I have often this season been tasked with bringing bottles from the team car to my teammates in the bunch. I have gradually improved my method and can now reliably ferry enough bottles for most of the team in one trip. This may seem a straightforward job but there are many places to go wrong and many lessons I have learned the hard way.
This is my guide
The first step is to freewheel to the back of the bunch on the left hand side. This is important as the left-hand side is where everything happens. The Director Sportif or DS, is in control of everything. While driving, the DS listens to the race radio, speaks to his riders out of the car window and hands out bottles. Meanwhile, the mechanic sits in the lefthand rear passenger seat where has tools and spare wheels as well as quick access to bottles and spare kit in the boot of the car. There is often a start-sheet pinned on the headrest in front of the mechanic where he match numbers from the race radio to riders in order to follow the race.
So now, ready on the driver’s side, the next step is to catch the eye of the neutral car driver whilst waving an empty bottle. This lets him know what you’re after. Then he will match your team colors to the appropriate team car and call them forward on race radio. This is a crucial time, it is important to stay patient and sit either last in the bunch or on the bumper of the first car in the convoy. Going looking for your car in the line or deciding it’s clever to go and meet it halfway is a bad idea. Your team car could be 15 cars back meaning by the time your reach them you have given yourself 15 car lengths to make up once you are loaded with bottles then if the road starts going upwards, you’ve really got a problem. This is a mistake you only make once.
As you spot your car pushing through the convoy, it’s time to let yourself drift back slightly while remembering to stay on the left. In my experience, the DS is often quite excited to see you as he has most likely been driving for two hours without much of a view of what’s going on. I usually have an empty bottle or two on the bike which I chuck into the team car along with any kit I am no longer in use of. This is when I am usually hit with a questions in quick succession to which full answers aren’t necessarily expected. “How are you going?” – “yeh” – “How’s the leader looking?” – “good” – “Why weren’t you lot in that break?” – “Ah … yeh”. While navigating this interrogation bottles are being passed from a cooler box in the boot via the mechanic, over the shoulder of the DS into your hands. It is important not to neglect bottle placement in this period. My method is as follows:
Bottle 1 – Onto the bike in the front cage, leaving the back cage empty. (it will become clear why)
Bottle 2 – This bottle goes in your left hand pocket. The pockets need to be filled first as they prevent bottles pushed down the back of the jersey from falling out. This bottle is received in the right hand but has to be passed to the left in order to access the left hand pocket so it is best to do this first before your bike handling is compromised by further bottles.
Bottle 3- Middle pocket.
Bottle 4- Right hand pocket.
Bottle 5 – This one goes down the back of your jersey, maybe unzip a bit first.
Bottle 6 – Another one down the back.
Bottle 7 – A third bottle down the back is daring as one may unexpectedly slide sideways and end up at the front of your jersey. Personally I put bottle 7 straight in the front to avoid this problem.
Bottle 8 – I often don’t get as far as bottle 8 as more than one per person is rarely needed in Under 23 races and by bottle 8 the DS is sick of my company and wants me back in the bunch with the rest. But if the bottles keep coming another in the front is probably the best bet.
Bottle 9 – (Bottle 9 or the last bottle depending how many you can manage) This is know as a sticky bottle as it comes with a firm push and a well timed acceleration from the driver to slingshot you towards the front. In order to get the most out of this the final bottle needs to be put aways as quickly as possible. This is why leaving a cage on the bike free is always a good idea. The sooner you have both hands on the bars the easier the next stage becomes.
Now loaded with bottles the real work begins. With any luck the bunch is taking it easy, this makes the job much easier physically but does provide the problem of having to navigate a tight bunch. One method I have seen used in professional races on videos such like those by Velon which are recorded by on bike cameras is to move patiently and shout “service” – or a similar word in another language. This notifies riders of your job who will happily let you pass. In my experience, however, this does not work. In amateur or U23 races, there is very little point in trying to communicate as everyone has their head down racing. With short intense races and perhaps the competitive nature of men from the ages of 19 to 26, if a rider hears an instruction from someone in another team, he will most likely do the opposite. In such a situation, I generally pick a side of the road and begin making up places towards my teammates who are hopefully are riding near each other. If things are getting difficult, I often try and give several bottles to the first member of my team I reach who can then help with distribution. This part of the job is rewarding, with most riders grateful for a bottle even if they are yet to run out. But you will always get someone who has the cheek to tell you they wanted a can of coke or a specific hydration drink. My response to this depends on how hard I have just had to work: it varies in tone from anywhere between a sarcastic “OK and do you want ice with that?” to telling them exactly where to put their chilled beverage of choice.