The Classics punish the riders, the bikes, the mechanics, team vehicles and soigneurs. The roads, the weather, and the intensity of the races drain teams. Each team prepares in its own way to deal with the wear of the races.
The Classics bikes are designed for comfort and practicality with frame clearance around the tires for mud, larger tires are used, special clothing is designed, team car suspensions are customized, wrists are taped, handlebars are padded, thicker chamois are fitted, and anything that can increase performance, comfort and durability is considered. The extremes of the Classics push the human and the bicycle.
Last weekend, in Het Volk and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, we started the spring cobble campaign. As it was our first time back on the cobbles after almost a year away from the north our directeur sportifs, Scott Sunderland and Steven de Jongh flew us in a day early to preview the course.
Pedaling over the cobbles in training is entirely different to the race. While training, we don’t force like we do in the races, and therefore feel the bumps. At speed the bikes float over the stones with a unique fluidity. Tire pressure, tire diameter, and quality make a significant difference in performance. With low pressure the rider has more traction, the bike doesn’t bounce but floats beneath him, which also eases the wear on his body while also reducing punctures. Finding the right pressure is key as the bike must also perform well on the tarmac—too low a pressure only slows the rider on smooth surfaces. The other factor the mechanics consider when pumping the tires is how much air they lose during a six-hour race. Most tires lose a bar or two of pressure so they are pumped harder at the start of the race in expectation for the loss.
We have been testing several different tires. For the opening weekend I rode on FMB Roubaix tires—handmade cotton tires from northern France—, which were glued on to 32 hole rims and laced to Dura Ace hubs. The wheels handle incredibly well on the cobbles—personally I prefer the ‘classic’ aluminum wheels to the carbon rims although Flecha rode a carbon Shimano 35 to victory. I think a lot is dependent on the rider’s height, size and riding style.
The team has prepared a unique truck for the mechanics and soigneurs. Often, there is foul weather during the early part of the season and the mechanics suffer while working outdoors on the bikes in the pouring rain. So, the team has bought two trucks with pop-outs, which allow the mechanics to work on the bike indoors. They have a television, music and everything else a normal workshop might have so they can focus on the job instead of worrying about frozen hands and feet. The soigneurs area is equally as unique with space to prepare our race food, storage for the massage tables, a fridge, washer, dryer and everything else they need to take care of the team. Like our team bus, the truck is somewhere you actually want to hang out or work in, which in the end makes the long racing season much easier–comfort brings happiness, happiness brings performance.