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During the 2017 TdF one of the commentators said the that a teams GC contender or their best rider always has their spare bike carried on the right side of the team car, on the roof, above the team mechanic.

This was surprising and I'm wondering why the top rider's bike has a special place. Is it just because it's fastest to grab a bike thats directly above oneself in the case of a mechanical failure or are there other reasons as well?

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Yes, the idea is to have the quickest bike change possible for the person it matters most for.

With the bike attached on the same side as the mechanic's, he just opens his door, turns, and grabs the bike. For any other bike, he either has to go around the car, or even remove another bike before getting to the one he needs.

As for the obvious followup question (why is the mechanic on the right-hand side of the car?):

In case of mechanical trouble, riders and their support cars should stop on the right side of the road. That makes it easier for the rest of the race and other vehicles to avoid the obstacle. (This was actually part of the problem for Richie Porte and his controversial wheel change at the 2015 Giro d'Italia.) Of course, if there is a crash, the support cars will stop behind the crashed rider(s) to protect them from traffic.

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Right side of the car (for countries that drive on the right such as France):

  • closest to the curb when parked so easiest and safest to grab. If the passenger gets out, they are less likely to door any cyclists coming from behind.

  • furthest away from oncoming traffic so least liable to get mud and water thrown on it from oncoming traffic passing

  • clearly visible to fans as it passes

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    There are fans on both sides of the road so I'm not sure your last point is significant. – David Richerby Jul 13 '17 at 21:53
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    And I hope there is no oncoming traffic during a race either ;-) – Alex Jul 13 '17 at 23:01

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