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Inside a mechanic’s grand tour preparation

While WorldTour riders are busy training and racing, their mechanics are diligently working behind the scenes to ensure everything runs smoothly.

It is no secret that cyclists take months to prepare for a grand tour. But they are not alone, as the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España are a primary focus for every member of a WorldTour cycling team. Sports directors spend countless hours going over the exact route of each stage. Trainers focus on the physical preparation of each rider. And team mechanics spend endless hours preparing the team bikes and equipment.

“A grand tour for us actually lasts about two months,” EF Education–EasyPost mechanic J.J. Steyn explains, while sitting in his team truck at the Spézio Bio & Art Hotel outside of Budapest. The Grande Partenza of the Giro d’Italia is just days away, and Steyn is putting the finishing touches on the race bikes. “We start planning the needs of each rider until the last day of the three-week race. We start doing that three weeks prior. So actually, when you add things up,  that is nearly a two-month spread.”

EF Education–EasyPost mechanic J.J. Steyn (Photo: James Startt)

And while preparing for a grand tour requires immense planning, this year’s grand tours are even more complicated, as each starts in a foreign country, requiring major transfers only days after the start. While the Giro launched in Budapest, the Tour de France takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Vuelta a España in Utrecht, Holland.

“There are three mechanics here in Budapest, and for the rest of the race there will be four,” Steyn explains. “Two of us will pack the road bikes up in boxes and take them down to Sicily after stage 3, where two other mechanics will pick them up. And from that point on there will be four of us. Meanwhile, the third mechanic here will drive the time trial bikes down to Italy and drop them off at the headquarters of our partner Full Speed Ahead, where they will store them until the final time trial in Verona.”

Working as a bike mechanic at the professional ranks requires many talents, but few would suspect a prerequisite in calculus would be among them. And yet, when one considers all the calculations that are needed to make sure that each rider has all of the equipment—the different bikes, wheels, freewheels or tires—to compete at the highest level each day, a strong degree in mathematics is essential.

“Preparing for a grand tour is different from a one day race,” explains Steyn. “First we have to know just who is riding the race and then find out where their bikes are. There are just a lot more bikes. In a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège for example, each rider will have two bikes. But in a grand tour, each rider has three road bikes and two time trial bikes. Some riders are on aero bikes while some are not on aero bikes. Some of the bikes are in service course, but if the rider has raced recently, they could still be on the road. Two of the riders in this year’s Giro for example came to Budapest directly from Frankfort, so we had to get their bikes here separately. Once we have the final roster then we can really get everything together.”

In addition to the team bikes, even more wheelsets are required, and at the start of this year’s Giro the EF Education team arrived in Budapest 23 sets of Metron 55mm wheels, 16 sets of Metron 40mm wheels, 12 sets of tubeless 55mm wheels and three sets of 40mm tubeless wheels.

(Photo: James Startt)

“Before the start, we get a list from the sports directors outlining the needs of each rider for each stage. It is very detailed because we need to know in advance the exact bike choice for each stage for each rider. We need to know in advance what the wheel choices and gearing choices are for each rider. We have to plan for the needs of each rider until the last day of the three-week race.”

In addition to the specifics of the race, the team mechanics play a constant role in product development, working closely with partners like Cannondale, FSA and Vision.

“We’ve been with FSA and Vision since I started with the team five years ago and it has been a really positive exchange trying to make their wheels better,” explains Steyn. “Our relationship goes far beyond simple team sponsorship. We are really working closely with them to improve their product and I have seen constant improvement. Obviously the tech world in cycling is always evolving. It is never finished. Nowadays it is all about marginal gains and with our wheels there has just been a real evolution, especially in the hub. Rolling resistance for example, is just much better. Vision does the design, but we are giving them a lot of feedback along the way. There is a lot of back and forth.”

(Photo: James Startt)

While the team cyclists are obviously focused on their physical performance, the mechanics eye optimizing the technical perfection of the team’s equipment. But both remain united around one goal—victory. “Winning a bike race just brings everybody together,” insists Steyn. “It remains the greatest satisfaction of my job.”

In this year’s quest for victory at the Giro, the EF team will have a two-pronged approach, with puncheur Magnus Cort leading the hunt for stage victories while Hugh Carthy will focus on the mountain stages and the overall classification. Cort got the team off to a good start, leading out the sprint on stage 1 and finishing a strong fourth place on the climb to Visegrad. It was a promising performance. And it goes without saying that Steyn hopes victory will follow shortly. “It just inspires us all to give even more!”