The massage’s one is maybe one of the most intimate moments during the sportive life of a cyclist. Those are the hours spent far from the racket and from the tension of the race. All the rest out, or almost. Inside stays the oil’s smell, the hands between nerve and nerve to unleash the bad races, the fatigue, the tiredness, some smiles or closed eyes. The cot has the power to unroll the road travelled towards a white limbo. Auxiliadora Morales massages the athletes of the BMC team and I think that there isn’t a more authentic point of view than the one of who stays in contact with the riders in this way. That’s why I asked her to tell me about the golden boys – for the second time – of Richmond 2015. And about the winning formula of this team.
Outside it’s raining.
With Auxiliadora I’ve always spoken English on Facebook. She’s learning a little bit of Italian and I’m hopeless at Spanish. But they are two similar languages and when we meet for the first time in the hotel’s hall, we start speaking in our own language because one understands the other as it often happens between Mediterranean roots. We sit down on one of the little sofas in the room but first she stops to greet Alessandro De Marchi and his parents who are sitting at a table. They smile, they tell sincere kindnesses to each other.
“With Ale I have a really good relationship” she explains. “I talk a lot with him, I would force myself to learn a little bit of Italian, but it’s impossible because he speaks Spanish better than me”
I ask her to tell me nearly about the Richmond’s dream team. For the second consecutive time the BMC guys won the world team time trial, a Golden Medal that has a double value, not just for doing it twice, but also for the not easy reconfirm. They faced the race as favourites and everyone expected the best from them. Not to disappoint the expectations, it’s one of the most difficult parts. Of the people but even more of themselves.
“Logically the team time trial is a discipline that is based on the unit” says Auxiliadora.
“Manuel (Quinziato) and Daniel (Oss) for me are the fulcrum on which the power and the unit of the group rotates. They get along really well and they transmit this particular feeling to the others. Their serenity is contagious and I think they are fundamental to keep the guys together. They are like the balance of power.”
She stops, she thinks a little bit and then restarts.
“Rohan (Dennis) instead…Ah, Rohan is a bull!”
I laugh and she as well.
“Really, you know? He is pure strength, pure passion. When he races, when he talks. Always. He is hardheaded but he’s a really special athlete. When he gets on the bike he just thinks about the kilometres he has to travel. For instance, in the TT, Daniel and Manuel talk, whereas him…” for a while she puts her hands on the temples, as to say that he has the blinkers and he is only focused on the race.
“Silvan (Dillier) is a guy that gives the a hundred per cent always. He knows that in the TT you go to death” And she smiles. “He has an incredible physical and an incredible capacity to suffer. Everyone trusts him because he is a warranty, they know that in every situation he will always give his best, till the end. Whereas Stefan (Küng)… he is the talent, you understand it as soon as you see him. He is a pure time trial man, he has a really powerful leg, everything is easy for him. He has a body…Madre mia! He is a gifted.”
I like the way Auxiliadora speaks. She’s spontaneous, she is true and she has such a passionate way of express that she doesn’t find difficult to create a little incisive and deep frame around the guys, about their characters, about their qualities.
“So, let’s see” she says. “Who is missing? Ah, Taylor (Phinney)! He has an incredible class and he surprised me really a lot. He is aware of being an athlete who comes from a different cycling culture. Almost every American cyclist knows that, when they come to race in Europe that is the cradle of this sport, they have to refresh their style and they have to face many difficulties. For them it is a continue growth: there they ride on large roads, always straight, the rhythm is the one of the strongest long distance cyclists. Whereas here there is Belgium with its narrow streets, the walls with the cobbles where you have to stay at the front and everyone else has the same idea. It’s completely different.”
Suddenly a man who was sitting next to us gets closer. He apologizes. At first I think he wants to ask us to speak more quietly but he addresses to Auxiliadora. He heard her speaking Spanish and he says than the sound of that language gives him cheerfulness. That is his land’s sound. They have a quick chat, he explains where he was born. Things among compatriots. Then he apologizes again, he goes back to his table. Auxiliadora smiles, she rises her shoulders: “Spanish people around the world! This is a thing I like about my job. True, you’re practically always far from home, it isn’t easy. But travelling always gives you new experiences, you meet people from which you learn to grow up, both professionally and personally. The cycling world is mainly masculine it’s known but this has never been an obstacle for me. Rather, I think that, when the women work with determination and passion, they can offer a different and more sensible point of view.”
The massages are an intense moment. Everything concentrates and dissolves there. The anger, the disappointment, some regrets, the tiredness. Body and mind stay closer than ever.
“It is a little oasis of tranquillity” she explains. “I am a positive person and I always try to transmit positivity and energy. Tejay’s retirement at the Tour was a hard blow for all of us, everyone was truly downhearted. That day while I was massaging Amaël (Moinard) I saw him really sad. Usually with him I talk about everything but not about the race. He is a really stable and balanced person. But in these moments it isn’t easy. You have to find some strength to transmit serenity. However at these levels you have to face the things with professionalism: Manuel and Daniel are really good at it, they have a certain experience in the race. Rohan, instead, has a really impulsive character.
When he lost the TT last year everyone knew that they had to leave him in peace, he has to blow off steam alone.”
She smiles and tells: “The first times I was working with them they told me that in the morning he drinks rigorously his cup of milk with cereals. I personally asked him if he wanted soy milk. ‘I drink fuck normal milk’, was his answer. That’s what he’s like, passionate, even in everyday life.
Inside, I am sure, he is super sensitive but outside he’s a bull. He is a special guy. Silvan, instead, at first was quite shy then once he got acquainted he relaxes and it’s really nice to talk with him. Ah, even with Samuel (Sanchez) I talk a lot, he is a real chatterbox. Then speaking the same language is an advantage. Tejay, on contrary, never talks. Often he calls his wife or he listens to music. He is truly and incredible cyclist. He is a hare. He runs, runs, runs…”
I look at the watch. The time runs too. It’s time to go. Tomorrow the alarm is at six o’clock for everyone. Auxiliadora tells me that she will struggle falling asleep. There is the adrenaline before an important race, this counts for the staff too. The Lombardia is the last Classical of the season even if it’s never the last race. She spent the afternoon preparing the last things for Abu Dhabi. She will fly to the Emirates right after for another experience in the team. We greet and we agree on meeting the next day. It’s almost eleven o’clock and the hall is full of people, it seems a sort of excursion, maybe it has something to do with Expo. Going there on a Sunday is the usual mass suicide. I reach the exit overtaking suitcases and avoiding to stumble in sleepy children. Outside it’s raining even harder, a downpour without breaks that shakes the Brianza, during the night of the eve.
Bergamo is glossy of rain but between the black of the passed storm and the white aura that wraps the Città Alta a gash of sun comes out. The buses are already there, parked among the flow of people that comes and goes. I find Auxiliadora while she fiddles among bikes and bags. That’s her job before the race, I greet her quickly and I observe here while she fills up the bottles carrier, she fixes the last things before the start.
I reach her later at the first feed zone. She’s loaded of bags and she tells me that this is a really electrifying moment.
“In Richmond” she tells, “I was with the Spanish national team and I guarantee that on the climb with the cobbles you could cut the tension in half. It is a nice moment. This year then, at the Vuelta, there was a stage that took me back in time. I’ve always loved cycling and I remember that once, when I was little, I went to see a stage of the Vuelta. I was along the climb with my dad, it was really hot, It seems to see myself again: I had a bottle of fresh water in the hands and I gave it to an athlete. I waited for him just like now that I wait for the guys of the team to pass them water or the musette. In that instant I thought about that little me, about how you can realize your dreams. It’s incredible. I do what I love and I’ve always loved.”
She tells me that she started doing this job with the Spanish federation and with the BMC team everything started with an email. Then they called her for a try during a training camp and her baptism was with Thor Hushovd. “I said to myself: better to start from the best ones” she says, smiling.
A light fresh air raises, few drops of faint rain fall, almost invisible. Soon the race will be here.
“I think that the real secret of this golden medal wasn’t really the unit but the way the guys stay united” she says. “They are perfect together, they blend and they compensate. Everyone gives a piece of himself, of his personality that is fundamental to reach the aim. Silvan gave everything, as always, he didn’t go behind even if he was completely worn out and the others knew that they could count on him. Rohan was an exemplary captain and that scream, that famous Daniel’s scream after the finish line, was a way to tell that now they could scream, after all that silent effort. It was a surge and, at the same time, an incitement to pour out. Finally. That’s what it is: all of them have character that magically fit together and this is the real winning formula.”
The passage, first the runaways then the group, the black and red guys catch the bags. Then she runs towards the team car, the finish is the last stage of the racing day.
The sun comes out again, towards Como it seems almost summer, it’s warm. I think about the Team Time Trial, six heads that have to be one, six characters combined like a Rubik cube solved in a blink of an eye, a second after the start. On the other side of the barricade there is the time, follow the right feeling to face it together is not easy. What counts more than everything? The legs, the dreams, the mind, the fatigue, the irrational mixed with the rational? Or the feeling of being a team? A train on the same rail, at the same speed during those kilometres, at every cost.
After the arrival, I see Auxiliadora next to Alessandro De Marchi who is bended on his bike. There are other athletes that come, other masseurs that wait. A little crowd that waits. She speaks to him in the middle of that brief confusion, now and then she puts a hand on his shoulder. A work in the backstage that listens to the tensions before the race and to the angers after.
Cycling remains an individual and team sport at the same time where the balance is the most difficult thing to find.
The lake next to the finish line is lightblue, almost blue as in a summer afternoon. But the low sun that draws all the yellow leaves’ veining in the wind puts on everything the autumn’s smell. I take away this image that is tender and deep at the meantime: the time is this. Who runs and who waits at the finish. To stay united powerful dreams are needed, as just the road can give you. That is a big victory. The double big victory is even more.
Thanks to Auxiliadora for the time and the kindness.
Translated by Martina Meroni
Original version here >>> DREAM TEAM