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Strade Bianche and its unique challenges of racing over the gravel roads of Tuscany make for one of the busiest and most challenging periods of the year for the hard-working mechanic crews across all the teams lining up Saturday in Siena.
“This race is very special,” Pohrebny told VeloNews. “We have to prepare the bikes especially for these kinds of conditions on the gravel. We have to pay attention to every detail, especially the wheels and tires. They give us a lot of work.”
Strade Bianche and its 60km of gravel roads is one of the most demanding days of the season, both for riders and mechanics.
Though it’s not quite on Paris-Roubaix level in specific setup, Pohrebny revealed that Israel-Premier Tech will be using new wheels and tires specifically selected and tested for Strade Bianche on Saturday.
The team’s riders will be racing on Black Inc Thirty and Forty-Five wheel sets, and Maxxis High Road 28mm tubeless tires. The Factor Ostro frames and forks are not specifically modified for Strade Bianche, nor are there any extra handlebar padding or tweaks often seen at Paris-Roubaix.
For Strade Bianche, it’s all about the right tire and pressure selection to find that perfect “float” across the gravel.
Pohrebny said with the wider rims and reduced tire pressure, the tire width almost kicks out to 30mm on race day.
“With the wider rims and tire pressure, it’s almost like 30mm,” he said. “It visually looks a lot bigger. The point between and the surface is wider, and that gives better control on the gravel.”
Tire selection is key for the gravel roads of Tuscany
Pohrebny said the tubeless tires have reduced rolling resistance on pavement, meaning the riders can run lower tire pressure to be able to have more grip on the gravel sectors without losing efficiency on the paved roads, which still account for more than 100km of the race.
“Our biggest challenge for us at Strade Bianche is to have as few punctures as possible,” he said. “The big difference for Strade Bianche is the tires and the wheels. The rest of the bike is a normal setup for any road race.”
Two years ago, Pohrebny recounted that there were so many punctures during that year’s Strade Bianche across the entire peloton that the race’s neutral service ran out of spare wheels.
To avoid being caught out, each rider will have two spare bikes in follow cars across the race, with dozens of spare wheels built out and ready to replace for punctures. Mechanics will have them at the ready in the sport director cars, and team staffers will be placed on key gravel sectors across the race course with extra wheels.
“The most important is the gravel sectors,” Pohrebny said. “If you have a problem there, you can lose a lot of time. Tubeless tires run much faster at low pressure than tubular. The focus more in this race is on the gravel sectors and have the best tires and wheels.”
Work began months ago on preparing for Strade Bianche
Preparation for Strade Bianche began months ago, when the team’s staffer began to consider which wheels and tires to use.
Once the equipment arrived, Pohrebny and the other mechanics started building out the bikes. Several riders were sent sets of tires to test over the past few weeks, and on Thursday, the team’s core riders previewed several sectors of gravel to finalize the specific tire pressure each rider will race on.
Pohrebny keeps all the details marked in a notebook. Tire pressure is a well-guarded secret among the riders and mechanics.
Tire selection is critical, but the riders also have an influence on if they see many punctures during the race. If a rider is feeling confident and riding strong near the front, they can float over the gravel and find cleaner lines to avoid some of the larger stones, rocks, and divots that can trigger a puncture.
“Yesterday in almost 100km of testing we had only one flat. That’s a good sign the tires are good,” he said. “The grip is good and the riders are happy. Let’s see tomorrow. Training is not the same as racing.”
For Pohrebny and the other mechanics, working on the bikes is all about passion for the sport. They take pride when one of their riders wins or if there are no mechanical problems that might keep one of their riders from success.
The job requires long hours and many days on the road. Last week, Pohrebny worked the Gran Camiño race in northwest Spain. When the race ended, he drove the mechanic’s truck all the way across Spain to the team’s service course in Girona. They reloaded the truck, and then drove to Siena to be ready for Strade Bianche.
With today’s integrated bikes and disc brakes, the hours are long. His day starts at 7 a.m., and if he’s lucky, he’ll be finished in time for dinner. Sometimes they’re up past midnight if they have to rebuild a bike or make emergency adjustments.
“The work never ends, but that is normal for us,” he said. “Cycling is my passion. If it is not, you cannot do this job.”