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Wrenchin' in the USA: The Chris Davidson diary 2008

Chris joins us again in 2008 to report on life on the road turning the wrench both in the road and MTB scene. Chris signs on with the new Team Type 1 squad for 2008; Chris has also worked for such teams as Navigators Insurance, TEAm Lipton, T-Mobile, Equipe Nurnberger and Mercury in the past, as well as neutral support programs with Shimano, Pedros and Trek.

As 2008 holds some new challenges for Chris, but some things will stay the same. One of those will be his informative diary contributions on Cyclingnews, where you'll often receive the inside scoop on all things tech and a look at life as a professional mechanic.

August 24 , 2008

2008 Tour of Utah – In my own backyard

Greeting readers. I am back on the stage racing as the NRC visits my own backyard here in Utah for some wicked climbing stages at altitude. Here is how the week went for me in the Team Type1 camp:

Glen Chadwick's race bike arrives in Utah,
Photo ©: Chris Davidson
(Click for larger image)

Pre race: Riders started filtering into Salt Lake City on Monday, with New Zealander Glenn Chadwick having the roughest travel route. He competed in the Olympic road race on the previous Saturday, then hopped a flight from Beijing to Newark, then Newark to Salt Lake City to arrive on Monday night just after midnight. Tour of Utah teams are allowed to be composed of up to 7 riders, but TT1 started Wednesday with only six riders as our Mexican rider, Moises Aldape, did not make it back from the Olympics in time to start in Utah.

Maybe one man down, but we brought a strong six man roster with Chadwick, Chris Jones, Valeriy Kobzarenko, Fabio Calabria, Ian Macgregor, and Matt Wilson. After some airport runs on Monday to get everyone, we settled into some bike prep on Tuesday.

Midday Tuesday, Doug Berner, the other Team Type1 mechanic for this race, and I headed out for lunch. We decide to eat outside, as the weather was nice. Already seated outside the restaurant was an amateur rider, obviously in town for the race, with his bike propped up against a wall. Still in the 100% bike mechanic mindset, I noted that his chain was dirty and that his bike needed a little love. Doug and I spoke briefly to the rider before he finished his lunch and rode off. After the rider departed, Doug noted that perhaps I had been a little too direct with my comments about this rider's bike, and that an amateur rider might have taken offence to a couple of pro mechanic's disparaging comments.

The more this set in, the more concerned I felt that I had done a misdeed by pointing to some potential maintenance issues with his bike. I have a great deal of respect for amateur riders who sacrifice to get to races in which they compete with full-sponsored pro team riders. Bike racing is a ridiculously hard sport, and competing at the top national level without directors, mechanics, swannys, team equipment, and transportation is heroic. After pondering this event overnight, I was determined I needed to better this situation.

As a side note on race prep, I got to uncase Chadwick's race bike and wash the sweat and grime of Beijing's roads off the frame and wheels. I know that the air quality was an issue at the Olympics, and not surprisingly his ride showed that the roads were layered in some serious black soot as well.

30 seconds to the start
Photo ©: Chris Davidson
(Click for larger image)

Stage 1: Wednesday's race was the flattest road stage of this hilly tour, and quickly into the stage four riders got away. The gap grew to seven minutes at one point and the big teams started chasing. Somehow, mid-stage, the leaders were directed off course, while the main field continued it the correct direction. By the time the officials realized the error, the break was rerouted back on the course a full three minutes behind the field on the road. So the officials stopped the entire main field on a small two lane road in the middle of some farm fields. And we waited.

After a few minutes the bewildered break rode up behind this huge traffic jam and proceeded through the 100+ riders and staff, with teammates standing on either side of the road cheering the break on. It was one of the most bizarre scenes I have seen in a race. We waited, then after another 3+ minutes the officials restarted the main field and the chase was back on. In the end three of the original four stayed away and took the stage. For Team Type 1 all the boys finished up front in the bunch without any mechanical issues, so it was an easy day in the car.

Glenn 'Chady' Chadwick
Photo ©: Chris Davidson
(Click for larger image)

Stage 2: Despite the hilliness of today's stage (all of our riders required 11-26 cassettes for the stage), Garmin started by whacking the race from kilometer zero. If that wasn't enough, less than 10km into the stage the road angled up to a 10% grade for the first KOM. Inside of 20 minutes of race time, the race was in pieces. We spent the next 40 miles in the team car jumping forward from group to group on the road, feeding our riders and assessing the damage. Chady's form was awakening after the post-Olympic travel, and he pushed the front group over the last KOM of the day to claim TT1's highest stage placing. His efforts also netted him the climber's jersey for the tour, one he would hold till the end.

Stage 3: The downtown criterium scheduled for Friday night netted us some extra sleep in the morning. Doug and I even managed a MTB ride before we loaded up the vehicles for the transfer to the evening's stage. We swapped the cassettes back to 11-23s for the crit, and the riders prepared for an American style 'hour of power'. Upon arriving at the team parking area, I saw that the amateur rider I had met on Tuesday and his team were parked right next to us. After unracking our team bikes, I went over and reintroduced myself to Jake MacArthur of the Hagens Berman Team. I also apologized about the comments I made on Tuesday about his bike. In talking, Jake told me that his team did not have a mechanic for this race, and that he worked on his bike himself. I felt even worse about my earlier comments, and it was time to set things right. I offered to take Jake's bike after the crit, get it washed and dialed, and deliver it to him for the next stage. He agreed and delivered his bike to me post-race.

Garmin rode the front of the entire crit with six riders, and despite many solo and group attempts to get away, the 'burrito boys' just kept the blistering tempo and reeled everything in. Our boys all finished safely and began to think about the queen stage on Saturday. Chady kept his KOM jersey and headed off to the podium ceremony. It was a late night, and after eating and returning to our accommodations, it was after 10pm. Doug and I decided to service the bikes in the morning due to the lack of daylight.

Stage 4: It was an early morning, as we were out before 6am washing and tuning bikes, swapping back to 11-26 cassettes, and installing a compact crank for one of our riders. I drilled it because, besides the bike and vehicle wash and prep, I had to get some time with Jake's bike before the 10am stage start. It turns out that Jake's bike needed a serious wash, a derailleur hanger alignment, a new shift cable, and some fresh bar tape. I am fortunate that my director Ed and my fellow mechanic Doug were gracious in allowing me time to get Jake's bike squared away.

100 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing at altitude is a recipe for pain, and the 2008 ToU version of this stage was full of it. Our Ian MacGregor got in the early break allowing our other guys to conserve for the big climbs. Over the Sundance climb, our team was well represented at the front, and once the race hit the bottom of the last climb, Chady was ready to take a swing. His attack on the bottom of the Snowbird climb cracked the front of the race and put the race lead up for grabs. In total we ended up with 4 riders in the top 20 for the stage, a testament to out team's strength and depth when the racing gets hard. Chady got third on the stage and further added to his KOM lead.

TT1 team mechanic Doug Berner
Photo ©: Chris Davidson
(Click for larger image)

Stage 5: The GC race was still close enough to make the 12km TT crucial. Our prep included enlisting the aid of a box truck from the Timex Triathlon Team, providing us with extra room for TT equipment and extra shade from the sun. To explain, Team Type1 is run by a company called TeamSports, Inc. []. They are very experienced in pro cycling; managing a number of pro teams over the years, most notably the Saturn pro team for 12 years. They also run the Timex Triathlon team, whose team box truck was in SLC for the Outdoor Retailer trade show, so we were fortunate enough to have access to it for the Tour of Utah.

Mild wind conditions allowed us to run disc wheels in back and Zipp 808s up front. We followed Chady in the car, and the only surprise moment of the day occurred when he reached for his waterbottle as he approached a blind corner. He managed to stay in the bars and use the whole road to navigate the corner without an incident. Chady's top ten TT ride confirmed his third place on the GC, an amazing feat on top of the KOM jersey he earned, considering his pre-race travel ordeal. All our guys put in a strong TT effort, ensuring the team would finish 3rd on the team GC [behind BMC and Garmin].

Post race, the race to get to the airport was on. Doug and I prepped bike bags for the trip to our next race, the Tour of Ireland. The bike bags got pretty heavy as they each included one race bike, two sets of wheels and 50+ empty water bottles. It turns out that this is one of the easiest ways to get supplies to foreign races, even with oil at over $100 a barrel and airlines charging extra for everything. The water bottles do a good job of padding the frame as well.

TT1 race bikes getting packed for travel
Photo ©: Chris Davidson
(Click for larger image)

Next stop: Our squad splits between the Tour of Ireland and US Pro Road and TT championships, with our American riders staying home to contest for the US jersey. Our foreign rider squad will tackle the revamped Tour of Ireland against the ProTour teams. For reasons that are not clear, TT1 did not get an invite to the Tour of Missouri; however we have some more international racing planned as a replacement.

And to Jake MacArthur and the other pro and amateur riders competing at the Tour of Utah, I tip my hat to you. This past week's race was wicked hard. I made a mistake early in the week, but was fortunate to be allowed to recover from it with a little hard work. I am once again humbled in the face of the sacrifice and suffering I witnessed this week. The determination exhibited under the most difficult conditions on the bike still impresses me after 15+ years of turning the wrench.

See you at the races.

Chris Davidson