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Road Gear

How the pros prepare for a prologue at the Tour de Romandie

A perusal of the gear and the warm-up methodologies in Lausanne.

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (VN) — It’s only six minutes of pain but somehow a prologue takes all day.

Therefore it’s no surprise that when we arrive almost four hours before the first rider is scheduled to start the 5.1km prologue at the Tour de Romandie that the team buses are already in place.

The road that circles the Stade de la Tuiliere of FC Lausanne-Sport is an organized hive of activity with staff unloading bikes, putting out the home trainers and extending the awnings.

The early morning rain has stopped and a pleasant spring sunshine is breaking through, which means it’s drying up nicely. There’s nothing worse than a wet start to any race but especially when you might have to take a few risks, although this 5.1km test isn’t as overly technical as some of the previous iterations that the Tour de Romandie organizers have come up with over the years.

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There’s a long straight to start then around another older stadium with a bit of a dodgy chicane to wake up the senses. Then it’s back to that original starting straight followed by a series of corners onto Lausanne airport runway where you can, if you have any, lay down some serious power.

Another less dodgy chicane comes next and the final slight downhill into a bend, which if you get it wrong will leave you scared. If the rain we woke up to had persisted then the hoardings approaching the last two bends would definitely have seen some skin being left behind but that’s typical for a professional prologue. It’s not meant to be easy, physically or mentally. It’s a bit of an exam for everyone’s form, skill on a TT machine and commitment.

About 90 minutes before proceedings kick off riders appear. Wrapped up in leg warmers and long sleeve tops, they look slightly strange covered up when the visual association of the TT bike is skinsuits and alien helmets.

For some it’s as much about loosening up after being at Liège-Bastogne-Liège over the weekend as it is checking out the day’s challenge. A couple of laps is enough to figure out what joys await later on, though not many will be thinking of it in those exact terms.

Israel-Premier Tech had warm-up protocols printed out for each rider.

Prologues are quite rare nowadays, short ones like this even less so, which means the specific requirements only suit a few people, yet they’re imposed on everyone.

Depending on where the team is staying then an hour’s ride in the morning might be possible, as much to get some fresh air as it is to remove some travel stiffness from the muscles but if the hotel is in town or, like often in Romandie, it’s grim weather, then you’re on the turbo trainer.

Time trials are always as much about tech as they are about power and so it’s a treat to go round the teams checking on what options are being deployed and if anyone has chosen differently.

The general consensus for chainrings is a scary 56/44, which is what most of the Shimano-equipped squads like Ineos, Groupama-FDJ, Bora-Hansgrohe and EF Education-EasyPost are running, though I did spot a 55/42 on a couple of the German unit’s bikes. They must have been the climbers.

Quick-Step also has a few 55 runners, as do UAE, but then on closer inspection there’s a non-supplier 58/46 hidden away from those who will just cast a brief glance. Don’t go thinking it’s just a big ring and little sprocket everywhere, the dinner-plate sizes are for the chain alignment and minimizing friction, so only a decent downhill would see the monster gear employed. Today’s route hasn’t got that though someone will convince themselves that bigger is better and try anyway.

A 56t big ring is fairly standard for short time trials.

I stroll along to check on Chris Froome’s Factor machine and find dissent in the shape of elliptical rings but still the 56 outer. Jacob Fulgsang has a 58, so it’s clear at Israel-Premier Tech that individuals can be themselves.

Even better, they have their warm-up protocols on a little printout stuck to their stems. The Dane has a 25-minute routine, Michael Woods has similar one though his wattage is slightly lower. Froome, a two-time winner of the event, has numbers in between his teammates. FTP of 390 watts, nevertheless.

Wheels are almost unanimous 77 or 80mm front and a disc on the back, only Kern has a 4-spoke front, which looks so old school compared to the WorldTour teams. Tires are more interesting and this being the beginning of the grand tour buildups, there are safe options and a bit of prototype testing going on.

Stickers and black markers are covering up things that are not yet for public consumption or aren’t official team supply. Generally it’s TT versions of what most ride every race, but UAE have a strange mix of a 26mm tubeless on the front and a 25mm tubular on the rear disc, both Pirelli P Zeros though the compound of the tubular had a softer look to it as it had graining on the sides from cornering.

One thing that’s always wonderful about these speed machines is the noise though and that is apparent when you go watch the riders come past. There’s a roar generated from the rear disc and a distinctive clack when gears are changed. It all adds up to a sensation of going fast when you run one and it’s even more impressive when someone comes past doing 60kph and flings it into a corner.

I consult with young Magnus Sheffield, winner of Brabantse Pijl, after his ride on what his thoughts were and he was reasonably happy whilst in the background defending champion Geraint Thomas warmed up. Grinding a massive gear with the odd sprint now and then which made me wonder if Ineos had a basic protocol or it was decided individually. Magnus confirmed it was a mix of both spread across the squad; some went with experience, some with the recommendation. Ethan Hayter arrived just as we finished chatting, almost ten seconds quicker than the previous best and he would go on to win from Rohan Dennis by two seconds. Thomas came fourth and was first of the established GC favorites. Thibault Pinot conceded 34 seconds and Chris Froome 42 so imagine what those FTPs were for the top ten.

Ineos is the main sponsor of FC Lausanne and they were almost expected to win today but still talent, commitment and some raw savagery were needed. In his interview the first yellow jersey of the 75th Tour de Romandie mentioned being slightly worried at taking the second last corner at 70kph and kicking out 600 watts out of the dodgy chicanes. Professional prologues, it’s another world.