Wrenching with the Goliaths of the Tour
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In the Tour de France there are many Goliaths—the giants of the road—but there are also plenty of Davids, those smaller teams and riders that do their best to keep abreast of the ever-burgeoning powerhouse squads that dominate the headlines. Of all the teams at this year’s Tour, none was more modest than the French-based Fortuneo-Oscaro team. One of the only non-UCI WorldTour teams, Fortuneo was present daily in the early breakaways, sprinter Dan McLay pushed into the top five on certain days and Brice Feuillu was a constant presence in the mountains, finishing 16th overall. Their main mechanic Greg Guédon spoke with Peloton Magazine about wrenching for this up-and-coming team. He has seen the organization grow over the past seven years, and is excited with its possibilities in the future with star recruits line Warren Baguil in 2018.
Words and images by James Startt
Peloton Magazine: Greg, you work as a mechanic for the Fortuneo team. How did you get involved in wrenching and working with a professional team?
Greg Guédon: Oh, cycling and I go way back. My family comes from around Brittany, a region of France that has a huge cycling tradition. My grandfather raced back in the days of Jean Robic and Louison Bobet. He never turned professional, but was a very good amateur and won over 300 races. My father was also a really good amateur and won like 200 races. And I raced for 20 years, but I only won 30 races—haha! Anyway, my mom and dad had a bike shop in Saint-Nazaire, just south of Brittany, and I worked with them until they retired. Seven years ago, I stopped racing, but the idea of working with a pro team just seemed really exciting and a logical evolution for me.
Peloton: You just finished the Tour de France with Fortuneo, which was probably the smallest team in the race, at least as far as its annual budget is concerned. In a way you guys were like the David, going up against the Goliaths of the Tour de France. As a team mechanic, can you tell a difference in a race like the Tour. Is there a big difference between the big teams and small teams when it comes to things like equipment?
Guédon: Well, I’ve been with the team for seven years and I have really seen a big evolution. When I started out we only had two full-time mechanics and now we are five. Okay, some of the big WorldTour teams have even more mechanics, but they have more riders as well. Things have really evolved, and now, between the full-time mechanics and some part-time help, we really have the time to focus on all the details needed to run a pro team at the highest level. In the beginning, we tried to do as much as possible at the races and we always finished very late. But now we can anticipate a lot more.
This year at the Tour de France there were four mechanics, and that worked out really well. Last year we just had three, but with four we were pretty much on par with most of the teams. I could really tell a difference.
Peloton: The team has worked with Look Cycles since 2015. What is it like working with this historic company. In France, they continue to evolve and push the envelope of frame building it seems?
Guédon: Yeah, they have been at the avant-garde for a long time now. Since 2015, they have worked with the same model, the 795 Light, but it never ceases to evolve. The headset is more fluid for example, and they really listen to us and incorporate our input into the design. Some of our riders were hitting the handlebars during the sprint for example, so they modified the bars a bit. We work closely with Raphaël Jeune, who was a professional on the CSC team. He is the pro liason for Look and he was with us for the entire Tour de France. He was able to see all of the little things that come up in a race like this, how long it takes to change this or that piece of equipment. Such a partnership really pays.
The same can be said about SRAM, our group sponsor. We work really closely. They only had two teams in the Tour, Katusha and us. As a result they are really with us and they are very reactive. The second there is an issue they take care of it, and they are great when it comes to getting us the pieces we need quickly.
Peloton: The riders pretty much all rode the same frames?
Guédon: Yeah, pretty much. For the Tour, Look brought out the 795 Light EVO, and some of the guys used the 785 in the high mountains, because it is a bit lighter and is really built for climbing. It is built to perform best at slower speeds in the mountains and descends really well, but when the guys are racing at 50 kph on the flats, they prefer the 795, because it is just stiffer.
Peloton: How many bikes does each rider have?
Guédon: I would say they have a minimum of five, but a lot have eight bikes. Each rider has a road bike at home and most also have a TT bike at home as well as their race bikes and an extra for the roof racks. The guys that do the classics have the 775 while the real climbers have an extra 785, and then the guys that do the Tour also have an extra bike.
Peloton: What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
Guédon: Doing the big races!
Peloton: And what is the hardest?
Guédon: Oh, I would say those days when your guys have a lot of crashes, when the riders are injured and the bikes too. But that’s cycling. You always have some beautiful days, some dark days.