Riders and teams are back at work ahead of the 2018 pro cycling season. In the latest instalment of the Velon Road to 2018 series, we speak to Trek-Segafredo service course manager Kenneth Van de Wiele about preparing bikes for 2018.
In a warehouse in Deinze, 17km south-west of the Belgian city of Gent, a small army of mechanics got to work on Monday morning.
They had arrived from homes all over Europe the previous day and won’t return until the job has been completed this Friday.
“It’s construction time,” says Trek-Segafredo’s service course manager, Kenneth Van de Wiele. “We need to finish building 65 new bikes by the end of the week. By Tuesday evening, we needed to have about 20 bikes ready. It’s a huge job.”
Despite being in the depths of the off-season, this week is one of the most important of the year for Trek-Segafredo’s 10-strong team of mechanics.
Components have been arriving via air mail from a range of suppliers over the past month – frames from Trek; saddles, stems and bars from sister brand Bontrager; groupsets from Shimano; tubular tyres from Vittoria – and now it is up to the mechanics to build them into what the team hopes will be race-winning bikes for 2018.
The first 20 bikes had to be finished by Tuesday so that they could be driven to Düsseldorf, in Germany, for track testing. The rest must be completed by noon on Friday so that they can be transported to Trek-Segafredo’s winter training camp in Sicily.
“The majority are brand new,” Van de Wiele explains. “All riders will receive a brand-new race bike for the training camp later this month and the 2017 time trial bikes will be rebuilt.
“By rebuilding, I mean that the current Shimano Di2 9000 groupset will be swapped to the new 9100 time trial groupset. But it’s almost like rebuilding the bike completely. You almost have to start from scratch.”
Van de Wiele and Trek-Segafredo’s technical director, Matt Shriver, first started ordering in 2018 components as early as August and the pair have been busy checking each delivery to ensure every part needed next year was present and correct, ready for the mechanics to arrive and start building.
The project will not be completed until early January, after a second batch of bikes has been built.
“After new year, there is only a small window of time before the season kicks off in Argentina and Tour Down Under,” Van de Wiele explains.
“I think it’s going to be the second week of January that the mechanics arrive to have another week of building bikes before the season kicks off.
“In total, it is about two weeks of bike building each winter. It will be approximately 140 bikes that we need to build this winter. It’s pretty stressful because you have to do a lot in a short amount of time.”
But there is more to do than just build bikes, because individual parts have to be tested and prepared in advance.
“The last race we did was in Japan at the end of October,” Van de Wiele adds. “Then in November we did some field testing for the Classics. What type of tyre are we going to use? What type of bike? What type of wheel? All that stuff still needs to be built in November as well.
“Those wheels needed to be sanded first and pre-glued twice. They need a lot of preparation as well. Then in December we start building the new bikes to tackle the 2018 season. The off-season gets shorter every year.”
So how much time off do mechanics get each winter?
“About three weeks,” Van de Wiele says. “It’s about the same as the riders.”
As well as being built, the bikes also have to be precision-fitted to the riders. Specialist fitters and engineers are drafted in to take measurements, which are then passed on to the mechanics to apply to the bikes.
“Next year we will have 28 riders in the team and all the riders will have three race bikes at the service course, one TT bike, home bike and a TT bike at home, so that’s at least six bikes for every rider,” Van de Wiele adds.
“If you have a rider who is a very good time-triallist, we add another TT bike, and also special bikes for Paris-Roubaix and the rest of the Classics. The amount of bikes per rider really adds up quickly.”
The only saving grace for Trek-Segafredo’s mechanics is that because Trek own the team, they will not be changing frame manufacturer this winter, which would make the challenge even greater.
“If you stay with the same bike brand, it is a little bit easier,” Van de Wiele admits. “Changing brands is always more difficult.
“It’s more complex because you start with a frame that is unknown to you and you don’t know which parts you need.”
The task at hand nevertheless remains a huge one, and with time very much of the essence, Van de Wiele has to end our interview and get back to work.