The logistics behind Paris-Roubaix

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You may think that getting yourself organised for your local club champs can be a bit of a slog at times. Making sure your bike is up to scratch, giving it a clean, maybe replacing a chain or another worn part, pumping the tyres and packing it in the back of the car with your kit bag, and so on. But just think about the staff that have to take on this task for a team competing at Paris-Roubaix. Dave Everett spoke with some team mechanics about their technical preparation and logistics behind one of the biggest races of the year – Paris-Roubaix.

Unlike other major single-day races or even a Grand Tour the bikes and kit used at Paris-Roubaix are unique. Many of the items may only be used for one day of the year, then either packed away for the following year’s edition, put straight in the trash after being destroyed in the race, or sold off.

For Paris-Roubaix a team needs more spare kit than any other race for the year and this job of getting the bikes and wheels ready is obviously down to the team mechanics. For some of the larger WorldTour teams who have Paris-Roubaix as a goal this may be a job that could take months of planning and preparation. For other teams, who may have had a wildcard invitation, who don’t see the race as a goal, or who can’t afford the time to spend months of planning, it can still be weeks of work.

In the week leading up to Sunday’s race I managed to pass by a few of the team hotels and question the mechanics on what actually goes into preparing for the race and what quantity of items are actually needed to keep the team up and running.

It’s clear that for teams like Omega Pharma-QuickStep, BMC and Trek Paris-Roubaix was of the highest importance. The planning for these teams didn’t just start weeks before the race, but at the end of the the 2013 season.

Team BMC training over the cobbled sectors of Paris-Roubaix
Team BMC training over the cobbled sectors of Paris-Roubaix

BMC mechanic Ian Sherburne told me that back in November, the core team who would go on to race the cobbled classic were over in Belgium testing different variations of possible equipment choices for the event. The reason for this is because it takes a long time for manufactures and partners of the team to either produce or prepare usable and reliable new items for the big day. BMC aren’t alone in this — many of the major teams also recon and test new equipment in this manner.

If you’ve ever glued the odd tubular you will know how much time it can consume. How about having to glue up to 70 pairs?! This is what several of the teams started Sunday’s race with. On speaking with the mechanic about how they prepare I was amazed at the plans they had put in place to help reduce the time a rider has to wait for a wheel change out on course.

Up to 40 people will be out on the race route waiting with wheels to help an unfortunate team member in the event of a puncture or mechanical problem. Fifteen of these people are full-time staff members, mechanics, soigneurs, managers and even the team chef, and the remaining 25 are a gaggle of die-hard fans, handpicked form the official fan club. These 25 lucky fans were supplied with team issue wheels and given strict orders as to where to wait on the course.

Team wheel support isn't always from team staff - much of it comes from super-fan volunteers
Team wheel support isn’t always from team staff – much of it comes from super-fan volunteers

One team truck, a team bus and nine cars helped cover the race. As with all teams only one team car was allowed in the following convoy. The remaining cars chased the race, each leapfrogging one other to cover all sectors of the circuit.

Teams without the same large following in France as FDJ — such as Garmin-Sharp — can’t rely on fans to help out. These teams only have staff to cover the course.

Garmin hasn’t got one of the largest budgets in the peloton, and given the team is competing in other races at the same time as Paris-Roubaix, the team arrived in France with a reduced staff.

Garmin started with 30 pairs of wheels in total. Sixteen were accounted for by race bikes and spare bikes, five more were stored in the following team car and the remaining sets were spread between three separate team cars that headed to areas on the course that are renowned for being difficult to cover from the in-race team car.

All teams had one car that shadowed the race convoy, traveling on roads that are as close to the circuit as possible, usually between five and 10km at any one point from the race. This car was fitted out exactly the same as the car in convoy including a secondary radio, spare kit bags, bottles and energy food.

A second DS and mechanic were also in this car. This car was ready to jump in to the convoy and take over if the number one car had a mechanical, which is a strong possibility — the bikes aren’t the only vehicle susceptible to breaking down on the cobbles.

Mavic was responsible for neutral support during the race and the bright yellow of the mechanics working on the race can be seen every year helping out numerous professionals. Like FDJ, Mavic had 70 spare sets of wheels in several different models, ranging from the classic Reflex rims on Mavic’s own hubs through to Cosmic Carbones.

It doesn’t always go as planned however: Kenny Dehaes (Lotto-Belisol) punctured halfway through the Forest of Arenberg which left him stranded for minutes because of trying non-campatible wheels from another team. Meanwhile the Mavic assist motorbike flew by with the right wheels in hand presumably thinking he had it all worked out.

On top of the four neutral service cars following, Mavic had four moto riders carrying a mechanic and spare wheels. The cars also had rebadged Cannondale CAAD10 frames kitted out in a variety of group sets from the big three manufactures.

Most of the teams I spoke with had a similar amount of kit to one another. In addition to the eight bikes that were used during the race, a further eight to 14 were kept as spare. Some bikes were exactly the same as the bikes the riders were using. They may also have the race bikes that are used throughout the season, with slight modifications for added comfort, wider tyres, double-wrapped or padded bar tape.

As mentioned in a previous article, major teams are able to spend funds well in advanced of Paris-Roubaix on mechanics working throughout the early season at the team’s service corse.

At the other end of the budget spectrum smaller teams like Bretagne-Seche or even AG2R-La Mondiale would take only the week preceding the race to prepare. Three mechanics worked round the clock to get all items ready to roll.

And all this for a single day of racing. Once the race was over and the riders crossed the line, the mechanics kicked back in to action. Bikes were cleaned straight away, oiled and in some cases disassembled before being packed away. And with that Paris-Roubaix was done for another year.

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