"If you gel your hands, you can all go and have a look," Dave Brailsford said at Team Sky's rest day press conference on the outskirts of Civitanova Marche. And with that, a group of the great unwashed from the Giro d'Italia's press corps trooped aboard the most talked about motorhome in Italy.
Team Sky's decision to dispense with a century's worth of convention and have Richie Porte sleep aboard an RV each night during the Giro rather than stay in a succession of hotels with the rest of his teammates has provoked considerable interest since the race left Sanremo on May 9.
In a bid, perhaps, to offset aspersions of the kind cast by Mario Cipollini during his appearance on RAI television's Processo alla Tappa show in midweek, the team decided to open the door of Porte's RV to the press on Monday afternoon – though only after a health and safety warning from Brailsford himself.
"The one thing I'm worried about is if any of you have a cold and you put your hand on the door to open it, and then Richie comes in and opens his door, then he'll get sick. There's a gel by the door, so if you gel your hands, you can all go and have a look. There's no issue, there's nothing to hide in there," Brailsford said, before acknowledging the absurdity of the scenario. "Christ, it's just a caravan at the end of the day."
Porte's home for these three weeks is a black and grey Fleetwood Excursion 39R, rented for the occasion by Team Sky. When journalists stepped aboard – their hands now wiped – they found a meticulously tidy anteroom complete with couch, desk, fridge and mini-kitchen, with a bedroom at the rear of the RV. More or less what it said on the tin – or rather, what it said in the Fleetwood brochure.
During Porte's press conference, a reporter had asked whether his isolation from the rest of the Sky squad might risk upset the social dynamic of the team. Before Porte could respond, however, Brailsford interjected to stress that it had been the team's call to hire the motorhome.
"Ultimately it's as much our decision as Richie's: you have to be very careful here," Brailsford said. "Ultimately the idea of it came from the team, not Richie. It's not as if Richie said 'I want an RV, I want to isolate myself.' You have to be very careful with that."
Brailsford went on to downplay the notion that Porte was isolating himself from his teammates by sleeping in the carpark rather than joining them inside the hotel each night. "The riders eat together, they spend time on the bus together, but when they come back to the hotel, you've got nine riders and one person is on his own. That one person is usually the leader," he said.
"The difference between Richie coming outside here to the RV and being inside that hotel, 200 metres away, is that he would be walking to his room on his own instead of walking outside to this RV on his own. When you break it down this concept of whether it's separates him from the team, it doesn't actually change that much."
Porte's 12-metre long motorhome is similar in size to the smallest team bus on the Giro, that of the Bardiani-CSF squad, and while it exemplifies Sky’s desire to innovate, it also highlights the ample financial gap that continues to develop between the biggest WorldTour teams and the rest.
"We spent the end of last year thinking about how the best team in 2020 will be operating and working backwards from that," Brailsford said, and though he was initially coy about whether the team will use the RV at the Tour de France, he did speculate that "maybe the future of this sport is that you don’t use hotels." He recalled an incident from last week to point to the motorhome's benefits.
"Two nights ago we were in a hotel where there was a birthday party downstairs, and we had to move all of our riders and change their rooms at about 11:30 or 12 o'clock because they were awake because the discotheque – well, I don't know what the modern word is – but the music was pounding away," Brailsford said. "It’s the Giro and you think 'this can't be modern sport.' So you're upstairs moving the riders around but Richie didn't have a clue there was a party going on. Otherwise he might have been in there, which would have been a different problem."
For his part, Porte, who is third overall and just 22 seconds off Alberto Contador's pink jersey, reiterated his earlier description of the motorhome as his "sanctuary" and cited his sound sleeping patterns thus far as proof of the success of the experiment. On Sunday evening, meanwhile, the Tasmanian had made the long transfer north from San Giorgio del Sannio to the Adriatic coast by helicopter, another example of Sky's innovation – and of their resources.
"When I was on Saxo Bank, we used to ride past the Sky guys on rollers thinking 'what a bunch of numpties' and now what team's not on the rollers after the stage?" Porte said. "I think in a few years' time everyone's going to have RVs."
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