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By Lennard Zinn
Each Tour team has a bus and a slew of station wagons. But otherwise, teams vary widely in the other vehicles they bring along, and this has changed even further with the advent of the Pro Tour. And of critical interest to all of the teams is security of all of those bikes and expensive wheels and parts they carry along.
Most teams have a bus and a big truck. The buses for the riders are roomy inside and have comfortable seats, tables and other amenities, such as espresso machines. Teams use them as conference rooms for entertaining guests or negotiating team sponsorships, as well as for transporting riders. The truck’s huge box has bikes, wheels, parts, tools and some shop space for mechanics, although that space is nonexistent at the Tour – workspace is strictly outside.
Liberty Seguros and Discovery Channel have two entirely different fleets. Rather than having any trucks or vans, Liberty has three giant buses, indistinguishable from the outside. Inside, however, they vary widely. One is set up for the riders’ comfort. Another is completely hollowed out on the inside – basically a tech truck with a side door rather than a rear door. The third is sort of a combination of the two.
Discovery has a single bus and a single huge truck, though as U.S. Postal it had two trucks for the mechanics at the Tour. It also has a van and a camper van. Mechanic Alan Buttler says that the team does not have two trucks due to the demands of the Pro Tour.
“The Tour of Austria and the Niedersachsen Tour are going on at the same time, and Julien (DeVries, Discovery’s chief mechanic) is there (with the other truck),” he says. The truck goes to a race and then generally returns to the Service Course facility in Belgium for a week of gluing on tubular tires and keeping up with the constant maintenance of the bikes, wheels and vehicles.
Discovery’s van (a standard passenger van with windows and all but the front seats removed) is entirely full of bikes, and the bikes in it depend on which stage is upcoming. The camper van is for a full-time security guard who watches over the equipment all night long.
In some hotels, there is a security fence around the entire premises with a gate. During the Tour, when hotels equipped with such security systems are housing Tour teams, they post a guard at the entrance gate 24 hours a day, rather than simply leaving it up to the gate to keep people out. Anyone who has a card key for his room can open the gate, and given the size of some of these hotels, that does not provide the kind of security many teams are looking for.
In the 2001 Giro d’Italia, all of one team’s bikes were stolen one night, and the riders had to ride spare bikes supplied by Shimano, which provided official tech support to the race that year. Anyone who races a lot knows that riding a strange bike is far from desirable. Riders put so many miles on their bikes in training and racing, and then race long, hard distances every day of a grand tour. Changing dimensions even a little bit can cause agonizing injuries to knees, hips and backs.
Bike thieves can read race schedules, too. They know where expensive bikes can be found. They can even rent rooms in hotels to get access to card keys letting them into gates and doors at night. A team invests lots of money in its effort to get results and publicity for its sponsors at the Tour. It simply cannot risk losing the machines that the team needs in order to do the race.
The security guard watching Discovery vehicles at night is the cornerstone of its bike-defense efforts. But the team takes other interesting steps as well. For instance, every night the team uses three Subarus as barricades surrounding the van full of bikes. Staff members park one car on each side and one up against the rear end, all just millimeters from the van, so that it is impossible to open any of the van doors without moving the cars. Even if the security guard were sound asleep in his adjacent camper van, it would be tough to move those cars and open the van without waking him.