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Photo: Gavin Campbell
Race transfers are the ultimate means to an end. They can be ugly and unpleasant, and depending on where you are in the world, they can make or break your cycling spirit. Transfers are essential, in the mornings they drop you off by the gates to your new school, a few moments of calm before being besieged by Belgian autograph hunters or wracking nerves. Post race they force you down into your seat and leave you there, drifting in and out of states of consciousness and discomfort as the miles pass by and the stress of the race finally dissipates.
Transfers just have to happen, there are a few races that go to lengths to intelligently minimize them, but in races like the Tour of Britain, where you only have eight days to cover a country, these voyages are what allow the race to happen.
Photo: Rapha Japan
Transfers aren’t all bad; the ones in the morning are totally different to those in the afternoon. For a start they are normally shorter (due to the fact that the organisers can’t really risk riders not showing up) but they are relaxing in their own way, as they take all responsibility away from the rider for a while.
Breakfast is never fun, from the moment you wake up the clock is ticking and preparation begins. Every rider has his small routine doing things in the morning the way he likes, there are decisions everywhere, what to eat, what to pack in the race bag, what kit to leave the hotel in, plus the evaluation of the weather conditions. On top of all that you are constantly trying to listen to the sensations your body is giving you, getting a feeling for how you might be going that day.
Photo: Rapha Japan
While the preparation to leave the hotel in the morning is a myriad of thoughts and decisions, when you finally come to hopping in the vehicles to drive to the start, all of a sudden any responsibility is taken out of your hands. The transfer wraps you up and puts you safely into a bubble of your own creation. There is nothing you have to do but wait, there is also nothing you can do but wait.
All you can do is shuffle about trying to relax in your seat. It’s the time for absorbing yourself in whatever it is that helps you fight off the nagging feeling in your mind that, in just a little while, you will be tearing your muscle fibres apart, bent into a strange involuntary shape over a bicycle. Music is many riders isolation of choice, plugging into the headphones separates you from the sparse conversation and loose predictions that dart back and forth between riders and managers.
Photo: Rapha Japan
The whole experience is rarely comfortable, I always change before leaving the hotel, as getting changed in a car park is one indignity too far for me, and a padded chamois tends to be great on a bike seat, but not a lot of fun in the back seat of a car. But the transfer does have a knack of keeping you warm and dry. Watching the rain pour down the windows while you drive to a race, knowing that soon you’ll be out in it wrapped in Lycra, actually makes the environment in the car seem positively pleasant.
Once you arrive at the destination the spell is broken, and the world comes sharply back into focus, whatever it is that is out there, there is no avoiding it now.
The other type of transfer - the post race transfer - is another beast entirely. The only comfort to be found is that, for now, your job is done, whatever happened, happened and the responsibility of the day is again off your shoulders. The post race transfer is the first time since your last transfer where you can relax. Even as you cross the line, the race to get changed, organised, wiped down and into the car begins. The faster you can get out, the less likely you are to be stuck in race traffic, and the best chance you have to get ahead of the other teams staying in your hotel. It all counts, every second in the stage race game. Once you are packed away in the vehicle with a bag of food, it’s time for the journey to begin. Sanctity from the madness.
Photo: Rapha Japan
The bad news is that the transfers in the evening are almost always longer than the morning transfers; they are the transfers that get riders the great distances close enough to the next day's race for the morning drive to be within an hour.
As a rider you are guaranteed to be tired, you’re metabolism is also revving at such a pace that even though you’ve had a face full of cologne and time to calm down, the sweating doesn’t stop, and the dirt from four or five hours on the road is never truly cleaned off until you reach the hotel and can actually shower. Clammy hands and aching legs that you can’t really stretch, plus the continual motion all conspire to making the afternoon transfers that bit more uncomfortable.
Photo: Rapha Japan
What is more, while in the morning the transfer allows the riders a moment of almost serenity and calm, where isolation is accepted, post-event a lot of riders want to talk about their race. The transfer can become a long and intensely analytical dialogue about everything you have just put behind you, endless what-if’s and rationalising performances to literally anyone who still has the energy to listen, and often those who don’t. In any bike race there are as many stories as there are riders and team cars literally hum with reasons, excuses and embellished versions of what went down on the road.
I never really got into that though, I like to shut the race out of my mind, when it is done it’s done. The best thing to do on a post-race transfer I find is to go to sleep. One look through the window of a team camper or bus purring its way to the next hotel would reveal the gaping open mouths and crumpled bodies of exhausted riders sleeping their way to the relative comfort of their next hotel room. And on and on and on…
Tom Southam is now transferring from life as a professional bike racer to a full-time writer, working for publications including Rouleur magazine.
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