The Tour de France is both tradition-oriented and a little bit janky. It takes honor and pomp and prizes seriously, but also has too many moving parts to be conducted sanely. As soon as one stage ends, organizers, teams, and technical crew unpack makeshift villages, zoom to the next town, and rebuild those villages, hopefully in time for the next stage to start.
Everyone involved has prepared as well as they can, but there are always contingencies. For Trek-Segafredo, Giulio Ciccone’s second-place finish to take over the yellow jersey on Thursday was an incredible achievement. They also took over the top of the team standings in the process, which created a problem: The team had the chance to wear yellow helmets on Friday, but they had none on hand.
Trek-Segafredo technical director Matt Shriver and executive administrative assistant Elli Hildebrand sprung into action.
“We were watching the end of the stage and started thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to happen, isn’t it,’” Hildebrand says.
The two work at Trek Factory Racing in Belgium, where they live. Stage 6 ended at nearly 6 p.m. local time, and by 11 p.m. the two were in a car together for a six-hour drive down to Belfort, France, for the start of Stage 7. The riders got their helmets with plenty of time because Shriver and Hildebrand bravely sacrificed their sleep.
At first blush, the fact that Trek-Segafredo didn’t already have the helmets on hand seems odd. Like every Tour team, they packed loads of spare gear to service an eight-rider team and small army of mechanics, soigneurs, and support staff. You’d think there was room to spare somewhere.
Shriver explains that the decision to not have the helmets pre-packed was a bit due to space concerns, and a bit due to superstition.
“The riders don’t like to see them,” he says. “It might seem presumptuous.”
To deliver the yellow helmets, first they had scrounge some up. They didn’t have any at their facility, so they called a dealer who had ordered some and bought them back. Shriver says that he and Hildebrand would have driven to the Pyrenees if they had to — a half a day’s drive.
And somehow, that might not have been the most extreme equipment delivery Shriver has ever done. When Ciccone took over the climber’s jersey at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year — the maglia azzurra — he needed a blue bike as soon as possible.
The bike was painted at Trek headquarters is in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Shriver happened to be traveling back to Belgium from an altitude camp in Utah at the same time. He rerouted his flight to go through Chicago, where he picked up the bike and flew with it to Italy. In less than 24 hours, the bike went from the midwest to Italy, where one of cycling’s best young riders raced it in one of the sport’s premier events.
Efforts like Shriver’s and Hildebrand’s show what a stunning endeavor it is to put on a Grand Tour. The arena moves every day, and with it come a new batch of logistical nightmares. Yet time and again, proceedings go off without a hitch, and everybody watching has no idea.