What's Cool In Road Cycling

Interview: AToC Podium Hostess Joanna Zanella!

“Does anybody speak Spanish?!” That was the call that Amgen Tour of California announcer Dave Towle put out as the Columbia Coldesportes team climbed onto the sign-in stage at San Jose. None of the guys spoke English and Dave doesn’t speak Spanish. But always on his game and angling for some interviews to fill the early morning hours, his call for a lifeline was answered by podium hostess Joanna Zanella, who quickly became Official Translator. PEZ caught up with Joanna after the race to give you an insider’s look at her adventures during the week.

– Words & Photos by Andy Tao –

Joanna translates for Juan Pablo Suares at the start in San Jose.

PEZ: You were 100% ready to translate for Dave that day, how did you get your language skills?
I was born in Hollywood, CA but my family moved to Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico when I was two weeks old, where I grew up and went to school. I had to learn English ten years later when we came back to Los Angeles, where I live now, so I speak perfect English and Spanish. My grandfather is Italian and only speaks Italian, so I speak a little Italian as well.

Every morning Joanna greeted the Columbia Coldeportes Team in Spanish to make them feel welcome.

PEZ: You were also a podium hostess in 2009, how did you get the job?
One of my friends was booked for the job but at the last minute couldn’t make it. She thought I’d be great for it and referred me to the right people who ended up hiring me. I actually translated for Paco Mancebo that year at a press conference and think that might have sealed the deal for me [to come back in 2012] in case somebody needed translation, so it worked out!

PEZ: So you’ve been here when it was freezing wet, and now with blistering 103°F temperatures in Bakersfield. Which is worse?
It’s funny you ask because I asked some cyclists, “would you prefer cold or hot weather?” Each and every one said hot, because when they get freezing cold they can’t really help it but when it’s hot they can pour water over their heads to cool off. But I’d rather have cold because you can always cover up, even if you have to sacrifice for a half hour in an outfit on the podium. It was sooooo hot in Bakersfield, it felt like my makeup was melting!

“OK, it’s time for you to go now!” – Joanna worked the Sponsor Side of the stage in 2009.

PEZ: What’s your job on stage?
In 2009 I was on the Sponsor Side of the podium and this year I’m on the Athlete Side. A lot of the time the riders are tired and don’t really know where to go or what to do. My job is to guide them upstage, give them their flowers and, the hardest part, kiss them! We kissed every Jersey before but this year we only kissed the Yellow Jersey and the first place stage winner. At the Tour de France, they only kiss Yellow and first place, so we followed their guidelines. We did get some complaints with guys asking, “Hey, where’s ours?”

Joanna made sure Sylvian Georges got to the podium safely after his heroic solo win at Big Bear.

PEZ: Are your outfits provided or do you get to pick them?
The organizers told us to bring the same color jeans. We arrived three days before the race to get our uniforms and they gave us really nice Rapha Amgen Tour of California shirts to wear so we’d match. But we did have to go shopping in Santa Rosa to get podium dresses and shoes.

PEZ: Were the pink sneakers your idea?
Yes! Allison and I figured, it’s a cycling event, everyone’s wearing the gear, so why not? We picked the shoe, showed up and said, “Hey guys, these are the matching shoes you asked for!” They loved them and all week people would tell us, “Nice shoes!” I guess we made pink shoes popular!

The morning outfit’s pink sneakers were a huge hit with the fans.

PEZ: How do you like working a week-long stage race?
I wish it was three weeks! I’m a cycling fan and I wished it would go on forever, every day was a new adventure.

Nate Brown hopes that the way to a girl’s heart is through a Bontrager Livestrong inflatable axe.

PEZ: But there was enough time to acquire admirers in the Bontrager Livestrong Team…?
They were so fun to be around because they would come up and joke with us. They brought us these little axes that they signed and said would be good luck for them, and told us to wave them when we saw them. Lawson Craddock even asked me to sign his arm for good luck. I felt like a celebrity!

Lawson Craddock takes on a Sharpie-load of good luck from Joanna.

PEZ: Did any of the guys ask for a date?
I think I’ll keep that one to myself! Seriously, as podium hostesses we need to stay professional. In general, there’s always a “couple” of course but I think most just want to be friendly.

Joanna, loaded with AToC Bear and ready to rock the podium.

PEZ: Is it fun being on the final podium with all the celebrating?
We were pretty excited about it, though we knew that we were going to get sprayed with champagne. Dave Zabriskie said to me, “I’m sorry but I gotta do this” then popped the champagne bottle and got me on the whole left side. Those guys deserve the celebration after all that hard work.

Joanna braces for a celebratory dousing with champagne from Dave Zabriskie.

PEZ: You really project a professional image on stage, what experience do you have?
I’ve done spokes modeling for about eight years. I currently have a two-year ad campaign as spokesperson for Dearden’s [an LA furniture store chain]. I’m also a co-host of the TV show “El Pelado de la Noche” on the El Azteca America network (www.aztecaamerica.com/elpelado/). It’s sort of a Spanish language Leno Show. My life goal has been to be a TV host and do TV and acting, so I think it’s all coming together. But it was amazing to be able to take the time off to do the Amgen Tour of California!

Joanna was kind enough to provide this photo from the 2012 Umbrella Girls calendar shoot.

At this point Joanna needed to go fight the LA traffic and make her way home. I thanked her for her time and hope to see her again next year. In addition to the work she mentioned, Joanna also appears in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Umbrella Girls Calendars (www.umbrellagirlsusa.com/calendar.php),) and has her own website (www.joannazanella.com), where you can see more of her and her work.

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