2003 World Championships
This article will discuss the 2003 Mountain Bike World Championships in Lugano, Switzerland.
Each year, the best mountain bike riders of each country are called together for the World Championships. USA Cycling, the governing organization for cycling in the USA, supports the US riders for the week. While some US riders are supported by elite trade teams, the bulk of US athletes are not. The US National Team Mechanics support these riders. We also provide pre-race service for the entire team.
The US Team was based out of Motel Vezia in Lugano. Owners Roland and Rosmarie Wilke were extremely helpful and friendly to the athletes and staff. We quickly settled into a routine, with meals, training, bike work, and athlete care all focused around the racing.
We used the hotel for our main shop, with major tools, parts, air compressor, as well as food and coffee, easily at hand. We worked out of small, very clean garages. Each one had a painting in the back, done by local graphite artist. Our garages featured Marilyn Monroe in one, and New York City with the WTC in the other. In the image below, a shoe sole is ground in order to fit cleat and pedal.
While all four of the USA Team Mechanics had various backgrounds, for the week of the World Championships, we were dedicated as a team to the USA athletes. The USA Team Mechanics seen here are TJ Grove, Alan Sewkowski, Calvin Jones, and Matt Eames.
The race venue was about 15 kilometers away from the motel. At the race site we used a pop-up tent for the athletes. The USA was positioned between the Irish and the Polish. There was always a medical staff person and a mechanic at the tent, as well as the coaching staff. The mechanics performed light work on the bikes while at the venue, such as flats, lubing chains, etc.
Park Tool products were well represented at the World's. Team mechanic from the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Japan, and many corporate trade teams use Park Tool stands and products.
A mechanic's tool box is a reflection of their personality. The black box on the left belongs to Reg Brench, of the Luna Chix team. The tool cart on the right was used by the French. It is nice to have the World's close, as the mechanics can bring a lot of equipment. For example, we did not bring a die-grinder to this race, which is a favorite tool. We could have used it, but you simply spend more time finding other ways to get the job done.
The Team USA medical staff, like the mechanics, are always willing to help other teams. This Irish rider had a badly cut leg that required suturing. The USA staff will typically assist other teams, because by helping others, we are able to ask for favors in return.
This is the first time for me to have been involved with Trials. This event involves a great deal of skill and strategy. The purpose of the mechanic is to use their knowledge to help the athlete achieve their goals, which in this case is not to go faster. For example, most brake manufacturers design brakes around modulation, which is useful for slowing in varied conditions and situations. Trials riders lean more toward wanting a toggle effect; the wheel is either free, or it is locked. Caliper rim brakes mean the rim surface is heavily scored to achive this effect.
Notice the legs of a trial riders. The leg and skin injuries by road racers tend to be abrasions. The injuries by mountain bikers tend to be abrasions and lacerations, and downhillers tend to get contusions and fractures. Trials riders tend to have punctures. In the image of the trials bike, notice there is no saddle. This bike required a new bottom bracket, even though the bike does not see a lot of mileage. High pressure and impacts tend to wear out the bearings. The image of the red frame shows the downtube. This bike was not "crashed", but it did land on the front end as part of competition. A light bike is sometimes desirable, but in this case the frame has buckled on a front end landing. There is not good repair for the bike, the frame is ruined.
For the mechanic, downhill racing is both a pain in the neck and a lot of fun. The equipment is getting better and better every year. Still, simply lifting the bike takes a conscience effort with a stong back. The purpose of downhill racing is to achieve the fastest time. To do this you must finish. Equipment failure or crashing gets in the way of winning. While at the top of the downhill, we were surprised to see a Park Tool Workstation tent. It actually belongs to the Swiss Federation, but it provided shade to all. Thanks! In the right image, the Park Tool 100-5X clamp comes through again. Besides holding downhill bikes, it will hold most anything, including wind trainers. The athletes use these trainers before their run to warm-up, and this one required repair.
When the rider starts in downhill, the mechanics role is finished. This makes preparation extremely critical. For example, a rider will not turn a barrel adjuster in the middle of the course to improve shifting. Even a tire change on a downhill bike takes a lot of time, as they use a "through axle" system, not a quick release. The tires tend to have thick sidewalls, and must be wrestled off with a long lever, such as the Park Tool TL-5. A race bike, especially a downhill bike, is best serviced well before a World Championship. The disc brake pads seen below fell out of one bike as it was unpacked. These pads have seen their useful life long ago. In the second image, an eight-speed shifter had lost its cover plate. This occurred weeks before this race, and the shifter was filled with junk, and simply not working. Getting a replacement eight speed shifter at this late date was not going to happen, so we flushed out mud, grit, organic matter and any invertebrates with a automotive brake cleaner, and then heavily lubricated the mechanism. The result was that it worked, and the athlete was able to race. Next time, he needs to inspect the bike before leaving for such a major race.
For downhill practice, the mechanics stay at the bottom of the mountain to make adjustments. During seeding and finals we go to the top. If we have done our job, we are giving the bike and rider a "warm fuzzy" by looking it over, if requested. Generally we take a tool bag or roll, not a complete box. Taped to the stand are start times for the US riders. The US Mechanic will then synchronize his/her watch to the official UCI start clock. Start times are then written behind the number plates. This helps the mechanic know in an emergency repair how many minutes and seconds are left before the start. Sometimes a rider or manager feels there is a problem that must be addressed before the run. In the right image, notice this manager is holding a rock, which were plentiful at the start. He is using it to burnish the rotor. This was not a US rider.
The downhill work keeps us very buys. We did several dropout repairs and alignments, as well as swing arm replacements. Our work as mechanics is often a team effort. This actually saves us time as a group, enabling us to put our more work of high quality. In the left most image below, Matt Eames is tapping a hanger for a coil repair. A critical part of the downhill bike is the chain guide. This prevents the chain from falling off during the run. The chain guide in the next image was made in the USA. It had lost a bolt, and the bolts at hand were metric. The part required the tradtional American SAE 1/4-inch bolt, which thanks a stash of Park Tool small parts, was available.
After a component or bike fails, we ask ourselves "What happened"? In the left image, a derailleur had failed in the hanger. A measurement of what was left shows the cage moving about 39mm, nearly the same as the spacing of a 9-speed cassette. Limit screws were probably correctly set. Our role is to find problems before they can affect the rider. In the middle image, a pedal felt loose. Upon further inspection, the bearing unit was loose in the pedal body. Notice the gap where the knife tip is pointing. It was an easy repair, but fairly subtle to catch. Downhillers will often modify equipment in various ways. For certain courses, some racers will shape the lugs on the tire. This is not generally recommended, except for experts.
We built only two wheels, which is not very many for a World's. We build with tension meters, such as the Park Tool TM-1. Generally, downhill wheels are built tight, as tight as the rim will stand. This rim was heavily dented the next day, but the wheel held straight. In the right most image, a wheel failed for an Irish rider. This is the type of event that makes mechanics cringe.
Cross-country bikes, like all bikes here, take a beating. Anything mechanics can take advantage of to save some time is great. In aligning stems, for example, using a straight edge can make stem work faster.
The modern stems with the removable face place make changing stems and packing bikes much easier. In the right image, a tooth pick is used to speed the lacing of a deep profile rim.
Race day is what it is all about. Equipment must be ready, but sometimes the unexpected happens. The wheel and tubeless tire seen below had a slow leak, detected overnight only hours before the race. While at the motel, the rim and tire bead were quickly soaped and then over inflated to 50 psi. The pressure and time are noted on the rim, and the bike was sent off to the race venue. The USA Mechanics at the venue double-checked the pressure, and the tire was still holding at 50 psi, so it was blead down to race pressure. During the race, mechanics are not allowed to do any work on the rider's bike, so the athletes must do their own work when the race beings. Air cartridges are commonly used, especially for tubeless tires. TheTL-1 is often used for the race day. Some riders will want an extra edge, even to the point of removing the headset cap and bearing adjustment system. This particular rider felt he was very unlikely to stop and perform a bearing adjustment during a World Championship race.
Life on the road settles quickly in to a routine. There are bikes to clean, wheelies to perform, and friends to make. Below, the Park Tool BCB-4, and some elbow grease, get this downhiller's bike clean and sparkling. The athletes off-time is often spent, well, riding their bikes. For downhillers, this means showing off in the parking lot.
The workload for the mechanics varied from day to day, but generally Calvin Jones would open the shop at 05:00 and it would close about 22:00 (10:00 PM). When things get busy, dinner is grabbed between procedures in the shop. We use a repair ticket, but different from that used in a retail shop. It is common for one mechanic to check in a repair and write the service ticket, and another mechanic performs the work.The Service Writer must be able to listen to the athlete, reflect back their concerns, ask probing questions regarding symptoms, and then record this on the repair ticket for the mechanic.
There is nothing as over as a World Championships. Tired athletes pack bikes and bags, and the juniors catch a nap where they can. Riders trade jerseys and email addresses. A lot of equipment must get packed for flight, and it is good to keep under the 31-kilogram (70 pounds) per case weight limit, otherwise there is an extra charge. The bike on the scale below was 18 pounds overweight, causing some shuffling of the contents.
I would like to thank the entire USA Cycling staff and Team for a great event. I would also like to thank the following companies for their assistance:
- Race Face
- Salsa and Quanilty Bike Product
- DT Swiss
- Hayes brakes
- Magura Brakes
I would also like to thank Alberto for his assistance to me and the entire team.