Tour of California Stage 7: Backseat Driver Report, Part II

Before I get to the conversation we had when driving behind Dmitriy Muravyev, I’d like to give you a little insight into Johan Bruyneel.

If I were to use two words to describe Johan Bruyneel when he’s acting as director of his team, they would be “centered” and “professional.” If I were allowed a third word, it would be “kind.”

If, on the other hand, when Bruyneel is driving the team car, those two words would be “multitasking” and “completely insane.”

I am confident that Bruyneel never touched the brake around any corner during the drive, which meant — until I learned to always keep a hand on the overhead grip — that I was being flung left and right, forward and backward.

I’m pretty sure that Bruyneel was one of the stunt drivers for The Fast and the Furious.

Meanwhile, Bruyneel was talking with me, talking with Eki, talking on the phone, staying within twenty feet of his racer, and checking email.

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Just another day at the office, right?

Radio-Free Dmitriy

“We won’t be using a radio for Dmitriy,” Johan told me right off the bat. “He’s just taking the time trial easy.”

Which, on one hand, was a little disappointing. One of the things I was really looking forward to was the radio back-and-forth. On the other hand, I was surprised to learn that any rider with a car behind him wouldn’t have a radio.

Also, as I watched Dmitriy’s speed hit — and pass — 30mph on the flats, I wondered how anyone could call that “taking it easy.” Especially since Dmitriy passed the racer ahead of him about a lap into the two-lap course.

“So what kinds of things do you tell racers in a time trial if they do have a radio?” I asked.

“Different racers want different things. Motivation, whether they should shift gears, split times, upcoming turns, where the road surface is better.”

“Tell me what you do on the radio differently between Lance and Levi,” I pressed.

“For Lance, he just wants the numbers until he gets to the last 5KM,” Johan said, “and then he wants motivation. For Levi, I’m shouting in his ear for the whole time. Chris Horner never wants anything but just the basic information.”

Which made me think: if I were a professional cyclist with a radio in my ear, I would want my director to speak to me in rhyming couplets.

Watch Yer Toes

“There’s a good crowd out,” remarked Johan at one point (I should note that I’m not ignoring stuff Eki said; he simply didn’t say much. He was busy tracking and noting splits.).

“But this is nothing compared to a mountaintop finish in the Tour de France,” I said. “How do you press through crowds like that? And do riders ever get freaked out by the crowds?”

“Well, the crowds aren’t as bad as they look on TV for one thing,” said Johan. “But they can press in pretty close.”

“So what do you do?”

“You just keep on going. If you stop or slow down they’ll never let you through. I’ve run over peoples’ toes, and knocked cameras out of their hands with my side mirrors.”

So you know that plan you were cooking up where you’d jump in front of Johan’s car and demand an autograph from whatever rider happened to be in there? Yeah, probably not so great of an idea.

We’re Not Done Yet

At one point, I finally got up the courage to say, “Hey, we’ve done something really great here, and I had a lot of fun. Once you get to the off-season, we should do another contest like this.”

“We should,” agreed Johan. And then he went on to detail his idea — evidently he already had something in mind. Something really, really cool.

But then he made me promise not to reveal what it is just yet.

After the Ride

Of course, my ride didn’t last all that long — about 45 minutes or so — and then it was time for someone else to get a turn riding in the team car — the RadioShack CEO, bigshots from Trek, Matthew McConaughey, and other people who are 80% as famous and beloved as I am.

After that, The Runner and I went and hung out at the finish line, watching the racers come in for their first lap time check and then for their finish.

And really, it’s just amazing how fast these guys are. I mean, most of them were faster than me.

Here’s Dave Zabriskie, starting his second lap:

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And Michael Rogers starting his second lap:

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And Levi Leipheimer, sprinting into the finish:

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And here’s The Runner, digging our VIP passes as much as I was:

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As we wandered around, we ran into quite a few people who read the blog. And while it’s always a little weird having someone recognize me and ask for a photo, it’s a gratifying and cool kind of weird, because every time someone wants to say hi, it’s because they’re glad to be a part of Team Fatty and what we’ve done — and what we’re doing.

And believe me, we’re going to be doing some awesome stuff soon. Stay tuned.

Final Thoughts

Here’s my take on Johan Bruyneel: I didn’t see any of the planning and strategy part of his job, but I think the results of that pretty much speak for themselves.

What I did notice about Johan, though, is he’s an incredibly centered and calm person. In the middle of a big race day, he was completely calm and at ease. My guess is that this kind of stability and grounding counts for a lot when you’re a nervous racer under a lot of pressure.

And I think it goes without saying that Johan’s got his heart in the right place, and has a mind that lets him make a difference. I mean, think about it: he turned a joke post I wrote back last December into a big fundraiser in the fight against cancer, a big fundraiser for World Bicycle Relief, and gave a normal guy unheard-of access to a pro cycling team. I admire Johan; he’s a great guy.

And all in all, this wasn’t a half-bad day.

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