Ask Nick: Making the switch, on-the-road fixes

Readers ask Nick about Contador's plans to switch bikes mid-stage and what it takes for a mechanic to make adjustments on the run.

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In the recent story about Alberto Contador pre-riding some Giro passes, it mentions he is debating changing bikes for the descents. Why and what advantage would changing a bike have? My only thought would be to get bigger gear ratios, but with multiple climbs, you would need to change back at the bottom.

Second, when I have seen riders change bikes, the team car always pulls up after the rider pulls over and gets off the bike. Is there a rule that states the team car can’t drive ahead and have the bike off the car and waiting for the rider, or am I just not paying enough attention and missed it?
– Tim Kenkel

Great questions! Thanks! Contador mentioned the dangerous descent of the Monte Crostis in the Dolomites. I doubt he would change for larger gears. Rather I think that he would ride a bike with aluminum rims for better braking and possibly bigger tires for the rough road.

Credit Agricole's Jonathan Vaughters made the switch to fat tires at the summit of Guanella Pass on his way to winning the 2001 Saturn Classic. | Charles Pelkey photo

At the 2006 Giro, we had alloy wheels ready for Basso on wet days. In the end, Riis vetoed their use, but Basso still rode Zipp 202s because he felt they had the best braking of the Zipp lineup at the time.

If he did change bikes, Contador would likely change back to a carbon wheeled bike for the Zoncolan.

Domestic fans might remember that a pre-descent bike switch was de rigueur during the three years of the Boulder to Breckenridge road race (known its first year as the “Red Zinger” and then the “Saturn Classic” for its final two). While the road up Guanella Pass was not bad, the road down was downright brutal and riders switched to mountain bikes for the run down the rough dirt road. Teams often had staff at the summit waiting with the fat-tire rigs and then the team cars would follow with the road bike at the ready when the pavement smoothed out again. It made for some exciting racing, but was a bit unnerving for those riding in the team cars at the time.

As to your second question, yes there is a rule that forbids team cars from going ahead for bike changes or other mechanical problems. To do so, the team car would have to pass the peloton and officials like to limit this for obvious reasons.

What happens right after the race? Do the riders have showers available right away? Do they get a massage or have to wait for the hotel? How long is it before the winners get on the podium?
– Craig in NJ

Waiting at the finish line is a soigneur for each team. They get the riders drinks and maybe a towel and direct them to the team bus. The winner of the race will remain at the finish line and after a quick wipedown and often a fresh jersey, he’ll head straight to the podium. Afterwards it’s off to the medical control.

At the bus, mechanics collect bikes and load them up. Once on the bus, the riders will shower quickly (most big team buses have 2 showers) and begin the recovery process. Sandwiches, rice, fruit and recovery drinks are pre-made and laid out for them. Riders will throw on compression socks or tights and relax and hydrate during the transfer to the next hotel.

Massages don’t happen until back at the hotel. But soigneurs get them rolling as quickly as possible. Depending on the number of staff and riders, some massages have to happen after dinner.

The team of soigneurs, like mechanics, divides responsibilities at races. One soigneur will handle laundry between massages and usually get it back to the riders at the following morning’s breakfast. Another soigneur will take bottle duty, another will make sandwiches for the staff and paninis (small sandwiches) for the riders’ musettes. Sometimes making rice cakes and ice socks will also be part of a soigneur’s day.

I’ve seen on more than one occasion the pros warming up for a time-trial with their disc wheel on the trainer. Is there a reason for this? I would think that putting your disc on the trainer when you don’t have to would lead to wear on a tire that you’d want in perfect shape for the race.
– Jordan Sher

I see where you’re coming from on this one but more important than minor tire wear is shifting. Warming up with a trainer wheel on a tt bike means that the warm-up has to be cut short so that the race wheel can be put in and the shifting checked.

Even if riding the trainer does wear the tire a bit, the total mileage on a tire on a disk is minimal over the course of a season. Time trials are usually short and warm-ups aren’t usually longer than an hour. So really, a mechanic can afford to use up those tires a little. It’s actually much riskier for a rider to warm up on his tt bike out on the road than on the trainer, especially when it comes to the tires.

This is why you see many pros warm up on their road bikes. Then you avoid any possible shifting and tire wear issues. As a mechanic this is my preferred method.

A lot of us have seen the classic photos of a team mechanic adjusting
a rear derailleur while hanging out the back window of the team car while the rider holds onto the car.

As someone who is impressed when a rider changes a shoe or a mechanic
raises a seat post while moving – what are some of the extreme repairs or changes that you’ve made to a bike and rider while the rider is still moving along with the race?

Also are there rules as to how long a rider can hang onto the team car? – Henry – Abel

Those are the same photos that made me want to be a team mechanic. I still love seeing them, even if my time hanging out of a car window is over.

At the 2005 Tour de Georgia, on the stage to Brasstown Bald, Scott Moninger had a broken shift cable on his STI lever. We got him on a spare bike but it didn’t fit him perfectly as it was a spare shared with other teammates close to his size.

After the bike swap, I put his bike on the right side roof of the team car. Jeff “Krusty” Corbett was my director at the time. Because Scott was our climber, it was important to get his bike rolling again. I put down the window, stood on the seat and installed a new shifter cable while we raced up and down hilly north Georgia roads.

The whole time a race official was screaming at me to get down, but Corbett coolly told me to keep at it. We would take the fine. Once the new cable was installed, we pulled over to quickly check the shifting. A small adjustment later the bike was back on the roof and we sped back to the peloton for another bike change.

It wasn’t a remotely safe thing to do. But it was a rush and with a confident director to look out for me I wasn’t worried. We were a good team. I trusted his driving and he trusted my skill. Later he told me we hit 50 mph while I was climbing around fixing the bike.

Kids, don’t attempt this at home.

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