“Don’t encourage him,” Tim Kennaugh shouts to photographer Chris and I through the car window during the early stages of Rapha Condor-Sharp’s three-hour ride around Finestrat, the municipality that neighbours the tourist magnet of Benidorm.
The former GB Academy rider is clearly in a playful mood on this sunny, but slightly chilly morning. The same can be said of team manager John Herety, about whom Kennaugh is referring to.
Minutes before, Herety had been leaning out the window, talking to another new signing, this time Oli Rossi.
“It means we like you if we’re taking the mick out of you,” Herety reassures him.
Today is a day for the sprinters within the team, and everyone appears to be calm and relaxed. With traffic on the roads infrequent (but extremely friendly when it is encountered), we can pull alongside the riders on a regular basis. Some of the newer recruits are understandably more reserved when replying to Herety’s quips, while the remainder of the squad are anything but.
There is also plenty of light-hearted conversation between the riders themselves, as was the case on Twitter before they set off. Virtually the whole squad were involved in a jocular debate, which was either instigated by, or to be about, James McCallum, depending on who you believe.
McCallum certainly gives as good as he’s got when it comes to the japes, and it’s fair to say he’s happy to soak any quips aimed in his direction too. We see this for ourselves when the team make a quick stop to take off jackets and gilets after 60 minutes or so of riding.
As he departs to get the ride underway again, all the other riders deliberately hold back. It’s not long before he turns around, having realised his team-mates aren’t in his wheel. In the distance we can see him grinning.
Once the 5km course for sprint efforts has been checked over once, the riders set off for the first of the three laps while Herety and mechanic Pete Taylor hunt for chalk to mark out the finishing line.
They succeed, prompting Herety to sarcastically state: “You won’t see many other team managers doing this!”
The teams are split in half, with the two most experienced squad members McCallum (“Jimmy Mac”) and Dean Downing on either side.
After Team Jimmy (copyright J. McCallum) win the first two heats courtesy of Rossi and Australian Ben Grenda, it’s the Scot’s turn to be the designated fast man.
The lead-out is the smoothest and most aesthetically pleasing of the three, before another Aussie – this time Richard Lang – takes a fairly comfortable victory. Final score: 2-1 to Team Jimmy.
Having watched the sprint unfold from the the team car, we immediately pull alongside McCallum.
“What a p***k,” he declares. “Who?” replies Herety.
“Me!” comes the response. He confesses to messing up his sprint.
The four of us in the car cannot help but laugh. It’s been one of those days.