Team Sky’s Chris Froome is positioning Wout Poels to become his Tour de France mountain helper, starting with an intimate South African altitude training camp where monkeys attacked their base.
The animals entered the lodging of the 2013 Tour de France winner and his new Dutch team-mate, overturned the rooms and ran away with energy gels and food.
“They’re running everywhere and you have to be careful,” Poels told Cycling Weekly.
“We had a gate in front of the door, but they found a way in. I think someone left a window open.
“When we got back, it was a big mess. All the energy gels were gone, the bananas and everything.”
Poels, who rode for Vacansoleil and Omega Pharma – Quick-Step before joining Sky this winter, made the trip to Johannesburg to train at 1700 metres with Froome. The two plus one team aide spent two weeks there before Poels travelled to the Tour of Oman and Froome to the Ruta del Sol.
“We spent almost 60 hours together on the bike,” Poels said on Wednesday ahead of Tour of Oman stage two.
“Considering I’d only met him for three days beforehand at the Mallorca camp, it was a lot of time to spend together. It’s nice that it works out.”
Last year, Poels rode for Omega Pharma, won a stage in the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Tirreno-Adriatico stage races. He had only ever said an occasional “hello” to Froome in the peloton, but aimed for the same goal as the Brit in the 2011 Vuelta a España. When Juan José Cobo rode away on the L’Angliru to help secure his overall win, Poels led the chase and placed second.
This winter, he joined the team with other mountain men Nicolas Roche and Leopold König. When he said at the team camp in Mallorca that he had never trained at altitude, Froome invited him to Crystal Springs, a four-hour drive from Johannesburg.
Sky’s helper made breakfast, lunch and dinner, but Froome won the 27-year-old Poels over by preparing omelettes every morning.
“He was quite friendly. Every morning he made me my omelettes so I was quite happy with that. I’d just sit there and wait for my food!,” Poels added.
“A Tour winner making omelettes? That’s not so bad.”
The six-foot-one and lean cyclist will be expected to pay Froome back in the races, which should include the Tour de France if everything goes well.
After Oman, Sky has Poels on the same race programme leading to the Tour’s start on July 4 in his home country.
“Especially with the start in the Netherlands, my goal is to race the Tour,” he said, “but it’s also a challenge in a team with such good riders, so you have to fight for your place.”