The world’s best don’t just turn up and race.
As Lotto-Soudal’s DS Nikolas Maes tells us, wheel selection and knowing the parcours is all about planning – especially during the spring classics…
Campagnolo collaborates with a number of professional cycling teams including WorldTour outfits Lotto-Soudal, AG2R Citroen and UAE Team Emirates.
Each team is riding Campagnolo wheels throughout the 2021 season including the spring classics.
For Belgian team Lotto-Soudal, this is arguably the most important time of the season; the time where, in normal times, fans turn out in their hundreds of thousands to cheer on their heroes. The Covid situation means spectators are currently at a minimum at every race.
But for the riders and their teams, they endeavour to follow the same protocols as usual – and when it comes to the major races and major stages, that means the course reconnaissance. The course reconnaissance, or recon, is where the team dissects a course, the conditions, and then set about a plan to play to their team’s strengths.
To give you more insight, here we catch up with Lotto-Soudal’s newest directeur sportif, Nikolas Maes, to see how his team prepares for the cobbled season, specifically to discover how they ready themselves for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. A
s you’ll know, Paris-Roubaix’s been postponed to Sunday 3rd October 2021. But Flanders went ahead – and here’s how Maes and his squad readied themselves for a long day in the saddle…
When does preparation for a race of the magnitude of Flanders begin?
It starts in the winter. This is where we’ll start looking at tyre pressure and tyre type. We’ll also start looking at which of Campagnolo’s Bora wheels we’ll use. After assessing the situation, we decided to go for the Bora 50s. They’re aerodynamic and we’re used to them. We’ll fit them with 28mm tyres.
I must admit we’re also testing Campagnolo’s new WTOs, but we felt it too early to implement them at Flanders. The future is WTO.
How do you decide your lead rider at a Monument like Flanders?
Well, it would have been a combination of Philippe [Gilbert, who won Flanders in 2017] and Tim [Wellens] but Gilbert’s off the race schedule at the moment as he’s suffering mental and physical problems. He is heavy of heart and needs some rest. So it’s all about Tim. He looked strong at Dwars door Vlaanderen [on Wednesday 31st March] and is in good shape. [Tim would finish 25th at Flanders; AG2R Citroen’s Greg van Avermaet would finish third].
How often do you recon the cobbles?
Flanders Classics have kept the same parcours for a few years so we know to great detail about the challenges presented by the Kwaremont and Paterberg. When it comes to a race like Flanders, the Belgian guys are so professional and many live nearby so they’ll ride it many times. But as a team, it’s unnecessary to ride it together too often as we know this area so well. I
was a rider myself for a couple years and know these roads, know them blind. That said, we also work with VeloViewer and fully trust this system. You can work through the roads on the map beforehand and can adjust in the race. Also, I’ll prepare the evening before and check there are no last-minute surprises. In the race, the guys ride with a combination of SRM and Garmin, so they have the parcours on screen. These guys breathe these classics.
The race season is busy – for instance, only days before Flanders, your riders competed at Dwars door Vlaanderen. What do the riders do to maintain freshness during such an intense part of the calendar?
Well, we’ll do one final recon a couple days before the race but that’s mainly for pictures. It’ll be light, though, and sprints are forbidden! If it was up to me, I’d say spin for one hour by the canal and take it easy. We’ll do a little more with gear focus on tube pressure. Yes, we already know the tyre pressure we need for the cobbles; this is more about fine-tuning.
Guys will start with a certain pressure that everyone knows – mechanics fully control this – and then they can adjust if they see fit.
Because both races are close together, the riders can go home or stay in our team hotel. Some really want to see their families and are free to go back and see them, but they must be back in the evening. Others say that they don’t want to take any risks, especially with Covid, and stay in the hotel, in a bubble, and focus on Sunday.
The mental aspect is so important. We don’t want them mentally tired for Sunday so give them the choice.
We know how important it is to be with family, even if only for 24 hours. Mind you, at the hotel we have everything. We have compression socks, compression machines, the masseurs are here for daily massage; they don’t have to worry about food. We nurture them.
Finally, how flexible are you as a team when it comes to executing your race plan?
We start with a basic plan and stick with it 100% during the first part. I call it the ‘opening hour’. We know there’ll likely be a breakaway and that’s all good. We can keep that under control. But things change rapidly in a race, so I’ll always indicate points in the race where one rider will give us all the positions of our riders plus the race situation.
You always expect attacks from the big guys plus attacks from the second line. These regular updates mean we can react swiftly. Ultimately, we don’t talk too much about the final sections because you never know what might happen.
You’ll start with six guys who you trust to be there at the final but someone might crash, someone might have a flat tyre, someone might have a bad day, someone might have a super day.
In this sport, you must be able to adapt.
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