Cycling Weekly got up early this morning to check out the team time trial course in and around Montpellier, and we’re glad we did.
The course is a cracker, and it’s going to cause a lot of problems for a lot of the teams. Mark Cavendish told us several weeks ago how technical it was, but it’s only after seeing it that we know what he was talking about.
Much of the route is narrow, twisty and far from flat. Those sections also feature large sections of rough and broken tarmac – it’s going to be tough.
As we were leaving the centre of Montpellier so were the Quick Step team. Seeing our opportunity we jumped in behind the last of their three cars and joined them for the ride. They rolled through all the red lights and major road junctions with nothing more than a beep of their horn and a wave from the gendarme on duty.
Quick Step were taking it very easy for the first 12 km that wind out of the city, but they were going fast enough to overtake Erik Zabel. He jumped in with CW, but didn’t have much to say. More on that later.
At the bottom of the route’s main climb the team stopped to answer the call of nature, so off I went with Zabel. Who still didn’t have much to say. I sit on his wheel all the way up the climb and marvel at both how easy he’s riding and how straight the top of his hair is.
Over the top of the climb we’re trying quite hard. Then Quick Step come past us barely breaking in to a sweat as the temperature touches 30 degrees. At this point Zabel swings off the road to check his hair. He needn’t have worried, not a single one was out of place.
Over the top of the climb and Quick Step start to up the pace. Suddenly I’m hanging on. Thankfully the guy driving the third car is the team’s press man Alessandro Tegner who we know quite well. He eases back, lets me sit on his rear bumper, and tows me back up to the back of the second team car that’s following behind the riders.
Not for long though.
Dropping down a long right-hander I let the car move ahead. Then, right after a tight left hander signaled the start of a short sharp climb. I was in the red and could do nothing but watch Quick Step ride away.
I rode on alone at a much steadier speed and thought I’d have a drink. I reached down for the bottle and realised it was virtually empty. I hadn’t even noticed I’d drunk all my water. It was baking hot, and I still had 20km to go. Oh dear.
The next few kilometres were great cycling roads, but not if you’re trying to keep in a nice tight-knit team time trial formation. The teams will have to ride in one long line over much of the middle section of the route, with the leading rider swinging off and jumping back on to the back of the line.
Entering the last ten kilometres I stop to answer the phone. All of a sudden Zabel flashes past, so I make some excuse about poor reception and chase after him, but not before a Gendarme tries to get me off the road. I wave my press pass at her and she lets me on my way.
As I’m catching him I think to myself, I bet no one tries to kick the great Erik Zabel off the route, just as a Gendarme tries to kick him off the route.
I catch up with him and decide to say hello this time. ‘Hi, mind if I ride with you for a while?’ thinking I can pick his brains about Cavendish and future sprints.
‘No,’ comes the response.
‘I prefer to ride alone.’
I decide to then do something really annoying and sit ten metres behind him from where I can continue to marvel at his hair that really is quite remarkable. How does he get the top of it that straight?
Unfortunately I was denied the chance to sprint past Zabel on the finish line as we were directed off course with just 50m to go.
I’ll get him next time, and when I do I’ll ruffle his hair as if he’s a naughty little scamp.