Tour de Suisse
Meeting up to get a glimpse of the unknown world of the Time Trial Mechanic Jurgen Landrie of Groupama FDJ
It’s not often that you get exclusive access to the mind of a mechanic on a professional cycling team while he perfectly tunes the machines that propel cyclists at blazing speeds through a race course. During the Tour de Suisse, that’s exactly what happened. I met with Jurgen Landrie, (Département TECHNIQUE et MECANIQUE, Assistant Technique) for Equipe Cycliste Groupama FDJ, and we spoke about how imperative decision-making is for a time-trial, and things like the misconception about tt mechanics, and the skewed perception of social media on pro cycling.
Maximizing Power: Gear Ratios and Friction Reduction
“in a bike race you see the peloton, the breakaway, team cars and buses, and you think you’ve seen everything but you forget the other 50 people behind the scenes”
Jurgen Landrie, TT Mechanic for Groupama FDJ
A man is only as fast as his machine will allow him to go, and for Jurgen, making sure bikes like the Lapierre Aerostorm DRS of TT Champion Stefan Küng, are enhancing his capabilities to cross the finish line at breakneck speeds is the only mission.
No matter how important it is for the rider to be physically strong and mentally prepared, a lot of the weight in an ITT (Individual Time Trial) lies within the hands and the mind of the mechanic. It takes careful preparation to sit with each rider and decide which gear ratios they’ll use for each race. 55x11? One of the riders during Stage 8 of Tour de Suisse even went with a 58x11 ratio. The reason may not be what you’d think, though. This specific ratio allowed for him to have a straighter and clearer chain line which, in the world of marginal gains, translates to less friction, and more power efficient power delivery.
ITT Stage 8: St. Gallen to Abtwil
The ITT during this year's Tour de Suisse 2023 was 25.7km long with 400m of elevation. It started in St. Gallen and went on to a technical descent through narrow roads into Abtwil. The route prominently showcased the city of St. Gallen, offering a picturesque and fitting setting for the concluding stage of the men's Tour de Suisse.
When I met with Jurgen, it was the day before Stage 8 was to commence and he was making all the final preparations on the bikes.
Split-Second Decisions: A Mechanic’s Crucial Calls
One of the common misconceptions about time trialing or being a mechanic who specializes in the time trial is that it may be easier – or so I thought.
You have to make the right decision in a matter of seconds when it comes to racing. A mechanic has to anticipate what the exact problem could be even before he’s seen the bike up close. If there’s a mechanical, do you fix the wheel for example, or replace it? Do you swap the bike?
Mitch: So TT preparation is an easier process then?
Jurgen: “Why do you think so? I’m the guy that’s in charge of the TT bikes and I can tell you – it’s not an easy thing. If you have a stage race of 200 kilometers and you have a mechanical, you have time to solve a problem. If it’s a time trial, and if there’s a bike change, the rider takes the bike to go to the finish line and that’s it.”
You can’t foresee what will happen on the race course, but you can prepare for it, and ensuring a rider’s confidence on the bike is one of his main priorities. For many years now, Stefan Küng has worked closely with Jurgen to dial in his position and technique. With every pedal stroke, sprint, corner, and downhill, he thinks that his bike is good, and that, in turn, makes him faster. As Jurgen explains, “if he has any doubts about the bike, then he’ll ride it slower.”
Beyond the Surface: The Unsung Heroes and Unseen Realities of Pro Cycling
When you’re watching a race from the outside like the majority of us do, you see the peloton, the breakaway, and team cars, and you think you’ve seen everything but you forget the other 50 people behind the scenes. The girls doing the nutrition, the constant traveling, the entire team handling PR, and logistics, and the mechanics making sure all the bikes are working perfectly down to the most minute detail. These are the people behind the scenes who aren’t in the middle of all the action. Although the exciting bits are when you hear the sound of the riders whoosh passed you and the roar of the fans as the leader crosses the finish line, there is so much more to the world of professional cycling.
What most people don’t know, is how hard it can be if you’re shut down by social media because of some sort of crash, mechanical, or technicality with a bike. If a mechanic doesn’t fix something properly or makes a decision that the public doesn’t agree with, they’re very quick to judge yet most people don’t have the years of experience working with a professional cycling team. It’s almost impossible to imagine the intricacies of thinking about 1000 different things at once to make the decision for a race where you have one bike and one chance.
The results of the Tour de Suisse were hard to put into perspective. It was a very unfortunate weekend for the entire world of cycling with the passing of Gino Mäder, and it left an overwhelming looming feeling over the town. The riders weren’t laughing and chatting as usual, people weren’t as cheery-eyed and determined, yet melancholic and ponderous about their friend and fellow rider. In fact, this was the first topic we spoke about when I walked over to the mechanic's bus.
Romain Grégoire of Groupama FDJ went on to take 11th on Stage 8 of the Tour de Suisse, meanwhile, many riders and even teams decided to pull out of the race completely.
When a dark moment in the sport of cycling brings something to light, all we can do is respect the moment. RIP Gino.
“If you don’t do it with passion, you won’t survive in this environment…and every day we learn” - Jurgen Landrie