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Inside the Tour de France with our Export Gold-loving cycling hero, The Flying Mullet

Shane Archbold has been a surprise standout for New Zealand at this year’s Tour de France. He talks to Joseph Harper about what life’s like inside the peloton, and how to keep your hair clean while competing in the world’s most gruelling race.

The New Zealanders have had a mixed bag so far at this year’s Tour de France. Our veteran hand, Greg Henderson, is again riding leadout for Lotto Soudal, but their sprinter, Andre Greipel, has failed to fire. LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nelsonian, George Bennett, has had a better go of it. Bennett showed great climbing nous and finished an impressive 7th on stage nine. He even managed to Lomu over a spectator. He’ll have a few more chances to stretch his legs when the Tour hits the alps over the rest of the course.

Timaru debutante, Shane Archbold AKA The Flying Mullet, is also racing. The former Commonwealth Games gold medalist rides leadout for Ireland’s Sam Bennett. Bennett suffered a disgusting sounding injury on the first stage, so Archbold has been shepherding him through thus far. It did allow him to go rogue though and Archbold managed to finish in the top ten on stage six after his own sprinting effort. I spoke to Shane on the Tour rest day in Andorra.

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Joseph Harper: G’day Shane, how’s it going? How’s your rest day been?

Shane Archbold: Aw it’s been OK. Haven’t had much rest yet to be honest. Bit of a train. Bit of a lunch. Few media things to do. Might get a couple hours in bed this afternoon to watch a movie.

JH: Is that standard downtime for you? Watching movies and stuff?

SA: Yeah I guess. Haven’t had much time in the last few months to do that kind of stuff. Be nice to have a moment or two to do nothing, that’s for sure.

JH: Congratulations on the top ten placing the other day. Terrific effort. How are you feeling going into the second week?

SA: I’m pretty tired obviously. Been a pretty hard nine days on the body. Had about fifty hours worth of riding. Second week’s going to be interesting. Tomorrow’s a pretty rude start to the day. Directly uphill for 20 k out of Andorra so it’s gonna test the legs. It just like I said at the start of the tour: take on each day and just keep chipping on.

JH: Coming from a track cycling background, these mountains must be a pretty weird transition for you. How’s that been?

SA: There’s only one bit of comparison, and that’s the sitting on a bike. There’s no comparison between riding an omnium or whatever for New Zealand. It’s a whole ‘nother level. So far the mountains haven’t been too bad for me. I’ve been able to avoid having a bad day yet. But all the other New Zealanders who have Grand Tour experience, they all tell me no matter what, you’re gonna wake up and just have a really bad day sometime and you just gotta get through it, so I’m just sorta dreading when that day comes. Hopefully that day’s a slow day for the rest of the race. Just make sure I get to Paris. But until then I’ll just suffer as much as I can through the mountains.

JH: Is that your goal here? Getting to the end of the Tour?

SA: Yeah for sure. The goal from the start was to see my teammate [Sam Bennett – Bora Argon Sprinter] win a stage. That’s why I’m here, to help him. But he obviously had a very bad crash on the first day so he’s still recovering. He’s on antibiotics and got some stitches in his hand but he’s getting better now. With this rest day, hopefully he’s back into it tomorrow and we can get into it.

The only personal goal, it wasn’t to get a top ten or anything. It was just to get to Paris.

SHANE'S HAIR (PICTURED) WATERFALLS GENTLY TOWARD THE EARTH. PHOTO: GETTY

SHANE’S HAIR (PICTURED) WATERFALLS GENTLY TOWARD THE EARTH

JH: It looked pretty rough. What actually happened to Sam?

SA: Aw he just got caught up in a crash. There was a crash in front of him and he rode into it. Going 70k an hour it’s a split-second decision. He didn’t even have time to make a decision, let alone avoid it. It was just right in front of him. A guy clipped a barrier and down he went. Just part of the sport though. Touch wood I’m not gonna have a similar thing happen to me this week. It’s part of it though. You just gotta keep on trucking on.

JH: Does his injury change your objectives or your team’s objectives here?

SA: Um, they definitely did early on. He was unable to sprint so it gave me the chance to put my hand up and have a crack. Haven’t had too many chances in the team for the last two years just to sprint for myself, let alone do it here in the hardest race in the world. So I was sort of a fish outta water. But I tried my best to adapt. I suppose getting a top 10 shows I’m not too far off the pace and with a bit of work individually I could get a result here. But that’s not my job here. My job is to help Sam and see him get across the line first.

JH: Is that ultimately your ambition? To be mixing it up in the sprints?

SA: Nah I have no ambitions like that at this point. I’m just happy to be a workhorse. I don’t mind pressure and stress but right now I’m just happy to be doing my job. Going to work. I enjoy that more. I enjoy the leadout role.

On the other hand, it’s always nice to have a go for yourself. See what’s possible.

JH: How do your responsibilities change when you get into these mountain stages? Are you still just looking after Sam, or is it more you guys working together to get through?

SA: Yeah 100 percent. I’ve still gotta stay close enough to him. He’s had some bad days with his and hand and the antibiotics and obviously there’s a decent size bunch at the back the race and if you get dropped too far there’s always a chance of missing the time cut, and that’s when things become really dangerous. So I’ve just gotta keep him in the group and keep him motivated and within time cut. He’s doing six hours a day and his body’s still recovering so I’ve gotta make sure I keep him watered and fed and inside that time limit.

JH: What are you guys eating and drinking when you go grab your lunch bag from the team car?

SA: I always ask for a cold Export [Gold], but I never get it. Not quite sure what that is. Few days ago we did about 180 k’s, so it wasn’t a super long day. But I reckon I put away like 15 bottles. Mostly just water but a few of those sports drinks the physios whip up. Food-wise, we pretty much live off rice cakes. Obviously protein bars, but mostly it’s rice cakes cos they’re easier to digest. Every day we get a sweet and a savoury rice cake made by the team chef. Like one day might be chocolate and banana. Just bits of choccy and banana frozen and chucked in a square of rice cake. The other day we actually had a haribo one. It was like, jelly beans in the rice which was nice. The savoury ones could be a bit of cheese or a bit of ham. Cinnamon. Maybe something like peanut butter. I’d eat like 10 of them. We have sports gels and that but on days where it’s like 30 degrees, you can’t consume heaps of gels cos it turns the old stomach inside out.

JH: What’s the feeling at the moment in the peloton? Peter Sagan had a few choice words about the atmosphere and maybe a lack of order or respect. What’s it like from your perspective?

PETER SAGAN. PHOTO: GETTY

PETER SAGAN. PHOTO: GETTY

SA: Nah if you look at the second or third stage of the Tour for the last 25 years or whatever, the bigger names are always gonna say, ‘It’s so dangerous. It’s so rough.’ I mean, it’s the Tour de France. Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to compete. And then, some guys know what they’re doing in there, but then you chuck someone like me in there who’s got no idea what he’s doing and it’s always gonna end up dangerous. It is stressful. It took about four days for the stress to go out of the bunch and get a bit more relaxed. Then once you start in the mountains though it’s the same thing again. Everyone’s got a job to do and generally wants to be in the same place. But there’s only room for 10 riders, not 190 so y’know. It creates problems. I think the stress is coming out of the peloton now though. Everyone’s getting a bit tireder. Guys are finding their positions a bit easier.

JH: Do you have any techniques or tricks to help you power through in the Alps?

SA: For me it’s pretty basic. I just literally switch of completely. I just latch onto someone I reckon I can stick to and that might still be there at the top and just stick with them. I don’t have any real tactics. It’s pretty much just suffer for as long as possible. You only want to go within 2% of your red zone y’know? You don’t want to go over your limit, cos if you go over your limit, it might take you four days to recover from that. You just stay at 98% and keep chipping on. You just find the limit and stick to it.

JH: I was wondering how you manage to keep you hair clean on a long stage race? It’s gotta be getting pretty disgusting under that helmet on these sweltering days?

SA: It’s funny actually. There’s an athlete’s village before each start that you can take family members or friends into. It’s like away from the general public. And they have a hairdresser in there and coffee stands and food and that. I went up to the girl who is the barber in there and asked her if I could trust her with my hair. She sort of looked at me, looked at the hair, looked up and down and said, ‘I don’t think we can make it look any worse.’ So I took that as a positive. Haven’t trusted her with the chop though.

JH: Do you get any comments from any of the more conservative members of the peloton?

SA: Oh yeah for sure. A few smart arse remarks going about definitely. But it’s all part of the banter. There’s always a bit of good banter in the gruppetto (the bunch that rides behind the peloton at the back of a race). Always good for a laugh back there. They’re all good sorts. Plenty of rascals, that’s for sure.

JH: I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours that [world champion] Peter Sagan might be joining your team next season. Is that something that excites you?

SA: Yeah I mean it’s all pretty rumours and speculation at the moment. I haven’t heard anything from the team. Transfer season’s obviously not till next month. But if that was to happen it could open up some really good opportunities for me. He’s one of the best classics and all-round riders in the world so my job might get a whole lot more serious. Could mean a lot more prize money in the kitty that’s for sure. But for now it’s just about getting through this race and this season. Find out about that stuff later.

JH: You wouldn’t be worried about losing the ‘Best Hair on Bora’ title to Peter?

SA: Aw nah mate, he knows. Don’t worry bout it. He knows.  

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If you’re planning on going sleepless at any point during this year’s tour, tonight’s stage is a good option. Stage 12 sees the peloton move up Mont Ventoux, that hallowed, hellish climb which literally killed a rider. Chris Froome and Sky are in the catbird seat, but if there was ever a time for Nairo Quintana to show us what he’s made of, this is it.

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