Andy Ash had been to France in 1997 and wanted to return at some point. He never imagined his next trip to the country — home to world-famous wine and cycling — would be like this.
Ash, from Mission, was the winner of Cannondale Bicycle Corporation’s second annual Backstage at the Tour Contest. He recently returned home after spending four days with Team Liquigas-Cannondale as part of the premier cycling team’s support staff during the Tour de France.
As an avid cyclist, winning Cannondale’s contest — which also meant receiving Tour Magazine’s “Best Bike in the World,” the Cannondale Super Six EVO — was a dream come true for Ash.
“(Going back to France) was kind of just a bucket-list thing that I hoped to do later in life,” said Ash, a 39-year-old father of two. “I always hoped to go back as a spectator back while the Tour was going on, but this was something else.”
While with Team Liquigas-Cannondale, Ash pitched a hand wherever he was needed. From washing team bikes and vans to setting out the bikes in the morning, straightening the cranks and pedals, he was a regular member of the crew.
“They were very gracious and welcoming,” Ash said. “They made me feel like I was one of them as opposed to being more of a fly on the wall.”
Michael De Leon, the senior manager of global public relations for Cycling Sports Group — which includes Cannondale, among other brands — helped select Ash as the contest’s winner. Having spent time in France with Team Liquigas-Cannondale, he said Ash displayed the exact passion and enthusiasm for cycling that they had hoped for from their winner.
“The wonderful thing about our brand and our team is that we have kind of a family dynamic where we’re all doing the same thing and sharing the same passion,” De Leon said. “Andy fit in from the start.”
The contest was composed of an entry round with five questions and a second round where 25 finalists created short videos to allow the selection committee to get to know the person behind those entry-round answers.
Ash, who rides locally with Mid-America Pathology Laboratory (MAPL) Elite and participates in a “Tuesday Night Worlds” ride each week, said he believed he had a chance to win the contest from the get-go.
“I kept telling my wife, ‘I’m going to win it. How should we plan for this?’ and she kind of shrugged it off,” Ash said. “But somehow I thought that it was cut out for me and that I was the right guy.”
On June 26, he received an email, followed by a phone call, telling him that he in fact was the right guy and would be departing for France in just over a week.
“I kinda went numb. I kinda got tunnel vision because I could tell from the subject line that I had won,” Ash said. “It was a really pretty surreal experience.”
Despite having few details of his itinerary and what he would actually be doing abroad, he left July 6 “with a smile on (his) face and ready to enjoy the week.”
Ash flew into Paris on July 6 and then went to Metz, the finish town of Stage Six, to meet up with the team. And Team Liquigas-Cannondale was in good spirits that night as one of its riders, Pete Sagan of Slovakia, won his third stage of the opening week earlier that day.
The team, Ash included, celebrated together with a five-course meal and a toast of champagne.
According to De Leon, “A win for the riders is really a win for the entire team.”
Throughout the trip, Ash twice rode in a team van to follow stages up close and watched another stage from the team bus. He said the intensity of the race left him speechless.
“Knowing what was at stake, that was pretty amazing,” Ash said. “Everybody’s ridden a bike, and so they can appreciate the effort and sacrifice that it takes.”
He spent his final day, July 10, cruising the streets of Paris on a bike, of course, before returning home to Kansas. Nonchalantly riding along the Champs-Élysées wasn’t quite the Tour de France, but Ash enjoyed the opportunity to sightsee and eat dinner at the Eiffel Tower.
Now, with five stages remaining, he said he’s closely following Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, who’s currently in fourth place overall, and the rest of Team Liquigas-Cannondale — the team he was once a part of, albeit for a short time.
“The whole experience was unbelievable,” Ash said. “It just kept going and going and I thought, ‘When is this going to end? It’s like a dream.’”
No longer a dream, it’s now a dream come true.