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Prologue prep' with Gerolsteiner
By Matt Pacocha
While the days leading up to Saturday’s prologue and start of the Tour de France is a time for the racers to go for easy spins and top off their stores of energy with nice meals and daily naps, its truly crunch time for their staff — especially those responsible for the bikes. We caught up with Gerolsteiner mechanic Rajen Murugayan, while he was loading one of the team’s sprinter vans with time-trial bikes for a pre-prologue reconnaissance session, and got a special tour of the team’s gear.
The Tour de France is cycling’s biggest show so naturally it’s a perfect time to showcase new gear. The team’s sponsor, Specialized, is not letting the opportunity slip by. Although Specialized actually introduced its entire 2008 line up last week in Spain, its new bikes have been popping up under racers all over Europe, the new 2008 Transition time-trial bike got a taste of competition at the Tour de Suisse. While Quick Step-Innergetic’s Tom Boonen has been racing a frame that spawned the new 2008 Tarmac SL2 carbon bike. Boonen’s bike was the basis for the 2008 production model.
Gerolsteiner has five of the new carbon Transition TT bikes. The bikes are so new that, as of Wednesday July 4th, no one on the team had even ridden one. The mechanics had just finished building the bikes last Sunday with enough time to throw them in the team truck and drive them 800 kilometers from Germany to London.
Indeed, Thursday’s prologue recon’ will be the first time the riders get to try them out. Murugayan didn’t seem worried though, and said that because time-trial bikes are so different than the road bikes riders spend most of their time on it shouldn’t be too much trouble to make the pre-race switch. As for the crunch to get the new bikes built, Murugayan said the hardest part was getting to know a new frame. Especially when routing the cables internally.
“One time I was fishing [for the cable] for an hour-and-a-half,” said Murugayan. “I almost gave up. And another it was done the first time — no fishing.”
The team also has a handful of the new production Tarmac SL2 bikes; both Markus Fothen and Fabian Wegmann’s were in the queue for final check ups during our visit. The new Specialized frame is lighter, stiffer and just all around better, according to the company’s claims.
Specialized says the bottom bracket is 30 percent stiffer torsionally than its predecessor while achieving more vertical compliance and also carrying roughly 100 grams less mass. The bike is stiffer up front, too. It relies on a combination of 1.125- and 1.5-inch bearings in its upper and lower races, respectively. The 1.5-inch bottom bearing has also been positioned in line with the downtube to better transmit forces from the fork down the largest tube of the bike.
Fothem’s bike featured Shimano’s prototype carbon crank. The prototype is 55 grams lighter than the all-aluminum version according to Gerolsteiner’s scales. Besides the carbon, the prototype relies on a tapered spline and adjustable lock ring to affix the left crankarm and for the adjustment of the bottom bracket, much like the M970 series XTR mountain bike crank.
The bulk of the preparations aren’t as glamorous as getting to wrench on Specialized’s latest and greatest. Before the race the team’s mechanics had to glue 30 new tires to race wheels. It’s a task that’s not going to get done in an afternoon with the process that Gerolsteiner uses, which starts with sanding the rims and ends with a total of three coats of glue and two days of curing; in total it’s a three-day task. To give you an idea of the sheer volume involved in bringing a team to the Tour, Gerolsteiner brought 12 rear time-trial discs alone.
Gerolsteiner, like all of the teams starting the Tour, brought nine riders. Each of this team’s riders have three road stage bikes and two time-trial bikes for a team total of 45 bikes. This vast amount of equipment requires a seemingly endless amount of cleaning, checking and tuning before the start. Once the race gets under way each of the nine race bikes needs to be cleaned and tuned daily.
The spares get washed and tuned every other day and God forbid if someone crashes, no matter how minor, mechanics change out the handlebar, stem and fork — at the very least. If the frame is so much as suspected to be damaged it’s changed out as well. Imagine if two or three guys crash in one day, whew.
Bottom line is that these guys are going to have a busy month ahead.