Most professional bike riders spend more than 100 nights per year in hotel rooms, the shuffle between lobby, buffet, elevator becoming an act of muscle memory no matter the location. In Belgium, however, Bahrain Victorious are doing things a little differently.
“We have this big house, where we all just hang out,” Heinrich Haussler told Cycling News last week. “It’s amazing.”
Interest piqued, we sent photographer Chris Auld to check it out and capture some shots of the Bahrain Victorious riders in this more natural of habitats, which you can see in the gallery above.
Nestled in Zwevegem, amid farmhouse and open fields east of Kortrijk, lies this futuristic rectangular box with its burnt orange facade, licks of black, and huge glass panels that let light pour through from one side to the other.
Inside: sleeping quarters for the Bahrain Victorious squad of cobbled Classics riders, plus a few staff, along with a Playstation, table football, pool table, and more coffee machines than they could possibly need.
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The team are staying in the house before and after the Tour of Flanders.
There is a greater good here beyond simply having access to the coolest toys. If these things are a distraction, then they are a welcome one from the monotony of hotel life. The riders can live a little more comfortably but also more interestingly.
Hotel common areas are sterile at the best of times but in COVID-19 times they’re literally anything but, which leads riders back into their own hotel rooms and back in on themselves. A shared house, however, is more of a shared experience. There is a lower risk of catching COVID-19, with no need to wear marks or social distance because riders and staff are part of a protective bubble.
“Me and the team bosses had the idea of staying in the villa, being more together, creating that team atmosphere, and trying to build something special,” said Haussler.
“I had this in the past with one team, but a lot of our guys are super young. I say to them ‘guys, what we have now is not normal’. It’s hard to create a team. But it’s already coming up here, we’re in the airplane at the airport. It’s a good bunch of guys and at the moment it’s something special. I think it will be represented in the way we race.”
The riders almost have the run of the place, with chefs and a couple of support staff on site but the management and coaching staff staying elsewhere. With that greater freedom comes greater responsibility.
“It’s about bringing us together but also learning, respecting things, saying please, saying thank you, taking stuff to the dishwasher, cleaning up after yourself, keeping the house tidy. These are just basic values – the great values that will also help us in later life,” Haussler said.
“The guys bring their coffee, we fire-up the playstation, we have a big dinner, we sit together and talk, then we watch Netflix and stuff.
“It’s strange, because there are guys who came into the team who you didn’t have much contact with at the beginning, but you get to know their story – where they come from, their family, how they started cycling. You get to know the person properly, not just as a teammate.”
In an apt analogy, Haussler concludes: “It’s easy to build a house but not a home.”