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The Chris Davidson diary
Chris Davidson is a mechanic for Bontrager Racing Service, which provides neutral tech support provider for US domestic races.
Tour of the Gila, USA, May 1-5, 2002
Stage 3: Thorny issues at the Inner loop RR
Welcome back to Gila for day three, the least tough of the road races of the five days. We started bright and early at the base at Fort Bayard, and for the early morning hours, the wind was blowing less than 20mph: amazing. After the wheel change stage record yesterday, we were looking forward to a day of better roads and fewer flat tires.
It didn't happen. The staging on the base had all the team cars park on the grass fields on either side of the start/finish road. The grass was dry and dead, but it contained tons of thorns. In the last ten minutes before the start they called the riders to the line, and the tires started to lose pressure. Riders started turning around in the staging area and coming back to our main support van and asking for wheels. The chief referee delayed the start because of the number of wheel changes we were doing before the start! Not a good sign.
The gun went off, I jumped on the back of the motorcycle, we started the neutral rollout and the hands started going up! We did three changes before we got to the main road. At the front, someone was pushing the pace, the field got strung out and people were already starting to pop. Some guys got dropped in mile one and never make it back on.
We started the climb up to Pinos Altos and as soon as the grade sharpened riders started coming off in groups. The hands werestill going up, and before the first feed zone we had done 15 changes. We had to radio the front van to drop wheels back. Early on the climb, two riders got away [RLX Polo Sport, Prime Alliance] and that settled down the field and put Mercury at the front. Just before the first feed zone there was a crash and Trent Klasna [Saturn] hit the deck, for what seemed like no good reason. The ensuing descent was clean, despite the lack of guardrails and the tight turns.
When we hit the valley below, we came around a bend, and I saw Dirk Friel standing on the side of the road holding his chain at arm's length. We did a bike change as Dirk said , "It's going to be a long training day." The rest of the valley road was calm with only a couple more flats. Later I heard a report on the officials radio that there was a cow in the road ahead. Sure enough we round a bend and a cow starts running in the left hand lane next to the riders. The cow makes a couple of hints of joining the field, and people start going for the brakes and puckering up. Maynard, my moto driver, gets ready for the carnage and starts looking for the shoulder on the right side of the road. The cow chooses not to join the race and ends up in the trees on the left and the field passes. For a couple of seconds there I was sure that I was going to get a taste of fresh steak tartar on top tube.
The Mercury train was content to keep pulling along, keeping the two breakaways under a minute. Once we turned back on to the main highway headed to Silver City, the large hill with the field got cut down to about 35 and they picked up the two leaders. This group kept the tempo high and rolled back to Fort Bayard with a 4:00+ gap, with all the major GC guys in the mix. It was Mark McCormick [Saturn] in the sprint and the GC did not change. Dirk Friel rolled in about 18 minute back on the support bike to complete his 'training ride'. For the last 20 miles to the finish, I got away with watching from the back of the moto, as this was the longest stretch so far without a wheel change.
The scoop: in the early break was Carl Swensen [RLX] and Matt Decanio [PI]. When they got picked up by the field Swensen hung tuff and made it to the finish in the lead group. I found out later that Carl did most of the work up front in the break when it was only the two-rider. Carl = big stud. Oh yeah, he is also the best us XC skier in the 30km mass start race, represented the USA in Salt Lake City back in February. Big props.
I forgot on stage 2: yesterday, Mark McCormick finished in the top 20 on top of Mogollon. I noticed that he still had his saddle bag and frame pump on his bike as he finishes. Just another day at the office, forget the 9000ft elevation at the finish line. A real pro.
Well we still did 20+ changes today and I was scared at the beginning that we would be very short on wheels again, the second half of the race today was more typical, only a handful of changes up front. Tomorrow is the crit and the downtown streets in Silver City are very rough. I think we did 30 wheels in a 90 minute crit last year.
Only a couple of photos today, a couple of our motos behind the field, the black line in one photo is the antenna on the van. The last shot is the daily cleaning of all the equipment, after working the race, we have to chase down of wheels, change tubes, wash and check the true. Then load the vans for another day. Tomorrow, no moto, I get to stand in one place and the flat tires come to me. I will get more photos up tomorrow, no shooting out of moving vehicles at the crit.
Stage 4 - Looking after everyone at the crit
Another early morning as today we were covering the neutral support for all the races, the category 4 women at 8:00am, right through the pro men finishing about 5:00pm. Makes for a long day, but I didn't have to sit on the moto for the duration. Extra early to breakfast, a stop at the store to get extra computer disks for the digital camera [I have photos today!] And head to the course. We set up on the start/finish line and start unloading the vans. With the first race starting at 8:00am, we have to have at least one set of wheels pumped and ready as the race starts, we complete most of the rest of the set-up during the race. Set-up involves tent, table, tools, sort and pump all the wheels, check over and polish the bikes. A number of the lower category riders are pleased to find that today they get the same neutral support as the pros. Many actually bring over their spare wheels only to find that we will provide all the race-ready stuff today. Plenty of last minute topping off of the tires, quick derailleur adjustments, and loose headsets to deal with in the couple of minutes before they stage each race.
Once the race has started, the most numerous problem is the puncture, which gets quick change, correct gear selection,, and a push back into the field . Weirdest service today was a crash in the pro women's race where six riders came into the pit at the same time, various road rash, and scratched bikes. As we stage to push six riders into the race at the same time, I learn that none other than Jeannie Longo was the source of the crash and that she dropped out of the race as a result. We also did a couple of bike changes today due to various problems, broken chain, broken shifter, and so on. The bike changes are tight due to the short lap times; we have to change pedals, size the bike, transfer the rider's bottles and get ready to push him back into the race. An interesting one today involved one of the Tecos riders from Mexico, he spoke no English, but was able with his hands to demonstrate that his shifter was not returning. We got a new bike, sized it, and he sat on it and began motion for the seat to be lower, then a little higher. The language barrier and the heat of the moment led to each adjustment taking a little longer.
For the pro race, all the pro mechanics came by and brought wheels and extra bikes for their guys. The pit went from relatively clear, to overrun with bodies and equipment. Sitting down front we had Ken [Prime Alliance], Scott [Mercury] and Chad [7UP]. The first half of the pro race was clean, no one came into the pit for service. As all of us are talking, I was fishing around in my pocket and found that I had a pile of Bontrager decals. Ken caught this and signalled to me to hand him one without letting Scott see. Soon we were all trying to place stickers on Scott's back without him knowing. After one too many back-slaps, Scott caught on to what we were doing. Being the good natured Aussie that he is, he warned us of the potential payback. I mentioned that I would have to make him the award winner for the day. He said make sure that my mate Gerard gets the word. So with that, Scott gets the 'cracker of the day award'.
The action: the crit was a weird one, lots of attacking early, but nothing went anywhere. Then a big group got about a straightaway lead and Mercury looked sunk. Three guys stayed away and still had a lead of 12 seconds with one to go, but Mercury pulled out all the stops and Gord Fraser got to raise his arms in the end. Pack finish for all that stayed on, so little change in the race.
The inside scoop: all the mechanics, team and neutral tend to be fairly helpful to each other. Despite the distinct team affiliations, we still have fun with each other, like at the race with Scott today. When it comes to doing the job, most guys look out for each other. Today I had to borrow a stem and tube of tubular glue from Ken [Prime Alliance]. A lot of the time when riders don't get neutral wheels back to us at the end of the day, the team mechanic will wash and true the wheel with his own stuff and then come find our hotel room at night and get the wheel back to us. We try to return the favour, so tonight I am gluing two wheels for a Mercy rider, and cutting down a steerer tube for an Ofoto rider. It all works out in the end and leads to a greater unity in placing the focus on the riders, and not the equipment or potential problems that might arise with it. It is good for cycling.
Last road race tomorrow. 103 miles and 10,000ft of climbing. 5.5 hours on the moto. I will try and get a picture at the start of me in the complete gear and give you a run down on the set-up for neutral support off the back of the motorcycle.