Ask Nick: Stolen bikes, rear flats and Valverde the workhorse

Tech editor Nick Legan answers reader questions on front vs. rear flats, cramps and more

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I read with interest Lennard Zinn’s recent article on front to rear weight distribution, and it made me wonder whether, in your experience as a pro mechanic, rear tires flat more often than fronts.

It’s anecdotal (I never counted) but there are certainly more rear flats during races. Most mechanics have two rear wheels and one front wheel in the back seat with them. I usually carried an additional pair in the trunk area with plenty more on the roof.

Zinn nailed it on his discussion of weight distribution. Claims of 50/50 weight distribution are fairly ridiculous when discussing road bikes but more believable regarding time trial bikes (and then only when in the aerobars).

Do Tour riders ever get stomach cramps after eating?  Seems that if you take in a certain amount of food and beverage you’d be susceptible.

Certainly. If you know your Napoleon, you know that an army marches on its stomach. A cycling team is no different. That’s precisely why so many top teams bring a cook to the grand tours. Cyclists do everything they can to avoid stomach problems by eating very simple, even bland, foods. Rice, eggs, meat and vegetables are favorites. So too are potatoes. Rich foods, with cream sauces, etc., are rare.

The good news is that with metabolisms ramped up as high as a grand tour rider’s the discomfort often passes quickly.

I recently read they finally arrested the guy that stole the Tibco team’s bicycles in Boise.  Excellent!  The article noted that the bikes were recovered before the race.  I don’t know how much time they had but let’s say the bikes were returned to the team the night before or morning of the race.  As the team mechanic, you’ve got to check all of the bikes.  What are your priorities?  Would you have to check rider position?  Which components would you check for damage first, etc?

Oh man, I would rebuild every single one of those bikes, even if I had to stay up all night on a Red Bull-fueled rager! I mean I would re-lace the wheels and re-glue all the tires!

Okay, maybe not. A quick frame-and-fork inspection would top the list. Then a bolt check would follow. I would ask all the riders to come out and check their positions. Many hands make light work.

Sabotage is really rare. The thieves probably weren’t too concerned with swapping stems to make one fit. They were too busy getting caught. …

Quick question about your post regarding Di and larger cassettes (11-34, 11-32, etc). In this video you use a SRAM cassette but you mention Wayne Stetina was using an XT cassette. Does a Dura-Ace chain (CN-7901) work with the XT Dyna-Sys cassette? I can’t find any info regarding a different chain spec/measurements for the Dyna-Sys versus the DA road chain.

Your Dura-Ace chain is perfectly compatible with the XT cassette. But it probably isn’t long enough. Compatibility regarding chains and cassettes is wildly overemphasized in my experience. You do get improved shifting by running a totally compatible system, but gains are marginal. There’s no need to fret about it for one trip. You can always replace it for something different the next time. Then you can see for yourself which you prefer.

It occurred to me while watching some racing in the Tour de Suisse that I have a question for you about race tactics. While watching Alejandro Valverde pull at the front for such a long time, I wondered how one rider can do this for so long and and ride fast enough to stop others from coming by.  In the event of, say, a six-man breakaway, the riders continually move in the paceline to keep up the speed.  Why, when the peloton is chasing a group, is it invariably fronted by one man for so long?

It isn’t that Valverde was simply too strong for anyone to come around him. Instead, the others were happy to have someone else doing the majority of the work. Remember that what’s important is who crosses the finish line first, not who is leading at any one time.

In a breakaway, especially when it is still far from the finish, it’s in the interest of everyone to share the work and keep the group together. As they approach the finish, you’ll see attacks or riders feigning weakness to shirk their workload (though sometimes a rider is truly spent).

Behind, it’s up to the teams interested in a sprint finish or limiting the time gained to bring back the breakaway. I wasn’t able to watch any of Suisse, but in the case of Valverde and his Movistar team, he was probably riding to limit the amount of time the breakaway got. No other team was interested in chasing at that point. Later, others on Movistar likely started to help.

You see, racing isn’t always full gas. There are lulls in the action and times when teams wait to see whether another team will take up the chase. A good director wants the best possible result for the lowest amount of effort by his riders. A show of force is often just a show and often ineffective.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.