With race day finally arriving for the Rally UHC Cycling riders, this episode gives us a rare look inside the all-important team briefing, as well as a good sense of the mood in the camp on the morning of race day.
Before every stage of the Amgen Tour of California – and indeed, before every race they compete in – both men’s and women’s squads will meet to discuss the day’s strategy. It’s a chance for the director to assign roles and restate objectives, to make sure everyone is singing the same tune.
In most squads there are workers and protected riders. Brandon McNulty is the latter, while on day one, Emerson Oronte and Nigel Ellsay are the helpers assigned to keep him well supplied with water throughout a scorching hot day in Sacramento.
Oronte told us more:
“There’s always a feeling at the start of any stage race where you kinda just want to get the rodeo started. For the days leading up to the race you’re in the atmosphere of the race but you’re just not racing – and so I think that has its own unique anxiety to it.”
In the meeting, experienced riders like Rob Britton are turned to for their knowledge of the course – Britton has competed in California a staggering seven times, and has ridden most of these roads at least once before. He’s an invaluable resource for the rest of the team and uses the briefing to impart some knowledge. Of course, it’s an added advantage if one of your team grew up riding the roads of California. Enter Evan Huffman, who was born in Elk Grove and trained on the roads of NorCal.
As a rule, most riders know what they’ve come to the race to do, but the team meeting is still vital – it’s the sign for the riders that it’s time to switch on their race brains, Oronte says:
“For me personally that’s where my brain turns on. Like ‘Ok, it’s time to go to work’.
“These races can be pretty stressful and if you spend the whole day leading up to the race just fixated on the event, I find it uses up so much of my mental energy that by the time it gets to the race I’m already kinda gassed.
“Everyone knows their role, generally, in the team. Some guys know they’re the leader, some know they’re the domestiques. But there are nuances to that as well that are dependent on each stage. If it’s a climbing day, rather than just generally helping them throughout the stage, it might be that there’s a climb where being at the front is more pertinent, or looking out for certain scenarios and making sure that you’re there.”
On some days there are two objectives running in tandem, with one rider chasing stage glory or the blue Amgen most aggressive jersey, and another trying to preserve their position on GC. Oronte explains more about the delicate balancing act of priorities, ambitions and goals which the directors and riders must perform:
“I err on the side of doing what’s asked. The directors have a good idea of the plan they want and each guy’s role in the plan.
“In the past I have said ‘I feel good and I’d like to try and go for the break’ and they’ve opened the door a bit and let me look for opportunities, but usually they’ll say something to the effect of ‘OK, if you feel good you can go for it but just know that your role is still the one we’ve assigned to you’. There’s the expectation that you’re still going to achieve what was asked.”