This article originally published on BikeRadar
Team Sky has only occupied its new service course in Deinze, Belgium since November but with an estimated annual budget upwards of €15M, it's already seen more high-end gear than most bicycle shops will turn over in their entire lifetime. While it's always the rider that has to pedal the bike, our April visit supports the notion that Sky expends an awful lot of time, energy, and money to ensure that that's the only thing they have to worry about.
Sky team members certainly don't seem to be lacking in terms of equipment. Each of the team's 28 riders gets three road race bikes and one time trial race bike at minimum (riders such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish get more), plus each rider also gets a road bike for home use and in some instances, a TT rig, too. Factor in special machines for events like Paris-Roubaix, the occasional custom paint job, and spare bikes and frames, and, well, you do the math.
Each of those bikes also requires all of the necessary parts to build them up at the beginning of the season plus a sufficient allotment of spares to account for wear and crashes. And then, of course, none of those bikes has just one set of wheels associated with it. Add in race wheels of various depths and with different tires glued, training wheels, and the scores of special wheels just for Paris-Roubaix and it's a simply staggering amount of equipment.
According to service course manager Andy Verrall, there are around 150 bikes on hand at the service course at any given moment – which doesn't include bikes currently being used – and the team goes through roughly 600 chains and nearly 35,000 water bottles alone in a single season.
It's not just hard goods, either. Sky currently employs roughly fifty full-time staff members, including eight mechanics, eight soigneurs (Sky calls them 'carers'), two physiotherapists, and four doctors. Additional freelancers are hired on demand.
Needless to say, it's a lot to manage but Verrall says that despite the volume, everything is meticulously tracked – even inner tubes.
Power meter inventory is especially stringently monitored, not just because of the component cost but also the importance and quantity. SRM supplies the team with some and Sky also buys additional units but even then, there aren't enough to go around.
"It’s a big investment so sometimes we have to switch cranks between the time trial bike, race bike, etc.," Verrall told BikeRadar. "It's an important part of the team because everybody's looking at their training data. Each SRM has got its own calibration number so we can track it and everyone knows what's going on. We can't just have people coming in and taking an SRM off of another bike and walking away with it. Everything's controlled – where it goes, whose bike it goes on, and there's a plan."
Verrall says that Sky can have up to four events running concurrently, each with its own unique rider roster and mobile fleet of support staff, equipment, and vehicles scattered across the globe. Needless to say, logistics is a major concern and there's a full-time staffer who does nothing but manage who and what goes where and when in as efficient a manner as possible.
Part of that efficiency aim is trying to minimize the movement of the vehicles when possible.
"On the truck we keep five groupsets plus all the different shapes and sizes of handlebars, stems, etc.," said Verrall. "You need stuff here to top the trucks up. One thing we try to do is keep the movement of the trucks down. We'll just send a car down or we'll ship to a hotel if the mechanics say, 'we need this' or 'we need topping up'."
"It's pointless to drive a truck all the back from Spain back here just to take it back again the next week. We'll park it up at someone's house or find somewhere safe and someone will fly up and fly back or it might just be easier for them to stay down there for a few days. They can work on the bikes on the truck where they are. If you come back you've got a two days' drive back and another two day's drive out and you've lost a week."
Extensive travel is often unavoidable for the riders, though, and even Sky doesn't get to choose its own hotels during the Tour de France. The quality of the establishments can vary tremendously – some are quite luxurious but some are downright awful – but the team's 'marginal gains' initiative seems to address even that. After all, a rider can't race the next day if they can't rest the night before.
Sky actually sends a dedicated staff member well ahead of the rest of the team to prep the hotel rooms for the evening, which includes a thorough cleaning and a wholesale replacement of standard bedding with linens the teams supplies for itself. Even the mattresses and pillows are replaced with Sky-issued gear and riders get to choose their preferred firmnesses and feels so, at least in theory, they get to sleep in the same bed each night regardless of where they are.
In case of uncomfortably hot weather, Sky brings portable air conditioning units, too.
Sky may have suffered a modest start to its much-hyped existence but given the team's current performance in this year's Tour de France, it finally seems to have found its groove.
Marginal gains, indeed.