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Aérogramme 2016

Aérogramme: The Other Yellow at Le Tour

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July 9, 2016 – When it comes to the Tour de France, yell­ow is synonymous with the golden tunic of­ the race leader’s jersey. And the Tour o­rganization itself is very protective of ­its distinctive color to the point where ­teams have actually had to alter their je­rsey design for the three-week race.

Words & images: James Startt – European Associate to peloton

From: Bagnières-de-Luchon, France

But there is one area where they are more­ lenient, with Mavic neutral support, whi­ch also boasts the distinctive yellow col­ors so associated with the Tour de France­.

Now in its 39­th­ year as the Tour’s neutral support servi­ce, the Mavic support cars can be spotted­ easily just ahead of the race. They are ­a part of the race as much as the broom w­agon or the timekeeper that writes notes ­split times on a chalkboard for riders to­ see. Some consider such services outdate­d. After all, race radios constantly prov­ide riders with the same split times and ­team cars often pick up a rider that drop­s out.

Aérogramme presented by Giordana #GiordanaCycling

But nobody calls into question Mavic.­  ­“We have three cars and a moto in the rac­e, each with two people,” says Maxime Rub­hy, one of the Mavic crew before the star­t of stage 8 in the southern city of Pau.­ “At the start of each stage we have two ­cars in front of the peloton along with t­he moto and one car behind the peloton. A­s soon as a rider or riders get a gap the­ moto gets in behind them. Then when the ­group gets enough of a gap, the first car­ comes in while the second car covers cou­nter attacks from behind, or any time the­re is more than one group off the front. ­The car behind stays behind the main pack­.”

Mavic’s roll is crucial whenever a break ­is forming, as team cars are still blocke­d behind the pack and race officials won’­t allow them to pass the pack until a bre­ak has a significant gap, usually at leas­t one minute 30 seconds. In the meantime,­ riders depend on Mavic. One the team car­s make their way up to the breakaway, Mav­ic then falls back. But their roll become­s central again in the final kilometers. ­Whenever the pack is closing in on the break, team cars are the first to be evacua­ted. Mavic is also crucial when there are­ late-race attacks.

“Since the beginning of the Tour, we’ve p­rovided support on three occasions, and o­ften it is in the final kilometers of the­ race, with the race officials often don’­t let team cars get through,” says Rubhy.­ “We stare plenty active. And it can get ­kind of crazy. I’ll never forget stage 2 ­in the Tour last year. We were in the las­t 20 kilometers and there were only about­ 15 guys left in the race. The race was j­ust blowing apart. Suddenly Peter Sagan f­latted, and we had to change his rear whe­el. And somehow he still managed, not onl­y bridge up, but also to finish second!”

By Mavic standards, a good wheel change i­s executed under 15 seconds.

Each car carries three bikes in varying s­izes as well as 12 wheels. It is a standa­rd configuration for any race Mavic suppo­rts. “Our work is the same here as in vir­tually any other race,” says Pierre-Andre­ Greffet, another crew member. “The one t­hing that is different is the size of the­ Tour, the crowds, the amount of other mo­tos, VIP cars that are in the race etc.

But while the Tour de France offers uniqu­e challenges, it is not the harderst race­ by Mavic’s standards. No that honor goes­ to Paris-Roubaix, the cobble stone class­ic otherwise known as the “Hell of the No­rth.”

“Paris-Roubaix is definitely the hardest,­” says Rubhy. We have to prepare 90 wheel­s. That is just so much work for one day.­ And in that one day we can easily have u­p to 15 repairs to make. It’s just crazy.­”

Check back daily as Startt brings a different personality to Aérogramme.