I’m in Diest, a town in the east of Flanders — a flat industrial area that’s home to many industrial estates. It’s not just factories churning out everything from double glazed windows to cherry pickers that fill these large units though — this is where several of the WorldTour teams call home, or more precisely where mechanics and back-room staff call home.
A service course is used as a central location to house every conceivable item a team needs throughout the season, including team trucks, buses, cars, spare kit and assorted equipment, while also serving as the control centre for the entire team’s operations.
A recent trip to Belgium seemed an opportune moment to get a good look inside one of these mystical (for a cycling fan) buildings. A few email conversations were thrown back and forth and before I knew it Trek Factory Racing was agreeing to let me have a sneak peek behind the shutter doors.
Along the canal that cuts through Deinze and heads towards Gent is a non-descript industrial estate. Here sits a simple double unit — the clean exterior looks no different from the rest of the units on the same estate but on the door is a simple plaque that is the only reference to what lies behind the steel shutters.
Greeting me was Freddie Stouffer, the team’s operations manager. Freddy originates from Trek’s home town of Waterloo, Wisconsin, the town where Trek Bikes is still based. He’s been part of the Trek family for many years. When the company was looking for someone to take control and run the operations side of things at the new service course in Belgium, Freddy ended up being that man, moving from his home in the US to Dienze.
This was obviously a massive change in culture for Freddy but one that he seems to be revelling in. Then again, what cycling nut wouldn’t want to be at the heart of not just a pro team but the European cycling scene?
Trek Factory Racing was a whole new ProTeam for 2014, raised from the ashes of what was Radioshack-Leopard. Like many I saw the change as a simple rebranding, a new evolution from the old squad that Trek were technical partners for. The real fact of the matter though is that the team was built from the ground up; very little exists from the old incarnation.
The only thing that the team carried over is the sought-after UCI ProTeam licence, a licence that grants the team entry to all the biggest races on the UCI cycling calendar. The licence was purchased from the previous team owners by Trek Bicycles.
Dienze, being close to a good transport system and close to many professionals’ homes, is a prime location to run a team from. This is why so many teams are based in and around the area. The service courses of Team Sky, Omega-Pharma and a number of ProContinental teams can be found within a few kilometres.
Behind the group of offices that initially greet you when you walk through the door is the area that would put a smile on any cycling fan’s face. Team trucks, cars, bikes, workshops, storage rooms and a hive of activity are all housed under one roof. With both team mechanic trucks in the building on the day I called by I’d caught the service course on a rare day where most vehicles were being prepped for upcoming races. The huge building easily swallowed the fleet of cars and trucks that any team needs to operate.
A team like Trek Factory Racing can go through an astronomical amount of gear in a season. For starters, to keep the guys fuelled, somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 energy gels and 15,000 bars are consumed throughout the season. To wash this down 18,000 bidons of sports drink are needed — thats a lot of happy kids at the roadside claiming a piece of fan memorabilia.
Then there are the frames and wheels — 300 frames are expected to be used throughout 2014 and to keep them rolling, 250 pairs of Bontrager wheels. That gives you a rough idea of what firstly needs to be kept track of, and what needs to be prepared throughout a gruelling season.
The main area of the building is split into a large loading area where the trucks sit. Here they can be filled with all that is needed for any given race. The trucks looked immaculate, highly polished without a spot of dirt or an item out of place. I guess with an operation as big as Trek’s if you start being slack in the cleaning or organisational department things can quite quickly get out of hand.
Alongside the trucks several mechanics were working on bikes, cleaning and prepping for future races. Dust and dirt was being cleaned away and old broken or worn items discarded and replaced. One highly prized bike that was wheeled out for me to gaze at was a certain Spartacus’ winning machine from the Tour of Flanders. A custom paint job and the odd unofficial sponsor adorned the good-looking bike.
Several rooms had been constructed within the premises too; it looked as everything had been thought of from storage to showers and washrooms. Freddie also told me that a bedroom was in the works, this being for any staff members that may have driven huge distances from races to get back to the service course and needed to be put up for the night. Even though quite a few staff members live close by, several live further afield.
An area had been put to one side for bike cleaning — no need to go outside and get wet in the often wet Belgium weather. Alongside this were several rooms that backed on to one another. Then there was another main workshop, kitted out with the latest tools. On one wall, close at hand, were basic items that would need regular replacing on the team race bikes, such as chains and brake blocks.
The two rooms next to this were like Aladdin’s cave. The first housed components — Shimano Dura-Ace from floor to ceiling filled the room, all boxed and accounted for. For a team at the highest level no risk with equipment is taken. Freddie explained that if an item on a bike has either suffered a minor fall or is even suspected to have a problem with it then it is replaced. For some stupid reason I didn’t think of rifling through the bins out back afterwards — I’m sure I could have put together a few groupsets.
The room next to this component storage room is where all the bikes and wheels are kept — all four walls of this indoor garage are covered in gleaming dark carbon. Each rider initially receives four bikes — a training bike that is kept at home, a time trial bike and two race bikes, either the Madone or Domane.
Riders that did the Classics or the Tour de France were given new bikes. If new models need testing or are released riders will also use these. Again if there is suspicion of even the slightest fault with a frame it is replaced. For a team of 28 riders, 300 frames can quite quickly become accounted for.
On the floor, placed in large custom-made racks, are multiple sets of wheels. The racks were on little dolly wheels, making it light work to move multiple sets from storage to the trucks. All areas looked to have been thought out so as to make logistics slick and simple.
The bikes are all kept in order, with each rider having a designated place on the wall for their race machine, hanging ready to be plucked and placed in the waiting trucks.
Storage for the nutrition products is again housed in a separate room. Like the component room here the food was stacked high. This room is replenished several times throughout the year. Alongside boxes and tubs of the team’s official nutrition sponsor, First Endurance, sat numerous other foodstuffs, bars and gels from Science in Sport and next to this, crates of jam and Nutella. In the freezer Belgian rice cakes filled many of the shelves. These are apparently a team favourite; a vital item that mustn’t be forgotten when packing for any race.
When it comes to team clothing the riders get an early season delivery. Boxes of fresh new shorts, jerseys and any other item that is needed to keep a pro looking sharp are sent out to the riders’ homes. The remainder of the kit is stored in the clothing room. New shoes, new helmets and special pieces that Trek may want tested or are designed to be used at certain races are all neatly boxed in size order and at hand in the clothing room.
On one wall of the clothing room are storage boxes with each rider’s happy smiling face attached to it. These are here so that if a rider needs a new item of clothing or something special to be taken to the next race, the box is filled and shipped in the truck along with their bike to the race.
A clean, spacious kitchen finished my tour. A large table surrounded by chairs sat in the bright dining area, encouraging staff to eat together. On occasions the team cooks up a feast here to share, maybe inviting the odd rider along.
To be able to get a glimpse of the inner workings of a service course was a treat. I left the building my mind boggling at the sheer amount of product stored in the four walls and the manpower that must go into getting it all ready for a single race, let alone a whole season.