Route du Sud: Stage 3 – Saint-Gaudens to Gavarnie-Gedre
He looked like an ordinary spectator, one of those diehard tifosi who parks up at the side of the road and waits hours for the riders to pass by in a matter of seconds.
But to those who knew what to look out for this man was quite clearly a super hero. Plain clothed to be sure, but his cape and red underpants were presumably hidden under the outfit of a schlub, albeit one about to perform an act of dexterity that would dazzle, and hydrate, a soon-to-be captive audience.
What’s more he’d do all of this in about three seconds.
It’s a tricky business handing out bottles at the side of the road. The feedzone is usually a mixture of relief, litter, and peril for riders, as they first seek out their bottle and then try to grab it at about 40kmh without crashing.
It’s difficult getting one bottle into the hand of a rider, let along three. Some get dropped, some are missed altogether, while others fail to meet the high standards of those expected to drink it.
So handing out three in as many seconds would appear impossible. To suggest otherwise would merely alert the skeptics. Oswald couldn’t get off three shots in six they’d say, so nobody could dish out three bidons in three.
But our guy in a t-shirt and cap was ready to try.
It must be difficult for riders, working out who among the spectators lining the road are the type trying to help, and which are the utter lunatics, ready to run alongside you, before getting too close and requiring a colleague, with Swiss francs to spare, to risk a UCI rebuke and elbow the man-sized banana in the face.
But this man didn’t have on a banana outfit, or a chicken costume. Neither did he appear to wear the colours of a team. No costume, no polo, just three bottles of water ready to hand out, and a moment in which to do so which took even him by surprise.
As the main group of about 15 riders approached three – Brice Feillu and Eduardo Sepulveda of Fortuneo-Vital Concept, and Richard Carapaz of Movistar — peeled off, drifting over with an eye on refreshments without the UCI fine (based on the no drinks inside 20km rule) that makes a bottle of citrus energy drink more expensive than a bottle of Johnny Walker blue.
But our man stepped up: first one bottle, then another, and then another. On the last he sort of spun around, pirouetting for the benefit of the judges. The riders rode on with their bottles while our man, shaken but not stirred, stepped out of the limelight, and back to the side of the road where I like to think he stripped to the waist so he could beat his chest.