Frenchman Nicolas Pinheiro, a top mechanic with the FDJ team, moved from a historic bike shop in Paris to the UCI WorldTour, and the lessons he learned working on city bikes have helped him as a professional wrench.
Words and images by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton Magazine
Peloton Magazine: Nicolas, how did you get started in cycling and how did you become a mechanic for the FDJ team?
Nicolas Pinheiro: Well, I started as a part-timer back in 2003. But I had a job at the Bicloune bike shop in Paris and returned. It wasn’t until 2007 that I really joined the team.
Peloton: That’s interesting, because the Bicloune shop specializes in vintage bikes and town bikes. It’s not at all a competition-oriented shop.
Pinheiro: No, but it was a great place to learn, because it taught me to be able to work on everything. Frankly, if you can work in a shop like that, you can work on any bike. Working on pro bikes is a promenade after that. It’s a joy! We can build up a pro bike in an hour and a half. When we get a frame completely stripped down, we can completely build it up in 90 minutes.
Peloton: Today, your two team leaders are Thibaut Pinot and Arnaud Démare. Are they very different when it comes to their bikes?
Pinheiro: Not so much. Both of the guys really have confidence in us and trust us when it comes to getting the tire pressure just the way they like it, getting the position right or any minor adjustments. Every rider has his own particularities or fixations. Démare for example is really particular about his saddle height. He can be very sensitive to the slightest differences. As a saddle gets broken in, for example, it compresses a bit, creating small differences. Arnaud is really sensitive to that. He is a bigger rider than Thibaut and his seat compresses more. The same is true with tire pressure. Arnaud generally rides with a bit more tire pressure, say 7.5–8 bars, as opposed to Thibaut, who is more around 7–7.5 bars. But again that is mostly related to their build. Arnaud is bigger, so he requires a bit more tire pressure.
Peloton: You’ve been in the business at the highest level for over a decade now. Bikes have not stopped evolving. What is the biggest change that you’ve witnessed?
Pinheiro: Oh, the electronic derailleur without a doubt. That has really changed things. It’s just so fast and accurate, and now that everything is intergrated into the frame, the cable and all, the bike is just so much more aerodynamic. Another big change came with the wheels and tires, which are wider. When I started everybody was riding 23mm tires and now they are on 25mm or 27mm. We spend a lot of time in the winter researching new material and all of our tests show that the wider rims and tires provide the best combination of rigidity and comfort.
Peloton: The team has worked with Lapierre for some 10 years. Every mechanic I have ever talked to prefers such long-term relationships with the bike sponsor. It seems it is just so much more efficient….
Pinheiro: Absolutely! We’ve been working with Lapierre for over 10 years now and we really work hand-in-hand developing the product and making sure our riders have the best machine possible.
Peloton: What is the most satisfying aspect about your job?
Pinheiro: Oh, winning! That’s why we are here at this level, and when there is a victory at the end of the race, well, there just isn’t a better way to finish out the day.
Peloton: Has there been one victory that has stood out?
Pinheiro: Oh, there have been so many, but Démare’s victory in the Tour this year, with the green jersey and all, well, that was pretty special. It was such an amazing first week. Unfortunately, it didn’t last, but that is bicycle racing. Thibaut’s victory on the Alpe d’Huez [in the 2015 Tour] was pretty special, especially being in the team car. In moments like that you are in some ways an actor on the stage. The rider is the star, but you are an actor. There is more pressure of course. Every time you get out of the car to change a wheel in the Tour there is a TV camera on you. But it’s exciting!
Peloton: And the hardest thing about your job?
Pinheiro: Oh, nothing really. Sure we log a lot of kilometers on the road and of course its not easy being away from the family. But we are here because we love it.