Dec 12, 2016 – Belgian mechanic Jurgen Landrie may spend fewer days on the road than the average professional cycling wrench, but as the designated performance mechanic on the BMC Racing Team, the 41-year-old Belgian is especially focused on the minutiae of the team’s time-trial bikes in an endless pursuit of saving time with the set-up and design of the machine. No detail is too small for Landrie and he derives immense satisfaction in knowing that his work has helped make BMC one of the world’s very best teams when it comes to racing against the clock.
Words & Images: James Startt
Peloton: As the BMC performance mechanic, you are in charge of testing and fine-tuning the team’s equipment; is that correct?
Jurgen Landrie: Yes, that is correct. I work a lot on the time-trial bikes. We have what we call The Performance Group that includes trainers, doctors and osteopaths, as well as myself as mechanic. In that role I will be on hand for wind-tunnel testing, positioning, building the time-trial bikes, being on hand at time trials. It’s really interesting, actually. It is in the testing, for example, that we have come to realize that wider diameter tires are actually faster because they have less contact with the road, not to mention being more comfortable. Such an evolution has ramifications on the entire wheel construction. I do a lot of rolling-resistance testing for example. And that is really satisfying, because our team has won a lot of team time trials, sometimes by only a couple of seconds, so we feel like maybe our testing actually helped the riders go maybe one or two or three seconds faster.
Peloton: So you must feel very connected to the rider’s performance?
Landrie: Yes, but you have to see such things in the long term. It’s not that you see immediate results of wind-tunnel testing with a rider. It’s not because you work on positioning with a rider that he is so much better in the next race. Riders have to get used to a new position. Their muscles have to get used to the position. It’s gradual. I think it took us about two years to get to the level where we won our first world championship team time trial [in 2014]. We went into a wind tunnel with some of the guys on that team a full two years before we won. It’s a long-term investment.
Peloton: What are some of the biggest differences that you have seen from a technical viewpoint, that have made the biggest differences in terms of aerodynamics and performance?
Landrie: Well, bikes today have gotten to the point where there is not so much to improve. So we really focus on the small, small possible gains. Our bikes are so fast today. But we still see that there is a little room to improve. And that makes me happy. I find especially that there is still room to improve in the yaw angle, regarding the aerodynamics of a bike in side winds. It is the way you move into the wind and the tube shape and the tube angles that can play a real role, as can the wheels. We are finding out actually that higher profile rims can be actually faster in a side wind. It’s not logical, but we are finding this to be true. Wind-tunnel testing is proving this to be true, but there is a problem with bike handling and control. As a result, the market is focusing on making deep-profile wheels with greater stability. The tri-spoke wheels have really proven themselves to be efficient, not only because they are faster, but also because they are stable.
Peloton: What is the hardest thing about your job?
Landrie: Taking responsibility. It is one thing to go to a time trial and discuss gear choices or whatever. But if something happens in a time trial, if there is a mechanical problem, then you are somewhat responsible. It’s different than in a road race. A road race is maybe 200 kilometers long. You often have a chance to solve the problem and give the rider another bike without huge consequences. But if there is a problem in a 20-kilometer time trial, you have a big problem. You can maybe gain a second or so in your choice of tire pressure. But you can lose 15 seconds with a bike change. That is why the team decided to put one person in charge of all of the time-trial bikes. I build most of them, so I can really concentrate on the small details.
Peloton: How many races do you go to per year?
Landrie: I do about 70 days per year…. I do all of the time trials in the WorldTour, but also a lot of training camps, since that is where a lot of the riders are testing their time-trial bikes.
Peloton: Well, between Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis, Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen, you have worked with some pretty big specialists in the race against the clock. Is there anything any one of them has really taught you?
Landrie: All of those guys really know what they want. Rohan Dennis may be young but he comes from the track and really has his numbers down. Cadel was into the details and he really had his position down. He just had it! We tested him in the wind tunnel and everything, but there just wasn’t any need to change. He knew already what was best for him.
It’s interesting, but every rider teaches me something. And when it comes to positioning, every rider bases his judgment on real experiences from the past. And the knowledge that they come with can help us sometimes make them go just a little bit faster once we get them into the wind tunnel.
I remember going when we first went into a wind tunnel with Tejay as well as Taylor Phinney. That’s when we started raising their position but really closing the frontal area. That was the first time we had that idea, and I am happy to see that, from that point, a lot of teams are starting to follow that. Cadel had always been really low down, and we thought that the lower you could get the faster you would be. But then we started to see that closing the frontal area was really more important, even if a rider sat a bit higher. It was an idea that Allan Peiper [the Team BMC performance manager] and I had. So we started testing. We raised the handlebars 2 centimeters and it was faster, then 4 centimeters and it was faster, then 6 centimeters and it was slower. Finally we found the perfect compromise. Those are not the exact numbers, but it is an idea, and most riders started riding 4 or 5 centimeters higher.
Peloton: What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
Landrie: Well winning is nice and it is the final goal. But just simply helping a rider to go faster is very exciting. Just seeing direct improvement is very satisfying. It might not always translate into a victory, but it is still very satisfying.