By Kris Wells, Schroeder Iron Mechanic
After a day back at work at Ye Olde Bike Shop, it's hard to believe that I was only out for just over a week working for the Schroeder Iron Pro Cycling Team at the Tour of Georgia. It's absolutely amazing what can be stuffed into a single week. Here is a little about the life of a pro mechanic at a major UCI event.
Adam Livingston and I arrived in Atlanta on a flight from San Diego on Sunday evening where, coincidentally, Jake and Pete were waiting with the team van. We were shortly joined at the airport by some of the other team members arriving from all over the country; Frank, Reed the soigneur, Jaime, Miguel and Chann. We all piled into the van for the cramped 3.5 hour transfer (big theme here) to Savannah, where the prologue would take place on Tuesday.
Monday was a big day with lots of introductions, rider meetings, press conferences, and all types of pre-race hooplah.
Mostly I spent the day with the new team mechanic, Neil, prepping the Lightspeed Sabre TT bikes and disk wheels for the short prologue through the streets of Savannah.
Finally, it was time for a staff meeting with new director, Frankie Andreu, who had flown directly into Savannah that morning avoiding the long car transfer. Our staff meeting took place at a local restaurant over dinner and consisted mostly of Frankie trying to squeeze free beer out of the servers. This was a move that I highly appreciated as I was able to accidentally knock over a mostly empty bottle as the waitress reached across the table. Free beer for me. It seems apparent that Frankie is bringing a lot of direction to the team and most of us left the meeting awed by the experience and totally excited for this event.
After dinner, Neil and I left to scout the course for the perfect location to have race headquarters during the TT, then headed out for the "Coldest, Cheapest Beer in Savannah" with Jamie. A fun time was had by all, maybe too much fun, and we stumbled back to the hotel around midnight thinking of all the beer that the racers wouldn't get to drink on this trip.
Schroeder Iron Mechanics Neil and Kris know how to party!
Tuesday - The Prologue
The big day. Neil and I were up early to shuttle bikes from the team parking lot located across the river to the hotel so the riders could take an early warm-up. After completing this task we were able to get the team truck over to the course to establish our team's race HQ. As the riders arrived we replaced the training wheels with the disks and made final adjustments with position and aero bars.
The prologue went well with only a couple of minor glitches causing a few moments of extreme panic when Adam flatted his rear disk wheel moments before his start. Fortunately his start wasn't quite as near as we thought and we were able to get his wheel replaced with plenty of time. From our vantage point in the last corner we were able to see Miguel set a blistering time and ride the cleanest line through that corner.
After everyone finished with their TT, the real race began. That is, the race to the next hotel. We had about a 150 mile transfer to the next hotel in Augusta that we were to share with 7-Up, Prime Alliance, Ofoto, and Jelly Belly. It's always a race to find the best spot in the lot for water and power to run our little mini bike shops that are the team trucks and trailers. We arrived first and quickly had the baggage unloaded and the water hooked up.
Not much bike washing tonight, but we had another problem. Unfortunately our Reynolds Stratus race wheels hadn't been through the UCI testing process and we were unable to use them for this UCI classified event. Thanks to the Mavic Service Course for the loan of 8 sets of Ksyrium SL wheels. I spent the next 3 hours swapping cassettes and installing Maxxis Equipe Legere race tires while Neil made the adjustments to the bikes. Finally, we were able to get some sleep around 11:00. Nothing unusual for the hard working bicycle mechanics to work 15 or 16 hours in a day. Well, we do get to drink beer, though.
Wednesday - Stage 1
An epic jaunt from Augusta to Macon. Frankie had given us the rider's schedule for the day during the previous evening, and it was up to us mechanics to work with that to make it happen. Riders up at 7:00, load baggage at 7:30, breakfast at 8:00, start at 10:00. OK, so, that means that we are up at 6:00 with the bikes on the van tires inflated and ready to ride, and the team car loaded with spare bikes and plenty of spare wheels.
I had hotel duty today, so as the truck was loaded with baggage and the van and the car were off to the start, I was off straight to the hotel at the finish to find the water and power hook-ups. After 4 hours, although not the first to the hotel, third among the 18 teams wasn't so bad and I was able to steer the truck backwards down the alley behind the hotel and land a prime spot next to Vince Gee and the Postal Service.
After spending an hour washing two weeks accumulation of bugs off the front of the truck, I was able to get the team checked into the hotel and move all the baggage into the riders room just as they were showing up at the hotel after the finish.
A couple of hours of bike washing and Frankie comes out to mix some bottles for the next day, and then determined to ride a freshly washed bike through the mud to pick up a twelve pack at the local Kwik-E-Mart. Finally, we cave and let him ride a spare bike, but only if he carries it over the mud. Nothing funnier the seeing 6'3" Frankie Andreu riding Miguel Meza's small spare Lightspeed down a back alley with a case of beer tucked under one arm and a big grin on his face. Did this guy really finish the Tour de France 9 times??
After a beer or two, we snuck through the kitchen to grab a quick bite to eat, then it was upstairs to gather shoes and get some new Speedplay Zero cleats installed. An early night and we were asleep by 10:00
Thursday - Stage 2
Another early morning for stage 2, Macon to Columbus. Luckily the start was only a couple of blocks away and we didn't have to load the bikes onto the van for an a.m. transfer. Only air and a couple minor adjustments and the riders were off to the start as we loaded the team car with all the spare wheels and bikes it would hold. It was race duty for me, and as I waited for the start in downtown Macon, it was amazing to hear the excitement in the locals as they spoke of the biggest thing ever to happen in Macon, Georgia.
Four and a half hours in the back of the car with the Franks went pretty uneventfully, however, there were some scarry, yet disturbingly humorous events that happened in the back of the peloton aside from the usual "work your way back into the peloton after getting dropped/taking a pee/flatting/crashing/feeding." A Jittery Joe's rider had the misfortune of flatting during a high speed section and although he got a quick change, by the time he was able to get a wheel, the caravan had already passed. He spent some time chasing, but soon climbed into the broom wagon. A Dutch National Team rider rode off into the ditch and miraculously regained control in the soft shoulder but in trying to get back onto the pavement, he caught a wheel on the edge of the asphalt and flipped over landing on his head. Mariano Friedick of Jelly Belly fame sucked a musette into his derailleur after the feed zone and suffered a rather dramatic stop. Before long, half the Jelly Belly team was back in the caravan working to bring him back to the field.
The most dramatic event took place with about 10 miles remain as the team car of the race leader, Henk Vogels of Navigators, flatted a left rear tire over a railroad crossing and nearly spun off the road in the next corner. No support for Henk in the last 10 miles as the director desperately called for Mavic to service any of his team's mechanicals.
OK, now, the race ends in Columbus and it's about a 3 mile ride to the hotel. As the team makes it's way to the hotel, we watch as thunder clouds form overhead. As we arrive, Neil has the truck set up and we quickly set to washing away the day's dirt and grime from the team's bikes. No sooner than we get to cleaning the bikes, then the skies let loose, and this isn't your wimpy San Diego style rain, no. Oh yeah, washing bikes in the rain, there is no stopping us. It was poring, and yet we continue washing the bikes as is Dave over at Saturn, and Vince over there at Postal Service, Ken over there at Prime Alliance, Eva at Navigators, Bob at 7-Up, Ben at Jelly Belly and everybody else as well.
We got the bikes done extra quickly, however, and got to sleep relatively early. One good thing in that Chance Regina from Maxxis comes over to the truck with a couple of boxes of tires and some nice schwag. It's good to have really cool sponsors.
Friday - Stage 3
An early transfer in the morning and it is still poring buckets. I climb up onto the roof of the van to load up all 8 machines after getting the tires inflated and the car loaded with all the spares. It's hotel duty for me again and I am off in the truck at 7:30 to find the hotel in Rome, GA. The race is on to the hotel and I get there by 1:00 taking a "short cut" through downtown Atlanta. Even with the extensive detour, I still managed to beat 7-Up and WebCore to the hotel by over an hour. Once again, I got the truck washed and the baggage up to the rooms. When the riders arrive, it's time for some extensive bike washing interspersed with thunder showers.
Saturday - Stage 4
An early morning and race duty again.
Breakfast was early because we have an hour transfer from Rome to Dalton for the start of this hilly stage. As we arrive and I get all the bikes set up and checked out, it becomes my mission to find coffee for the Franks. Aha, a quaint little coffee shop here in the carpet capital of the world, Dalton, GA. There are three people in front of me and how long would you expect it to take to get a cup of coffee? If you're from California, maybe you expect it to be relatively quickly, maybe 5 minutes or so. This is the south, so maybe a little slower, 10 to 15 minutes, perhaps. No, it's 25 minutes later and I leave with a mocha, a cappuccino and a regular old house blend. Success, however, as this is the first drinkable coffee I have had in the whole state and what would be the only drinkable coffee for the entire week.
I make it back to the car just in time to see the riders head out to the start. We move to our place in the caravan to watch the WebCore guys attack the pace car on the three neutral circuits. As we move out onto the open road, we are soon amazed as, one by one, all the WebCore riders go off the back to answer the call of nature. I guess they hit that coffee shop before the start, too.
Miguel flats and as I hop out of the car with a wheel ready, the Mavic moto pulls up beside Miguel. As I already have Miguel's new wheel in the bike, the Mavic Service Course jumps out of the way knocking the moto to the ground. As I push Miguel off I look over and see two Mavic guys trying to pick the moto up. Hilarious, but only because the moto didn't receive any damage.
Before long, the decisive break has moved away containing two Schroeder's, Pete and Aaron. The break is pretty well represented with a Postal, Saturn, and a Flanders so it quickly gains a couple of minutes. This is all going according to Frankie's plan as he hasn't had the guys ride too hard all week. Frankie's plan called for the guys to get into a long breakaway and stay off until the final climb about 15 miles from the finish, where hopefully they have enough of a gap that they can stay with the leaders going over the top of the KOM. Things were going well until Navigators with the help of Jelly Belly started driving the field to protect the race leader, Vogels. They nab the break a mile or two before the base of the climb and the pace quickly accelerated driven by Saturn and Postal.
Mayhem on the climb as groups of riders are getting popped one by one. We're trying to make our way through the field, but we've been having it out with the Com 3 official for most of the day and it takes some time to get up to the front. We pass group after group before happening upon any Schroeder riders. We hand bottles off to each one as we pass, but Aaron makes sure we recycle his and hands his old ones back.
When we get to the second group, it's the top of the climb and there is a group of 8 a minute up the road with 3 Postal, the usual 3 Saturn riders, Fast Freddy, and Iacuone from Flanders. Jacob and Chann are hanging tough in the second group of 15 or so chasing like madmen.
Heading down to the finish in Gainsville, the race radio calls for caution in the hamlet of Dahlonega as there are supposedly many spectators lining the course. We tend to take warnings not so seriously as we can't usually figure out what Com 1 is blathering about, but as we hit Dahlonega, the town is out in force. The spectators are lined 5 to 10 deep along the twisty mile or so the course runs through the town. Cool.
That final breakaway maintained the advantage and finished with a minute. OK, back to the business of loading the van as the riders wander in to the finish for another post race transfer to Atlanta.
In Atlanta it's the usual routine of bike washing and adjusting, but Sierra Nevada suffers a break-in and loses a couple cases of Clif Bars out of their team van. They said Atlanta was a tough city, but I didn't know it had gotten so bad as you needed to steal Clif Bars. All the mechanics finish pretty early, and we end up heading off to a local tavern. Yep, another day in the service department at the Tour of Georgia.
Sunday - Stage 5
Wake up and check to make sure team vehicles are still in the parking lot. Check. Finalize preparation of bikes for Atlanta Circuit Race. Check. Pick up riders from hotel in the van and transfer them to the team lot 5 blocks away. Check. Drive van to the feed zone to hand out bottles during the circuit race. Check. Watch as Pete and Jacob drive the breakaway for 50 miles or so. Check.
Actually, it's a fun day in the feed zone for me. There is no transfer and the truck is already parked and set up in the hotel lot. I see some friends but can't hang out too long because there is too much to do. Don't worry Reggie, Larry, I'll be back.
After the race is over, it's back to the hotel to change the cassettes and tires back on Mavic's wheels and pack up Adam's bike for the next day's flight back to San Diego. At dinner the whole team and staff arrive nearly together for the first time all week. The riders are looking a little wrecked from the long week and Neil has cracked and has remained relatively quiet throughout the meal. Upstairs to take a short nap and hopefully get out to do some damage to some of Atlanta's local establishments, but we pass out and I don't move until 6:00 on Monday morning to get myself ready to fly back to San Diego.
Now I am back in San Diego where I will soon be getting my hands on some of the great Mexican food and maybe some Peet's Coffee before long. Thanks go out to the hundreds of volunteers, state troopers and police, the race organizers and especially to the people of Georgia for a great event. The organization of an event like this is to a scale almost beyond comprehension and my part was just a very small one in the show that is professional bike racing.
Thanks for reading.