By Zack Vestal
Tour stages tend to follow a pretty established routine at the start.
Riders arrive in team busses, which park in a fenced-off paddock with direct access to the start line. Bikes, both those that will be used in the race and spares, arrive on the roof racks of team cars. There are usually four or five team vehicles in total. The mechanics who ride in the team cars with spare wheels are on hand at the start, but the trucks with most of the spare parts, wheels, and shop supplies drive directly to the team hotel at the stage finish.
Race bikes that arrive at the stage start on team cars are prepped and ready to roll. Since most bikes had been washed and tuned up the night before, mechanics typically have little to do except take them down, line them up and ensure nothing happens to them until the riders pedal away on them.
However, Thursday’s stage offered a bit of a break from the normal routine for at least one team mechanic on the Ag2r-La Mondial team.
The start of stage six in Girona was cloudy, but dry. But when word filtered through the team parking area that heavy rain was forecast for the roads ahead and into the finish in Barcelona, at least rider requested a last minute wheel change to accommodate the weather.
Vladimir Efimkin, for one, elected to change from the all-carbon Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimate wheels with tubular tires to Cosmic Carbone SLR wheels with clinchers. The main reason was for improved brake performance, as the latter models feature an aluminum braking surface.
Along with the wheel change, mechanics had to change the brake pads from yellow Swiss Stop (carbon compatible) to what looked like Kool Stop dual compound pads for aluminum rims and wet weather.
Given that the whole episode transpired about 15 minutes before the start, you can imagine the mechanics were working quickly, but they got Efimkin set and ready to go in the nick of time. One more example of how these guys are prepared for every eventuality, both on course and off.