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After spending the last eight years as a mechanic with Danish team Saxo Bank and its successor, the Russian-sponsored Tinkoff squad, Guillaume Bouveret returned to his native France to wrench for the FDJ team. He looks back on how bike tech has evolved with the French pro teams compared with more international teams.
Words and Images: James Startt, European Associate to Peloton
Peloton Magazine: Guillaume, how long have you been wrenching?
Guillaume Bouveret: Oh, I’ve been doing it for 16 years now. I started with the Crédit Agricole team for eight years before moving to Saxo Bank. All of my family cycled and I was an amateur cyclist when I was younger, but I always wanted to work on bikes and I would say that, from the age of 16, I knew that I wanted be a mechanic on a pro team. I was always passionate about cycling, about racing, but also the bike itself. And there came a point, when I was pretty young, where I realized that I was more interested in the bike, than in training.
Peloton: You are one of the more international of the French mechanics and you’ve worked with tons of pros over the years. Is there one rider that stands out for having a particular attachment to his bike, who, like you, was really focused on the machine?
Bouveret: Well, probably the Brazilian Murillo Fischer, who just retired last year. He was just so passionate about the bike, old bikes and new ones. He just loved the bike. We could really talk about the bike. It was really interesting to talk with him about mechanics because he really knew and understood everything about them.
Peloton: And who was the most demanding rider when it came to his bike?
Bouveret: Well, it definitely would not be Thibaut Pinot, because that is really not the case! Hmm…let me think. American Bobby Julich was pretty demanding. He really was focused on every detail as was Danish rider Lars Michaelsen. And then there was Alberto Contador. He was very focused on his bike. But with Alberto, once the bike was set up, it was set up, and he didn’t come back and constantly want to adjust something. He spent a lot of time getting his bikes set up right, but then once they were ready to go, that was it!
Peloton: So here we are in February and you are setting up the team bikes for the upcoming classics.
Bouveret: Yes, these are the bikes that we hope to use for all of the Flemish classics as well as Paris-Roubaix. Lapierre developed this bike, the Pulsium. This bike is a little longer and has a rubber piece in where the top tube meets the seat tube and it is a little less rigid. All of this combines to provide added comfort and stability on the cobbles.
Peloton: It’s been nearly a decade now that FDJ has worked with Lapierre. How has the relationship evolved?
Bouveret: Well we really work hand in hand with them and, in the last four years especially, they have really come up with a tremendous product. This year, all of the FDJ riders are riding the same frame, the Xelius SL. That is the first time I have ever seen every rider on the team choosing exactly the same frame.
Peloton: You have worked on French teams as well as international teams. Do you see a difference? Does the history of cycling in France manifest itself in certain ways when it comes to bike mechanics?
Bouveret: Well, before, I would say, the French teams were a little behind when it came to technology, but in recent years we are pretty much on par. But I think a lot of it comes from the riders themselves. The older generation of French cyclists remained pretty set in their ways and were not too picky when it came to a bike. They just wanted to ride. But the younger generation of French cyclists is very demanding. They really want the best equipment, so that has pushed us to really provide the best bikes for them.
Just look at say the SRM technology. For years we saw all of the foreign riders with SRMs on their bikes. I remember when New Zealand cyclist Julian Dean first showed up with one at Crédit Agricole. But now everyone has one. Today, when it comes to technology, I really think everyone is pretty close to the same level. I really saw the difference with French cyclists when I returned here to FDJ after Saxo and Tinkoff. When I left Crédit Agricole and first went to Saxo Bank there was just a huge difference between the teams. But when I returned to FDJ after Tinkoff, I really didn’t see much of a difference.
Peloton: What has been the biggest evolution in bikes since you started working at the professional level?
Bouveret: Well, in the beginning, the big technology came with the pedals. Then there was the whole evolution from steel to aluminum to carbon. But today the most radical change has come from the move to electronic shifting. It has really taken over. We have worked with Shimano for years and I can really see just how they have perfected electronic shifting. The last gruppo in particular, the 9100 Dura-Ace, is just so fast and accurate. It’s also much lighter and more aerodynamic. It’s really hard to believe.
Peloton: What do you like most about your job?
Bouveret: Everything that is new. We’re lucky that we work in a sport that is constantly evolving. And I have to say that I am as excited as any rider when I get a new frame or gruppo. It’s just very exciting.