The cabin of a Tour de France team car becomes a tightly packed world of its own during the race, containing a repair workshop, an assistance headquarters, a first-aid station, a refreshment point, and more. To get a proper grasp of the importance of it all, you have to go to the source. Ronny Lauke, Co-Founder and Team Manager of CANYON//SRAM Racing and Sports Director for Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, was kind enough to sit down with We Love Cycling and offer his insider view on what takes place in a team car.
Starting with the team’s setup, he described it: “At the moment, we have eight team cars for various reasons. We use the race cars to carry spare bikes and equipment, the mechanic, sports director and sometimes a coach. Depending on the number of athletes, each vehicle in the race is usually loaded with six complete spare bikes, five sets of wheels, a cooler box with the bidons, raincoats, a toolbox, and other equipment.” Regarding the cars, the team uses Škoda SUPERBs and OCTAVIAs, either iV, hybrids or diesel. They’ve been satisfied with all of them.
When a rider is in trouble during a race, the team car gets permission from the race organisers to break the assigned rank and speed ahead. That’s easier said than done. “It all depends on the traffic and road width and conditions. We have radio communication with the riders, and they notify us when they have a problem. If the comm is not 100% reliable, they give a sign to a race marshal who calls us, and we immediately try to find our way up to the peloton to help the rider.” When asked about the driver’s necessary qualities, he noted: “It’s extremely important that the person driving the car is extremely careful, observant, and has a 360-degree view during the race. You are responsible for the athletes’ health and wellbeing – they are the most vulnerable link in our traffic chain.”
Not many people realise how instrumental the cars and their crew are for the individual success of the riders. A crash, a puncture, cold weather, and thirst or hunger addressed too late cost the team the precious seconds needed for the podium. “You need to have reliable vehicles with a crew who will follow the team for the whole season and will know what each rider needs regarding equipment and nutrition. It all needs to be packed effectively and ready to use in case someone crashes, for example,” Mr. Lauke explains.
When talking about driving amongst all the chaotic race traffic, Mr. Lauke understands how essential it is to be familiar with the inner workings of the peloton, since he was a pro cyclist between 1997 and 2004. “In my opinion, it’s important for the drivers to be former cyclists. Because it’s difficult to anticipate the movements of a peloton of several hundred riders, which reacts differently in certain situations.”
“First of all, I believe you shouldn’t be stressed while sitting in the team car. You are responsible for the athletes on the bicycles who don’t have all the safety measures the car offers. So stress is not a good part of being in the car. But the tensest situations are probably when you want to follow a breakaway group, so you need to pass hundreds of riders in pretty narrow conditions. You need to pay extra attention,” he observed.
CANYON//SRAM Racing is a professional, diverse, and trailblazing group of women, with star riders such as Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Tiffany Cromwell, created as a platform for those striving for their personal best with full support from experienced and educated staff and experts on and off the bike. Each year, the team also scouts for new talent by adding the winner of the Zwift Academy to their squad. Since Mr. Lauke has been instrumental in these efforts and is a long-time advocate for women’s cycling, he is naturally excited about Le Tour Femmes.
“It’s a new milestone. I believe the riders have invested a lot of hours, days, and months on the bike; also sweat, suffering and pain. It’s nice to finally see them compete on the biggest platform possible. [The whole team is] very happy it’s happening. It’s amazing we can show present and future fans of the sport how emotional the sport is. It’s a big season highlight,” Mr. Lauke concluded.
Don’t miss the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes starting on 1st July and 24th July, respectively.