• Team Sky team mechanics prepare the riders' bicycles before the start of the 2018 Tour de France (Getty)Source: Getty
One cobbled stage at the Tour de France adds plenty of excitement for spectators, it also creates a large dose of work for the mechanics. We spoke with a mechanic for Team Sky, to find out what special requirements there are for stage 9.
Rob Arnold

14 Jul 2018 - 12:40 PM  UPDATED 14 Jul 2018 - 1:04 PM

“We packed a truck with special bikes for Roubaix, three bikes per rider for stage nine only,” says Filip Tisma.

The Slovenian is one of the long-serving mechanics working for Team Sky and he grins when asked to explain the additional workload required for the highly anticipated ninth stage of the 2018 Tour. There’s a considerable effort required, but he doesn’t mind, it’s all part of his job.

A big fleet of vehicles with a significant haul of equipment is already required for a team like this in a race like the Tour. A few years ago, Gary Blem talked me through the collection of bikes Sky took to the Tour in 2014 (see sidebar). The inclusion of a 15 sector, cobbled stage in 2018 means an additional truck carrying a lot of bikes is required.

The extra truck will turn up at the Tour in a few days. It will be carrying a lot of carbon-fibre, a little bit of suspension, and a lot of electronic equipment. But, I was assured, no motors. That’s something the team’s mechanics are tired of having to talk about but they can’t help but smirk when the UCI arrives for yet another scan. It happened as we spoke on the morning of stage 7 and it’ll continue throughout the season.

It’s not uncommon for Chris Froome’s bike to be scanned up to four times and later X-rayed – for one stage.

“That has happened often,” said one of the mechanics. “The only thing extra they could do is saw the bike in half to be absolutely sure.” 

There is, however, a lot of charging required for the electronics that are part of modern cycling.

“It’s getting very tricky for us,” said Tisma about the challenge of ensuring everything is ready to race on Sunday.
“We have, obviously, a groupset (Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, with electronic shifting) that needs charging. There’s suspension (Pinarello’s K10S system) that needs charging. And there’s a crankset (with Shimano’s power meter) that needs charging.

“To get everything charged fully takes about two days and,” adds Tisma with a laugh, “we’re thinking about employing an electrician to do it.”

The bikes for stage 9 are entirely different to what Team Sky riders have raced the Tour with in the opening week and it includes a Pinarello frame with an electronic suspension system said to adjust flex in accordance with the severity of the road surface.

“They are [Pinarello] K10S bikes and K10 – with no suspension – bikes,” Tisma said about the collection of bikes and their peculiarities. “We can fit bigger tyres and obviously they’re made for comfort. We’re going to use 27mm Continental tyres, but they actually measure at about 28mm.

“There’s a little bit more carbon in the frames [than on the usual bikes] and things like that which allow riders to endure ‘The Horror Of The North’,” says Tisma.

There are also some aluminium parts attached to the Roubaix bikes; not quite as exotic as carbon-fibre but there’s less risk of a catastrophic failure in the event of a crash.

“Carbon handlebars can crack with a high speed crash,” confirms Tisma. “Aluminium may bend but [riders] can still continue.”

In the early days of cycling suspension in the 1990s there was a glut of systems for road bikes used on the cobbles but the trend didn’t last too long. In 2018, Pinarello is one of few companies providing bikes for teams at the Tour using suspension.

These days, the comfort solutions for many riders are more rudimentary; a double-dose of handlebar tape, for example, is often requested when cobbles are on the menu. So, I asked Tisma, who requested something special for stage 9? “Only G,” he said, about Geraint Thomas, “he’s the only rider to ask for a double wrap of handlebar tape.”

Gearing for the Amiens to Roubaix stage on Sunday

“It’s a 54/42, if I’m not mistaken,” says Tisma, who also explained Froome will continue using the ovalised chainrings, a long-term feature of his bikes.

“There are some chain catchers on Chris’ bike which he also uses on his normal bike. But it’s very similar, the set-up of the gears on usual bikes [and the Roubaix bike] – it’s just the ratio that changes. It’s an 11-25 cassette for Roubaix and all the rest of the stages will be 11-28 or 11-30.”

In the mountains it’s a little different: “53/39 and 11-30,” says Tisma, “maybe a day or two with a 36 small ring at the front.”

The mechanics had some extra work to do before the Tour but the truck is ready and the race to Roubaix awaits.

“We came in a couple of days before and [built] all those bikes so they’re ready in the service course,” says Tisma.

“There’s a mechanic who is going to do all the charging, double-check everything, and load them onto a separate truck and bring them to the race the evening before the stage.

“The tyres will be pumped in the morning and they’ll race the stage on those bikes and then go straight back to that truck and back to the service course.”

So, one rough stage for the riders, a few long days for the mechanics, one extra truck, 24 additional bikes… and many of them will never be used. All that for 22 kilometres of riding on rough rocks.

You've gotta love the Tour. It’s a bike race like no other.