a day by day basis.
“Sometimes I use the dryer under the bus to dry the towels and sometimes on a hot day, I will put them outside to air dry. It has become a bit of a running joke in the team that Cancellara will call out to me from his position down the back of the bus and ‘complain’ that the towels are too hard if I haven’t put them through the drier. It’s all good fun, but I try and make sure they have what they want, too.”
Out of the bus and under the shade for a warm-up. Sebastian Haedo is behind the tape and has everything he needs close at hand.
With the first riders arriving to warm up for their time trial, it was time to let them have their space and have a final look around outside. With the team bringing their truck, two in-race cars as well several other cars for the soigneurs to drive to the hotel and to the mid race feeds, there is not much need to have the undersides of the bus stacked with equipment. Danny had the riders’ time trial helmets as well as their race helmets tucked away under the bus and between taking care of a few demands for the other staff who were beginning to arrive, Danny popped the hatch covers and showed us some of the underside storage areas.
On the right hand side of the bus, are two essential pieces of equipment in the washer and dryer. The team also have these in the truck for completing the rider’s laundry everyday, and these two are used solely for the towels that are used in the showers on board.
There is a washing machine under the bus that mainly gets used for the towels. If Cancellara is on the race, Danny always (well, nearly always) makes sure he uses the dryer too.
On the left hand side of the bus, this hatch contains both the generator and hot water system that helps make the bus self sufficient when there are no power points to plug into for those mountain top finishes in the middle of nowhere.
Danny had found a great spot for the day for his charges to prepare, but I asked him if there were ever times when things had gone badly wrong?
“There was one time with Lotto I was driving along the coast road and I arrived at a railway bridge that only had clearance of 2m80 and the bus is 4m. So, I had to reverse for 2 Kilometres.”
What did the riders have to say about that?
“Ah, it was on the way to the finish of the stage, so no one saw it and no one knew, so we’ll keep that between us.” Given the fact that I had my tape recorder running while he told me the story, I’m pretty sure Danny is not too concerned that the readers at PEZ might know about that particular incident now too!
So there you have it. Next time you are watching TV and see one of the Saxo Bank riders climb aboard the bus to escape the crowd, you’ll no longer have to ask wonder just exactly what it’s like in the inner sanctum of the cycling Team Bus.
And if you are ever rolling along the highway and see the Saxo Bank bus up ahead, instead of craning your neck to see if there are any riders inside that you might recognise, slow down by the drivers window and give Danny a thumbs up. Chances are he’ll be on his way to the finish to try and outmanoeuvre the other bus drivers fro the best spot in the shade.