Riding For Red

Ascending with AG2R La Mondiale

As we approach the start of this year’s final Grand Tour, La Vuelta a España, we caught up with CeramicSpeed-riding AG2R La Mondiale to check out their aims and preparations. It’s always a mountainous race and the 74th edition will be no different. Rider and equipment preparation is key, and of course, our French team are keen to employ every advantage they can.

Let’s look at the squad. Leader Pierre Latour – last year’s Tour de France white jersey winner – is backed by the experienced trio of Silvan Dillier and Clement Chévrier, each on their sixth Grand Tour starts, the latter embarking on his fourth consecutive Vuelta. With the exception of the Swiss Dillier it’s an all-French unit, the other riders in their mid-20s, most with some Grand Tour pedigree, and all with good climbing legs!

Taking another Paris podium

AG2R La Mondiale’s Tour de France didn’t quite go to plan – but resulted in another Paris podium. Romain Bardet went hunting yellow and came back with red polka dots – could one of the team match it with blue polka dots? Or is it all out for red?

 

 

“For the Vuelta, we will try to get a good result on the general classification with Pierre Latour,” the team told us. “We would like to win a stage. We will have a homogeneous team for that.”

At 25, Latour’s a true all-rounder. He has only ridden the Vuelta once before, in 2016, when he left it until the last competitive day to win his first Grand Tour stage, which featured no fewer than four Cat 2 climbs ahead of the 22km grind up the Alto de Aitana. Latour’s strong time trialling supports his climbing: he’s double national TT champion.

This month he’s tapered his form with 6th at the Tour de Pologne, just 15 seconds off the overall winner: “The balance of the week is good, it feels good in the head after a lot of complicated months,” he said afterwards. “The departure of the Vuelta will arrive quickly. Even though I realise it may be different in a three-week race, I gained confidence in Poland."

Grand Tour stage wins

What did the team take away from this year’s Grand Tours so far? “We did a correct Giro d’Italia with Nans Peters who won one stage and wore the white jersey for two days,” they reminded us. “We began the Tour de France with higher ambition. Our leader had not succeeded in his goal but found the energy to go looking for the polka dot jersey. It’s the seventh podium consecutive in Paris for the team!”

Frenchman Peters’ stage 17 attack from the break 16 hilly kilometres from the line was great entertainment for viewers and a breakthrough moment for the 25-year-old: “With 1.5km to go, I said to myself I could do it,” he announced in the press conference. “My director was shouting that there was no one behind and I knew that in the final kilometre it flattened out and then was technical, making it harder for anyone to come back there."

Team mechanics’ big race roles

The four dedicated mechanics adopt their usual approach of working in two pairs: “Two are based in the hotel, while the two others are in the sports director car.”

The mechanics don’t typically have more work during the stage on a climbing-focused race, but they have more work the day before, swapping out drivetrain components to match the best gearing ratios to the stages’ profiles: “For the flat stages, the riders use 55 or 53 for the chainring and 11x28 for the cassette. For the mountain stages, they use 53x39 or 53x36 for the chainring and 11x30 or 11x32 cassettes.”

 

 

“We’re using CeramicSpeed Bearings for Bottom Brackets and the CeramicSpeed Oversized Pulley Wheel System. The various CeramicSpeed components help the riders in their performance, allowing them to gain in fluidity and to reduce friction,” AG2R report. “The OSPW System is a high-performance component; it reduces friction between the rear derailleur and the chain. It allows us to gain some watts.”

At 64kg and 1.8m, Latour puts out good wattage over a three-week race, but team efforts are as much focussed on driving efficiency as increasing output. Any power that is not wasted through inefficiencies such as air resistance caused by incorrect body position, or mechanical drag from tyres or drivetrain, is just as valuable as additional power being generated. And when they’re saved by a light rider with a high power to weight ratio – especially one who is protected by well drilled and well-skilled helpers – those efficiencies stack up. And it’s in this climbing-heavy race that this payoff is maximised.

The fun all starts tomorrow, Saturday 24 August – and we'll see a lot of calories, watts, kilometres and vertical elevation before the riders reach Madrid on Sunday 15 September. And as ever at La Vuelta it’ll be in the mountains where the decisions are made.

AG2R runs on CeramicSpeed Bearings: