Richie Porte’s motorhome has been the focus of much attention at this year’s Giro d’Italia. On some days, the stories of his new mobile accommodation have been more popular than the racing – and that’s been pretty entertaining so far.
Team Sky’s decision to put their leader in a £130,000 house on wheels has caused a minor uproar with other teams being critical of the idea. This is partly because of the break from tradition, and partly because, well, it’s Sky doing something new, isn’t it?
The cycling archives are stuffed full of romanticised images of exhausted looking riders getting their legs rubbed in run-down French hotel rooms by their soigneur, and riders rooming together is as much a tradition of the sport as shaved legs and chamois cream.
A departure from cycling’s norm has never gone down well, but the fact is, these things almost always catch on.
Here’s why I believe these motorhomes will become a common site at the big races.
No offence to any of our French readers, but some French hotels are truly awful. Amazingly, teams riding the Tour de France sometimes have to use these truly awful hotels. Race organisers ASO have to home hundreds of riders, team staff, officials and promotions people every night of the race, and some of the towns don’t have enough good hotels to go around.
The teams don’t get a choice where they stay, sometimes you get lucky, other nights you’re in a flea pit next to a Buffalo Grill by a Route Nationale. It happens. I’ve seen it.
Even the good hotels can have a mattress or pillow that isn’t quite right, or a noisy party going on in the rooms below. The fact is, you never know what you’re going to get.
The motorhome does away with these troubles. Staying in the same bed each night is a big advantage over three weeks when a rider might have to change hotels 18 or 19 times. It may not sound like a hassle, but even for us journo’s just covering the Tour the best days are the ones when you know you don’t have to change hotels.
It’s a rare treat to stay in the same hotel for two nights and we often sit around, counting on our fingers how many nights we have until a rest day when we can leave our bags in our room in the morning and return to them later that night. Paradise.
Cycling might just be one of the last travelling pro sports to catch on to the joys of the motorhome. Racing drivers, motocrossers and others have been using them for years, even on the amateur scene. The main difference for them is that they often stay at the circuit over a weekend, rather then head off to hotels, but if it works for them, why not for cyclists?
Where Sky go, others follow
At the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, Cycle Sport magazine had journalist Lionel Birnie embedded with Team Sky for the duration of the race. He gained a fascinating insight in to the team and how it worked during the event. Lionel has been covering the sport for years, but the experience was still an eye-opener.
It was at this race where the turbo trainer warm down became ‘a thing’. I remember him telling me how he was stood watching Bradley Wiggins as he warmed down on a turbo, after a tough stage. As he was doing so a couple of Katusha riders rode past and openly laughed at Wiggins.
Two years later the whole peloton is warming down on turbos after certain road stages. They sometimes use them to warm up too, if they’re expecting a fast start.
Sky weren’t the first to use skinsuits in road races, but it was the GB support team (who at the time were also at Team Sky) who were the first to gain widespread attention by putting Mark Cavendish in a skinsuit for his 2011 World Championship win. Skinsuits, or speed suits at least, are now a common site in the peloton.
Training on top of Mount Teide in Tenerife, another thing made popular by Sky. You can’t move for pro cyclists up there nowadays.
The fact is, despite cycling being a sport with a rich and colourful history, new developments do catch on. It just needs someone to take the first step.