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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at email@example.com, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.
Q, Hi Nick!
I’m nine years old and love to go on bike rides with my Dad and just started watching races on TV. I was wondering how the teams get their team cars, equipment vans and team buses to the overseas races like the one in Australia. Do they ship them over, or do they get cars and trucks from the town they’re racing in?
— Andy Thole
That’s a good question. As big an inconvenience as it is, we pack up all the bikes, wheels and supplies and ship and fly over with them. At races like the Tour Down Under or Tour of Qatar the race organization provides the teams with cars and often a minivan. At both of those races, we stay in the same hotel everyday, so there is no need for a truck for transfers.
When we arrive the race organizer picks us up at the airport. Usually a bus will take the riders and their bags directly to the hotel. Mechanics usually hitch a ride in a truck that the race organizer will hire for the bike bags, wheel bags, coolers, and boxes of spare parts.
Instead of working out of our team truck, at Tour Down Under and the Tour of Qatar there are huge tents where all the teams have a booth to work and store bikes. There is round-the-clock security and you need a race credential to get in. That way we don’t have to worry about theft.
Tour of Qatar is similar to Down Under, but instead of cars they supply small pick up trucks with bizarre racks for the bikes where wing-nuts hold the front forks.
At Tour of Langkawi, the race provides cars and drivers for them. When we transfer from one hotel to the next we get to play tourist and take photos of the countryside. We always gave presents to our drivers so they would go a bit faster and we could arrive before the other teams!
So, to answer your question quickly, we get cars and vans wherever we go and make do the best we can.
During this past Tour, I read that Alberto Contador’s chain lube was a two-step process. First light oil was applied and then sealed in with a layer of grease on the outer surfaces. How common is this? What kind of chain lubes/combos are most common in the peloton? How variable is lube preference between teams and conditions (rain, sun, cobbles, mud, dusty …)? Who ultimately decides what type of lube goes on? I imagine there may be sponsorships, rider preference and mechanic preference all playing into a potentially interesting dynamic.
— Brad Nelson
Lube. Man, I get a lot of questions about chain lube! But then that makes sense. Keeping a drivetrain clean and properly lubed is one of the least expensive ways to improve a bicycle.
Contador’s mechanic is not alone in his two-step process. It is a good one, especially in wet conditions. The idea is that the grease keeps the lighter oil on the chains rollers where it needs to be. You’ll see a lot of team mechanics doing this, especially at the classics where weather turns quickly and the races are long. I’ve used it many times and the method accomplishes two things very well.
One: The chain stays quiet over a long wet race. When weather has come in unexpectedly, I’ve had riders come back to the team car for more chain lube mid-stage but never after we greased chains.
Two: The chain, derailleurs cassette and crank are absolutely filthy. Without a doubt washing the bike takes longer. Grease will accumulate in nooks and crannies and can be difficult to remove.
While a good lube method for very long, very wet pro races, I do NOT recommend it for most riders. It is simply unnecessary for most rides. How often do you go for a seven-hour ride in the rain? If you do, have your head checked instead of worrying about chain lube!
Team mechanics vary lube by length of race and conditions. A six-kilometer prologue in the rain doesn’t require much lube. Neither does a cool, dry 150-kilometer stage. I’m a fan of wet lubes for most conditions, but that’s a product of daily bike washes. More recently I’ve used dry lubes on my personal bikes and really liked it.
It is ultimately up to the mechanic to decide on the lube of the day. Riders rarely complain unless they are getting a lot of noise out of their drivetrain. I always try to stay sponsor-correct whenever I can. Many mechanics have preferences and will hide their personal lube and put sponsor items on display, but this is rare. Many brands in Europe are not readily available here. Morgan Blue and Sapim lubes are popular, so is Motorex (which is now imported and I’m testing it).
Best scenario though is when the head mechanic can seek out lube sponsors. That way everything stays kosher.
How many different gearing options do you carry around for the grand tours? I imagine that the gearing provided for a flat stage would be different from a stage in the Alps. Do the riders often come up and request a gearing change or even ask to be put onto a compact crank for a course with a hill top finish?
– Anthony Lagunay
For a grand tour we’ll carry every gearing option that a manufacturer makes available to a pro team. This means that we’ll have chainrings ranging from 33 (T.A. Specialites makes them though they are rare) to 55 teeth and most in between. Normally road bike will have 53×39 rings. Time trial bikes often have 54×42 rings, though this changes a lot.
Compact cranks are sometimes used, usually with 52×36 chainrings. Sprinters will sometimes request them to keep the legs spinning in the grupetto. Otherwise it takes a very special climb like the Angliru in the Vuelta or the Plan de Corones or Zoncolan in the Giro for a team to use them. They are almost never used in the Tour.
For cassettes, a team will typically carry 11×21, 11×23, 11×25 (or 26 depending on manufacturer) 11×28 (or 29). With the advent of ten-speed mountain bike groups, Shimano and SRAM teams now have lots of options for low gearing.
Another item that more and more teams are using, especially when low gearing is used are anti-chain drop devices, from Rotor, K-Edge or 3rd Eye. They offer light, inexpensive insurance against dropped chains.
I was just reading your article on VeloNews today and you said “Bontrager buys Lightweight disks for RadioShack and now Leopard-Trek and stickers them with huge Bontrager logos.” Are you saying that the aero wheels we are seeing with Bontrager all over them are actually CarbonSports Lightweights? Isn’t that a bit of a bait-and-switch on Bontragers part?
— Gibbs Tolsdorf
Maybe I should have been clearer. Bontrager only buys disks from Lightweight for their sponsored teams. The deep section wheels you see are Bontrager products. Trek has never made it a secret that they provide disks that are not made in-house. Because Bontrager purchases the disks, they can do what they like with the wheels before giving them to the teams. There is nothing inappropriate in applying their logos to the Lightweight disks.