There was clearly a sense of excitement at the foot of Trocadero Gardens on the morning of Sunday, July 24. After all, this was a Sunday like no other, because this corner of Paris played host to the start of the new Tour de France Femmes. The women’s Tour has been years in the making and for every team here, there had been months of preparation. As the riders rolled down to the sign-in podium, perched beneath the Eiffel Tower, and as anticipation mounted before the start one could sense both tension and celebration. But for one person at least, the start of this inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was a race like any other.
“You know, a lot of people are asking me if I am stressed out for the Tour de France, but personally I see it as a race like another,” said Human Powered Health team mechanic Raf Wittenberg. “For me, the bikes have to be 100 percent perfect for every race we do…and the Tour is no different.”
The U.S.-based Human Powered Health squad was one of the first to arrive at the team parking that morning and Wittenberg was attending to final details on the bikes, much like he does before every race. It’s his job to make sure that each bike on this six-rider team is ready for action.
“Every rider here has one race bike and one spare bike,” Wittenberg said. “And they have the choice between the aero bike and the climbing bike. And for each rider and each size, we have a spare frameset and a spare groupset in case something happens during the race. So essentially each rider has three bikes here at the Tour, two that are built up and ready to go and one spare bike that can be built if needed.”
But the Tour is different from a one-day race, as many of the women prefer to start the race with two different set-ups, one for the flat opening stages and another for the final hilly ones.
Wittenberg explained, “They might have one aero bike for the early stages and then a climbing bike. And the same is true for wheels. We have been using the Vision Metron wheels, which come in a 40mm depth and a 55mm depth. In a one-day race, the girls will generally choose which wheelset they want and just go with that, but here at the Tour, they may well have one set of each, to best suit the different terrain.”
However, in many ways, the equipment choices that pro bike racers must make before the start of a major stage race like the Tour have become easier. “I have really followed the evolution of the Metron wheels, and they just get better and better,” Wittenberg said. “A couple of years ago you had to really choose between an aero set of wheels, which was a lot heavier, or climbing wheels, which were not as stiff. But today, with these new Metron wheels, you get the best of both worlds. And now this year we are using the new tubeless wheels which are just super-fast. The rolling resistance is so low. We have had zero problems. It’s really impressive!”
But while Wittenberg is impressed with the latest tubeless version of the Metron wheels, he is not surprised by their performance or quality. “No, we have been working with FSA and Vision for quite some time now and they are great. Firstly, the stuff just looks great. But more importantly, it works tremendously as well. It’s amazing, really, but it just keeps getting better.”