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Tour Tech Talk: Long stems; upside-down sunglasses; and Tour-tire lifespans

The reasons behind those long stemsDear Lennard,Judging from photos, it seems that the pros favor longer stems than the rest of us. Is there any truth in this observation? If so, does it have to do with pros being fitted with smaller frames than amateur/recreational riders, or just preferring a longer reach?Tom Dear Tom,Yes, they definitely do favor long stems. For instance, all of the Bontrager carbon stems on the Discovery team bikes are 140mm. Riders on the team using shorter stems (130mm mostly) do not have carbon stems because only 140mm stems were delivered at the team training camp in

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By Lennard Zinn

After gluing up nine sets of tubulars, clinchers probably start looking pretty good

After gluing up nine sets of tubulars, clinchers probably start looking pretty good

Photo: Lennard Zinn

The reasons behind those long stems
Dear Lennard,
Judging from photos, it seems that the pros favor longer stems than the rest of us. Is there any truth in this observation? If so, does it have to do with pros being fitted with smaller frames than amateur/recreational riders, or just preferring a longer reach?Tom

Dear Tom,
Yes, they definitely do favor long stems. For instance, all of the Bontrager carbon stems on the Discovery team bikes are 140mm. Riders on the team using shorter stems (130mm mostly) do not have carbon stems because only 140mm stems were delivered at the team training camp in January. Riders did not want to switch to different stems as the other lengths became available for fear of changing their positions slightly after pouring on the miles in their current setups.

“They’re probably right,” said Geoff Brown, chief Discovery mechanic at the Tour. “No matter how careful we are with marking them with our little lines and stuff, they probably will be slightly different from the old position. And once the riders get their positions dialed in, they don’t want to change. They say, ‘Next year, next year; we’ll change to the carbon stems at training camp next year.’”

As for why the pros favor long stems, first of all, Tour riders generally prefer more extended positions than the average rider can handle. They are more flexible, usually younger, and want to be as aerodynamic as possible. In general, the harder you pedal, the longer you want your reach.

Secondly, now that essentially all team bikes are stock, the stems often have to solve frame-fit problems. In the old days of steel lugged frames, every rider had his favorite framebuilder who would make his frames every year. They would be painted with the bike sponsor’s colors and logos, and only a very trained eye could tell the difference. Now, with carbon frames and even aluminum and magnesium ones with tube shapes unique to a given brand, it is hard to disguise bikes that are not those of that brand. And with sponsors being big companies with stock carbon bikes and molds specific for them, it is rare to find a custom frame in the peloton anymore.

Last year, you certainly saw some extreme stem setups for tall riders fitting on stock frames. For instance, 6-foot-6-inch Mario Scirea of Mario Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze lead-out train had some unusual seat-post and stem setups on his Specialized bikes. Same goes for Floyd Landis the last couple of seasons he spent on Treks. Christian Vande Velde’s setup last year on Liberty Seguros might have taken the cake, though. BH, the team’s bike sponsor, only managed to deliver one size frame to the team. At least the BH integral seat tube/seat masts were super long, but to have Vande Velde and Roberto Heras riding the same size frame resulted in a really long, extremely up-angled stem for Christian and some really short stems for some of the little Spanish riders.
Lennard

The specs on spec’s
Dear Lennard,
Maybe this is plainly obvious, but I don’t know it. Why do the Tour riders put their sunglasses in their helmets upside down?
Bill

Dear Bill,
It is plainly obvious if you try to ride with your sunglasses stuck into your helmet holes right side up: They’ll fall out. You flip them over so that the curve of the earpieces keeps them from falling out if they start to slide forward.
Lennard

How often do tires get changed?
Dear Lennard,
Thanks for the article about what the Tour teams are rolling on. My question is: How often are tires changed? Do the riders roll on new rubber for every stage? Every few stages?
Craig

Dear Craig.
Below are answers from representatives of Team Discovery and Team Gerolsteiner. In the photo of the Liberty Seguros mechanic gluing on Hutchinson tubulars, you can see that this is a heck of a job, keeping nine riders on new tires every four or five days.
Lennard

Lars Teutenberg, Team Gerolsteiner: I cannot tell you exactly, because the riders are changing wheels so often that I do not have exact data for each tire. By the amount of tire changes every day I can say that, on average, the tires are changed after four or five stages. The main reasons for a change are cuts or other small damage. We had only four flat tires so far.

Scott Daubert, Team Discovery: The Discovery team has two sets of wheels ready to go at all times. In fact, a Trek engineer visiting the Tour this week counted 147 wheels in the truck. The mechanics switch wheels at the end of each week for all riders, but obviously any tubular tire that looks worn at any time would be replaced on the spot.