Team Sky have only occupied their new service course in Deinze, Belgium, since November. But with an estimated annual budget of more than €15 million, it's already seen more high-end gear than most bicycle shops will turn over in their lifetime.
It's always the rider that has to pedal the bike. But BikeRadar visited the course in April and what we found supports the notion that Sky expend an awful lot of time, energy and money to ensure that's the only thing they have to worry about.
Sky team members certainly don't seem to be lacking in terms of equipment. Each of the team's 28 riders gets a minimum of three road race bikes and one time trial bike (riders such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish get more). Every rider also gets a road bike for home use and, in some instances, a TT rig. Factor in special machines for events like Paris-Roubaix, the occasional custom paint job and spare bikes and frames and, well, you do the math…
Each of those bikes also requires all of the necessary parts to build them up at the beginning of the season plus a sufficient allotment of spares to account for wear and crashes. And then, of course, none of those bikes has just one set of wheels associated with it. Add in race wheels of various depths and with different tires glued, training wheels and the scores of special wheels just for Paris-Roubaix and you're looking at a staggering amount of equipment.
Grip tape on Bradley Wiggins's Fizik Ares saddle in April, since banned by the UCI
According to service course manager Andy Verrall, there are about 150 bikes on hand at the service course at any given moment – which doesn't include bikes currently being used. The team go through roughly 600 chains and nearly 35,000 water bottles in a single season.
It's not just hard goods, either. Sky currently employ about 50 full-time staff members, including eight mechanics, eight soigneurs (Sky call them carers), two physiotherapists and four doctors. Additional freelancers are hired on demand.
Needless to say, it's a lot to manage, but Verrall says that everything is meticulously tracked – even inner tubes.
Power meter inventory is monitored especially stringently, not just because of the component cost but also the importance and quantity. SRM supply the team with some, and Sky also buy additional units. Even then, though, there aren't enough to go around.
"It’s a big investment, so sometimes we have to switch cranks between the time trial bike, race bike and so on," Verrall told us. "It's an important part of the team because everybody's looking at their training data. Each SRM has got its own calibration number, so we can track it and everyone knows what's going on. We can't just have people coming in and taking an SRM off another bike and walking away with it. Everything's controlled – where it goes, whose bike it goes on, and there's a plan."
Verrell said that Sky can have up to four events running concurrently, each with its own unique rider roster and mobile fleet of support staff, equipment and vehicles scattered across the globe. Needless to say, logistics is a major concern, and there's a full-time staffer who does nothing but manage who and what goes where and when in as efficient a manner as possible.
Each rider has his own rain bag, in which he can store preferred kit items
Part of that efficiency is trying to minimize vehicle movement when possible.
"On the truck we keep five groupsets, plus all the different shapes and sizes of handlebars, stems, etcetera," said Verrell. "You need stuff here to top the trucks up. One thing we try to do is keep the movement of the trucks down. We'll just send a car down or we'll ship to a hotel if the mechanics say, 'We need this,' or, 'We need topping up.'
"It's pointless to drive a truck all the back from Spain back here, just to take it back again the next week. We'll park it up at someone's house or find somewhere safe, and someone will fly up and fly back, or it might just be easier for them to stay down there for a few days. They can work on the bikes on the truck where they are. If you come back you've got a two-day drive back and another two-day drive out and you've lost a week."
Extensive travel is often unavoidable for the riders, though, and even Sky don't get to choose their own hotels during the Tour de France. The quality of the establishments can vary tremendously – some are quite luxurious but some are downright awful. The team's 'marginal gains' initiative seems to address even that, though. After all, a rider can't race if they haven't been able to rest the night before.
Team mechanics keep a careful eye on all gear leaving and entering the service course
Sky actually send a dedicated staff member well ahead of the rest of the team, to prep the hotel rooms for the evening. This process includes a thorough cleaning and a wholesale replacement of standard bedding, with linens the team supply themselves.
Even the mattresses and pillows are replaced with Sky-issue gear, and riders get to choose their preferred firmness levels so that, at least in theory, they get to sleep in the same bed each night regardless of where they are.
In case of uncomfortably hot weather, Sky bring portable air conditioning units along.
Sky suffered a modest start to their much-hyped existence. But given their performance so far in this year's Tour de France, they finally seem to have found their groove. Marginal gains, indeed.
Check out our image gallery for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sky service course.