Tales from (just behind) the peloton

A day on the moto

Writer Maynard Hershon also pilots tech support motorbikes for US races. As he relates in this story from the Tour of the Gila, some days are busier – and stranger – than others.

Tour of the Gila - Silver City, NM: Gila Monster road stage

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Maynard Hershon and mechanic Chris Davidson
Photo: © Tom Simonson
My mechanic and I on the motor are following a breakaway of four guys. The break is two guys each from two teams, Jelly-Belly and Bianchi-Turkey Store. They're all working, and they've got a respectable gap, three minutes-plus, about a third of the way into a hundred-mile road race.

We're following them and the Rolf Wheels van is following them. We've got wheels and spare bikes and tools, two mechanics and two drivers in support of a four-man break.

From the motorcycle, we see the last guy in line, a strong-looking guy from the Turkey Store team, bounce across a cattle guard. As he does, one of his handlebar end-plugs, chrome plastic, falls out and tinks on the road, rolls a few inches and stops, glittering on the asphalt.

A mile or so later, we watch as he muffs a shift and drops his chain off the chainring or off a jockey wheel, hard to tell. We watch him struggle with getting it back where it's supposed to be, all the while trying to stay on the wheel in front of him.

Soon, we see his hand go up: He wants a service, mechanical help from us. We ride up alongside. We see that his chain is jumping ca-chunk on the cassette cogs. Evidently the chain got kinked as he fought to get it back in place.

Chris, my mechanic, radios to the van to get a spare bike ready. He tells them the guy's frame size and what kind of pedals he rides. He asks the guy his saddle height, the guy knows and tells him, and he radios that information to the van.

Immediately, Scott, the mechanic in the van, is out the side door of the rolling van, reaching up to get a bike down from the roof. Once it's inside, he's installing pedals and getting the seat adjusted to the guy's spec.

The van passes the riders and shoots ahead a eighth of a mile. Scott gets out with the spare bike ready to do an almost instant bike change.

Which they do. The guy is now riding a Rolf bike with his own bottles in the cages. Scott, back in the van, is trying to iron the kinks out of the guy's chain.

The racer's hand goes up again. He tells us that the spare bike's seat is too low. There's no quick release seat binder, so the rider leans against the side of the rolling van while Scott, hanging out the door, loosens the binder and raises the seat.

All this is done on a narrow, winding country road at probably 20mph. The woman driving the van is my mechanic Chris's girlfriend. She has never done race work before, and now she's got a bike rider leaning against her vehicle as she drives.

We watch it all; It seems to take forever, rider and van SO close together. Eventually, the racer rejoins the break but within a mile, his hand is up again. This time, the seat is crooked on the Rolf bike, not pointed straight ahead.

We watch the same drama again as Scott straightens the seat. The guy goes back to the break. Chris's girlfriend goes back to breathing.

Scott radios, tells us he's found the bent place in the guy's chain. He's ready to give the guy back his own bike. The van passes the break and again stops on the shoulder. We watch as they do the exchange, put the guy on his own bike. Takes only seconds. But almost immediately, the guy's hand is up again.

This time, it's a front flat. We handle it with the motor. The guy has the wheel out by the time we get stopped. Chris does a quick service and pushes him up the road. The other guys wait for him and he's on a wheel in no time. Amazingly though, within a mile, his hand is up again. Same guy.

The chain is still jumping on the gears. There must have been another bent place, one Scott didn't find. This time, we can see that the guy is getting a bit discouraged. He waves his three break-mates down the road. They wait despite his protestations.

The van jumps ahead, they do another bike change. This time, of course, the spare bike is set up perfectly. The guy sticks his bottles in the Rolf bike's cages and rejoins the break.

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The Gila bunch in the shadow of Cook's Peak
Photo: © Doug Sheppard
We'd get splits now and then over our support radio. At most, the break had just over four minutes. At this point, the gap had narrowed to maybe two and a half. We tell the guys the splits, but we're happier doing that when the gap is widening. You hate to tell guys all that work may avail them nothing.

Scott has the guy's bike in the van. After a few minutes, he radios that he's found the second kinked place and removed it, shortening the chain slightly. We ride up and tell the guy we're gonna give him back his bike yet again. This time it'll work, we say.

The van moves up, they do the switch, Scott pushes the guy up the road. We watch the guy catch and join the rotation. That made four bike changes and a wheel change in 20 miles for a four-man break. All for the one guy. No one else so much as dropped a bottle! Imagine!

The gap continues to narrow. Who knows what might have happened had the one guy not had so much bad luck. Even with perfect luck, it was a long race and a strong, motivated field.

We'd noticed that one of the Jelly-Bellies had appeared to be struggling early on. He'd lose a half a length on short rollers. He'll be history, we decided, the two-man panel of experts on the motorcycle, masters at reading races.

The two Team B riders and the one Jelly-Belly got absorbed not long afterward. The other Jelly-Belly, the "weak" one, stayed away alone for miles, finally getting lost in the strung-out front-runners on the two nearly endless climbs to the finish in Pinos Altos.

We get the great view from the tech motor. We can tell you what did happen, but we can't tell you what will happen. What will happen is anybody's guess. That's what makes bike racing.

Results and report

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