The Hell of the North returns on Sunday and, after 258km of racing, including 27 sections of pavé, riders will arrive at Roubaix’s iconic velodrome battered and bruised, caked in dust, mud and blood. It will also signal the end of one of the toughest week’s on the racing calendar for Team Sky mechanic Richard Lambert.
Each of Sky’s eight-strong team for Paris-Roubaix will swap their Dogma 2 for a Dogma K to tackle the race’s infamous cobbles, leaving the two mechanics – Lambert and colleague Gary Blem – racing against the clock this week to prep the bikes for the race.
“We’re working 12 hour days to get the bikes ready for Roubaix – and as the race gets closer you can feel the pressure rising,” says 24-year-old Lambert.
The Dogma K, ridden at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday so the riders could “get one race under their belt beforeRoubaix”, is Pinarello’s take on endurance comfort. The machine may be little known but is essentially the same bike as last year’s KOBH, but with a name change to take advantage of the Dogma’s established reputation and marketing clout.
The KOBH was developed in conjunction with Team Sky to tame the cobbles and has longer chainstays and fork blades to give enough clearance to accommodate tyres up to 28mm wide, redesigned seatstays and a more relaxed geometry, while fork rake is increased from 45mm to 55mm, with longer fork blades to increase vibration absorption. “All to soften the impact of the cobbles and create a more comfortable ride,” says Lambert.
“We take off most of the lightweight components and replace them with aluminium or steel. The steel bottle cages we use are mostly for security, so the bottles don’t bounce out and take down a rider, but also because if a rider loses a bottle in the last 20km they won’t have anything to drink until the finish,” adds Lambert, who says the unique demands of thundering over Europe’s cobblestones increases the workload on the WorldTour’s mechanics who are often described as having the toughest job in cycling.
“We work the longest hours – it’s a tough job, not easy. If something goes wrong then it’s normally the mechanics who are in the firing line,” although Lambert admits they haven’t encountered any problems “out of the ordinary” so far this season.
“I’ve been in the job for a year and a quarter now and I’ve been learning a lot of the tricks of the trade – things you’re expected to know.”
Tricks of the trade like double handlebar tape are common place in the peloton once the cobbled Classics arrive; instead it’s each individual rider’s idiosyncrasies that have proved the biggest challenge for Lambert.
“Ian Stannard has lowered his saddle by 3mm [for Paris-Roubaix] to lower his sense of gravity but, more importantly, to take the edge of the cobbles, while a couple of riders have raised their handlebars a little,” he says.
“Jeremy Hunt likes his ‘bar tape particularly tight. It’s easy to forget when you’re changing the tape or are setting up a new bike. There’s a huge amount to learn about each rider. One may like the brakes really tight, one may want a lot of feel in the levers. Everything has to be perfect.”
Lambert’s short time in the job has seen him climb aboard a steep learning curve. He trained as a car mechanic but arrived at Team Sky after what he calls a “respectable” amateur career. The Cottingham Coureurs rider won three national grass track medals in 2010 and was 23rd in the Lincoln Grand Prix, in a group which included Ed Clancy; finished 15 seconds behind Geraint Thomas, and 40 ahead of Ben Swift – two riders’ whose bikes he now prepares on a daily basis.
So when asked how much time he gets to spend on the bike now he is travelling with one of the WorldTour’s super teams, Lambert’s answer is instant.
“Zero. I don’t even have a bike with me.”
It’s one of the pitfalls of life as one of professional cycling’s nomads. Lambert expects to spend approximately 230 days on the road this season; his upcoming race schedule includes the Ardennes Classics, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de Suisse, and he hasn’t been home toEast Yorkshire in six weeks. For now, however, the clock’s ticking and there’s no looking past Roubaix.