A Day in the Mavic Car
by Trish Albert
Race: Tour De Georgia
Sunday's Stage 7 from Dawsonville to Alpharetta started out like any other stage of the Tour De Georgia for me. I went to the start and planned to photograph the team cars, riders signing in, and riders preparing for the stage before heading to the Alpharetta to take photos of the finish and awards ceremony. Then I saw the Mavic neutral support caravan. I forgot that my friend Scott Hodge, who works large races for Mavic, told me that he might be able to get me in one of the Mavic cars for Sunday's race. I quickly found him and learned that I would be riding in Car 2, which is behind Com 4 (Commisaire 4) in the caravan. Scott was on one of the Motos for today's stage.
The Tour De Georgia Mavic Crew
Our driver was Sean Sullivan from Massachusetts, and the mechanic was Bob Nixon from Charlotte, NC. Both are Mavic veterans, having done many domestic races over the years. Sean used to work for Mavic and still works several domestic races each year. Bob started out as a mechanic for team Defeet-Lemond and went on to Diet Rite and 7-Up in 2003. This year he is working for Healthnet.
As the race began, we took our position behind Com 4, which was about ĺ of the way towards the back of the caravan. Com 4 stopped to watch riders that dropped off of the rear for various reasons such as a wheel change, mechanical, or bathroom break. The official can penalize the riders for infractions. The first 20 kms were filled with careening around the back roads of North Georgia with accelerations and decelerations that tested my stomach's fortitude as attack after attack occurred in the peloton. No yellow line existed for us because the Georgia State Patrol closed off the roads to give riders full use of the asphalt. Within the first several miles, the Mavic motos and team cars performed several wheel changes.
Mario Cipollini (Domina) came back to his team car for a bike change within the first few miles. The race radio called out for the Domina team car to move up in the caravan. The Domina mechanic quickly changed the bike and gave the Lion King a push to get him back to the group. Cipo made his way up by slipstreaming behind the cars and leap frogging around them until he is safely behind his entire team, who dropped back to bring him back to the peloton.
The race radio is the life line for the caravan. Without it, they would not know what was happening up front. All moves within the race are called out on it-breaks, who's team is pulling up front, splits for any breakaway, upcoming sprints & KOM points, road hazards, dangerous intersections, railroad tracks, spectators in bikinis, and such. Cars are called up using the radio if a rider needs a feed or has a mechanical. Without permission of the Commisaire, cars cannot move out of their spot in the caravan. Race radio or "Tour Radio" is spoken in both the native language of the country the race is in and French, the official language of the UCI. At the Tour De Georgia, the race radio was called in English and French.
Cars always pass on the left side and honk as they do. Cars in the caravan toot short honks to let the vehicles in front of them know that a rider is back and is trying to get back to the group. There is etiquette to being in the caravan, and each driver must perform his part of the dance.
Each Mavic moto carries 3 front wheels, 2 9 speed rear wheels, and 2 10 speed rear wheels. Often the mechanics carry several of those wheels in their hands to facilitate faster changes. The cars carry a variety of 9 and 10 speed rear wheels, front wheels, and bikes. The 9 speed wheels are needed because several pro teams have Sachs sponsorships, and the company does not yet have 10 speed cassettes available. 9 speed is also carried at events where Mavic supports amateur racers as very few are currently on 10 speed. Sean and Bob explained to me that the wheels use Mavic cassettes because they work with both Campy and Shimano gruppos.
An important feature of a Mavic car is the ability to get a rear wheel out of the window. Until Mavic replaced the cars this year, the
windows rolled down only part way. The new cars do not have the child safety feature, and the windows roll down completely, allowing a wheel to be passed through. This makes refreshing the motorcycle's wheel supplies easier.
Handing the moto spare wheels through the rear window
Every few hundred meters, someone stood along the course. I was amazed by the turn out even along rural roads. Cars pulled over onto the side of the road, people had chairs out, and entire neighborhoods had block parties to watch the Tour pass. In every town people would be lined up 2-3 deep with banners proclaiming "Go Lance," "Go USPS," "Georgia Loves Jittery Joes," "Allez Ya'll." The crowd in the feedzone was frantically looking for musette bags and bidons (water bottles) as we drove past. Those small prizes are worth a fortune to the lucky fan that gets them. The support for the Tour was simply amazing. One odd spectacle I saw was an inmate work crew on the side of the road in their black and white prison stripes cheering for the riders. Only in Georgia!
The Mavic moto performs a quick wheel change
Sean gave me some Mavic trivia. The pronunciation of Mavic does not matter. It is an acronym for Manufacteur D'Articles Velocipede Idioux Chanel or Manufacturer of Velocipede articles Idioux and Chanel. Idioux and Chanel are Mavic's founders. The company started in 1892 producing fenders for children's push carts. They also invented the aluminum rim, and by the early 1900's, riders were winning the Tour on Mavic wheels. In 1978, Mavic started the neutral assistance program at the Tour De France. Most Mavic mechanics are volunteers. There is a "little black book" of mechanics that have the skills and speed that it takes to be a Mavic mechanic. Those men and women are called upon to attend major races throughout the world. Typically, the promoters cover all expenses for the mechanics although the mechanics do not receive a salary for the week. Sometimes, a lucky American mechanic will get to go to Europe to the Tour, and a European mechanic will come to the United States.
As the race winds down, we come into the finishing circuits in Alpharetta. My seat belt gets used more as we careen around the curves and try to keep up with the cars in front of us. We have been called to move up behind Com 3. It takes us an entire circuit to get there. Team cars keep cutting us off, and the Navigator's Director Sportif gives us a piece of his mind with some unflattering words. With three laps to go, Ben hands one of the motos a 9 speed wheel. They used all of theirs earlier in the race. Sean continually accelerates and decelerates with the field. Finally, it is the last lap. All team cars are sent into "deviation" or pulled off the course, so that the riders can finish without getting run over. After several minutes in deviation, we drive up to the parking lot and turn the car off. What a great ride!
VIP's Javaun Moradi and Trish Albert with Ace Mavic Mechanic Scott Hodge
For more information on Trish Albertís adventures, please visit her website.