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Crashes and punctures are impossible to avoid, but every other mechanical problem is one that is ideally avoided by good preparation and meticulous attention to detail.
Kurt Roose is one of four mechanics working this week with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, and after one final check over the bikes Saturday evening, he hopes to get in a good night’s sleep before Sunday’s big battle at De Ronde.
“Of course, when the team wins, you are super happy. Victory is the focus of everyone in the organization,” Roose told VeloNews in a quick break Saturday. “For the mechanics, when there are no issues during the race then that’s a very good day for us.”
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Roose is one of the key mechanics at the Belgian classics powerhouse. He’s been a top mechanic for nearly three decades, and joined Patrick Lefevere’s team 21 years ago.
The Belgian mechanic has had a front-row seat to victories from Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen, to major innovations from disc brakes to carbon-fiber wheels.
“The last 20 years the bikes have changed 120 percent,” Roose said. “We started with steel bikes, then aluminum, and now it’s full carbon. The derailleurs have gone from 10 to 11 to 12, to full electric and wireless, from tubular to clinchers to tubeless. From steel and aluminum wheels to full carbon-fiber wheels.
“Everything changed so much,” he said. “The cobbles and the hills are the same.”
Preparing for the classics: ‘It’s like Formula 1 with bicycles’
The shift from steel to carbon-fiber to full integration represents a complete makeover of what the elite pros are racing on, and Roose has seen it all.
“There is so much more engineering and integration that goes into the bikes today. It is like Formula 1 for bicycles,” Roose said in a telephone call. “In the past, we would build the bikes two days before Paris-Roubaix. Today, everything is tested months before and nothing is left to chance.”
Roose said none of the bikes, wheels or other components will be used Sunday at Tour of Flanders or in two weeks at Paris-Roubaix without undergoing rigorous testing weeks, months, and even years in advance.
“When Specialized brings us something to use, they bring the numbers, too,” he said referring to lab testing. “It’s 5 watts faster or 100 grams lighter. The numbers are more important than ever. When the riders see the numbers, they agree faster to the changes.”
The bikes for Flanders will feature the same frames and wheels the team’s been using all spring. All bikes will feature 54/39 and 11-30.
The only significant tweaks will come at Paris-Roubaix, where a slightly different frame that is 1cm longer than its everyday road frame. Those bikes are used once a year for the unique and brutal rigors of Paris-Roubaix.
The team will also use the Future Shock damper that’s been deployed the past two editions of Paris-Roubaix. The team will use a lock-out version that gives 20mm of travel but provides the ability to lock it out when the rider chooses to on paved sections.
For tire choice, the team will race on 26mm tubeless at Flanders, and use 32mm tubeless at Paris-Roubaix. Tire pressure at Roubaix remains an in-house trade secret, with each rider having their preferred pressure, but Roose said the entire team will race on pressure between four and five bars (58 to 72 psi).
Also at Paris-Roubaix, the front 39 ring is swapped out for something bigger, likely a 42 or 43, to give the riders more rotation when battling against headwinds and the cobbles at the “Hell of the North.”
Roose did point out that Flanders team leader Kasper Asgreen prefers to race on 26mm tires instead of the wider option of 28mm, and as a result, the entire team will race on 26mm tires on Sunday at Flanders so that everyone on the squad is on the same setup.
“The leader decides the measurement and all the rest will race the same so there is no confusion later in the race,” he said.
Another big difference is the number of wheels the team has its disposal. Twenty years ago, the team might have 10 to 20 sets for the spring classics, and now the team will have 100 pairs across the monuments.
Disc brakes are the norm already for three years, and Quick-Step doesn’t even have the option to race on rim brakes if a rider wants to. Only a small number of teams in the WorldTour even have rim brake options following the full adaptation of disc brakes across the peloton.
For Sunday, every rider on the team will have one spare bike in the team’s two sport directors cars, with defending champion Asgreen having two spare bikes.
A fleet of VIP cars driven by ex-pros will follow the race at Flanders with extra sets of wheels and bidons to pass up along key climbs and cobblestone sectors.
An intricate plan is already mapped out for Sunday, and the riders and sport directors know where the key spots will be on the course in case of an urgent need for a spare wheel.
Every rider will also have two full sets of wheels at their disposal in the directors’ cars, plus dozens of spare wheels waiting along the side of the road.
Four mechanics for Tour of Flanders at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
Roose is part of a four-mechanic crew working all week to prepare for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
“We have more work than we did 20 years ago,” Roose said. “Before we would come to the hotel on Saturday morning to build the bikes, now we’ve been working on the Flanders bikes starting Thursday.”
In fact, he said the mechanic crew has been at the team hotel since Gent-Wevelgem, and have been working long shifts to keep the classic team well-equipped and running smoothly.
Long gone are the days when tubular tires were hung up in a secret “dark room” to help them harden and age properly for months before being used in racing. Today, tires are taken right out of the box and mounted directly onto the rims.
Pre-built carbon wheels mean less work in one aspect of the job, but the integrated systems and internal cabling create new challenges.
The puzzle never ends, and the hours are always long.
Race day routine for Tour of Flanders:
5:30 a.m. — Wake up call for a long day.
6 a.m. — Breakfast to carbo-load for the mechanics and staffers.
6:30 a.m. — Final morning check-ups and adjustments, cars and vans are loaded up with bikes, wheels, bidons, extra clothing, equipment, and feedbags.
8:15 a.m. — The team rolls out to the start in Antwerp
9:45 a.m. — Final adjustments ahead of sign-in. One mechanic will ride in each of the two team DS cars, two more will be on the route in vans loaded with wheels, water bottles, and extra equipment.
5:15 p.m. — As soon as the race is over, mechanics load all the bikes, and begin cleaning and breaking them down.
8:30 p.m. — Work winds down at the team hotel. Then it’s time to enjoy a meal with the entire team and staff, and if everything went well, some champagne to celebrate a victory or podium.