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How many pro cyclists does it take to mend a puncture? The answer is 4. It’s not a joke, just an observation.

Xabier Zandio being a mechanic.

An observation I made while on a recent trip to the Basque region for a bit of cycling. The region in and around Biarritz, where I was staying, and towards the south is awesome cycling country. It has a bit of everything, flat roads, hills, mountains, pictures post card coastal roads and great coffee stops.

The weather hadn’t been too great on the trip. A good lot of rain had put paid to a few planned trips in to the Spanish mountains, so on the first real sunny day I headed for the border and the mountains. Riding out to the village of St Etienne de Baigorry I climbed the small, but lovely, climb of Col d’Ispeguy. A quick stop at the top to take a few pics is where the ride turned into one of the more memorable training rides. Just moments after I had arrived a small group of cyclist arrived. 3 in Team Sky kit, 2 in Movistar and 2 in local club colours. What are the chances.

On top of the Col d'Ispeguy

I’m not a shy person so while they had stopped I wandered over and introduced myself, asked where they were heading and asked if I could tag along. Instantly I recognised a few of them. Others I was a bit unsure of but they all introduced themselves. Meanwhile Nairo Alexander Quintana from Moviestar whipped his wheel out to mend a puncture.

This is where the observation took place, Quintana one of three Columbians, had had a spill earlier on in training and had a ripped jersey and blood oozing down to his shorts. Ripped and scuffed Sidis showed the signs of a pretty big spill. The wheel was soon taken off him as he was clearly having problems. A few of the guys took over. Xabier Zandio of Sky and his brother both worked together to get the tyre on the rim. I chipped in and lent them my frame pump. Jokes were made about mine being bigger than Quintana’s. After a few of the guys took turns in pumping up the tyre (I’ll put this down to pros having little upper body strength) we were back on the road.

No one attacked the decent, all took it easy and just cruised down chatting. I rode with Zandio and we spoke about the Sky team in comparison with the previous teams he has ridden for (Banesto and Cassie), his season so far and Pamplona, where he and the rest of the guys had ridden from.

Zandio is a top bloke, really nice and speaks great english, better than my Spanish. At 35 he’s in his 12th year as a pro. He had nothing but praise for Sky and hopes to ride the Tour. He felt Wiggins had an excellent chance and would definitely be a man to watch for the overall win. Zandio was riding the Dauphine, the usual build up to the Tour for a lot of riders, so it would seem he’s on a good path to being in the Tour team.

He didn’t think he would be at the Olympics as Spain had a very strong team.

As Zandio and his brother stopped to chat to a local friend at the road side the rest of us rolled on, Rigoberto Uran then came along side me.

You may remember Uran from last year’s Tour. He wore the white jersey for a period. Again we spoke of Sky and his plan for the season, racing in Columbia and getting ready for the Giro. He, along with Sergio Hanao, were both off to Italy the following day for the Giro so this was their last training ride before, a hilly 160km.

Inspecting his wounds in the Cafe

On arriving at the village of Elizonodo, Uran asked if I wanted to join them for coffee; too right I did. Anyone would jump at the chance to have coffee with these guys. Plus, Uran had said it was fantastic coffee, and if a Columbian says that you’d be stupid not to try the local bean juice.

While Quintana checked his wounds, ripped cloths and had it pointed out by Henao that his lovely looking Catlike helmet was now cracked, the rest tucked into cake, croissants and some lovely coffee. The pro’s coffee stops are no different from any other cyclist’s coffee stop. Mickey taking and phone checking all went on, the only real difference was the girl behind the counter going all gaga over a few of them (never happens on my usual coffee stops!).

I got chatting to Imanol Erviti Ollo of Movistar. We started talking about his season and his time at the Tour Down Under, but the conversation soon turned to Oz and how much we both love the place. He sung praise for the TDU and the Australian public. He couldn’t believe at the number of people who rode and raced in Oz. When I said I’d raced a bit and on any given Sunday in Melbourne you’d see probably an easy 350 guys racing at a local crit (hello Carniege Caulfied CC) he was shocked and amazed.

We spoke about the world champs and Olympics along with Zandio, saying that the two events were well suited to Spanish team with riders like Oscar Firere.

Does your table look like this after a coffee stop run?

Then it was time to kit up and hit the road again. For me this is where I’d have to turn around, back over the mountains and north to Biarritz. For them it was south to Pamplona.

One ride to remember.

As we came out of the cafe Zandio’s brother look worried and stared to run around (precariously in his cleats). His bike had gone missing. After about a minuet or so they all started to laugh, as he found it 4 doors away around a corner. One of the guys had hidden it.

A quick photo to remember the day and a few hand shakes and we went our separate ways.

I rode away a happy boy. I’m a geek and I know it. I love this sport and situations like this just cements it even more. There’s no other sport in the world, that I can think of, that allows you to spend time, train and hang out with your idols.

All the guys were unbelievably friendly, and as I pedaled out of the village I realised Zandio had paid for all the coffees. Thanks.

Good luck to all of them for their goals for 2012.

Oh, and Team Sky, if you’re reading this make sure Zandio gets an extra €1.50 in his pay packet for May. He can claim it as expenses.

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