Spare a thought for the spanners…

Leopards on the cobbles

The week between Flanders and Roubaix seems harmless enough. Scheldeprijs was a welcome added distraction and the balmy spring sunshine has been a bonus. We are sharing a very comfortable hotel with the Leopard-Trek team and sitting in the breakfast room with Cancellara and co isn’t so bad…

Easy life for some, but the team mechanics are having less of a relaxing time – parked outside our bedroom window is the Leopard mechanics’ huge work truck, a wonder of modern coach fitting with a better equipped kitchen than most of us have at home and a workshop that I can only dream about. I just wouldn’t want the job to go along with it.

The chainrings are changed for Roubaix's flat but ferocious parcours - usually 53x44 or 46

Between Flanders and Roubaix, the bikes change completely, and it’s more than the wheels and tyres getting switched, too: this is full-scale rebuild time. Leopard’s mechanics, Roon and Roger, work 18-hour days to get the 16 special Trek Madone’s prepped for the Enfer du Nord. For the mechanics it’s been relentless – the back of the truck is open before I draw the curtains in the morning. And we’ve been out for a ride, had dinner and chatted in the bar until late and they’re still at it when we head off to bed.

Leopard’s Trek Madone bikes have longer wheelbases and added clearance for 27mm tyres that have the look of tractor tyres compared to the usual race rubber. Trek has done this by simply altering the shape and design of a longer rear dropout, so that the tyres will clear the brake bridge and seat tube. The forks are different too, with a longer rake for safe steering on the cobbles. The rest of the frame is standard geometry and the components are no-nonsence stuff. I’m happy to report the wheels are all of the standard handbuilt 32-hole variety, all apart from Cancellara’s that is, but I guess he knows what he’s doing…

The Leopard riders trained on the course today and looked in fine form at breakfast this morning. As former winners, Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady looked pretty relaxed about it all, although Wouter Weylandt looked less comfortable with some serious road rash after his pile-up at the Scheldeprijs yesterday, but he was out at the truck, first thing, asking Roger what tyres they were running and, later on in training, staying with the team until the last sector. Tough fella, Wouter.

Trek Madone, Roubaix-style

Not such a great day for team Rouleur however, as Leopard slipped through Mons en Pevele like it was a country stroll, our tired and less than tough little car smashed into a large hole as we hotly pursued them, and now a worrying drip has developed from the engine bits. I can’t really ask Roger to take a look as he’s still sticking tyres – they still haven’t stopped, they’re out there now, with Slayer and the Sex Pistols firing out of the stereo, so I’m off to find a garage that works as late as he does.

Roll on Sunday.

The tubular of choice

Arenberg awaits...


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