By Mark Johnson
For back office staff, the weeks leading up to a Pro Tour team’s traditional January training camp are anything but a season of holiday blowouts and coffee rides. To get a sense for the logistical preparation that takes place in advance of the 2010 season, VeloNews visited the Garmin-Transitions service course facility in Girona during the first week in January.
The team’s service course is a central hub; a combination bike shop, storage facility and distribution and logistics center that supplies everything required for a 28-rider ProTour team to wage a ten-month racing campaign. With battles sometimes taking place on three continents in a single day, it’s a mammoth preparatory logistical challenge that requires the rigor and precision of a military supply line.
From the service course facility in an anonymous industrial park on the outskirts of Girona, Garmin-Transitions events and logistics director Louise Donald admits that this time of year, her job is a 24/7 affair. Donald directed logistics for US Postal and Discovery for six years before her current position. The no-nonsense daughter of an English Lakes District farmer works with a staff of some 80 worldwide team employees including Will Frischkorn, who retired as Garmin-Transitions rider last year to take on a logistics role with the team.
“It’s all in the preparation,” Donald observes of the process of keeping a ProTour team going. “My job is to get them there and get them out.” What happens at the race is up to the riders. Using a combination of Intuit QuickBase online databases and Google Docs spreadsheets and calendars, Donald sets up systems that staffers like Frischkorn then use to track everything from car maintenance to travel itineraries, clothing sizes to equipment serial numbers.
For example, team riders get their first distribution of 2010 Pearl Izumi team clothing at the training camp that kicks off at a resort on January 15 in Calpe, Spain. Each rider is issued 12 pairs of bib shorts, and they have a choice of six or seven types of jerseys. In a database, “I have records which track which kinds of jerseys the guys like,” Donald explains. “Whether they like tall socks or regular socks. And they get distributions based on exactly what they like.” The clothing is shipped to Calpe, where it is bagged for each rider according to preferences stored in the database. Recently hired ex-CSC pro Andrea Peron assists and Donald says the Italian’s versatility with five languages helps her negotiate logistics no matter where the team is racing or products are being sourced.
Starting the new year and a new job
On the Monday following the New Year’s weekend, Frischkorn and the team’s aptly named mechanics director Victor Girona meet a steady parade of delivery trucks roaring up to the Girona service course. In the background of the cavernous garage space, the team’s Italian bus driver prods one of the team’s two buses to life and prepares to drive it off for wrapping in 2010 team colors. After 10 days stuck in customs (for reasons lost in Spanish bureaucratic mystery and at a storage cost of 400 euros a day, Frischkorn adds) the team’s first shipment of Felt frames has arrived. So too a towering shipment of 700 Vitoria tubulars and Barcelona-fabricated aluminum boxes the team will use to ship wheels in 2010. As he unwraps the featherweight frames, each with a rider name plate plus custom graphics for the team’s Irish, Canadian, American and Australian national champions, Frischkorn says that they will begin assembling the bikes once hundreds of boxes of electronic Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 components arrive later that day. The mechanics had already get a good start on the sticky process of gluing tires to the 200 carbon fiber wheel sets already shipped to the team from new 2010 sponsor Mavic.
Over the next 10 days and under heat lamps borrowed from a Girona restaurant, the team mechanics will assemble 100 bikes in a process that goes on late into the cold Girona nights. For racing, each rider is issued two Felt road bikes and a time trial bike. They keep a 2009 bike at home for training. The team’s two trucks then deliver the bikes to the training camp where final adjustments are made.
The mechanics assemble the bikes within reach of laptops linked into a Google Docs spreadsheet that tracks everything from inseam length to seat height to crank length. This system both eliminates guesswork and speeds the bike-building process. New riders will be fitted to their bikes at the Calpe camp and their dimensions entered into the database. Should a rider need a new bike while racing far from Girona, the rider does not have the burden of trying to remember his bike size details – -they are always available to any mechanic with a smart phone.
200 tubes of chamois cream
The Girona service course staff is also charged with making sure the soigneurs are equipped to keep riders healthy and fueled when the season hits the ground. To that end, in January service course orders, receives, and tracks 30,000 Clif bars, gels and blocks. On top of that, nearly 700 pounds of energy drink mix, 200 tubes of DZ Nuts chamois cream, 2,500 feed bags and 22,000 CamelBak bottles pass through the big roll-up doors, which are secured by both an alarm system and 24-hour video security cameras.
Getting 28 riders outfitted for a season is complicated by the fact that both sponsor and rider contracts are often under negotiation in January. For example, as of early January, Garmin-Transitions was exploring sponsorships with several auto manufacturers, which means the team will start the season using the same six Skoda autos used in 2009. “An incredibly small amount of cars to run a professional team on,” Donald observes, pointing out that Radio Shack will start the 2010 season with 22 cars. In January the Skodas are wrapped with team colors and sponsor logos by a local Girona company–the team spends some $40,000 annually applying graphics to its vehicles–that will last through the spring classics. By April they will either use a new fleet of sponsor-supplied autos, or purchase or lease more Skodas. Bike racks are another complicating variable that has to be managed before the season starts. “The best bike rack builder in the world is in the Basque Country,” Donald explains. Given that each rack costs nearly $3,000 and is custom designed to each car, ordering new ones takes planning, time and money.
Nearly 70 riders and staffers will be at the Calpe camp. In addition to getting all these bodies to Spain from their worldwide Christmas holiday locations, the service course staff is responsible for booking travel for riders and staff throughout the season. The process begins with Donald posting a Google Calendar with the annual UCI race schedule as soon as it is available in the winter. From this, team directors Matt White and Jonathan Vaughters create a preliminary schedule of races, including which riders will tentatively race where. Donald then contacts the race organizers with an invitation request. Once races are firmed up and their riders identified, she and her staffers work with a handful of travel agents in Spain and in the US to book tickets and hotels for riders and their support crew. She then publishes a master race calendar available to all riders and staffers and schedules which team vehicles will be where, and when. “I have a visual system so I can see where any vehicle is at any time on the calendar.”
Reflecting on the difference between supporting the team as a rider and as a back office staffer, Frischkorn says “As a rider, it was easy. Everything was taken care of. Everything just appears magically.” Now that he’s making that magic happen, Frischkorn claims the process is far more organized and systematic than he imagined from his rider bubble. “It’s a lot of hustle to make sure everything is in place.”