Hi there. This is Anders, Angus’ mechanic. If you’ve followed the blog you’ve seen me mentioned as Bender which was my call name when I worked as a messenger here in Copenhagen and that’s where I met Angus.
That might seem as irrelevant information but being new in the elite world of cyclocross actually reminds both of us of what it was like being a rookie messenger. The guys who have been in the game for a long time have seen rookies come and so you have to prove your worth by coming again and again. There are ways to do things that you only learn by doing them wrong and getting looked at funny or stand in the wrong place at the wrong time and finding out the hard way.
For an example for my first world cup in Valkenburg last year our pit box, that had been assigned to us at the managers meeting the night before, got completely taken over by the Dutch mechanics. And when I tried to squish in between them, they just looked at me like I was the one that wasn’t supposed to be there. That taught me three things, one: English is not the Dutch mechanics strong side. Two: why nobody chooses the pit box next to the Dutch (really, its the last one to go at every WC managers meeting). And three: the big teams with star riders stand in whatever box they like whenever they like.
At every race there is a new thing that I learn, sometimes small, sometimes big. The biggest one had to be tire pressure. If I had to say what is the most important thing on a cross bike, I’d say tire pressure. In the beginning we thought we knew what we were doing but looking back, we had no idea. And its not something that you just go and ask another mechanic for advice on. I’ve asked other mechanics twice what pressure they were running and both times the answer was something like “the right one” followed by a big grin. Like Tyler Durden said “you do not talk about tire pressure!!”.
On a smaller scale another thing I learned was what’s best to wash first, the wheels or the frame. That is a little thing but it is a thing that matters in the pits. If you wash the frame first you can do it all over again after you’ve washed the wheels. There is more to bike washing then you think, not really but it’s one more thing to geek out on and that’s nice. So that’s what I do, geek out, and youtube is great for that. A couple of weeks ago I saw a video on the web about how to wash your cross bike, thought I could pick up a few tricks. That wasn’t the case but one thing did catch my attention, the guy said that the teams you see on TV/internet washing the bikes with pressure washers can do so because they have chains and cassettes from floor to ceiling, or something like that. I can assure you that that is not the case for all the elite teams. The idea that we use pressure washers because we can always just change the chain, is just wrong. We use pressure washers because we have between four and eight minutes to get the bike clean before the rider comes around and swaps again. Flemish mud is no joke. I’ve tried with a normal hose, it can’t be done.
Last year we went to a few Cat 2 races and the pits were packed with the riders’ friends, family and girlfriends, who where all as clueless as I was. Some of them were more clueless than me so it was nice to feel like the experienced one for an afternoon. But it made me realize that at the elite races those mechanics have been doing what they do for years and years and its second nature to them.
One thing that I noticed in a race last year was how the mechanics from one of the bigger teams used the pit in a tactical way. At every UCI race there has to be at least six (pressure) washers in the pits, I’ve never seen more than eight and that has only happened once. So it doesn’t take a whole lot of math to figure out that at the really muddy races a line for each washer will form pretty quickly. The leaders mechanic got to the washer first and saw the mechanic of the rider who was in second or third standing in line, he made sure to take his time to get the bike nice and clean. In most of the races this will never become an actual obstruction for the top ten riders because they’ll have two bikes in the pit. But when it gets really muddy and the rider expects a clean bike every half lap, this can become really annoying, even for us who’s not directly in this little drama but it effects everybody who’s standing in line.
And that’s another thing about elite cross in general. There’s the elite and then there’s the elite-elite. We are just elite. Hell, even the UCI calls every country except Belgium and Holland “developing countries” to our faces. It’s the truth so there’s nothing to get offended by but it makes it pretty obvious that we are there as part of the show in this Flemish “national” sport and some people would like it to stay like that, they couldn’t care less. That’s quite alright though. I like that we come to the races in a station car packed to the bursting point, and everybody else has a campervan and a mechanics van. I like that my workstand is the bikerack on the car and I like that Angus has a beer when he gets on the rollers to warm down after a race. I like that we can show them that their national sport is catching on around the world and maybe they should start thinking about that.