We were recently offered the opportunity to hook up with the An Post Chain Reaction team for Stage 1 of the Tour of Britain to experience what it was like in the cavalcade of a big race, and we jumped at the chance. The stage started in Beaumaris in North Wales and included three categorised climbs and three intermediate sprints along the 177-kilometre route to Wrexham.
In the car was directeur sportif Kurt Bogaerts and Freddy, one of the mechanics. The team got no. 15 in the draw for the cavalcade so it was unlikely that we would see much action unless one of the team managed to infiltrate the break.
Numerous riders dropped back in those first few kilometres for a toilet break, while at the front, riders were trying to go clear. After about ten kilometres, we knew a break had gotten clear but we were unsure who was in it.
When the news eventually came through on race radio that Conor Dunne was one of the four to form the main break, it meant we would get to see much of the action. When the gap grew big enough, we would be allowed to pass the peloton to get up behind the break.
However, it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. On the narrow roads on Anglesey, it was proving nearly impossible to pass the peloton, and it wasn’t until we got near to the mainland that we could safely do so.
Kurt’s driving skills were great as we inched past the bunch, and then up to the leaders. On the way, we passed a rider from Team Wiggins in no-man’s land. He had tried but failed to make it across to the four leaders.
When we eventually got up to the leaders, Kurt gave Conor the instruction to not get carried away and end up doing too much work. From what we could see, the quartet seemed to be working well together. Their lead grew to over nine minutes at one stage, but they were being kept in check by Etixx-Quick Step.
On the intermediate sprints and KOM sprints, Conor was struggling a little, until Kurt advised him to go earlier and not way for the sprint. He duly followed this advice and took second place in the next two sprints. When the news came over the radio soon after the final sprint, that Conor would get the first sprints jersey of the race, Kurt was ecstatic.
While this was taking place, another of the team had a mechanical. Lithuanian champion, Aidis Kruopis, needed to change his bike, but we were behind the leaders, whilst the other car had headed on to the feed.
Before we dropped back from the break, Kurt pulled alongside the Madison-Genesis team car. He asked their directeur sportif, Roger Hammond, if he could look after Conor in the event of a mechanical issue. It was good to see this co-operation between rival teams.
We pulled in at the side of the road, waved Aidis down as the bunch past and swapped bikes. He was back in the bunch pretty quickly. Others weren’t doing so well. BMC’s Rik Zabel seemed to be struggling and was dropped, whilst Fabian Wegmann of Cult Energy was struggling to regain the bunch after a mechanical. News soon came through that Zabel had abandoned.
We stayed behind the peloton for the remainder of the stage. Another rider in trouble was Elia Viviani. The Team Sky sprinter had some sort of mechanical and to see him sitting behind the car at 80 kmph was impressive, as he made his way back to the bunch.
The leaders were being brought back by the peloton with their lead rapidly reducing. With ten kilometres left, their lead was down to about a minute. Kurt reckoned they had no chance. The chase led by Lotto Jumbo, Team Sky and Lotto-Soudal was seeing a number of riders being dropped on the outskirts of Wrexham.
The leaders were finally brought back with about two kilometres left. In the incredibly tight sprint to the line, Viviani was quickest ahead of Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick Step) and Andre Greipel. In taking the sprints jersey, Conor also got to get on the podium.
It had been a great start to the race for the team, and an eye-opener to experience the cavalcade. Riders always get the credit for good results, but the work that the rest of the team puts in can often be overlooked. A lot goes on behind the scenes which helps the riders to get those results.