AIGLE, Switzerland (VN) – The final stage of the 2022 Tour de Romandie is a 15.8km individual test from the UCI headquarters in Aigle to the mountain village of Villars.
From the outside, it’s easy to be dismissive at the suggestion that there will be several important factors at play when it comes to the set-ups and strategies that riders will use come race day. But one only has to remember what happened to Promiž Roglič at the 2020 Tour de France to remember how important planned bike changes can be in uphill time trials.
First up, riders will need to make a call on the appropriate equipment.
This all depends on the course, and in this case, riders and their technical staff need to consider the fact that this Romandie time trial is really two time trials in one. Before reaching the lower slopes of the climb to Villars, riders have to turn the pedals around for 6km of flat and exposed Swiss roads. That brings into play whether a bike swap and the time lost changing machines is worth the gamble.
Weight matters more uphill when the speed drops and aerodynamics become less important, but the time lost changing bikes has to be taken into account depending on the gradient, whether the rider is comfortable on the TT bike, and even the expected wind direction.
Having looked at the route before the race even started, EF Education-EasyPosts’s Andreas Klier believes that the perfect spot to make the bike switch is between 5.5-6.2km into the course.
According to the German team director, this is principally when the aero advantage ends and the importance of weight takes over.
The next question comes down to precisely where inside that 700m window should the bike-change take place because riders need a certain amount of physical space to complete the maneuver safely and calmly.
From previous visits and data analysis, Klier and others know that there’s a left-hand curve at the bottom of the climb which fits those criteria at 6.2km into the course, so that’s their tipping point. On race day the most important thing is that the sports director, the mechanic, and the rider know exactly what they want to do and everyone involved doesn’t get nervous.
According to Klier, the plan will be as follows: The rider will slow down from roughly 32-35kph and then brake to stop. At that point the director will take the TT bike, and at the same moment the mechanic will have removed the road bike from the roof, pass it to the rider, push him up to 20kph or so and off he’ll go.
“We were discussing this morning how far he can push for, there’s definitely a rule somewhere and we don’t want to go past that. We’ll go to the limit but not beyond,” he tells VeloNews.
Hopefully, the mechanic is fast enough to completely reach that speed, but given they’ve been folded up in the back of the team car all week any pushing performances will be relative to their fitness, and if they’d had gone easy on the donuts the previous evening.
Klier and head of performance Peter Schep have calculated the speed the rider will have coming into the exchange, taking into account the pedaling rate before roughly 100rpm and then with the slightly lower pace from the push, a drop in cadence of maybe 20 revs or so.
From that, they will decide on the gearing choice on the next bike. That also depends in part on rider preference and their optimum pedaling rate for each discipline. As does tire pressure choice, and whether traction is going to be an issue for someone who spends a lot of the time out the saddle.
What about the power meter? Surely the rider needs their data and it’s not like a road stage where you see people swapping over head-units, they can’t waste any time messing about with that?
That’s been thought of as well, so riders who do make the swap will have an identical unit on their climbing bikes, although it’s likely that most teams are likely to only have a maximum number of two riders changing bikes during the day. That’s simply because although the process is relatively quick, squads want to keep the number of variables throughout the day to a minimum, and not every rider will be a factor in terms of either the GC or the stage result. The time limit will be a priority for some.
The rider’s viewpoint from Chris Froome
That’s the team aspect covered but what about the rider’s viewpoint? For that I ask four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome. He might not be concerned by the victory here in Romandie but all his experience means he’s perfect to explain the finer points.
Like at EF, the Israel-Premier Tech decisions are science-based, with the ‘performance time trial pod’ making key recommendations for their riders.
“I tend to go with their decision as they’ll have the right matrix to work with, and they’ll calculate how many watts more I’d need compared to the lightest equipment possible. What speed I’d be planning to climb at and let’s say it was 23-24 kph, how much of an aero disadvantage comes with not being on the TT bike. There are so many variables you can bring in but personally I’d always go with the decision-making of the scientists,” Froome told me.
“It’s really specific to each route so we’ll calculate if the extra kilos of the TT bike on the seven percent or so gradient are greater than the changeover time,” he continues.
The veteran rider also plans on going over the scenario of a bike change during the recon. He and the team will practice their routine, which brings back into play the element of nerves and the importance of remaining calm. Even Froome considers that most of the pressure is on the mechanic because all he has to do as a rider is concentrate on getting off one bike and onto another. Froome’s only worry will be his speed when it comes to clipping into his pedals.
If he changes bikes on the actual climb he will choose a gear that isn’t going affect his ability to pick up speed after stopping. This transition from one bike to another, time-wise, might cost 20 or 30 seconds in the actual stopping and restarting but what about the change of sensations on the next bike?
“The difference in heights of the handlebars, the seating, how the bike reacts means there’s a moment of adaptation that might feel a bit weird at first but you’re soon back into your rhythm again,” he says.
The director’s role
In charge of organizing all this on the road is the sport director, and at Lotto Soudal that process falls to Cherie Pridham who is director two for Romandie.
That means she is driving the second car that can be sent forward if the team has a rider in an escape or she could remain with someone who is lost from the peloton and they need support.
For this time trial her job is to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing and when they’re doing it, but she’s done so many time trials at this level that nerves don’t get in the way. The pressure might be completely different if one of their riders was up for the win because then it’s more stressful.
But here at Romandie, it’s a Lotto team full of youngsters and for them this is as all about learning the processes involved which could be crucial later on in a grand tour.
The actual bike change if or when it happens will be handled by director one who’ll be sitting beside her and they’ll make the call when it happens. It’s her job to communicate to the rider during the race but almost all the planning is done before she’s even at the event.
“I’ve spent most of last week on the computer preparing the Giro routes so I know it’s all done, this race [Romandie] was loaded up last month. she says and with that shows me how it all landed out in the front of the car.”
The directors have each stage prepared on VeloViewer so every turn, slope and potential obstacle is shown on the tablet in the car. During the recon, and there could be several of them, notes are taken on which corners may need attention.
Obviously, some things will differ at race speed, so for example the advice for a given corner could move from medium caution to flat out with no braking. Or vice versa.
When the moment of the bike change comes, Pridham remains in the car while director one and the mechanic perform their roles. Again she’s concentrating on what she has to do to make that happen as swiftly as possible. That means watching out for any spectators who might get in the way; stop just close enough to the rider without scaring them; don’t run over the mechanic’s foot when he’s getting back in but do it all in a controlled manner. Then it’s about encouraging the rider, making sure they settle into the effort again and generally making it all flow.
Time trials are long days for riders and staff, the bike change or not saga adds another complication to the process but it’s all about being organized. Very organized.