What's Cool In Road Cycling

Peloton Driver: Tips To Success

Ever wonder what it’s like driving a team car in the caravan at a major race? Imagine you’re behind the wheel of a new Mercedes wagon – ten bikes strapped to the roof – a mechanic dangling out the back window waving spare wheels at too-close fans, sponsor’s nephew in the backseat asking when the next potty-break is, race reports blaring in a foreign language on the crackly AM radio! You weave through the bunch as you descend the back of the Izoard at 80kph, or bump the throngs of rabid fans as you squeal your tires over the Koppenberg in hot pursuit of your team leader who is somewhere up the road…

You never know when you’re going to pass, or be passed by, another vehicle in the caravan…

Most of us will never experience the thrill of this side of a race, but for the chosen few who actually drive the team cars – special skills are definitely required. This is not your average Sunday drive! To explore and expose this “secret driver’s world” inside the peloton – we’ve compiled a list of driving tips – gathered from thousands of kilometers driven over European – and especially Italian roads – where the crazy drivers are famous – for, well – crazy driving. We encourage readers to keep these tips handy – in your wallet – you’ll never know when you may need them – even here at home!

Giro ’94 – Sestriere: It’s snowing, the roads are wet, last one to the showers is a rotten egg!

1. The roads are small.
Tiny in fact. Even the big ones. Well okay, some of the roads may be big, but the space for your car is tiny. Most roads around Europe are simply cart paths from the middle ages that have been paved over. They’re usually wide enough for one car or maybe two. However, the wider roads only encourage the locals to squeeze in more cars than there are actual lanes for.

2. Traffic
There’s lots of it, all the time. Except on Sunday morning when everyone is in church, presumably praying for forgiveness for their driving. You share the road with every type of vehicle with wheels, and many without. There are fast vehicles and slow vehicles but mostly fast, and although I have yet to be passed by anyone on a moped, do not rule this out.

3. Fog
beware of the fog – I’ve never seen it so think as in parts if northern Italy in January, let alone try to go anywhere in it in a car. One night I drove in fog so thick that I could only see 20 ft in front of the car, which was a far as the lights shone. The periphery was just a huge cloud with no dimensions. I plodded slowly along, tightly gripping the wheel, listening for the sound of gravel under my wheels signaling I’d ventured off the pavement. Suddenly, out of the mist roars a transport truck doing 120 kmh coming straight at me! I blink once and he’s gone. I wipe the cold sweat from my brow, and consider pulling over and throwing my shorts away.

4. Etiquette
I have seen that many Europeans, and especially Italians, are born with a natural sense of etiquette for the road. Their love of exotic, stylish super-cars and abundant lack of road maintenance suggests they’re more concerned with looking good while driving than actually getting anywhere quickly. However, this does not prevent Italian drivers from putting the pedal to the metal. If I had any faith in the Italian mail system, I’d think the roads were clogged with an entire nation of FedEx couriers all trying to deliver packages on triple-hot rushes.

5. Technique
At any time, any place you are in a car, whether it’s moving or not, and regardless of how fast you’re going, you should expect to have, every 15-20 seconds, someone riding your tail flipping the high beams and looking to get by. If you are driving slower than 80kmh, this will happen even more frequently. Most of these drivers are unconcerned with the amount of traffic on the roads, number of lanes available (including sidewalks), oncoming vehicles, or road conditions. You simply have to get used to cars (of all shapes and sizes) zooming past in a cloud of dust and flying chickens, some wheels on the road, some off, horn a-blaring.

6. Parking
This is another adventure entirely. I know, there are signs that say parking, there are lots of ’em, but I think these have just been put up to annoy foreigners, because every parking spot is taken. This is okay, however, as I have studied the locals and found their secret. When no parking is available, you simply stop your car and get out. Boom – you’re parked! This technique works especially well on sidewalks, boulevards, in people’s yards, and literally any place else you can fit your vehicle.

7. More Etiquette
Traffic lights, turning signals, and turning lanes are only here for decoration, and by no means should be considered seriously. They seem only to interfere with one’s travel. So, if you see a long line of cars waiting to make a left turn, for instance (and there are no shortage of these), you simply boot it up the right shoulder to the front, and nudge your way in. If there is at least one foot of space between two cars, you should consider it an invitation to squeeze in. This technique only fails if you make eye contact with the other driver. Act like no one else is there, you’ll be fine.

When we see a yellow traffic light at home, it usually means booting it to get through before the red. Over here, when the light turns yellow, you don’t boot it, because you’re already bootin’ it. Instead, the red just means you grab 5th gear and continue on your way. No problem.

8. When in doubt – boot it. This will get you through 99% of all situations on the European roads.

Now after all this is said, I gotta tell you that never have I had more fun driving than in Europe. In spite of all this crazy, and what we’d consider offensive, driving, I never saw road rage more serious than someone flippin’ the bird. And of course you only see this if you make eye contact – which of course is a no no.

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