The riders in the Tour de France work as hard as any athletes in any sport. The press documents their efforts extensively, all the way down to a given rider’s heart rate and power output.
The mechanics who support them work equally hard but with less fanfare. Indeed, while a stage win or yellow jersey is cause for celebration within the team, it can sometimes mean additional work for the mechanics, in the form of a specially painted tribute bicycle.
We went behind the scenes with one of Team Lampre’s mechanics, Enrico Pengo, with translation assistance from media manager Andrea Appiani. We also got a look at some of Lampre’s Wilier bicycles, including the one ridden by team leader Alessandro Ballan, the world road champion.
Choosing your weapons
In mountain bike racing, the dialogue between rider and mechanic is extensive. The needs of an individual rider on a particular course affect the choice of bike, tires, suspension tuning, gears and in some cases, fork and rear shock.
In road racing — on Team Lampre, in any case — the bike and components stay mostly the same throughout the season.
“The rider can select the wheels for the day. They choose the different wheels — high or low profile, carbon or aluminum,” said Pengo. “When there is bad weather the rider can choose the aluminum wheels with a special tire for the rain.”
If the weather changes during the stage, a rider can switch to a spare bikes while mechanics adapt his main machine to the new conditions, Pengo said.
“If it begins to rain, they change to a spare bike. The rider does part of the race on the spare, while the mechanics change the wheels and brake pads on the main bike,” he said. “Then they change bikes again, back onto the prepared race bike.”
Riders also have a voice in gearing, for climbing vs. flat stages, and choices in bike fit. Typically a rider’s position does not change over the course of a season, but when it comes to maintaining that position, or finding an ideal handlebar, stem, or saddle, mechanics play the role of consultants.
Pengo and the other two mechanics on Team Lampre keep plenty busy during the Tour. Shifter cables and housing are changed three times over the course of the race. The tubular tires and handlebar tape on most bikes get changed every three days — but on the leader’s bike, new tubulars are glued every day.
The daily routine of the race changes little. Pengo described how after breakfast every morning, mechanics inspect and prep the spare bikes before loading them on team cars. The team leader gets two spares. Next come the race bikes and the drive to the stage start.
Two mechanics, one for each team car on course, attend the start and stay with the team cars. “When the riders and mechanics arrive at the start, they check again the tire pressure to ensure there are no problems — no flat tires,” said Pengo. “They also check the gears again, and wait for any last-minute instructions from the riders before the start.”
Meanwhile, a third mechanic drives the team truck ahead to the next hotel and begins work on any major repairs from the previous day. At the end of the day, after the stage, all the team bikes and vehicles are washed, with extra help from the team bus driver.
Lampre’s Wilier bikes
The team’s bikes were freshly assembled the week before the Tour, with new Wilier frames that used lighter carbon fiber than their predecessors.
Wilier Triestina USA confirmed this with a recent press release announcing the Cento1 Superleggera (or “SL”) model. By using more 46-ton carbon, key application of 60-ton carbon, and more specific orientation and placement of both materials, Wilier clipped 130 grams from the original Cento1 frame. Other gram-shavers include a redesigned BB shell and head tube, plus a lighter paint and clearcoat treatment. The frame tubes, sizing, and specifications are all identical to the original Cento1 frame.
Occasionally the team must make adjustments to meet the UCI minimum weight requirement, replacing carbon handlebars with aluminum and titanium pedal spindles with steel.
In addition to the new Cento1 SL road bikes, the team chose another new model from Wilier, the Tri-Crono, for the Tour. Lampre had used the Cento Crono, a pure TT bike with extensive aero profiling, but shifted to the new Tri-Crono for the sake of versatility and adjustability. The Tri-Crono has slightly less aggressive aero-shaped frame sections, an adjustable aero seatpost, and a very short head tube for low handlebar position. Even better, it’s a slightly more affordable frame platform, one that athletes at all levels could potentially use.
All the bikes are painted in Wilier’s blue and white, with Lampre decals, with the exception of Ballan’s machine, which is treated to a custom rainbow-and-gold color scheme. The Lampre team races on Campagnolo Record 11-speed gruppos, Fulcrum wheels, Vittoria tires, Ritchey components and Selle Italia saddles (although some riders choose to use Fizik).