Our Home Tour

September 24, 2013


Words: Andy McGrath Photos: David Blanks/Rouleur

We nearly burned the clutch out up Honister Pass. 

We sat two kilometres down the descent of Pen-y-Pass, with only scree and a stream for company.

We got food poisoning in Llanberis.

We rocked out to Rage Against The Machine heading into Sidmouth.

We gave a stranded photographer a lift from Dartmoor to Basingstoke.

We were kept entertained by our sat-nav’s Jamaican voice for six days.

It broke on the seventh and we spent an hour and a half looking for a hotel in West Drayton that wasn’t actually in West Drayton.

We asked Angel Madrazo “where is the cheese?” in pidgin Spanish.

We talked to Wouter Sybrandy about his staggering recovery from a terrible crash.

We logged 1,500 miles in eight days around Britain. That’s the equivalent of driving from London to Kiev.

_DSC0249The bunch heads down a Cumbrian lane on stage two

_DSC0260Bleak is beautiful. Hardy souls wait on Honister Pass for the Tour of Britain

_DSC0349Pain in the rain for Angel Madrazo (Movistar) at Knowsley Safari Park

_DSC0368 copyWill Stephenson warms down on rollers in the Rapha-Condor-JLT van

_DSC0416 copyIan Wilkinson leads the doomed break down Pen-y-Pass towards Llanberis

 _DSC0700 copyMarco Coledan (l) and Alexandre Blain (r) sprint for the finish in Guildford

_T4Q5894Photographers spy Cav in the capital

_T4Q5889Rouleur Combativity Award winner Kristian House pedals down Whitehall before the start of the final stage

_DSC0615 copyAngel Madrazo (Team Movistar)

David Blanks is a photography student at the University of Falmouth. You can see more of his work here.


Podcast: Issue 42

September 23, 2013


Rouleur assistant editor Andy McGrath, and writer and Rapha-Condor-JLT press officer Tom Southam, join Jack Thurston on the slopes of Haytor on Stage 6 of the Tour of Britain to mull over the eight-day stage race and the contents of issue 42 of the magazine, including Tom’s debut as a DS at the Tour of Korea, Dan Martin, and the mysteries of UCI’s race categorisation system. Andy and Jack fail to see the day’s stage finish.

The Rouleur podcast is brought to you by Mosquito Bikes, London’s custom made bicycle specialists and stockists of waterproof kit by Showers Pass, the perfect choice for the wet weather of autumn and winter. Mosquito is at 123 Essex Road, London N1 2SN and on the web at mosquito-bikes.co.uk.

Issue 42

Sweet Smell Of Success

September 22, 2013

IMG_1063 (2)
Words: Andy McGrath Photos: Sam Butler/Tour of Britain

Brie, Gruyere, Camembert, Stilton, Wensleydale. We’re not fussy. Pile it on our plate, please.

We like our cheese almost as much as we like our attackers. So before last year’s race, we reckoned we’d combine the two for the Rouleur Combativity Award.

As well as being an instant post-stage calorie replacer, the cheeses give a quirky culinary roadmap of the places the Tour of Britain has visited.

From savoury, salty St James in Cumbria, to pongy Beenleigh Blue stinking out the Madison Genesis bus under the Devon sun, it’s been quite a journey.

After a pungent first outing last year, our marketing man Sam came armed with a refrigerated cooler box for his week of transporting the assorted quarries around this fair nation.

He fared little better. Unfortunately, the cooler’s vent often wafted the odour into his face meaning he is now desensitised to any scent of cheese.

Fans seemed to like our dairy daring. But what do the recipients themselves think?

What are they going to do with it? How were their breakaways? And do they even like cheese?

Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun), stage one, Isle of Mull cheese
“Is it cow or goat cheese? I haven’t eaten it yet. It’s for after Sunday’s stage.

My favourite cheese is Comté.

[“Camembert!” comes shout from open Sojasun bus window]

Well, I’m a Norman. Calvados, Camembert.

The finish was a kilometre too far [on stage four], it came back, but I still took pleasure in that break. I like being out in front better than following in the bunch, waiting.

The Team Sky way of riding is one I don’t care so much for. There’s a breakaway, they ride, then it’s brought back. Always. Among the professionals, it’s always a bit like that in the big races. For attackers like me, it’s a shame.”

In the future, I’d like to be French champion and win a stage of the Tour de France. Those are my two big aims: it’ll be hard, but there you go.”

Angel Madrazo (Movistar), stage two, St James
Rouleur [rudimentary Spanish]: “Il queso…
Angel: “Ah, il queso. Si?”
Rouleur: “Es bueno?”
Angel: “Yes, it’s in the bus, I’ll be sharing it with my team.”

Tom Scully (Team Raleigh), stage four winner, Hafod
“It was pretty cool to win that cheese. It’s in one of the vans, we haven’t packed into it yet.

I don’t mind a bit of cheese after dessert. I know my teammate Alex [Blain] is really keen on it. Being from France he’s told me a lot about it.

I have mine with caramelised onions, I’m partial to a bit of crackers and chutney too.”

Jacob Rathe (Garmin-Sharp), stage five, Gorwydd Caerphilly
“I don’t like cheese. Other people do though, so someone will eat it. It’s a gift [to them].

The strangest prize I’ve ever received at a cycling race was a chainsaw blade, a long time ago, from one in Oregon.

I didn’t use it to cut anything, it sits in my house.”

Liam Holohan (Madison Genesis), stage six, Beenleigh Blue
“You’re doing a blog about cheese? Want some cheesy puns? Or will that grate on your nerves?

Getting in the breakaway yesterday was one of the highlights of my year. It’s amazing being on home roads, people shouting your name, the support on Twitter and things like that.

It’s nice to pay Roger Hammond back, he’s put so much into the team and is so supportive. To see him chuffed at the end made it all worthwhile.

As for the cheese, we don’t know how to look after it. We don’t know if it has to be refrigerated or whatever…

I’ll ask the lads if they want a cut and divvy it up if they do.

I might keep it for my wedding in December, serve with some crackers. There’s a story behind it then, in’t there?”

Rouleur Combativity winner Liam Holohan

Turning The Corner

September 21, 2013

Words: Andy McGrath Photos: David Blanks

September 16 2012. Stage eight of the Tour of Britain, Barhatch Lane, Surrey.

Wouter Sybrandy was on an adrenaline high, charging after the breakaway. Time to end a good Tour of Britain by bridging this gap on the fast descent, he thought.

“I remember going into the corner a little bit fast. But I’d done it lots of times, I thought I could make it,” Wouter recalls.

Spoiler alert: Wouter didn’t.

His first recollections are IG-Sigma Sport manager Becky Frewing and doctor Andrew Meilak standing over him.

Sybrandy made sure he could move all his limbs. Yes, no problem. “Then I was actually pretty chilled. I had a bit of morphine, I wasn’t feeling too much pain.

“But from the expression on their faces, I realised I might be in a bad way.”

There was a lot of blood. His face was a mess and he had broken three vertebrae and several ribs.  Race doctor Andrew Meilak recalls being frightened by the severity of his injuries.

Wouter spent the following week in St George’s Hospital in Tooting, forbidden from moving and waiting for serious spinal surgery.

Time flew by in a morphine-muddled haze as he moved from hospital room to room, surgery to surgery.  His forehead and cheekbones were plated.

As for pain, it sounds like he’ll never complain about an interval again. “After the back surgery, they put me asleep on my wound. I woke up and I’ve never been in so much pain. It was so bad, I was unable to talk, just mouthing ‘help’ to the nurses.”

A fixture of the British racing scene, 29-year-old Wouter is a refreshing throwback to the days when top roadmen took both the Premier Calendar and time trials seriously. He’s a tough, attack-minded guy on the bike, a thoroughly nice chap off it.

But the Dutchman didn’t realise the high regard in which he was held by peers til he got internet coverage in hospital, a week after the crash, and received the many messages of support.

“It’s a good way of seeing who your real friends are. I was really surprised by some of the people visiting,” he says.

Step by step, Wouter got better. One day, he walked to the bathroom. The next, outside. Then to the next floor. And so on and so on, setting small targets.

Wouter’s sunny attitude in the face of adversity shines through as he recounts events. He even calls the whole thing “a very positive experience”: on a high in the race, then from the morphine, even the hospital experience.

He must be one of life’s optimists. That’s the right tonic when plunged into such a pendulous situation.

Only able to ride an hour at a time before his back got painful, he did his exercises, went swimming and rebuilt the lost back strength. His progess was staggering.

“The doctors said it would take me six months to get back on the bike. I did it in two. They were amazed. Actually, they emailed me the other day, they want to write an article about it.”

By the time February rolled around, he was back at training camps, making his team-mates suffer again.

That said, Wouter is not fully recovered. He still gets double vision in the time-trial position because his eyes aren’t quite aligned – which is why he nearly ended up in the barriers on the final corner of the stage three test around Knowsley Safari Park this week.

“You can see in my left eye socket, it’s arched a bit more than the other. I need to get that fixed… People that haven’t seen me in a while are surprised, it looks a bit like a black eye.”

The crash that could have ended his career doesn’t prey on his mind. On September 17 – a day late – Wouter realised his bad fall had been a year ago.

It’s been good for publicity too, but every time he signs on at this year’s Tour of Britain, he’s heard “Wouter Sybrandy, the rider who recovered from a bad crash,” booming from the announcer.

Time to put that one to bed. Wouter Sybrandy, Tour of Britain stage winner would be a more pleasing replacement.

So how would he like to ring in his return to his adopted local Surrey roads on today’s seventh stage between Epsom and Guildford, a year after that horror crash?

“The only way is to be in the break, that’s how to do it properly,” he says.

JTL: One Year On

September 19, 2013


Words: Andy McGrath Photos: Offside

Forget winning it; Jonathan Tiernan-Locke might not even have been at last year’s Tour of Britain.

With a late pre-race training camp sprung on his already tired legs, he was instructed to do one more hill repeat in training by his directeur sportif.

He refused, got off his bike and took his helmet off to get a tan. Then the team car came round the hairpin.

“My heart sunk. He was going to go mental,” he recalls.

The manager threatened to drop him from the Endura line-up for the race. “I said: ‘Look, I’ve been really tired, I’m not going to get fitter, I just need to rest up’. I said to him: ‘You’ve not trained me all year, I know what I need to do going into it’.”

The 28-year-old is not outspoken or uppity for the sake of it. It’s just that he knows his own body and its quirks. He admits it can frustrate him, one day flying in training, the next flagging.

Endura kept him in the team and the rest is history. JTL escaped on Caerphilly Mountain, cameras trained on his knitted brow expression, wore the gold jersey on his home Devon stage and rode around Guildford to rock star adulation.

He went on to lead a star-packed Great Britain team at the World Championships, the summit of his revelatory season. In a year, he went from being a man whose most significant result was Tour of Britain Mountains classification winner to a coveted talent, who triumphed in the Tours of the Med, Alsace and Haut Var.

Then, just as quickly as he took the scene by storm, he has slunk into the background with an indifferent 2013.

While there’s no Team Sky rider mould, a numbers-oriented training style suits some more than others. Tiernan-Locke is more old school, riding purely on feel until recently.

His home is reached by a singletrack lane on the Devon-Cornwall border; all he’s known are the heavy, hilly roads of the region. “If I lived in Nice where a lot of my team-mates do, I’d feel like my life was a training camp. And I’d hate that,” he says.

The off-road scene was Tiernan-Locke’s inspiration as an adolescent: his childhood was spent nailing jumps in the woods or sneaking into the local old people’s home to do trials moves.

Entering his first season in the WorldTour, he had the same motivation as ever. “I need confirmation that I’m improving, and that’s what gives me confidence. And when I’m confident, I’m racing well.”

Tiernan-Locke reckons the turning point was his second block at Sky’s training Majorcan camp in mid-January, 2013. Increasingly tired and struggling with recovery, he felt bad in the first few races. His self-assurance ebbed away. Even the act of training became a battle with numbers and negativity.

“I started not enjoying things… I was like a slave to this SRM box. I knew what I had to do in training, but I knew it recorded everything so the coach would know if I’d done it.

“Even if I felt not good enough to do it, I was like ‘I’ve got to’. I’d do half the session, but I couldn’t quite finish it off or I didn’t hit the power numbers [written on the stem] or whatever. Or I’d come home like: Ohhh,” he sighs, “demoralised – like what am I gonna say?”

A bad day of training would inform other parts of his life. He’d make poor nutrition choices too. “Come home and eat a cake,” as he puts it.

At the Ardennes Classics, he was overweight, then yo-yo dieted for the Bayern Rundfahrt. In losing six kilos, Locke reached lean race weight but compromised his power.

As the year flew by, it was demoralising having people asking about his dip in performance on Twitter, forums, even out on the bike. Few understand that his Team Sky role, often as a domestique to the leaders, is a paradigm shift from being Endura’s unexpected jewel.

Take one encounter in a Clevedon café when a former Tour de France rider and his friend asked where he’d been in the Ardennes Classics.

Tiernan-Locke’s role had been to cover the early break and protect his leaders. “The race was in pieces and I was at the front of it. I was written off for the next 260k, I’d ruined myself in about ten [kilometres], then I was getting bottles, bringing Froomey back after a puncture, riding in the wind.

“By the time I got to the 180k mark, with the race properly kicking off, mine was done. The TV coverage might switch on with 50k to go, at which point you’re just going out the back.”

Summer was “a blur of shit”. He had problems with motivation. At a pre-Vuelta training camp, Tiernan-Locke had it out with coach Shaun Stephens.

“‘Look, I don’t need to train, that’s the last thing I need right now. This has gone from bad to worse since training camp. I’ve got no morale, no form, I feel awful every time I turn the pedals, I can’t even do recovery rides, my legs fill up with lactic straight away’,” he says, giving the gist of the conversation.

He took a three-week break and was taken off Team Sky’s provisional Vuelta roster. Even back racing, he has endured rotten luck: punctures heading into the finales of the Vattenfall Cyclassics and GP Plouay, then a painful crash in the GP Montreal (see below).

But Tiernan-Locke isn’t self-pitying or defensive about his annus horribilis. Clearly it’s something he’s thought – and been asked – about a lot. He reflects on it with unflinching honesty.

Now he needs that unquantifiable value that no magic gadget can measure, confidence: even to sometimes, perversely, believe he’s going better than he actually is.

“My confidence is getting there. I’m not deluding myself, I’m gonna need a result.”

He is currently without a coach, listening to his own body going into his second year with Team Sky.

“Everyone around me has noticed I’m just enjoying riding my bike again.”


El Pirazzi

September 18, 2013


Words: Andy McGrath Photos: Offside

If you’ve seen an Italian bike race on the telly, chances are you’ve seen Stefano Pirazzi. He’s the one who attacks. A lot. Usually when the road heads uphill.

Who are the other aggressive riders in the Italian bunch? “Aggressive like me? There’s nobody else… I think I’m the only one,” Pirazzi says.

As he looks around at the quagmire formerly known as Knowsley Safari Park, he says it laughing, as if it’s a badge of honour.

Sadly – if you’re a romantic like me – the perennial attacker is a dying breed in modern cycling, sacrificed on the altar of buttoned-up, reserved, necessarily sensible (yawn) modern tactics.

Breakaways are often futile endeavours. You’d have to be brave, deluded or simply bonkers to spend all day out there.

While aggression has yielded Pirazzi no race victories yet, he’s gained a trunk – that’s where he keeps his career prizes – full of King of the Mountain jerseys, not to mention a sizeable fan club. ‘Tutti pazzi per Pirazzi‘ (we’re all crazy for Pirazzi) is their tagline.

Even over here at the Tour of Britain, he hasn’t been subdued, giving it a go on the road to Kendal.

Pirazzi can’t help attacking. He’s always done it.

“Ever since I started cycling aged six, I rode like this. I’m trying to improve myself, to achieve my biggest goals… At the end of the day, everyone tries to complement their own characteristics.”

His most prominent performance came at this year’s Giro d’Italia. Pirazzi was the jack-in-the-box, popping out of the bunch on stages into Florence, Vajont and the Galibier to score points and secure the green jersey of Mountains classification winner.

When previously his attacks had sometimes been tactically deficient, this success was a sign of Pirazzi’s growing maturity.

“When you’re in a race like the Giro d’Italia, everyone is trying to find the window to win a stage by being in the break. It’s truly spectacular when it pays off because it’s not easy,” he says.

However, his aggression is not always so popular among the conformists of the bunch.

“Many guys will not be happy about my way of riding but that’s the way I am. I’m happy to have that style, one that a lot of other riders lack.”

Hailing from the Lazio town of Fiuggi, Stefano – whose twin brother Roberto was also a handy amateur rider – moved north to Bergamo as an amateur to pursue his dream, aware that the Italian north-south divide extended to professional cycling opportunity too.

Pirazzi plies his trade for the lime-green, homely, youth-oriented squad Bardiani Valvole. They give him the freedom to take flight that WorldTour squads would likely stifle.

The Pirate would be a decent nickname for Pirazzi: he’s a hero of counter-culture, scourge of the other ships that follow formation, making plenty of rogue missions and firing away his cannons at will.

But that title belongs to someone else – Pirazzi’s hero, Marco Pantani.

“It’s because of his style of racing, plus his attacks on climbs and the way he pre-empted them: dropping the bandana, the sunglasses, the earrings, then he was off. It was a signal, as if to say ‘I’m going”.

We hope Pirazzi is as mad about cheese as attacking. If he gets into his usual breakaway groove, the Rouleur combativity prize may well be winging its way to him.

Perhaps we’ll even see some British fans going pazzi per Pirazzi.

Where There’s a Will

September 17, 2013

Words: Andy McGrath Photos: David Blanks

A week ago, life was quite literally a beach for Will Stephenson. He was sitting on the Bournemouth sands, watching his dad sea-swim.

Then the phone rang. It was his Rapha Condor JLT team manager John Herety.

Four days from the start, Felix English had fallen sick and he would be taking the Irishman’s place.

“This all moves pretty fast. I was going going from thinking I’d finished my season to being right in the middle of the biggest race of my life,” he reflected at the finish of stage one at Drumlanrig Castle on Sunday.

Suddenly, he was in snarling Scottish weather, rubbing shoulders with Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and company. Very carefully, mind.

“It’s really weird [riding alongside them]. You worry about doing something stupid or swerving and knocking one of them into a bush.”

At 18, Stephenson is the youngest rider at the 2013 Tour of Britain. It’s just the next sphere up in the man from Ringwood’s rapid rise.

Just three years ago, he was doing his first full season of racing with local club Bournemouth Arrow.

Stephenson has spent most of the racing season at school too. He finished his A Levels in June. “I don’t think John knew that when he signed me,” he adds.

His results – two A stars and an A – were so good that he gained a place at Cambridge University to study natural sciences, which he has deferred for 2013-14.

By now, Stephenson must be getting used to good opportunities coming out of the blue. When he was doing the CV rounds with domestic teams last winter, he didn’t even bother sending his to Rapha-Condor-JLT.

“I thought there’s not much point, they’re not going to be interested,” he reflects.

He was doing himself a disservice. Team manager John Herety was keeping tabs on Stephenson, a runner-up in the 2012 Junior Tour of Wales.

He signed Stephenson for his development-focused outfit after the junior world championships last season, where he rode strongly, despite being held up by a late crash.

Stephenson doesn’t seem out of his depth at the Tour of Britain. The tall teenager has acquitted himself well in the opening few days, saving energy in the bunch.

“The first stage wasn’t as bad as I expected. I thought I was going to get freezing, my legs were going to be rubbish, and get dropped as soon as the pace lifts,” he said after day one.

“I felt good with the distance and at the end, it just ramped up so much at the finale – then with the crash, I couldn’t close enough gaps.”

Stephenson wants to get in a breakaway before the end of the race. “Even if I completely kill myself and get dropped from it.”

Whatever happens, the national tour – comfortably the longest race of his fledgling career, if he completes it – will round off a season of happy surprises for Stephenson.

“I was thinking that last year ‘if I told myself’you’re going to do the world championships and next year the Tour of Britain’, I’d have been like ‘there’s no way that’s going to happen.”


On Honister Pass

September 17, 2013

_DSC0261 copy
Words: Andy McGrath Photos: David Blanks

“Well, they’re going up the easy side, aren’t they?” says Academy coach Keith Lambert. “Then down to Seatoller, the rainiest place in Britain.”

“A 28 cassette!” Bill Nickson exclaimed when hearing what size some teams were riding. “You don’t need a 28 to get up Honister. A fit professional cyclist can get up on a 25.”

“They should have taken it up Hardknott and Wrynose too,” he added, before recommending I get myself down to the Ras for some proper racing.

Those two sage stars of the Seventies were dryly doing a good job of playing down the challenge ahead.

But even the names of these Cumbrian circle of death confreres sound hard and mocking. Honister Pass is a member of that select band of brutal British climbs which elicit immediate grimaces of recognition – or worse, memory of riding – in  the cycling fraternity.

I wanted to be there for the modern Tour of Britain’s first visit to the climb – even if it was going up the easy (for an ex-national champion like “Legs Lambert”, maybe) west side.

British climbs don’t get much more honest than Honister. The lonely road cuts steeply through a civilisation-less U-shaped valley, a flowing river of tarmac squirming to the top, hitting 20 per cent in places.

Not for Cumbrian road builders, an arty squiggle of hairpins – flamboyant gestures of roadbuilding from nations populated by flamboyant gesturers like France and Italy. They get straight to the point around here.

The summit is reached by passing through two slate walls with broken turrets, foreboding gateways. The wind scuds coldly across the top, buffeting the scant vegetation.

To get away from this desolate Mordor? Fly down a treacherously steep descent.

It’s brutal enough without the weather jumping an angry moshpit. On top, an hour before the race’s passage, on-bike summiteers shivered against low stone walls in shelter from the wind.

The massed crowd on Honister was absurdly, brilliantly large, and many had cycled up. When the five hundred (my own guesstimate) or so souls turned to wave up at the TV helicopter overhead, you’d have been forgiven for thinking some mass congregation lost on the ridge was desperately appealing for rescue.

Standing out among the rainbow spread of cagoule wearers were a wolf, a bumblebee, a chicken and a white yeti, dementedly banging Yodel sticks and shouting.

If a bill of rights for British cycling tifosi was to be drawn up, the right to pull a sickie on a Monday morning to wear an animal costume at the top of a hideously-steep climb on a hypothermic “summer” afternoon must be near the top.

“Where did all those fans come from? It’s not like there’s anything anywhere near there,” Sky rider Ian Stannard said to me at the hotel later.

They build them tough up north. A bloke from Honister92.com was stood by a slate wall in cycling shorts; others stood by in fingerless mitts while soft Southerner me shivered in six layers. Complain? Head for cover? They got a Mexican wave going along the crowd.

When the race arrived, Honister also neatly epitomised the unique process of attrition that the wannabe race winner must overcome here.

The inclement weather, the six-man squads, tough climbs whose position in the stage favoured attacks. Because we can’t build mountains, we layer on the uncertainty here.

It’s very easy for someone to lose the race early on. Teams were grappling for control of the race like one of these hardened Honister folk after a runaway wind-taken umbrella and, frankly, there is very little at the moment, as we saw when Martin and Quintana tried to force affairs over the climb.

Meanwhile, race leader Elia Viviani was slipping backwards with the kind of slightly pissed-off and pained expression that said ‘what kind of madness is this?’ A man in need of a few hairpins.

When the last rider passed and the exodus started, most fans’ faces were hidden, behind bluffs, scarves, coats. But I’d wager there was a smile on every single one.

They won’t forget the day the Tour of Britain went over Honister Pass in a hurry and neither will some of the riders, 28 on the back or not.

_DSC0285 copy

The Race Doctor

September 15, 2013


Words: Andy McGrath Photos: David Blanks

Andrew Meilak’s heart sunk when he woke up to a howling gale and lashing rain in Peebles this morning.

“You know it’s going to be a busy day… we hope not. We always hope to be bored in the car, we don’t wish accidents on any of our colleagues.”

Even into his fourth year as Tour of Britain race doctor, hanging out of an Audi coupe patching up cyclists at 30mph is a world away from his day job as a GP at a rural practice in Sussex. They don’t teach that at medical school.

He rides second in the convoy behind the chief commissaire, a first medical port of call.

“The trickiest thing is making very quick decisions: whether you get back in the car and get back up to the race. You catch up on the go as well,” he says.

Few race doctors can say they have raced against their patients either. “I was in a road race with Alex Dowsett [years ago]. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the same group as him though: he was incredibly young then, but you could already see his potential.”

A long-time handy first-cat road racer, Meilak has recently turned to time-trialling, clocking 20.26 over 10 miles earlier this year. He has even brought a folding bike along for the Tour of Britain to keep his legs ticking over.

The bicycle race is like a dysfunctional family, people from vastly different walks of life  brought together by one shared, shining passion.

His own cycling prowess can only be better for his understanding of the thought processes of the bunch.

“I think that helps me to offer a bespoke medical care for the cyclist. I know what they need and expect.”

Having specialised in sport medicine, he has also worked at Millwall FC and rugby clubs. There’s no doubting which breed of sportsman is tougher.

“There are riders with injuries that, I must say, a footballer wouldn’t carry on with. Some of them ride on when you can see their bones, their elbows, through the skin. They’re really stoic, I must say.”

The medical item he uses most in the race is iodine disinfectant spray, to clean wounds on the go.

His work doesn’t stop when riders cross the finish line. Meilak can be suturing and tending to wounds into the evening, usually for those squads who haven’t brought a medic along. He is responsible for the care of race staff too.

The most serious incident Meilak has encountered as race doctor was IG-Sigma Sport rider Wouter Sybrandy’s crash on the descent of Leith Hill in last year’s closing stage. The Dutchman broke several vertebrae and fractured his cheek bone and eye socket.

“My paramedic colleagues were excellent, they stabilised him and took him off to hospital care, where he subsequently made a fantastic recovery and is now back racing.”

He admits to initial fright at the Dutchman’s prone state. “A little bit of adrenaline helps to sharpen you up. You need to concentrate on the basics that are drilled into you in training. But we’re not machines, we do have emotions.

“I didn’t sleep that night either, worrying about him, again because I’m not a machine. I worry about my patients, that is my job.”

Happily, his concerns about the opening stage’s potential for chaos failed to materialise. As the wind kept the bunch packed tight together, it was a relatively quiet first day for Meilak.

Tour of Britain

September 12, 2013

Cycling - Tour of Britain (Stage 5)

Words: Tom Southam Photo: Offside

The road markings are strangely familiar, the hedgerows unmistakable, the villages built of local stone in recognisable layouts, the greys, the greens, the red-and-white road signs, the license plates on the parked cars…

Everything in my peripheral vision makes up a perfectly normal view of another day in Britain, apart from the fact I am passing through this land of everyday as part of an international pro peloton.

We pass a Budgens and I look about: Basques to my right, Italians in a Russian team to my left, the high-pitch guffawing that can only come from French cyclists echoing in my ears, and a convoy of 30 brightly-coloured estate vehicles jostling all over the road behind us.

I always feel like something is slightly out of place at the Tour of Britain, like someone has photoshopped an image of a bike race on top of a picture of the British countryside.

Even though I have ridden the race four times now, I am still a little confused by the feeling of the party being at my house.

Even the lengthy transfers take on a slightly surreal feeling: I am on the M4, where I often am, but what is the Katusha bus doing here?

Of course, this feeling comes from an entire youth spent looking at pictures of bike races on foreign shores, foreign roads‚ similar but not the same.

It never occurred to me that these places were just places too, and that the roads I dreamt of weren’t there with any magical or express purpose of a bike race passing over them; they were just roads.

I spent my whole youth riding around UK roads thinking only of escaping them and getting to the promised lands of Flanders, the Alps, the Pyrenees. It never really occurred to me that everyone could just come over here and we could race over Bodmin Moor.

It really is the little things that make all the difference here, not just for us British riders having the strange sensation of all these foreign guests in our bike race.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw Filippo Pozzato so incapable of coming out of his comfort zone that he couldn’t take a feed bag from the left, as is dictated by English road law.

He had to stop in the middle of the feed zone and demand that we, the bunch, all waited while he, the White Knight himself, made his visibly petrified soigneur run across the road in front of oncoming riders to hand-deliver the feed bag to him where he stood‚ seemingly cursing our highway code, Queen Elizabeth II and the Madonna in equal measure.

These little things are advantages that add up for UK riders, I’m sure. I remember quite distinctly the first time I rode the race in 2004, while riding for an Italian team.

I thought how easy everything was, exactly the same feeling you get when you first walk up to a counter or into a shop the moment you get back from a long overseas trip.

In your head, you are still trying to think two or three steps ahead, all senses alert for different languages, transport systems, foreign maps or any kinds of difficulty. In a split second you realise that you can actually relax – you don’t have to second-guess, you don’t have to be one step ahead.

You are home and everything is simple. Everything is how it was, how it should be, and how you expect it to be. That moment of excitement, relief, guilt and pleasure is a strange sensation in a bike race.

There is something quite amazing about playing at home. It is one thing to have a group of family or friends make a trip to Europe to watch you race, but it is another to be able to race in front of everyone all in one go, and then be televised later for good measure.

Racing over a hill near Taunton past a staggering amount of people who knew my name, my nationality instantly raising me above my natural status in the wild of the peloton, is something I’d quite like to mull over when I am a very old man laid up with nothing but my memories to ponder.

Extract from issue 17. Tom Southam is an ex-professional cyclist. He came 34th in the 2009 Tour of Britain.