Cycling / Tour de France: Mechanics deal with pedal trial: Mike Rowbottom, who will be following the fortunes of the Motorola team over the British stages, talks to the backstage crew

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The Independent Online
PERHAPS the most difficult moment of a testing day for the mechanics of the Motorola team came several hours after the end of yesterday's team time trial. Somebody had to tell Sean Yates about his pedals.

When the legendary figure - legendary, that is, on the other side of the Channel Tunnel through which he had just travelled - arrived at the base for today's opening British stage from Dover, Scott Parr, one of the three team mechanics, broke the news. The worn-out pedals with which Yates had become comfortable over the last two years had remained on his special time trial bike and been shipped back - horrible to relate - to Motorola's home base in Belgium.

'Those ones that were on my titanium bike?' Yates enquired evenly.

'Yep. Sorry man.'

Yates walked off. It had been a tiring day, a day that had seen Motorola achieve their best-ever placing in the team time trial - second - but by the tantalising margin of just six seconds.

Parr, who had to replace a bike when Motorola's most fancied rider, Alvaro Mejia, fell negotiating a roundabout, regards the team time trial event in the Tour as the most stressful day in a mechanic's working life. 'The riders are going right to the limit,' he said. 'If anything goes wrong, they don't have the energy to respond. If you get a flat tyre in a stage, it's no problem. If you get a flat in the team trial, that's it. I'm glad its over.'

As the weary riders filed off towards their masseurs, Parr and his colleagues, George Noyes and Geoff Brown, settle down to business as usual beside their cavernous team van in the hotel car park. The stage bikes for the team of nine needed to be de-greased and checked before the giddying off from Dover Castle.

The Tour lies ahead - and the trio have already been on the road for seven months, give or take the odd week's break. Brown reckons he has driven 30,000 miles in that time. The Tour of Mexico. The Tour of Valencia. The Tour of Italy. The Tour de France . . .

The margin for error as they fall into the rhythm of the event is almost non-existent. 'All the riders have a different reach and height on the saddle,' Brown said. 'We record those measurements and when we have to replace a frame and fix new parts on it we can duplicate their position exactly.

'The riders are hypersensitive to the bicycle. Any little thing that is not right and they will feel it. And over 200km it is going to be very painful.'

Yates, a 34-year-old from Forest Row in Sussex, has particularly individual requirements. 'I wouldn't say that Sean has eccentricities,' Brown said.

''Let's call them special specifications. He likes to ride with the nose of his saddle twisted out of line with the crossbar. I think to the left. And he likes the handlebars to be twisted down.'