Ever ridden back from a training ride and found yourself on the receiving end of some good-natured banter from Paris-Nice winner, Richie Porte?
Ridden the course of the world road race championships with Team GB and called on Steve Cummings for a push up the hills? Been asked to wait by Bradley Wiggins while he nips back inside the Team Sky bus to give you a Tour de France yellow jersey he’s signed earlier, expecting that you might drop by?
The rewards of being a ‘super fan’ are impressive, but the hours are long, and the commute is enormous – about 16,000km a year. For Rusty and Kay Morris, however, supporting Team Sky isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle – a retirement plan that takes in the biggest races in cycling and has won them friends across Europe.
On The Road
The couple spend little time at their home in the West Country, choosing instead to spend between six and eight months of the year in a camper van carrying two road bikes and a continually updated collection of custom-made banners to show their support for the only British team in cycling’s elite WorldTour. Their friends are couples from across Europe on similar missions. Oh, and Sky Pro Cycling.
“All in all, we’re living the dream,” Rusty tells RoadCyclingUK. “I hope it lasts a long time.”
The dream began about a decade-and-a-half ago when the couple began visiting the biggest races on the European calendar. A “good first cat” rider in his youth, and a respected competitor to the likes of Phil Griffiths and Phil Edwards, Rusty returned to cycling over 20 years ago and hasn’t looked back.
Bradley went back into the team bus and came out with a yellow jersey signed, ‘To Rusty, thanks for your support’. That was a bit special.
His wife, Kay, who at 65 has only recently called time on an annual ascent of Mont Ventoux, is an equally fanatical supporter and a keen amateur photographer to boot. Team Sky’s publication of “Rusty and Kay’s Galleries” began a close relationship with the British team that started almost from the its inception. “Sky came along in 2010,” says Rusty, “and it was natural that we hung our hats there.”
Rolling out for their first Classics campaign three years ago, the riders in black and blue passed what would become the first editions of an impressive collection of banners. Wiggins, Juan Antonio Flecha, even Dave Brailsford have been immortalized on a 13’ x 4’ swathe of vinyl proudly erected at the roadside by Rusty and Kay.
Banter with Bradley
The latest edition, a banner made to support Wiggins at the Tour de France, could yet be unfurled at the Vuelta a Espana, should the Londoner contest the Spanish national tour. It is telling that the couple are quite prepared to shape their travel plans around Wiggins’ race programme, driving across Europe to shout their encouragement.
“We’ve built a relationship with Bradley and we’ve had a bit of banter over the years,” Rusty explains. He describes a meeting with the then Tour champion elect to sign some route arrows. “After signing the arrows, Bradley went back into the team bus, because he was just getting ready to go out on his bike, and came out with a yellow jersey signed, ‘To Rusty, thanks for your support’.
“That was a bit special. He made sure I knew it was one he had worn and not the ceremonial one he’d been presented with.”
Receiving a signed yellow jersey from a British rider is perhaps the high point of a 15-year annual pilgrimage to cycling’s greatest race, but like the riders, the Tour de France is far from the only event on Rusty and Kay’s programme. Their “season” began this year with a complete spring Classics programme, beginning with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, before heading to Italy and the Giro d’Italia in May, and to the French Alps in June for the Criterium du Dauphine.
He sounds almost apologetic that they didn’t drive from south east France to Switzerland for the Tour de Suisse, but will be back on duty at the Tour de France, where for the second time in two years the sole British team contesting the race will start as favourites to win.
Steve Cummings, Team GB, and other ‘great guys’
The couple’s support extends to the Great Britain team. They were present when Wiggins, Froome, Thomas, Cummings and co. launched Mark Cavendish into the final metres of the 2011 world road race championships. The Manx Missile, of course, finished the job and pulled on the rainbow jersey.
Copenhagen represented the final stop on another demanding season for the couple, who had begun their “campaign” seven months earlier in Portugal at the Volta ao Algarve.
For a ‘superfan’, an opportunity to pedal the course with the riders is not to be missed. Shane Sutton, out on a ride to recce the circuit, told Rusty when “Bradley and the boys” would be out for their own pre-race assessment.
“I waited with the kit on and jumped in with them,” he recalls. “I did a couple of laps of the world’s circuit with Steve Cummings pushing me. Every time the road went up, I turned to Steve and said, ‘Come on, Steve, I need a shove’. He’s a great guy.”
Rusty and Kay had travelled to Denmark to cheer on Wiggins in the time trial. As he spotted them en route to the medalists’ waiting area, he stepped out of the carefully chaperoned line to snatch a word with the couple and thank them for their support.
Wiggins’ absence from the hundredth Tour de France will not alter their support for Team Sky. When we speak, over a remarkably clear line to France, Rusty and Kay have arrived at Embrun for a recce of the stage 17 time trial – “a hell of a course,” according to Rusty, and one he believes will suit Team Sky’s leader for this year’s race, Chris Froome.
The Kenyan-born Brit, his team-mates and their boss are well-known to Rusty, as he is to them. “I’d been out with a Belgian friend and we were just coming back over the Mur de Huy at Flèche Wallonne. Richie Porte came flying by, spotted me, and started giving me some lip. The next thing, Dave Brailsford was leaning out the car, shouting at me,” says Rusty, laughing at the recollection.
I did a couple of laps of the world’s circuit with Steve Cummings pushing me. Every time the road went up, I turned to Steve and said, ‘Come on, Steve, I need a shove’
Next month might offer a second opportunity in two years to cheer a British rider in Sky colours to victory. Froome’s progress to Paris will be subject to all the variables of a three-week bike race contested on the grandest scale. We know that he will have three Brits riding in support and another two on the other side of the barrier, cheering him through every pedal stroke. “The professional racing scene and following Team Sky in particular gives us a good purpose in life on the road,” says Rusty, “and an opportunity to meet like minded people of all nationalities.”