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by James Huang
August 1, 2019
Photography by James Huang
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.
The main goals of any team car rack are carrying capacity and quick access to bikes and wheels.
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.
Team racks are custom-fitted to each vehicle, and it’s not uncommon for the rails to be bent specifically to match rooflines.
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.
Down tube clamps are typically preferred in this environment, purely due to the speed at which a mechanic can retrieve a spare bike off of the top of the car. Needless to say, though, it’s critical that the clamps are adjusted properly so that the bike is held tight, but not so tight that the frame gets damaged.
“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.
If you’ve ever worried about the security of SeaSucker’s vacuum cup-based racks, rest assured that Jumbo-Visma has enough faith in the design to use it on team cars.
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.”
Most team rack clamps are made of welded steel, but the ones for Jumbo-Visma are constructed of CNC-machined aluminum.
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?
Needless to say, this sort of setup isn’t exactly great for fuel efficiency.
Chantal Roof Racks was the most popular supplier at this year’s Tour de France, by far.
Down tube clamps can be set to prevent damage to the carbon tubes, but decals can’t always be preserved.
Most of the roof racks are clamped directly to the factory rails of team vehicles.
Additional supports are used at the front and back to support the substantial weight of the system when fully loaded.
Gas-charged struts and pivoting bases allow the various pieces to fold down when not in use.
Radio antennae are common features on these racks, too – definitely not something you’d regularly find on a consumer rack.
Since these racks are custom made, they can be custom finished, too. Bahrain-Merida is a big fan of gold.
The custom rack Ineos used for its Ford Ranger Raptor was mostly for show. Race regulations prohibit vehicles this tall to be used in the race itself, so this was put into service mainly just to shuttle bikes to the start each day — and for promotional purposes, of course.
While the other teams opted for standard down tube clamps to secure the spare bikes, Sunweb vehicles also used hook-style attachments.
Unlike consumer hook-type racks where the hook telescoped on an arm, the ones used by Sunweb just pivot back and forth. Since the wheel and tire sizes are always the same in this situation (or at least close enough to the same), there’s no need for the hooks to be adjustable.
Spare bikes are always arranged in specific configurations, with the most important situated directly above the mechanic’s door. This was the spare bike for Ineos co-captain Geraint Thomas.
Rider decals are often applied to the underside of the down tube, purely for the benefit of the mechanics since they’re visible from below.
Thru-axles complicate things somewhat for team vehicles, particularly when riders use a mix of quick-release and thru-axle bikes.
Mitchelton-Scott’s wheel racks are cleverly designed to accommodate both thru-axles and quick-releases.
Teams are clearly in transition when it comes to axle fitments right now, and the racks have to adapt to suit.
Several teams used the same wheel racks as before, but with quick-release skewers fed through the hubs to hold the wheels in place. This setup certainly works, but also adds extra steps that eat up valuable seconds.
Jumbo-Visma’s racks are made by US company SeaSucker, and they’re attached in a most unusual way.
According to SeaSucker, each vacuum cup is rated to 210 pounds of pull force, at least assuming the surface is properly prepped and the cups are working as they should.