Among other things, the dashboard has a phone holder and a screen with VeloViewer that can also turn into a television – feeling that James Bond vibe yet? There is also a two-way radio, and more space to fit front and rear bike wheels, an open toolkit, lubrication gear, a cool box or the riders’ wet bag. Ronny Lauke, the General Manager of Canyon//SRAM Racing, let Matt on to more insider knowledge of exactly what role the team car plays in the whole enterprise that is pro cycling.
How important is the Škoda Superb iV team car within the overall structure of the Canyon//SRAM team?
In my opinion, you can’t highlight it enough because it is the centre of all operations and information in a bike race. Like you might see in football or basketball with the coaches’ bench, where all information is going out to the riders. So, observations from the Sports Director about what is happening in the race, what the next steps should be for the athletes. We also carry all the drinks and spare equipment, the car is the heart of the cycling team at a bike race for sure.
I like that, it’s a really good analogy, the ‘coaches’ bench’ and the ‘heart of the team’. So, the car is a supply and a communications hub in essence?
Yes, it is, definitely.
Can you describe to me the specific functions of the team car in a race?
Usually, we have a driver, who will normally be the second Sports Director, who is focusing on everything that’s happening on the road, like other team cars, spectators, and riders in the convoy. Then, in the co-driver’s seat, we have the first Sports Director who focuses on the tactics, who will get all the information we need from things like the TV, VeloViewer, weather updates, wind directions. Then, in the rear, we have the mechanic who also has an important role, in addition to their regular one, as they will write down the numbers of riders in the breakaways along with the second Sports Director so they can double-check information between them. So, all of the technical apparatus available to us is in the front of the car.
In the second row, we have all the equipment, tools and parts we need with the mechanic, then in the boot, we have drinks, food and spare clothing for any type of weather, spare shoes in case something had broken and also spare wheels. We need a car that is compact in its style on the outside but offers a lot of space on the inside and for that, the Superb iV is the perfect vehicle for us. It’s comfortable, offers space, and it is solid. Matt, some team cars are comfortable for the drivers but not for people in the rear seats, often mechanics are closing their ears with their knees as it is so tight! But with the Superb iV, the space in the rear is unmatched by any other vehicle in its class, therefore, it’s such a good car for being in a bike race.
Yes, now, correct me if I’m wrong in terms of statistics, but you have room for eight bikes on top.
There are generally two rear wheels and two front wheels on the rear seats next to the mechanic.
And then you have six or seven ‘wet’ kit bags in the boot with a big cool box containing around 40 bidons as well. Yet still, there is more space for other things, so it’s exceptionally roomy, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. And you need it as, sometimes, you may think, “Ah, where can I put this or that.” The mechanic may think he has forgotten something, so he wants to add this extra tool or have another pair of wheels in the car just in case, there’s the fear of not having enough spares, therefore the car is always packed. These vehicles need to be very solid in order to survive our sport.
When you examine the dynamic environment of a race, with all the varying terrains that you have to drive over, you’re not just driving on smooth asphalt, are you? The team car has to be very robust, resilient and versatile, doesn’t it?
Sure, when you see what a car has to go through in Paris–Roubaix, for example, the car will thank you when it’s over! You need a solid, reliable vehicle that can survive these kinds of demands. You need to be in the flow of driving, be smooth. In a race, you just can’t suddenly stop for a bump in the road as there might be a rider behind you, sometimes, it’s actually safer to accelerate if there’s an obstacle. This is something you only recognise when you are driving normally, outside of a race environment. I think, on many occasions, you react contrary to how you react in a bike race. The car will, therefore, be put through a lot, so a vehicle that is dynamic in any given situation is very important.
The team car, especially for a Sports Director or a mechanic, is almost like a second home. You have the race itself but then the amount of other time you spend in the car must be enormous. I can’t imagine the amount of time you have spent in the car over the years! So it has to be comfortable as well as being able to perform. A home from home, Ronny?
Yes, I mean, I have to say that the team car has to be more than up to the job as the Sports Director needs to be fresh all the time, they need to be able to trust the vehicle and they need to be able to rely on the reactions of the vehicle as well. Therefore, a robust car that has no problems and is reliable is super important. A Sports Director after a four-hour race needs to be able to concentrate and not waste energy. If you need to work hard physically to get a car around all the corners in a race or worry that the car won’t perform in difficult race situations, it can make you tired, which is something we can’t afford. Therefore, it’s like a home; it needs to be comfortable and, luckily enough, we have very comfortable vehicles in our Škodas.
Are there any particular features of the car that can assist you in your role? Things that are good about the car that help?
Yes. For example, all the Škoda cars we have on the team have adjustable suspension. So, when we go over the cobblestones in Paris Roubaix, it’s far more comfortable. Whilst on a stage in the Alps, with fast, technical descents and round corners, you can put it in sports mode and you feel significant difference and improvement in the handling. So, this is, for sure, one thing that we really appreciate. Of course, you need to have a powerful, solid engine. Sometimes, you need to overtake riders on small roads, with only limited opportunities to pass the peloton securely and safely, which is a major priority, therefore, you need to have a car that accelerates well, in order to overtake the bunch safely.
The Škoda Superb iV is a hybrid vehicle. You talked about the need to accelerate cleanly, effectively and safely but also at very low speeds. Especially in the mountains, it will default to the electric engine, right?
Yes. However, not all of our Škoda vehicles have hybrid engines, but we are in a transition period now, to make them electric or hybrid. I think as the infrastructure grows for electric charging, things will become far better. But right now, in my opinion, for cycling, the hybrid is the best option because when we’re in areas where there are members of the public or we’re driving at low speed, we use the electric engine with fewer emissions more efficiently, whilst when it becomes more demanding, we have the support of a regular petrol engine.
My final question, Ronny. As well as being a car that is clearly exceptionally functional, a vehicle that has high-level performance, it must be enjoyable to drive as well. Let’s be honest, you must enjoy driving the Škoda Superb iV, right?
Sure! I mean, if you get in the car and you know you have a transfer from our service course to the next race of 11 hours and you hate it already, then it’s not a fun drive! So, it needs to be a nice experience and it definitely is. It’s the same at the race, we spend a lot of time in the car. From the hotel to the race, from the start to the finish, from the finish to the next hotel, so it has to be enjoyable and comfortable. Which it is!
Ronny, thank you so much!