In the Race Car with Fabio Baldato
For Sports Director Fabio Baldato, every day in the race car can be stressful.
A bike race is unpredictable so no matter how much Fabio prepares for each stage, anything can happen. We sat down with Fabio, Sports Director with BMC Racing Team since 2013, to go through the ins and outs of what it’s like in the race car at a UCI WorldTour race.
What’s on the Radio?
“All of our riders wear a team radio as it is the most efficient way to get information mid- race. It’s not just information about the race situation that we relay. Sometimes it’s telling them where in the feed zone the soigneurs are or that there is a tricky right hand turn ahead. It’s also an important tool for the riders to communicate with each other. If they are split up in the peloton they can still communicate thanks to the radios. When you see a rider with a flat tire, you see them shouting into the radio to let us know as this is the fastest way to get our attention and limit time loss.”
“At the same time we have the race radio in the car. It depends on the race but at the Santos Tour Down Under, the race organization relays crucial information in three languages: English, French, and Italian. We would be lost without the race radio as it’s through this that we can find out what the advantage of the breakaway is, if there is a crash and who is involved, and sometimes even that there is a road block or a sudden change to the race course.”
“As Sports Director, my job is to sort through the information and decide what we pass on to the riders. They’re concentrating on the race so you don’t want to bombard them with too much information. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes you have the race radio going off and three riders trying to speak in the rider radio at the same time. In races where we have two team cars, you also have a separate channel for car to car communication so that both Sports Directors can communicate with each other. It can be hectic when everyone is trying to talk at once.”
Always Look Back
“The race is happening in front of us but that doesn’t mean we ignore what’s going on behind us. There is often a constant stream of riders coming back from toilet stops, crashes, or their own team car. You have to constantly look through the back window because if you suddenly have to brake hard and there are riders directly behind you, things can get nasty. We also keep an eye on our riders to see who is coming back, if they want bottles, if they want to chat about something in the race.”
“The Santos Tour Down Under was hot. Beyond hot. There were definitely some of the hottest days on the road that we have had in a long time. And when it’s hot, the riders drink. A lot. On a normal day, we have a cooler in the back of the race car with about 65 bottles; a mix of water, a Powerbar electrolyte mix, and maybe a maltodextrin mix. On stage 4 when the temperature was well above 40 degrees Celsius, we were down to just 20 bottles after one hour of racing. Riders were coming back to the race car every ten minutes or less to get more bottles that would be distributed to their teammates. In times like this, the race car is so important. And the position of the race car is even more important. After stage 1, the race car order is determined by position in the General Classification. A domestique rider will lose a huge amount of energy between dropping back to car 1 and car 19 and then having to make their way back to the bunch.”
The Times are Changing
“Cycling has changed a lot over the years. As technology improves, so too does how much we communicate in the race. Now, at every race we have WhatsApp groups with the riders and staff. Soigneurs in the feed zone can easily send a quick piece of information that the mechanic can read out to me. The mechanic can message the press officer at the finish line and ask about the wind conditions. Small things like this really help and it means I can concentrate more on what’s going on in the race.”
“Sometimes the most-simple techniques are the most effective. The mechanic in the back seat isn’t just there in case of a mechanical problem. Most Sports Directors and mechanics have a good system whereby the mechanic will have a race start list and will note which riders are in the breakaway and if they are a risk. When you’re driving, you can’t do everything so this is a big help. In some races, there could be a dozen attempts to form a breakaway and marking off the names against the start list is the most efficient way of tracking it. When the breakaway finally goes away, I then read out the composition in the rider radio.”
“At the Santos Tour Down Under we have a police escort to the race in a convoy and then on the way back it’s easy to get back to the hotel thanks to the GPS. In Europe, we would be lost without a GPS to get from the hotel to the start and the finish to the next hotel. Back in the day, everyone used road maps and would have to stop and ask for directions. Now, it’s as simple as typing in the hotel name and pressing go. It saves a lot of time and the faster we are in the hotel, the faster the riders are on the massage table or recovering from a hard day.”
Back to Basics
“With the cameras focusing on what’s happening in the race, fans don’t see a lot of what happens behind the peloton. It’s common to see two race cars side by side with the Sports Directors having a chat about the race. Often it’s a simple “congratulations on yesterday’s win”. The majority of Sports Directors are former pros so we have all known each other for a long time.”
All photos: (c) Chris Auld Photography