I witnessed the E3 Saxo Bank Classic race, invited by the AG2R Citroën Team…a fascinating experience of the cycling world!

The AG2R CITROËN TEAM has not less than 12 mechanics, painstakingly preparing three bikes per team member for the race, in a specially equipped bus, of which the team has not less than four, also for the team racers, the food, the cooking, massage, etc.

I know a lot about automobiles, their history, present and future, and I am passionate about it. But when the dynamic Citroën/Stellantis PR department, notably Press & Communications Officer Wim Willems,  invited me to join the AG2R Citroën Team for the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, run on Friday, March 25, I grabbed of course this occasion with both hands. The cycle sport has reached a level of mechanical sophistication which equals that of Formula 1 Racing, and then we have said nothing about the medical/physical aspects of the cycle competition, the training, the food/diet balance, etc.

One of the four impressive buses of the team, parked in front of the Van der Valk hotel in Gent…

It proved to be a truly wonderful and interesting experience, and you will read our story here, where I learned a lot, and I am delighted to share it with you.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

I drove the evening before the race to the Van der Valk Hotel in Ghent, where I was received by my host Julien Duval. He has been himself a road racing cyclist since 2008, and has been with the AG2R La Mondiale team since 2017. He stopped racing at the end of last year, and now guides with expertise the guests Citroën has invited to see their team racing.

He led me first to the different buses, housing the bikes, the team cycling champions, the food, the kitchen and everything a team needs. Very impressive…

The bikes are being prepared…

I first climbed with him in the bus where the cycles are stored and prepared. The team has not less than three bikes per team rider for the race, and there are no less than 12 mechanics in total, who meticulously prepare the cycles before each race and training, taking them fully apart to the last nut and bolt, inspecting, adjusting and reassembling them. I read the letters “BMC” on the frames. “It stands for Bike Manufacturing Company, and it is based in Switzerland”, Julien explained. Indeed, Founded in 1994, BMC has from the outset focused on creating speed. From its headquarters in Switzerland, BMC has spent decades building the cycle sport, pushing technologies to their limits. This clearly shows…

The starting number is carefully attached the evening before the race…

BMC has won races of all varieties, defined new categories, as well as maintained its reputation as a technological and engineering powerhouse. BMC wrote its way into history by supplying bikes for the world’s top athletes, winning races such as the Tour de France, the Time Trial and Road World Championships, as well as the Olympic Road Race. In 2021 the brand suppors the AG2R CITROËN TEAM. What I saw in the bus was the flagship “Teammachine SLR”, but BMC has also at the disposal of the team its “Aero Timemachine Road” and the time trial specific “Timemachine” models.

The workhorse for the E3 Saxo Bank Classic race…the Teammachine SLR.

I show you here a photo of the “Teammachine SLR.” It has indeed won every major title that a bike can win including Monuments, World Championships, Olympic Games and the Tour de France. Gone for instance are the classic brake cables, disk brakes are now the norm, and everything is now commanded hydraulically. The brake & shift levers are built by Campagnolo, as are the cassette, the chain, the pulley wheel. Also the front and rear brakes are “Super Record Discs” stemming from the Italian manufacturer.

The super important dérailleur is the “Super Record EPS 12 speed” also built by Campagnolo. The wheels are Campagnolo “Bora” wheels. The tires are coming from Pirelli, and are P Zero / Cinturato’s.

Pirelly tires and Campagnolo wheels…

The frame, the fork, the seatpost, handlebar and stem are built by BMC.

By optimizing tube shapes, core centre stiffness, revising the carbon layout and utilizing a brand-new one-piece bar and stem cockpit, BMC has updated the bike for 2021 and beyond.

The all-important physical condition and food…

Did you know that the AG2R CITROËN team has not less than four doctors at its disposal, on top of that two physiotherapists, and next to that a psychologist & mental coach and a psycho practitioner? Then we have said nothing about the nutrition: there is a nutritionist and a micro-nutritionist and there are no less than five cooks!

Foor and last but not least enegry gels and drinks are most important during the race…

Indeed, nutrition and drinking is most important. Did you know for instance that competition cycling makes one lose about 1 liter of sweat per hour and one burns about 75-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour? So the competitors have to drink at least 600 ml of a kind of Isotonic Sports Drink per hour, divided into 4x 125 ml (every 15 min). In this way, one has the right support for fluids, as well as a replenishment of carbohydrate reserves.

After two to three hours, it is necessary to take in some solid food, and so energy bars come in the picture. Of course, in the race, most often one has no time to do this, so the competitors take so-called “energy gels”, which is a highly concentrated carbohydrates syrup. Drink gels are mostly preferred, as they are mixed with the right amount of water, so it is ready to drink.

Julien Duval holding here the energy drinks, together with the aluminum bag of energy gel, for the team cyclists during the race…at the “point de ravitaillement”

So our host Julien led us through the bus with the food and the energy drinks, and also took care of us during the race the next day, where he drove us to the important vantage points, to take along these energy drinks for the necessary ravitaillement of the team racers…

After the finish, a so-called recovery drink is also necessary, and indeed one should thoroughly re-hydrate. After two hours a good meal is also de rigueur…

Besides riding in the race itself, training is also most important. The team has no less than six sport assistants and two osteopaths.

The AG2R CITROËN TEAM… and the race.

As said, on the race day we were driven by Julien himself to the start of the E3 Saxo bank Classic race at Harelbeke, then to several vantage points on the course.

The race was won by Wout van Aert, with his team mate Christophe Laporte arriving at the finish hand in hand alongside him, but graciously allowing Wout van Aert to win the race.  

The (E3 Harelbeke) is by the way an annual cycling race with start and finish in Harelbeke. The 130 miles long race is actually a preparation race for the Tour of Flanders. The route is shorter, but many of the mythical climbs of the Tour of Flanders are also found in the E3 Saxo Bank Classic.

The crucial moment: Wout van Aert and team mate Christophe Laporte cross the finish line…

The conditions with the famous Belgian cobblestones and steep climbs are very similar. The route takes us through East Flanders including 12 hills. Since 2012 the route includes the mythical “Muur van Geraardsbergen.” Spectacular indeed!

Last but not least, let’s turn to the AG2R CITROËN TEAM. Everything started in 1992, when Vincent Lavenu made his dream of creating a professional cycling team a reality. In 1997, AG2R Prévoyance joined in this great project as a co-partner alongside Casino before becoming its main sponsor in 2000. From 2008 to 2020, the cycling team wore the colors of AG2R LA MONDIALE. Since January 2021, they have been writing new pages in the team’s history, now under the name “AG2R CITROËN TEAM”. Indeed, then Citroën became a partner, and according to Vincent Cobée – General manager of CITROËN, “the first year of partnership was a year of learning which allowed us to discover the incredible universe of cycling.”

It was also incredible for us, and we learned a lot!

The love for the cycle sport is overwhelming in Flanders. The race was about men on their bikes, but this female cycle amateur who watched the E3 Saxo Bank Classic at the finish line was for me the woman of the race!

We let you look at the photos here, and just discover a unique world with us!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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