Inside the team car at Paris-Nice

24 Mar 2018

Inside the team car at Paris-Nice

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TeamSky.com jumped in the team car for stage five of Paris-Nice, from Salon-de-Provence to Sisteron. Coming the day after Wout Poels’ impressive win in the race’s individual time trial, the plan was to keep the Dutchman and Sergio Henao well positioned and out of trouble ahead of a tricky finale.

Gabriel Rasch was the man calling the shots. ‘Gabba’ rode for the team in 2013 and ’14 and retired after the 2014 Paris-Roubaix. He stepped straight into the team car as a Sport Director and hasn’t looked back since.
 
On the bus before the stage he sets out the day’s goals. “Keep our position on GC and stay safe,” he tells the team. He also stresses the importance of being alert from the start, with a four kilometre climb from the gun. With that in mind, Wout chooses to warm up on a Wahoo KICKR in case the race is on from the start.

The bus presentation outlines how Gabba wants the guys to ride the tough final 20km: ‘Km 151, with 14 to go will be important. Into climb and small road. Sergio and Wout have to be top 10! From there follow attacks.’
                  
It’s time to hit the road. The following is a real-time account of how the day unfolded in race car one.
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12:54pm: It’s a quiet start in Salon-de-Provence and the riders are all in a relaxed mood as the sun shines for the first time all race. Gabba runs through the radio checks. Everyone is all good.
 
12:55pm: “There are lots of roundabouts and plenty of street furniture in the neutral zone, so it will be hard to move up,” Gabba warns the riders. He also tells the guys that the neutral zone includes one kilometre of the first climb of the day, reducing its length to three and a half kilometres. This is good news - it means the start isn’t likely to be as hectic as it could be.
 
1pm: The riders roll out of the neutral zone. With Wout up to second on GC, our race car is second in the pack, giving Gabba a clear view of the back of the peloton - a useful advantage. 
 
1:05pm: Race radio chimes up. “Mechanical for Henao, Sky.” Gabba buzzes forwards and Sergio explains to mechanic Ryan Bonser that there is an issue with his power meter. It’s no stress and an easy fix.
Sergio on his way back to the pack

Sergio on his way back to the pack

1:09pm: The flag drops on the 165km stage. Gabba once again lets the guys know what they can expect from the opening climb, reiterating its gradient and key points.
 
1:11pm: Sergio calls for a check on where Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac) is on GC, as he attempts to jump into the break. Ryan, with a start list in the back, confirms he is no immediate threat. He is 5:20” back, after losing a chunk of time on day one.
 
1:15pm: The break starts to form. “So we have two guys up the road,” Gabba tells the team. “Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Jerome Cousin (Direct Energie).” Julien El Fares (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) quickly bridges across. Thomas de Gendt tries to follow, but can’t quite make it.

1:25pm: Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) joins the break. Ryan quickly confirms he is seven minutes back on GC; no stress.
 
1:29pm: Sergio pulls over with the majority of the peloton stopping for a nature break. Ryan quickly jumps out to confirm his earlier fix is all good. The second Sport Director Xabier Zandio, in the second race car, moves up to cover for Gabba.

1:32pm: Wout comes on the radio and asks for an update on those in the break. Gabba obliges. “OK, thanks. See youuuu,” Wout replies in typical fashion.
Diego was all smiles

Diego was all smiles

1:36pm: Race radio crackles into life: “Sky for Diego Rosa, Sky.” “On my way Diego,” Gabba radios through. Thankfully, he just needs a wipe to clean his sunglasses. While back at the car, he lets Gabba know that it was FDJ and Quick-Step who moved to the front and controlled the break. “That’s good,” says Gabba. Shortly after Diego heads back to the bunch, Wout chimes up: “Astana have started riding.”
 
1:44pm: “FDJ have put one guy to help,” adds Van Baarle. “OK,” replies Gabba. “Looks like they are going for the stage win with [Arnaud] Demare again. And just for your info guys, [Dylan] Groenewegen didn’t start this morning.”
 
2:24pm: As we roll over the second climb of the day, Gabba lets the riders know that the gap to the break has grown out to 3:50”.

2:35pm: “I will stop after the town for a nature break and take some bottles,” announces Dylan on the radio. Wout then chips in, asking if Dylan can grab him a banana. Liking the sound of that, David Lopez also puts in a banana order.
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2:46pm: The peloton begins the day’s only first category climb. Race radio soon announces that Demare is in difficulty. Gabba passes the information on to the team. 
 
3:12pm: More riders start to slip off the back as the pace remains consistent on the climb. Carer Marko Dzalo messages to let Gabba know where he is positioned in the upcoming feedzone.
 
3:20pm: As sprinters continue to slip off the back of the pack towards the top of the cat one climb, Gabba tells us that he still expects there to be a bunch finish. “Yeah I think so. But maybe a couple of guys could go away. For sure, the likes of Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) will try it on the final third cat climb and we want to be in the mix. Riding passively wouldn’t work so well. I told the guys to be aggressive in the final. They need to have the right mindset. There’s not far to the finish once you crest that climb.”
 
3:32pm: Diego announces on the radio that Lotto-Soudal have started pulling. Gabba gives the time update - 5:20” - and warns the guys that the final 70km could be tough with an increasingly punchy gap for the peloton to close.
Van Baarle loaded up with bidons

Van Baarle loaded up with bidons

3:45pm: The guys roll through the feed zone with no issues, although with 67km to go the gap remains at 5:20”. Morale is boosted in the race car when Marko and fellow carer Cristian Alonso wave us down and deliver three slices of pizza.
 
3:55pm: A crash disrupts the back of the peloton, but thankfully no Team Sky riders are involved. It’s a reminder of the importance of good positioning in the bunch.
 
4pm: The riders hit the top of the day’s fourth climb. Gabba warns of a tricky descent coming up and stresses the importance of staying up front. There are wet patches on the road where the day’s sun has melted snow. The gap at the top of the climb was down to a far more manageable four minutes.
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4:09pm: Sergio comes on the radio. “Crash, crash! Everyone OK?” Gabba asks the same question, but nobody replies. He then lets the guys know that the bunch split into three groups on the tough descent. Finally Wout lets Gabba know: “We are all in the first group.” “Perfect,” says a relieved Gabba. “Good job guys!”
 
4:13pm: Race radio suggests that the maillot jaune, Luis Leon Sanchez, is 30 seconds behind, but the riders let Gabba know that he is in their group. The peloton remains split.
 
4:25pm: Gabba is allowed to pass the rear group by the commissaire's car, indicating that the group of 30 or so riders has slipped to more than 30 seconds behind the main bunch.
 
4:32pm: The stage finishes with a loop around Sisteron. On the way to the finishing circuit, Gabba gives the riders a reminder of what’s to come. The time gap comes down to 3:10” with 28km remaining. In the car we agree that the catch is going to be a close-run thing.
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4:44pm: As the riders pass the line for the first time with 18km to go, the gap drops under two minutes. Gabba is pleased with the guys. They’ve been well positioned all day and not had to do any work on the front.

4:46pm: Sergio comes on the radio to check when the climb will begin. “In 3km you turn left and the climbs starts. Make sure you have Sergio and Wout with you guys. Come on.”
 
4:47pm: With the pace flying up ahead of the climb, Dylan van Baarle slips off the back of the group; his job done. He comes back to the car and passes in everyone’s outer Castelli layers. “When I dropped everyone was looking well positioned,” Dylan replies to Gabba’s query asking how the guys are. It all seems positive. “Man I hope they’re in a good position,” says a nervous Rasch.
 
4:50pm: We pass Ian Stannard on the climb. Gabba leans over and asks him the same thing: “Right at the front when I left them,” he replies, covered in sweat. Job done by Stannard.
Van Baarle positioning the guys ahead of the final climb

Van Baarle positioning the guys ahead of the final climb

4:52pm: “We’re pulling now, but we shouldn’t huh?” asks Wout over the radio. “No,” replies Gabba, firmly. “It’s good for us if someone takes the bonus seconds.” Ideally for the team the break would stay away, thus scooping up all of the seconds up for grabs on the line (10 for the winner, six for second, and four for third). If not, then ideally the sprinters in the group would claim them all up. The worst case scenario is the punchier GC guys - Alaphilippe and Wellens - compete for the stage win after the sprinters slip back in a super fast finale. 
 
4:56pm: The TV inside the race car shows that our guys have dropped back. Mitchelton-Scott take up the chase.
 
5:01pm: With 5km to go the gap is at 40 seconds. “I think the break’ll make it,” says Gabba.
 
5:05pm: Politt attacks out front from the break as Lopez rolls past the team car with his job done. Mitchelton-Scott continue to lead the bunch. Wout, Sergio and David de la Cruz are sat comfortably a few wheels back.
 
5:06pm: There’s a big crash in the peloton, as a Cofidis rider hits a tree. Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) goes down hard in the ensuing melee. We see an AG2R rider down and for a moment fear it is one of our guys, but quickly see that it isn’t. We would later learn that Wout was inches away from it; he had to take to the footpath to avoid the maelstrom and the tree. 
 
5:07pm: Direct Energie’s Jerome Cousin wins the stage from the break, ahead of Politt. Andre Greipel comes home third to take the last of the bonus seconds. 
 
5:08pm: Wout radios to say he was caught behind the crash so lost time. Gabba tells him not to worry - he’s confident the 3km rule will be instated, due to the crash. (He’s right - confirmation comes through that everyone is given the same time).
 
5:10pm: Back at the bus everyone is in good spirits, although there is a lot of talk about just how hectic the finale was.
 
5:12pm: After going round to check that the guys are all happy, Gabba gives us his take on the day: “It’s a really good day for our guys. They rode really well together - they were super disciplined today.
 
“In general for us it was about staying safe and we needed to be in the top 10 wheels going into that last climb. They did it perfectly.
 
“During the first stage it was difficult to stay together and ride as a group because it was very hectic. It seems like they’re finding each other with more ease now. They’re staying more compact as a group.”
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