With the Giro d'Italia drawing to a close, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's time for a rest for the travelling circus that surrounds the professional peloton.
Sure, the riders might put their feet up for a short while to recover ahead of their next goals, but there's no rest for the
wicked team staff, who have immediately turned their attention to the next races.
With just 26 days separating the end of the Giro and the beginning of the Tour de France, not to mention the concurrent Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse stage races to contend with along the way, every member of staff will have an ever-growing to-do list and an ever-shortening period of time in which to get to the bottom of it.
Team mechanics are just one piece of the puzzle that keep the wheels turning - both literally and figuratively and mechanics from Team Qhubeka Assos kindly took the time to answer our questions around Grand Tour preparation.
We spoke with the team's Head Mechanic, Kevin Suarez Martinez, as well as Sports Director, Aart Vierhouten, who is responsible for wheels and tyres in the team.
Vierhouten has worked closely with the team's newest sponsor, Hunt Bike Wheels, who joined as a technical partner for the 2021 campaign; Hunt's debut season in the WorldTour. Aside from simply providing wheelsets, the brand has provided its expertise to advise on equipment choice, including helping the team make the switch to tubeless technology.
Cyclingnews: What preparation do you go through with the range of wheels ahead of a Grand Tour to ensure you're ready?
TQA - Kevin Suarez Martinez: Before we leave the service course we make sure that all tubeless tyres and tubulars are new, we service all of the bearings and run checks on every set of wheels to make sure that all rims are straight. Once that’s done they can be loaded into the truck to go to the race.
CN: How many wheels are you taking to the Giro and can we have an idea of how that's split up?
TQA - Aart Vierhouten: For this Giro, we had 115 sets of wheels including the 20 sets of time trial wheels and 26 sets of classics wheels for the 'Strade Bianche' stage.
CN: Does the choice of what wheels to take / to race come down to the team mechanics and sports directors or is it also led by the riders themselves?
TQA - KSM: This decision is made through the data and knowledge of Hunt engineer Luisa Grappone together with Aart Vierhouten, who is responsible for wheels and tyres inside Team Qhubeka Assos.
CN: Any special preparation in regards to wheels for the Giro d'Italia this year as the first year riding with Hunt?
TQA - AV: We had new TT rear disc wheels and front wheels for our TT bikes from Hunt, in combination with CeramicSpeed bearings.
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CN: How much do you have to maintain spoke tension over the course of a grand tour / between stages?
TQA - KSM: We never actually have to adjust the spoke tension of our Hunt Wheels. Only after a crash do we have to control the straightness of the wheel, when the wheel is not straight anymore, we have to adjust the tension.
CN: What maintenance do you do on wheels between stages to ensure they're 100 per cent?
TQA - KSM: We wash the bikes after every single stage. When we are drying the bike and wheels, we ensure that the bearings are 100-per cent dry and still adequately lubricated.
CN: What checks do you do on wheels to ensure they're ready to go before a stage?
TQA - KSM: When we prepare the bike after being washed, we check all mechanical parts and wheels. We check if tyres are still 'like new', the straightness/alignment of the wheels and the condition of the bearings.
CN: How often are you replacing bearings or other parts during a Grand Tour?
TQA - KSM: This all depends on the weather conditions. When the conditions are not too bad, we only have to refresh the grease in the bearings. With a quality bearing, we don’t have to change the bearing itself.
CN: Do you need to take any specific action after very wet weather? (as seen early in the Giro)
TQA - KSM: After a very wet stage we open the bearings, clean the ball bearings, and refresh the grease before putting everything back together for the next day.
CN: Any special requests from the riders in terms of wheel choice?
TQA - AV: There are a few yes from what they like to ride: For the entire Giro, Victor Campenaerts used the Hunt Limitless 48 wheels, while Giacomo Nizzolo rides with Hunt 80 rim wheels or the Limitless 60 wheels.
CN: Do most riders choose their wheels for each stage or do they follow your/the team's advice?
TQA - AV: It is a combination of details that matches the best set-up. The profile of the stage, weather circumstances and riders' preference together with the technical staff ensure the best decision to be taken.
CN: Any tips for amateur riders to help maintain their wheels after long rides or during the course of the year?
TQA - KSM: The most important thing to do when you want to keep your material “like new” is to clean your bike really well, and check that all mechanical parts are lubricated with the adequate lubricant before every ride.
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Josh has been with us as Senior Tech Writer since the summer of 2019 and throughout that time he's covered everything from buyer's guides and deals to the latest tech news and reviews. On the bike, Josh has been riding and racing for over 15 years. He started out racing cross country in his teens back when 26-inch wheels and triple chainsets were still mainstream, but he found favour in road racing in his early 20s, racing at a local and national level for Team Tor 2000. He's always keen to get his hands on the newest tech, and while he enjoys a good long road race, he's much more at home in a local criterium.
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