Words and Photography by David Lipnowski
A lot of my time at the start line this morning is spent chatting more than shooting. Most of the stuff I’m seeing at the start of each stage has been pretty repetitive, and I feel like I have photographed it all at least twice already. I’m trying to keep the photos and stories fresh, and hoping that talking to the guys behind the scenes might help with that. I wish I could be breaking major stories like watching a young rider inject a glowing green substance into his veins behind a Hungry Jacks restaurant (Burger King to the rest of the world), or watching a married champion cyclist kiss a young blonde fan with the passion of 1000 fires, but this just isn’t the case. Everything is (thankfully) very tame so far. A sentiment that the support staff guys will echo later in the day.
I love how every morning all three Tour Hostess’ greet me by name in unison. It always brings a smile to my face; they are so nice. And that’s why I find it funny that Eloise and I had quite the friendly-heated argument about Adelaide, and how I’ve been knocking the city in my articles. I could talk to them for a lot longer, but I need to take some pictures.
I feel that I need to find an interesting photo in case I’m limited again on the race route, so I position myself in the middle of the peloton as riders get into their starting positions. I love the fact that I have free reign to go anywhere the riders are. I create a few images that try to illustrate the perspective the riders see every day this week as the gun goes off, starting their day of work at the start line.
The pack waits for the starting gun to go off Friday morning.
Equipe Cycliste FDJ – Big Mat rider Sandy Casar has his game face on prior to the start of stage 4 of the Tour Down Under.
At the start line, riders of different teams get to interact with each other without the pressures of the race on them.
After the start, I jump into the big Skoda van with Tom Paton from Australia, and Matt Rompton from France. This vehicle is carrying wheels, food and drink, as well as the rider’s bags, and me! Both of these guys have worked all of the big races and tours around the world. We start accelerating fast over the start line, thousands of fans whizzing by us as we catch up to the dozens of vehicles that make up the caravan of support vehicles and officials.
After going through the first traffic light, I hear the sound of 6 or 7 skidding Skodas just in front of us. Everyone in front of us missed the right hand turn, and are now attempting to make three-point turns in the middle of the road. It is an interesting start to the day. As everyone turns around, we head around them, and decide not to follow the caravan. The guys tell me that there is supposed to be a lady leading the vans, but she didn’t seem to know where she was going today. Tom says that “we have GPS, we are sponsored by Garmin (pointing to the unit mounted on the windshield), but most other (support) vans don’t”. So we are on our own, and not part the caravan as per their usual morning. We navigate twisty turny roads as the giant Powerade cooler slides across the seat at every turn, smacking me as I try to write this story on my iPhoneeeeeeeeee.
The boys in the van are working the feed zone today, and we stop at a town called Springton and they get to work preparing the musettes (food bags). I grab some shots, and run across the street to grab a quick bite to eat for lunch, a meat pastie.
The office for Matt and Tom of team Garmin-Barracuda Friday morning. Musettes hang off of the back of the headrests of the team support vehicle.
Tom prepares musettes for his team Garmin-Barracuda riders in the feed zone during stage 4 of racing.
A four-man breakaway becomes 3 as Blel Kadri of AG2R, Jay McCarthy of UniSA, and Euskaltel’s Ruben Perez Moreno approach the feed zone on the main stretch of Springton, blowing past it at a good speed.
Euskaltel’s Ruben Perez Moreno leads Blel Kadri of AG2R, and Jay McCarthy of UniSA through the feed zone Friday during stage 4 racing of the Tour Down Under.
When the peloton came through a few minutes later, it was interesting to see how all of the riders find their corresponding team support staff holding out their arms with the musettes. The contents I am told, remain pretty much the same from race to race: two bottles, a can of coke, gels, and Clif Bars. Sometimes there will also be sweet cake in there.
Matt hands out musettes down the road from Tom, so riders that missed Tom can have a chance to grab them from Matt.
I ask if there is a chef on the Tour Down Under team like there is in Le Tour de France, and Tom laughs while telling me what he made this morning, and pulls out a package of recently purchased rice pudding. “We are the 3-star chefs”, he jokes.
Look what the chef made this morning!
When I ask Matt how he is liking working at his first Tour Down Under, he tells me that “it’s easy, [there is] only one car, and one van. One hotel, the more space that you have, more shit you have”. He tells me that during Le Tour de France, the team will have 12 vehicles, and they will still have no room. When I ask about Australia as a nice place to have a vacation, Tom tells me that “every rider wants to come to this race and all of the staff want to come to this race… [there is only] one hotel, the race is fairly easy, there is a lot of time off. It’s relaxed, its well organized. People say it’s the most organized race in the world”.
When I ask Matt about the grand tours where he has worked, he tells me he has done all the major tours and races, with the exception of the Giro d’Italia. He has absolutely no interest in that race, and tells me that “Italy is really a beautiful place, but I dislike its traffic”.
We also discuss rider personalities, and Tom notes how “the one common denominator is humour, they get on well, they have fun, they really enjoy the banter, [and] the guys take the piss, even when they have had a bad day.”
I’m learning a lot about the behind the scenes support staff, and how they fit into the well-oiled machine that is a pro cycling team. I try to poke and prod Tom and Matt for some juicy information about the riders, some gossip, or anything exciting or funny going on behind the scenes, but they tell me that the ride has been very tame so far. Oh well, there are still a few days left.
I didn’t realise that all of the support staff are soigneurs, and how they must all be qualified in massage. We talk about the working relationship with riders, and how the staff and riders don’t become friends. I was a little surprised by this as I have seen a lot of older European staff and young riders joking around together on many occasions. The guys also tell me how working the big show in France is a reward for working hard throughout the year, much like it is for the riders. They also tell me that it’s not just about working hard though, as certain rider’s bodies prefer massage from certain support staff. Both Tom and Matt don’t know where they will be in July. The Tours of Austria and Poland also take place in July, so they will likely still be in Europe.
On the drive to the finish line, the scenery is quite familiar to me at this point; vineyard after vineyard mark the landscape. It is absolutely beautiful. Tom tells me that this area we are driving through close to the finish in Tanuda produces, Henschke wines that can cost upwards of $700 a bottle. We should pull over and grab some grapes!
Bupa challenge riders ride through the beautiful Barossa Valley wine region during stage 4.
A vineyard before planting.
After planting: nothing but grapes.
We arrive early for the finish, and I am having some difficulty getting around due to the sea of red jerseys around the finish line. Thousands of riders just completed the Bupa Challenge Tour, a ride for cyclists to push themselves on the same course as the world’s most talented professional cyclists during stage 4 of the Tour Down Under. It makes it difficult to walk around, as there are bikes lying absolutely everywhere. There are millions of dollars of bicycles lying about, and I’m trying not to knock one over, or get caught up in one with the straps of my camera or bag.
There are bicycles everywhere after thousands of cyclists pushed themselves on the Bupa Challenge Tour through wine region Friday afternoon on the same route as stage 4 of the Tour Down Under.
When I finally get out of the finish area further down the course, I spot a Canadian flag jersey. I had a nice chat with ex-pat Bill Benedictson from Vancouver, who just got the jersey over Christmas. We talk about cycling and hockey for a while, and it’s nice to see the flag of my country so far away. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it.
Walking further, I see three fit young ladies waving signs with humorous sayings on them. They are cheering on the Bupa Challenge Tour riders as they continue to flow in to the finish line. I stop to chat to them as well, and it turns out that Zoe Weldon is another ex-pat from Toronto. Crazy. Even crazier is that her cheer squad friend Sarah Kenny is marrying a Canadian as well. The third Ellie Robinson has no Canadian connection that we can find. Oh well, 2/3 aint bad.
The cheersquad (L-R): Ellie Robinson, Sarah Kenny, and Zoe Weldon cheer on Bupa Challenge Tour riders Friday afternoon 300 meters from the finish line in Tanuda.
I head back to the finish line, happy to have met so many Canadians in such a short period of time. My photo spot is really close to the finish line again, and I am forced to shoot it very wide. How wide you ask? For the photographers out there, I shot it around 18mm. That’s close. The crowd goes nuts as a Bupa Challenge Tour straggler rides through the finish line, pumping his hand in the air as thousands cheer him on. The road was supposed to be cleared and closed a while ago, how’d he get through?
The crowd cheers on the last Bupa Challenge Tour rider as he crosses the finish line Friday afternoon just minutes before the race winner crossed the line.
Katusha leader Oscar Freire wins the bunch sprint by a bike length over Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Gerald Ciolek, and Radioshack’s Daniele Bennati landed third place.
Katusha leader Oscar Freire has lots of room during the stage 4 sprint at Tanuda.
Oscar Freire takes off his racing shoes to slip into something more comfortable after winning the stage 4 bunch sprint in Tanuda Friday afternoon.
It may be more comfortable than race shoes, but socks and sandals? The fashion police wouldn’t like it, but I guess you can do whatever you want when you are a 3 X World Champion, and have just won a stage of the Tour Down Under.
Oscar Freire is all smiles after winning stage 4.
At the start of the day, the Ochre jersey belonged to Andre Greipel. At the start of the race today, he was looking strong, having won the first sprint, but by the end of the day Greipel struggled on the category one climb called Mengler’s Hill and lost almost 8 minutes, bumping him down the GC standings significantly. BMC rider Martin Kohler regained the Ochre leader’s jersey that he lost to Greipel on yesterday’s stage. Upon accepting the jersey on stage, Kohler received quite the applause when he pointed to the boomerang tattoo on his forearm. He’s back in Ochre.
BMC rider Martin Kohler points to his boomerang tattoo on his forearm prior to putting the Ochre jersey back on, after losing it to Andre Greipel yesterday on stage 3.
Stage Four Results
1. Oscar Freire (Spa) Katusha 3:08:34
2. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
3. Daniele Bennati (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank
6. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar
7. Luke Roberts (Aus) Team Saxo Bank
8. Kristijan Koren (Svk) Liquigas – Cannondale
9. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM
10. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Barracuda
General Classification After Four Stages
1. Martin Kohler (Sui) BMC 15:03:34
2. Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank 0:00:02
3. Oscar Freire (Spa) Katusha
4. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:06
5. Simon Gerrans (Aus) GreenEDGE 0:00:08
6. Daniele Bennati (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
7. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
8. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan
9. Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha
10. Rohan Dennis (Aus) UNI SA – Australia 0:00:09