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By Lennard Zinn
Today, for the team time trial, I caught a ride in the second of Saeco’s team followcars.
It was very interesting from a technical standpoint, even thoughthe team had no mechanical problems until the very last moment. Saeco wasamong the first teams to start, so I watched the remainder of the teamsfrom the finish. In the end, I think that the cycling gods smiled on TylerHamilton for the second day in a row, and they did not Gilberto Simoni,both of which I will explain.
The director sportif, Giuseppe Martinelli, is in the first vehicle andcommunicates with the riders over their radio earpieces.To be worth anything,though, he needs to offer riders useable information. That’s where the secondteam follow car, or ammiraglia (the “admiral’s flagship” in Italian)has a critical tactical role. The driver of the second car, manager GuidoBontempi, supplies this information. That’s easier said than done.
Each car is equipped with a short-wave radio tuned to the Tour’s racefrequency. As the time splits of other teams are called out in French overthe race radio, Bontempi looks at a sheet he has taped to his steeringwheel that shows what average speed corresponds to a given time at a certaindistance. The matrix is scaled from one to 65km on the left side verticalaxis and from 43kph to 56kph across the horizontal axis. The time splitsin the race were at 18km, 42km, and the finish (64.5km). Bontempi’s mechanicsat in the back seat busily writing down time splits for other teams, whileBontempi followed with a forefinger across his sheet from the 18km and42km boxes to the called-out time in order to find the other teams’ averagespeed at those points.
Bontempi continually monitored Saeco’s average speed as well to seeif it was on pace with that of other teams. He had zeroed the car’s tripodometer and had an Avocet cyclometer taped to the dashboard he was usingas a digital stopwatch. As the car hit every even kilometer, he read acrosson his sheet from that kilometer to find the time that the Avocet cyclometerhad indicated at that point. He called the front team car regularly withthe team’s average speed and the comparison to other teams’ speeds.
Once the race came on TV, Bontempi flipped up his built-in televisionin the dash and watched TV, worked the TV remote, read off numbers on theaverage-speed matrix, watched his odometer and stopwatch, and kept lookingat the course map and warning Martinelli about upcoming turns and othercourse details. He did all of this while fighting for position on the narrowroad with press and official vehicles and motorcycles and blasting throughwater puddles.
All of this was happening in a driving rainstorm so strong that thewipers almost couldn’t keep the windshield clear as spectators leaned intothe road with their backs to the car watching the team ride away. It’san unnerving task without all of the extra responsibilities. The mechanicin the back seat of each car is of course ready to jump out in case ofa mechanical problem, and both of them got to do it on the second-to-lastcorner.
The Saeco team rode quite well today—far better than its disastrousteam time trial last year. The team rode consistently at an average paceof 52kph, impressive given the brutality of the wind and rain, lettingone rider drop off the front and come all of the way back, rather thantrying to do the double line that CSC did. The Saecos had no problems besidesbeing pelted by steadily-increasing rain, until two turns from the finish,when Simoni slid out on the wet road and crashed.
Both mechanics were out of their respective backseats before their carswere stopped (and before I had even had a chance to let out an exclamation!)Somehow, one of them had a spare time trial bike down next to Simoni beforehe had even quickly jumped back up. His bike was fine, so he jumped backon it, the front mechanic gave him a big push, the front car drove on,we picked up the mechanic who had given the push, and our mechanic rodethe spare bike to the finish (and got soaked in the process).
That turned out to be disastrous tactically, because the team rolledacross the line all spread out, and rather than getting the time of therest of the riders, which with the new rule system would have been 1:30slower than the Postal riders, Simoni was credited with his actual timebehind Postal. In other words, the fifth rider of the team finished at2:36 down on Postal, David Loosli came in next at 2:37, and Simoni andStefano Casagranda crossed the line at 2:42. (Mirko Celestino, who wasdropped at kilometer 59, finished at 3:54, but that is irrelevant to thispoint.)
Due to the rules, each team gets a finish time 10 seconds behind thenext-faster one, except for second place, which loses 20 seconds to first.By being 9th, Saeco was placed 1:30 down on Postal using this scoring system.A team’s time is that of the fifth rider, but by letting gaps open up becauseof the crash in the last few hundred meters and by not being among thefirst five, Simoni was given his actual time, rather than the team time.This is in contrast to a road race, where if a rider crashes in the lastkilometer in a road race, he gets the pack time, and this seems to be hardlyany different.
Bradley McGee did not crash today, but a similar timing thing happenedto him with his last-place Fdjeaux.com team. The team finished at 7:33back and was awarded the maximum time of three minutes back. However, McGeehad let a gap open up and finished three seconds behind the team, so helost 7:36, not 3:00. He probably does not care, he is so far down, butyou can bet Simoni cares. I imagine they are protesting right now.
Talk about luck!
I know that with last year’s Tour and the Giro d’Italia the year before,folks tend to think that somehow Tyler Hamilton hasmore than his shareof bad luck. Well, he’re’s a nice example of a bit of good luck smilingdown on Hamilton during Tueday’s encounter with the cobbles.
After the crash-marred and cobblestone-highlighted stage, Hamilton finishedwith the front group. After a short interview with John Wilcockson at histeam bus, he climbed in for the trip back to the hotel. Not 10 seconds later, the rear tire of his bike blew as it leaned against the bus. Fora tire to not blow when being ridden and then to blow right after is veryrare. He was very fortunate. There was a big sidewall cut in it. Ratherthan being dealt harsh cards like crashes as he has been so often in thepast, he was given a gift.
On Wednesday, in the team time trial, his team suffered no fewer thanfive punctures. Still, it turned out as well as possible, in that the teammanaged a second place, eight seconds ahead of Illes Balears.
By placingsecond, all the team lost for five flat tires was 20 seconds. Not bad,all in all, and they can be happy at seeing how strong they are.
Those little transponders
Finally, I thought I’d answer one of the most common questions I getfrom readers during grand tours.
I see from the Tour coverage that at least half the peloton has smalltransponder on the non-drive side chainstay. Is this a cadence sensor,or something more complex?
Every rider has it. It’s the timing transponder provided by the Tourde France to track each individual rider (or their bike, at least).
Until tomorrow, folks.