Mechanics for the 22 teams at the Tour de France put in long hours keeping bikes in top working order. Photo by Jason Sumner
There’s no such thing as down time for Geoff Brown and his fellow Tour de France team mechanics. A veteran of 19 Tours, Brown is head wrench for the U.S.-based Garmin-Sharp squad. On average, he gets five hours of sleep a night during the three-week journey around France. If he’s awake, Brown says he’s either eating, working or using the bathroom. “There’s no time for anything else,” he says. “Down time is head down time.”
During the Tour, Brown’s workday typically starts at 6 a.m., sometimes earlier depending on when the day’s stage starts, how far the drive from the team hotel to the start is, and if there’s still bike work to do.
“Usually we can get everything done the night before,” says Brown, adding that at minimum every bike gets washed and checked tip to tail. “But if one of the guys crashed or there’s been a lot of flat tires, there’s a lot more to do. Sometimes we have to finish things up in the morning.”
After a quick breakfast, Brown and his team air up tires, then load bikes onto the team cars for the drive to the start. Assuming no riders have dropped out of the race, that means nine primary bikes on the roof of a support car, plus nine spare bikes on each of the two team cars that will follow behind the race.
Garmin-Sharp’s Geoff Brown (upper left) starts his day with a quick breakfast, then gets bikes loaded onto the team cars. Rider rain bags fill up the rear of the team cars, while two sets of spare wheels, plus a handful of tools and spare parts, join Brown in the backseat. Photos by Jason Sumner
Each roof rack can hold four complete bikes. The other five are loaded front wheel off, three facing forwards, two backwards. There are also racks for three sets of spare wheels, with another two sets of wheels kept inside the car on the back seat behind the driver. Bikes are arranged on the roof of the follow cars based on each rider’s role on the team. Protected GC leaders or top sprinters’ bike are given priority.
“Whenever we pull over during the race to do service, we get out of the right side of the car, so the back right rack is the easiest to get to. That’s where the team leader’s bike goes,” explains Brown.
Also loaded inside the two follow cars are rider rain bags, a tool kit, spare parts (derailleur, spare chain, bottle cage), energy bars, gels, and about 100 filled bottles.
“We also have a bunch of electronics on board. There’s one radio to listen to radio tour, which is the what the race organizers announces play-by-play and instructions on. We have car-to-car radio to talk to our other team vehicles. And we have a radio to talk with the riders,” says Brown. “There’s even a small TV so we can watch what is going on in the race.”
Brown uses a rudimentary chart to keep track of where each rider’s bike is on the roof. The driver’s side door is filled with bars and gels that can be handed out the window to riders during the race. Three radios and a TV help staffers communicate with the riders and keep track of the race action. Photos by Jason Sumner