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Behind the Scenes - Pre Race

By Rick Scott

It’s almost show time. The anticipation is palpable. We’re just days away from the start of the 2007 Amgen Tour of California. Riders have been training hard all winter to get ready. For many, the 650-mile, eight-stage race from Northern to Southern California will be the first racing miles the racers will put into their legs this season. Team directors, coaches, mechanics, soigneurs, and sponsors have been working around the clock to get their teams ready for battle as have race staff, who have been preparing ever since last year’s race concluded. We want to provide you with a glimpse behind the scenes at the preparation that goes into the Amgen Tour of California from a few unique perspectives: that of the director sportif, coach and chief race medical director.

Jonathan Vaughters – Director Sportif

Vaughters is a former professional cyclist who spent much of his career racing in Europe with U.S. Postal Service and Credit Agricole. The American was a stellar climber and stage race specialist who won the Mont Ventoux stage in consecutive years in the Dauphine Libre. Presently he applies his vast knowledge and experience as CEO and director sportif of Team Slipstream.

TNT: As director sportif, how do you prepare your team for the Amgen Tour of California?

JV: It’s challenging because the race is so early in the season and it’s difficult getting everything together right at the start. We’re scrambling to get the uniforms, team cars, the bikes, all the equipment and gear, water bottles, etc. spot on 100% in time. We actually started ordering equipment at InterBike at the end of last season to be ready in time for the Tour of California.

It’s difficult getting the athletes 100% ready, too. The riders have to be stricter during the winter now. We even moved our training camp earlier and it included some race simulation to get ready specifically for the Tour.

As for strategy, that’s based upon how the riders perform at the opening Prologue. That’s the first you really get to see how fit the riders truly are and who is really ready to play ball. You’d be amazed at how large the Prologue is in deciding things. For us, we’ve got a team pretty much built around Danny Pate, who I believe is a legitimate General Classification threat.

TNT: What are your responsibilities in preparing for the race? How do you personally prepare?

JV: The most important thing is getting the staff organized and up to speed. I’ve got to make sure the hotels are booked and that we’ve got proper food for the race. I’ve got to make sure the soigneurs and mechanics are ready and have everything they need. If everything is inline, then my preparation is easy. Basically I show up and give the racing licenses to the UCI. The director really is a glorified chauffer for the mechanics and the water bottles. My work is really done in the three months leading up to the race.

TNT: What is your role during the race?

JV: Strategy and tactics. But strategy in bike racing has to be pliable. It’s not like in football or basketball. Moment to moment, things change fast in bike races and there are so many variables. It’s my job to help the riders adjust their tactics during the race. During the race, I’m driving in a car usually behind the riders so I talk to them on radios to get their vantage point, which is sometimes affected by being anaerobic or being too caught up in the moment. I have a more grounded perspective since I’m not actually in the race so that way I can help the riders make the best decisions possible during the race.

TNT: What are the tools & equipment you'll be utilizing during the race to help you do your job?

JV: We use the very small radios so we can talk to the riders who have ear pieces on and they can talk back to me in the car through a little microphone. We use GPS and we program the race route into that each day. We also have maps and we use an altimeter as that information is often helpful to let the guys know. The cars we use to carry all the gear (extra bikes on the roof, extra wheels, tools, water bottles, food, etc.) are station wagons, but they’ve got to be very nimble for all the cornering we do. Plus we sometimes have to move up through the peloton, which can be very dangerous. Bikes can go very fast through technical descents so the cars have to be able to handle that, too.

Brian Walton – Coach

Walton is a three-time Olympian (Silver Medalist) who raced professionally for teams including Saturn, Motorola and 7-11. Presently the Canadian is Director of Performance at Cadence Cycling & Multisport Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He coaches professional, elite, masters, amateur racers and recreational cyclists and triathletes, including Scott Zwizanski of Priority Health, who will be competing in the Amgen Tour of California.

TNT: As a coach, how do you prepare your racers for the Amgen Tour of California?

BW: Specificity is the key to training an athlete properly to be ready for this race. It’s an eight-day international stage race and for many, it’s the first race of the season. They’ve got to do long miles in the early part of the season to get ready, which is contrary to a typical periodization training plan. The problem with East Coast based riders like Scott is that because of the winter weather, they typically don’t get in enough volume training to be a real threat for the overall win. You really have to pick your days and pick your battles. We’ll look at the stages and we’ll put all our eggs in one basket on certain days. We’ll focus on minor points within the race to target. It’s important to balance the team’s goals and the individual rider’s goals. We want to see Scott and his team make a race of it, not be content sitting in. They’re a smaller domestic team competing against ProTour teams that have a greater depth of talent. They’ve (Priority Health) got to go out there and take some chances. That’s what a coach brings to the table: a coach understands the needs of the individual rider and the team’s goals as well as race’s goals. I know the Tour of California wants to see an aggressive and exciting race.

TNT: What is your role during the race?

BW: Actually during the race, I’m going to be leading a climbing camp with a group of athletes in the Santa Monica Mountains, but I’ll be there for Stage 6. Scott and I will talk everyday throughout the race though. I’ll be trying to help him balance the team’s expectations and his personal expectations.

TNT: What technology or equipment to you use to monitor your racers?

BW: A cell phone to talk to Scott. Depending upon his team’s sponsors, he might be able to use a power meter during the race, which will provide us with valuable information if he can use it. Heart rate monitors alone don’t really provide too much information for pros at this level.

TNT: How will you measure or define success for your athletes?

BW: If Scott wins a stage. No pressure, Scott. Okay, I’m kidding. Actually it’ll be tricky to measure success. I want Scott to be competitive. I want him to come out of the race healthy. I want him to be aggressive and an integral part of the race. Rarely do I look at the results to define success at this time of the year. I’m looking more for the process, not the outcome. We want to use the Tour of California to build upon throughout the season. Scott won’t be the strongest, fittest guy in the race, but he won’t be the weakest either. He’ll be competitive and I know he’ll get to where he wants to go this season. I need to help him to relax, especially before the Prologue. We don’t want him to waste energy in the opener. Instead he’s going to be opportunistic throughout the stage race.

Dr. Ramin Modabber – Chief Medical Officer/Medical Director

Dr. Modabber returns for his second Amgen Tour of California and he’s also served on staff at last year’s Tour of Georgia. He practices at the Santa Monica Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Group and is Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. And yes, he loves to ride his bike when he’s not putting cyclists back together.

TNT: As the race doctor, how do you prepare for the Amgen Tour of California?

RM: Team assembly and supply acquisition are the most significant pre-race preparations.  The team assembled this year includes physicians of differing specialties as well as ancillary personnel who best meet the needs for caring for the entire entourage that travels with the tour.  This year, we have orthopaedic surgeons, emergency room doctors, family practitioners, athletic trainers, registered nurses, physical therapists, and an acupuncturist.  Supplies are picked up at my house a week before the event and driven in a box truck or cargo van to San Francisco for the start of the race.  I have been fortunate to get many of the supplies (first aid bandages, medications, etc.) donated by various companies that supply our practice.  Other than supplies and personnel, I work with the technical director of the race (Chuck Hodge) once the route has been established and map out where all the regional hospitals and trauma centers are.  Particular attention is paid to the start/finish cities where a hospital contact number will be provided to the teams in the race bible distributed to everyone before the race.  Along the route, we will contact the hospitals the day before we go through the area to remind them that we will be coming through, especially the person in charge of the emergency department that day in case of an incident.

TNT: What is your role during the race?

RM: During the race, I ride in a vehicle driven by a professional driver, situated just behind the chief commissaire, usually with two other passengers: usually one medical person and often one guest/VIP if not another member of the medical team.  We’re primarily focused on the race dealing with whatever happens during the stage.  In addition to my vehicle, we have a motorcycle with a team member on it (also professionally driven) that will go forward in the event of a break and situate itself between the break and the peloton (once a one-minute gap is established).  We also have a medical SAG wagon with an ER doctor, nurse, trainer, etc. situated behind the team cars with two ambulances right behind them.  This is all in the event of a serious incident or multiple incidents in which case I will follow the race (in case there is another incident) and the medical team will stay with the first incident.  We also send a team ahead to open up and staff the medical tent next to the finish line.

TNT: What do you do after each stage? Is your work done for the day after each race ends?

RM: After each stage, we "divide and conquer."  I usually stay with the group who was staffing the medical tent until all the riders are in their buses driving back to the hotel.  We send a unit to the hotel to set up the medical suite that we staff each night until 10 PM to deal with any riders or members of the entourage who need us.  The riders want to shower quickly and get their massages, but then come by before dinner with anything that needs attention.

About the Author

Rick Scott is president of Great Scott P.R.oductions, an entertainment and sports public relations, marketing and management boutique. He can be contacted through www.greatscottpr.com.