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The View from the Road: Neutral Support
 
By Staff
Date: 4/6/2004
The View from the Road: Neutral Support
 

I have spent the past couple months trying to decide how to put this piece together. Articles on my own website (ProMechanics.com) are simpler as I know exactly what the readers came to discover. As a writer for a website on race mechanics, the topic somehow always centers on the experiences and world of the race mechanic. I am venturing to guess that most of you reading this are not team mechanics and thus donít care as much about what tool just made road life easier or who was hired as the head mechanic with Colavita. As a reader myself, I donít seek those things out. When I peruse a cycling website I am seeking results from a race or thoughts from people in the cycling world.

Okay, I like to read technical articles as do many of you. This is the reason why the folks at Daily Peloton asked if I could assist them with periodic maintenance pieces and Q&A sessions. I persuaded them that their readers might be more interested in what occurs in a bicycle race from a technical standpoint and they told me to go for it.

So, here we are.

As a neutral mechanic for Mavic, I experience things that donít always get written about and some things the media never sees. I watched Jonathan Vaughters hit the deck at the last Saturn Classic on his mountain bike and still catch the break away. I watched the team car in front of me nail a bridge pillar at the CoreStates US Pro Championships; all four within had to be air lifted from the course. I know a secret about how a neutral car may have caused three breakaway riders to push harder at a race last year and demolish the field. Believe me, there was no cheating involvedÖ

Sometimes I even know which riders are being fired before the rider is told. I am on the inside and thus am able to provide you, the reader, with an insight to the life of racing the way no rider can. I wonít tell you everything but there are experiences that may help you understand why a race went one way or why riders take certain actions. My intention is to help you get a better understanding of the race scene through the eyes of a mechanic.


Part of the Mavic crew at Redlands. Photo by Daily Peloton.

To begin with, I want to explain what all those cars are for, the ones you see in the background of photos and in race videos. This group of vehicles is called a caravan and travels with the race carrying the people in charge (officials), spare equipment (neutral and team cars) and medical supplies (doctors, medical vehicles and ambulances). It also includes a motorcade of police, media and additional support staff.

Vehicles are broken down into groups based on their location and importance. The first car behind the peloton is Com 1, the head official for the race. It is his/her job to make sure the race is run properly. A second officialís car (Com 2) is placed at the front of the race to keep things in order there. They sit in front of the riders until a breakaway forms and then pull in between the break and the remaining peloton to act as the official for the break. This occurs after the break has a one minute gap or more on the peloton. Thus, if you see a car following a break in photos, itís at least a minute up.


Stage 3 at Redlands. The Mavic support car is fifth back, behind the break. The white Mustang convertible is the officials' car. Click for larger image. Photo by Daily Peloton.

Com 1 is usually followed by a medical vehicle, and then the team cars organized by their status in the race or by a drawing. It is the job of the team cars to provide support to their team riders in the form of food, drink and spare equipment in case of flats or crashes. They are followed by neutral support vehicles and then the ambulance and additional officials numbered Com 3, Com 4 and the like.

Races in the States are run a little differently, as many teams do not have support vehicles and some have no, or very little, spare equipment. And, in many cases, the folks in the neutral support cars have more experience than the teams. This means the neutral support car is run in front of the team vehicles to give all the riders a fair chance of getting service and back into the race. Like the officials, the first neutral support car behind the race is numbered one, or in our case, Mavic 1. The support car in front is Mavic 2 and additional cars near the rear of the caravan are numbered three, four, etc. The job of neutral support is to provide the teams with additional support in case of larger crashes or if the peloton gets broken into numerous groups.

Team and neutral support in a bicycle race is similar to that of auto racing support, except that in road racing we travel with the race. When a rider gets a flat tire the rider signals that they need assistance and the team or neutral vehicle runs up to the stopped rider and exchanges the wheel for a new one. We can do whole bikes as well, though that takes longer and reduces the riderís chance of getting back into the race.

So, now you know what all those vehicles are for and where people involved with the race are located. Next time we can chat in more detail about what these people do and explain things like why my driver and I were sitting on the side of the road with two bleeding riders while their team vehicles continued on with the race.

Chris Clinton
ProMechanics.com


Photo by Daily Peloton.


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