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 Some consider such services outdated.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.
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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.”
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