Feature: Ride along with Skratch Labs Neutral Human Support

Race Coverage Tour of California

Skratch Labs Rice Cake

Rice cakes — both sweet and savory — are a staple of the Skratch program.

The only downside of the Skratch philosophy of nutrition is the work that goes in ahead of time. In order to prepare for each day’s stage, Lim, his cooking collaborator and master chef Biju Thomas, and their 14-person crew must fire up the rice cooker at 4 a.m. each day. The projected numbers consumed during the course of the race are staggering: 1,200 pounds of drink mix, 285 pounds of rice, 45 pounds of bacon and 6,600 rice cake wrapping sheets. In addition to rice cakes, Skratch also supplied riders with burritos, rice and eggs and oatmeal, especially during the stage 2 time Trial. Outside of racing, Skratch is also making team meals at hotels and post-stage recovery meals.

The chore of having to actually cook rice cakes might be too much of a turn-off for some individuals, but Duggan puts it into perspective.

“Nothing about being a serious athlete is easy,” he said. “It takes some initial effort, but like anything, you figure it out and it becomes pretty easy to cook a week’s worth of rice cakes to carry on the bike.”

In addition to helping Duggan learn how to cook simple fuel for riding, the Skratch philosophy that’s spelled out in Feed Zone Portables – a cookbook written by Lim and Thomas – also opened his mind to cooking on a larger scale. His knowledge of cooking has expanded, having a positive influence on his nutrition in general.

Why did Duggan retire?

“I had enough,” he explained. “After recovering from a broken leg last year, every day on the bike felt miserable. It was time to move on.”

Jerel Schomer

Jerel Schomer is a veteran driver of the Tour of California race caravan.

As Duggan and I talked rice cookers and life as a retired bike racer, our driver Jerel Schomer – a six-year Tour of California caravan veteran – deftly maneuvered the Subaru down the winding descent on Highway 49 to the American River. After having driven several commissar vehicles over the years, driving the Skratch Labs Neutral Human Support vehicle was an entirely new assignment.

“Nothing like this has been done before, so we’re just feeling it out, trying to determine where we fit into the whole parade of vehicles,” said Schomer.

The biggest challenge for Schomer? “Staying focused on what’s directly in front of you all day while still driving out of your rearview mirrors,” he said. “There’s so much that can be going on, you don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who either crashes into another vehicle, or worse, takes out a rider.”

Most of the day we sat off the front of the six-man breakaway that lasted for nearly 90 of 120 miles. The Skratch moto would occasionally pull up, and Duggan would reload the moto with water bottles and food. The moto would drop back and feed the riders in the break. As far as action, that’s about as much as we got.

With 15 miles to go, the peloton had just about reeled in all breakaway efforts. There were nine riders off the back, so Tim suggested we fall back and feed the poor, wind-whipped souls who had been long dropped. Every one of the riders who rolled by took a bottle, and we zipped back up the road to catch the finishing 3-kilometer circuit around downtown Sacramento.

Rider Feed

Once a top level pro racer, Duggan is now taking care of those in need.

Although on this particular day riders didn’t take many neutral hand-ups, all I could think about was how crucial Neutral Human Support would have been last year during the Murrieta to Palm Springs stage where temperatures soared above 120 degrees. On that day, eight-time Tour of California rider Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis Hagens Berman), who was in a breakaway most of the stage, said he went through nearly 50 bottles. That alone is justification for this new program. Check out the video below to learn about what Skratch is up to between stages.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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