How do teams carry so many bikes at the Tour de France?
Every team at the Tour de France has an elaborate network of equipment support for each of its eight riders in the event of a mechanical or crash during the race. Within the race caravan are two cars for every team, and each vehicle carries a spare bike for every rider (or even more, in some cases), a multitude of wheels, along with a mechanic in the back seat ready to jump out at a moment’s notice.
Standard consumer racks are usually only equipped to accommodate four or five bikes, and that’s only under the best of circumstances — two or three is far more common. Needless to say, teams aren’t just heading out to the shop and buying off-the-shelf rack setups from Thule or Yakima.
Indeed, they require something far more specific to the task at hand, although in most cases, it turns out that these sorts of racks aren’t limited solely to those with the right connections or someone holding a WorldTour license.
All it takes is a lot of money.
Most of the racks in this year’s Tour de France were fabricated by one of three companies.
The most prolific of the bunch is Belgium-based Chantal Roof Racks, whose well-known team clientele includes Bora-Hansgrohe, Bahrain-Merida, Trek-Segafredo, Ineos, Cofidis, CCC, EF Education First, Total-Direct Energie, Katusha, Wanty-Gobert, Arkea-Samsic, and Dimension Data.
Another is Alfo Bike Carriers, rack supplier to Groupama-FDJ. That company is also based in Belgium, but has an Australian office that handles distribution to Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and the United States. The third is Sunweb supplier Roof Velo, based in the Netherlands.
The racks from Chantal Roof Racks and Alfo Bike Carriers are similar in concept. Each is custom-built to suit the requested application, and clamp directly to the factory rails found on the wagons, or estate cars, typically preferred by professional teams.
Bikes are held upright by the down tube using rubber-padded clamps, there’s a wheel rack along the rear edge that’s hinged for access to the car’s cargo area, and usually an antenna up front for radio transmissions. All of the bits are supported by gas-charged struts, and the whole assembly can fold down flat when the vehicle isn’t in race mode.
Roof Velo’s racks are offered with down tube clamps as well, but the company also outfitted Sunweb with pivoting hook-style trays for time trial bikes, sort of like what’s used in the United States on rear hitch-mounted racks and on public buses.
“Our racks are the same as the racks sold to the pro teams,” said Tony Anderson, director of Alfo Bike Carriers’ Australian operation. “The racks themselves are fairly similar. They can vary slightly depending on the width of the vehicle, but essentially it’s a one size fits all. The number of bikes that the team wants to carry is the main determining factor to the rack’s design.”
To the casual observer, the racks used by Jumbo-Visma are the same as what the other teams use, at least in terms of how the bikes are held, the total capacity, and the overall configuration. But they couldn’t be more different in terms of how the racks themselves are attached to the vehicles.
Instead of being physically clamped to the car in some way, Jumbo-Visma’s racks — which are made by US rack company SeaSucker — are held to the roof with an array of vacuum cups.
Yes, you read that correctly: Jumbo-Visma relies on vacuum cups for not only the safety of its racks and spare bikes, but also the safety of others in the race and, in effect, the performance of its riders as well.
“In terms of rack specs, the SeaSucker Team Rack we designed for Jumbo-Visma holds eight bikes,” said SeaSucker president and COO Genevieve Casagrande. “It utilizes eight of SeaSucker’s signature vacuum mounts, all of which are tested at over 210 pounds of pull strength. Our team rack is entirely handmade and built from scratch at our warehouse in Florida. It is primarily constructed of aluminum, which has been bent to the exact curve of all the Mercedes Benz cars in the Jumbo-Visma fleet.”
Technically speaking, Casagrande says that each of Jumbo-Visma’s complete roof rack systems retails for about US$6,000, but that figure only speaks to what’s involved in each setup; the racks aren’t actually available for sale to general consumers, even if they had the money to spend.
“The racks at the Tour were designed exclusively for Jumbo Visma, so we are not selling or offering that exact model of Team Rack to any other team or organization,” Casagrande said. “We do, however, often sponsor other professional, amateur, or semi-professional teams and provide a slightly different model of team rack. SeaSucker continues to focus on its consumer bike rack sales, and doesn’t currently have any plans to expand to selling team racks in the open market.”
That might prove disappointing for anyone wanting a team-style rack for themselves, however Alfo — and possibly Chantal Roof Racks — does offer variations of those team racks to everyday folks as well. They’re less expensive than the AU$6,000-AU$7,000 Alfo normally charges for the full-capacity pro team version, but still command a hefty sum.
“The company has a range of racks that it can produce, including racks for neutral service cars and motos,” said Anderson. “We also produce a smaller five-bike rack for a small group who simply want to transport all their bikes on one car, say to the local club race, but don’t need to be in a race convoy and have the quick access to bikes like the pro style racks do. Those can be produced at a cheaper cost of around AU$3,000 to AU$4,000, depending on the vehicle.”
It’s often a point of pride for cyclists when their bike is worth more than the car to which it’s mounted. But does that then go double if the rack is worth more than the car, too?