TDT logistics, and the day to day of riding.

Each day of the Tour eight hundred to one thousand people have to get from A to B, and along with them must go all their bags, their tents, their medical facility, their physiotherapists and massage tables, their food and their bottled water, their water tanks (for showers and washing), their media people with all their gear, the timing people and their gear, and a bunch of other stuff besides.   Of those hundreds of people, only about 400 will get there by bike.  The rest must be transported somehow

This is all organised into a forward convoy, and a rear convoy.  The forward convoy carries riders’ day packs so that they can have a change of clothes and a shower at the end of their day’s ride; the medical personnel and their whole set up, so that it is ready and waiting at the finish line; a dozen final year physiotherapy students and their supervisors, plus massage tables and so on; provisions and facilities for making lunch and dinner at the finish point, as well as the tents to do it all in; the water tankers for the showers; bottled water and food for each of the 4 or 5 drink stations to be spaced along the day’s route;  the race director and his team and the timing people.   It also includes any individual team support people and their vehicles, a few army vehicles of various national flavours and one or two UN vehicles.  The word “convoy” is indeed apt.

The forward convoy heads off each morning two or more hours ahead of the riders.  This is necessary because of the state of the roads – potholes and washouts and rough roads tend to make for slow vehicular transport, and on many sections of road even an average cyclist would outpace the forward convoy.    In order that the forward convoy be ready to hit the road at 6 am, things need to start happening early.  The first stirrings in the campsite usually begin at around 3.30 am, and generators and trucks start coming to life around 4.  Whether it’s a peculiarity of Timorese trucks or of those driving them I’m not sure, but lots of these diesel trucks get kicked into life and then revved and revved and revved repeatedly for what seems like ages.  And where there are trucks moving around you can be sure that there will be someone nearby yelling out directions or warnings, and the occasional BEEP BEEP BEEP of a rearwards moving vehicle.

Riders leave the start line most days at 8.00 am.  The penultimate day started 30 minutes earlier because of the length of the stage, and on the last day riders left at 6.30 to allow for an early arrival in Dili.  Before leaving for the day riders need to be corralled at the starting line and counted.  This is important so that the same number of people can be ticked off the list at the finish line.  Otherwise someone might disappear over an embankment or down a wrong turn and not be missed.  Corralling and counting more than 400 cyclists takes a while, so riders are marshalled 45 minutes before start time.

Before that one needs to have packed up a tent and loaded it and other luggage onto the rear convoy, washed, dressed, organised race food for the day, filled water bottles and/or camelbacks, stood in the queue for breakfast, and eaten sufficiently.  All of which takes time.

The rear convoy carries the majority of the luggage for each rider;  the packed up cooking facilities and tent from breakfast; mountains of food and bottled water, fruit juice, soft drink and other comestibles; a couple of army vehicles and a few other trucks full of gear.  This convoy does double duty as the ‘sag wagon’, which is what picks you up off the road if your body or your bike has packed it in, or if you’re just not going quickly enough.  On the first and second days of this year’s Tour the sag wagon was especially busy with lots of people needing ‘rescuing’, and that, as well as some fuel and other logistical impediments meant a very late arrival of the rear convoy into the finish-line camp on day two.  As a consequence, cut off times were tightened up a bit over the remaining four days.

For the day’s stage itself things seem relatively simple for us cyclists.  One starts at the start line and one finishes at the finish line, and in between one pedals a bike.  That’s about the gist of it.  From the outset the peloton (such as it is) spreads out very quickly.  The top 40 or 50 riders seem to stay together for a while, depending on the terrain, and set off at what is truly a racing pace.  The slowest riders dawdle off the start line and make their leisurely way forwards, perhaps hoping that they’ll make the distance today, or perhaps not caring if the sag wagon gets them?  The rest of us in the middle, the non-elite cyclists, set out to do the best ride we can.  Small bunches form, especially on the bitumen sections, and maybe people will start rolling turns.  Unlike road racing this event seems to attract lots of riders who have little or no understanding of this concept of rolling turns.  For the uninitiated I’ll try and capture this in a few sentences.

At any speed over about 10 km/h wind resistance becomes a big factor.  If something can be placed just in front of you to cut through the wind, it reduces the amount of effort required substantially.  In bunch riding the “something” in front of you is another cyclist, but if the rider sitting behind is doing less work, the rider sitting on the front is doing more as he or she faces the full brunt of the wind.  To share the work load there a few ways of rotating the bunch around so that everyone gets to do their time at the front.  When everyone knows the way it is supposed to work then rolling turns can be a very efficient way of riding.  You put in a bit of an extra effort at the front for a few minutes or more, maybe every for a quarter of an hour, then you roll back to the rear of the bunch,  ‘sit in’ and rest up a bit until your turn comes around again.

Anyway, whether it’s a MTB thing or a TDT thing, getting a good bunch together, and getting them all to work together didn’t happen very often.  And when it did the road would throw up a section of rough and stony ground, or a steep hill, or some other change in terrain, and the bunch would fracture.

Each stage has 4 or 5 water stations, marked out by high flying flags, and staffed by half a dozen or so volunteers handing out bottles of water.  Fewer than half of all water stops also handed out isotonic sports drink, and occasionally there would be boxes of local bananas.

The only other people along the road on each stage were media people and spectators.   Media people on motor bikes travel up and down the route with cameras and videos, supported at least in the first half of the ride by a helicopter overhead.  Because there is zero internet access outside of Dili the day’s footage and the media feed is loaded onto the helicopter in the early afternoon and flown back to Dili so that it can be despatched to a waiting world.  Apparently the feed was taken each day by the ABC and SBS, by Channels 9 and 1, and by a few cable channels.  Whether this actually made it to air anywhere is another matter.  Already the production people behind this have produced a 20 minute compilation video, with a documentary to follow.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra Smith
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 21:16:16

    Excellent stuff : )


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