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The Bontrager van
Photo: © Chris Davidson

The Chris Davidson diary

Chris Davidson is a mechanic for Bontrager Racing Service, which provides neutral tech support provider for US domestic races.

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Tour of the Gila, USA, May 1-5, 2002

Stage 5: Wherry's amazing exploding derailleur

Hello again from Silver City, it is the last stage here at the 2002 Tour of the Gila, and the distance and the climbing make this one live up to its name: Gila Monster.

It was a long night last night, a few extra favors to get people rolling for today, and the start time today was 8:00am because of the length of the stage. I successfully slept thru my alarm again, but my boss knocked on the door at 5:45am to get us out by 6:00am. Pump tires and load vans, meet at the gas station to fuel up the two vans and two motos, final polish on the vehicles and we are headed to 'The Drifter' for breakfast. My moto driver, Maynard Hershon, world famous cycling author and world class support moto driver, had his sweetie in town for the last two days of the race, so she joined us to help out in van number one. We get to the staging at 7:20 and start pumping and adjusting riders bikes as the smell of coffee drifts around the start area. We solicited some extra wheels from the pro teams in order to make sure that we would make it thru this longest stage. So far this has been a record race for flats. I had to head over to the Prime Alliance van to check on a hacksaw with Ken [PA mechanic]. On the way I run into a friend from Salt Lake City, Chan Head, who is racing category three. He is a old mechanic buddy, and in passing I mention that we are still looking for a second mechanic for one of our vans. Minutes later, Chan introduces me to another mechanic buddy of his, Kelly, from Contender Bikes in SLC, and we have our second mechanic for the van. It seems like it always works out in the end, sometimes in those last 10 minutes. Quickly back to the van and time to suit up.

For the stages on the moto I wear our Bontrager Racing Service moto jacket, with one race radio in the inside pocket. This radio is set on the officials channel, so I can hear the referees' decisions about the race. I turn the volume up so I can hear it thru my jacket, even when we are rolling at 40+ mph. In my right ear I have an earpiece for the second radio, one that connects me to the rest of the Bontrager vehicles [two vans and the other moto]. We use a microphone clipped to the collar of the jacket to speak to each other. The radio itself gets clipped to the strap of my tool pouch. The tool pouch hangs on my waist and contains the minimal tools to deal with problems while moving [measuring tape, folding allen keys, cone wrench, tape, toe strap, cutters, and so on]. I usually wear gloves on the moto, and carry one set of Shimano wheels. If we are following a break with more than one rider on Campy, I will drop back to the van and carry an extra rear wheel with Campy 10 speed. I carry the wheels loose in my hands, I know some guys that clip the wheels onto their belts, but this ends up getting in the way in a number of situations.

The race: early on a break goes up the road with 10 guys, containing all the big teams including Mercury. Our moto moves up to cover this break. The two Mercury riders [Derek Bouchard-Hall and Brice Jones] just sit on at the back as their team is leading the race. The gap grows to near three minutes, with these two joking that they are cracking the whip on the other riders driving the break. No flats so far as we make the ride hand turn at the end of the valley and start the first big climb. Almost everyone makes it up and over the climb together, and on the descent an rider goes wide in a corner and slides out, clinging to the edge of the road as there is no guardrail. His bike turns out to be OK and he remounts and begins descending again. We hit 60+ mph on the way down and really have to lean the moto to keep up. At the bottom, the rider rejoins the front group. We hit the U-turn on the course and begin climbing the same road that we just descended. We pass what is left of the main field and they are gaining. About halfway up the climb the leaders from the main field pick up the remainder of the break and we have about 12 riders at the front of the race, including all the big guns.

Almost at the top of the climb, and we are sitting right behind the race leader, Chris Wherry. He goes to shift from the 21 to the 23 and his rear derailleur breaks in half, cracking at the rear pivots of the parallelogram. This is almost unbelievable, the race leader disabled. The only other Mercury rider in the break that sees this is Phil Z, and he U-turns and gives Wherry his bike. Problem is that Phil rides a 54cm and Chris rides a 60cm. Chris struggles to catch the break again in the chaos, but is losing ground. As this is happening, Derek Bouchard-Hall rides up from behind and screams at Chris to take his bike. Derek is only slightly taller than Chris. Aboard Derek's bike, Chris begins to chase hard as we go over the top of the climb and start the descent. Chris puts his hand up as we plunge downhill and we get up to him on the moto. He asks for a tool to lower the saddle and I hand him the allen set. Over the next five miles of the descent, Wherry proceeds to adjust his saddle height while keeping one hand on the handlebars. A number of times we have to break hard in the turns, but we average almost 50 mph for the descent. All the while Chris is working on lowering the saddle and staying with the leaders. At the bottom of the climb, he puts his hand up again and returns my tool and says and simple "thanks".

The race continues up the last climb and it comes down to a four riders, Wherry on Derek's bike, Moniger, Pate and a TECOS rider. Pate tries to break it up, but Mercury is all over it, and Wherry has the extra gas to take the stage victory in the sprint. After the finish line, we pull over and I dismount the moto and look down to realize that I still have the same set of wheels in my hand that I started the day with, no wheel changes for me. Based on how the previous four days went, that is truly amazing. Today, I have had the best seat in the house for all the action. I never would have predicted any of this at the start.

Only one award today: mechanic of the day to Chris Wherry of Mercury. He had his overall lead explode with the body of his rear derailleur, only to recover and pull out the greatest combo of bike adjustment and descending skills I have ever seen together. All while remaining calm and focused. He truly was the best on this day, he could not be stopped. A true professional, my hat off to him.

That is all from Gila this year. It was a busy five days for the Bontrager Racing Service. My boss, James Sharpe, put together the best crew, and with a little help each day we had the race covered. My thanks to those who lent there skills in the van: Brad, Martin, Chad and Kelly. I hope that you have enjoyed the reports, I am heading to the HP Women's Challenge next, and I hope to give you the inside scoop on the best women's stage race in the world. For now, thanks for reading.