2007 Mountain Bike World Championships
This article will discuss the technical services provided to the US athletes at the 2007 UCI World Mountain Bike Championships, in Fort William, Scotland. I acted as Lead Mechanic for the USA Cycling mechanics. The most recent evenet are posted at the top, with background at the bottom.
September 10, BUG OUT!
Out like a light at the Glasgow airport after the 03:45 (that would be AM for my American friends) departure, Joey set his timer so as not to miss the flight.
Amy Cox (Junior Woman) and Ken Whelpdale (Chef de Equip) at Starbucks in the Glasgow airport. World's is over, and we are headed back to life outside the racing bubble. The plywood behind the glass reminds us how special and privileged our week has been. Two months ago right here, two people drove a Jeep through the glass in an internationally reported incident.
After landing in Philly, I have a 7 hour lay over. I take the train downtown, and just out of the station I see an old Atala, probably early 1970's, with a Campagnolo Vallentino group. A very sweet bike, and what a greeting.
The choice of locks here seems to be, of course, Kryptonite.
When you enter Bike Line near the Reading Station in Philadelphia, you are greeted by two welcoming HCW-10's clanging together.
Sunday, September 9, Downhill Finals
The last day, and a good thing, for this is a difficult pace to maintain. It is a big day, but we feel we are ready. The bikes all got the pre-race check. Tires are changed as needed. We load up the cargo van, time to rumble.
At the bar again with my new friend, Gary, the night porter. We meet on a regular basis, about 05:00. The coffee and service are great. Note to new race mechanics; always be nice to the hotel staff. In fact, be nice to everyone, you will need the practice.
A resistance trainer is broken the morning of the downhill race, and we must have it ready at the top for the riders to get warmed up. These things get a lot of use and abuse during the season, and the roller nut is shot. It is a M6 thread, and we have a seat post binder nut.
I don't remember this being in the job description. There is a tent for rider warm up at the top of the downhill, and the "mist" is fierce, blowing at 40 mph. The tent is lifting off the ground and will sail away unless we improve on the rigging. You may see in the images here various Park Tool stickers about. I try to place these gratuitously. When a rider sees this, she/he knows, "Here be Calvin."
A quick repair of a broken chain on a Latvian rider at the top of the mountain. Joey has his race face (fix it face?) on and works calmly and quickly with his CT-3 chain tool, as this rider's start time is near. We try to help other teams when asked, because, well, that is what we do.
There are huge crowds at the bottom of the DH and all along the course. We, as mechanics, get to see none of it.
Park Tool is in the middle of it down in the national team pits. The PFP-3 is getting buried by a ring of Maxxis downhill tires at the Hungarian tent.
One day I would like to build a podium just for these mechanics. Chris "Monkey" Valdez had two podium spots today.
Sunday night, the racing is done, and it is time to pack up and go home. Even silver medallist JD Swanguenxs must pack his own machine.
Cameron Kowall (Trials, 26") on the stream section.
Saturday, September 8, Elite XC Men & Women, Trials
A big day, the Elite XC races are today. The women race in the morning, the men at 13:30. These are the professionals, and they are not panicked. Indeed, this ain't their first rodeo.
Michael Broderick (Elite Men) lubes his pedals using the new Corn Flakes work box on the morning of his race.
Jeremiah Bishop (Elite Men XC) decides just before leaving for this race that he doesn't want the smallest ring. Why no third inner ring? Ours is not to question why, but to get it done and not mess it up. (Note to riders: No, we would normally not do this for just any rider.)
The day before the DH finals is my favorite day. I spend it at the hotel. The DH riders will practice in the morning and then return for the afternoon. I get some quite time to get my self organized before working on bikes that take quite an effort to get in a work stand. I can proudly say that I am the go-to guy on tools. As for actually finding the tool, or perhaps even remembering I brought the tool, well, I am sure we all have things in our life we would like to improve on.
Lots of tools, but not much good if you cannot get at it. I use a black box, the large deep one, making it effectively a black hole, sucking in everything around it.
Reg and I must swap bike parts to a new frame, and it needs to work perfectly. The RT-1 with a hammer removes the cups, saving valuable seconds.
During practice today, the race officials decide to not allow any DH riders up the hill without end plugs. We have few riders missing these, and there is no time to go running around. Our team physician, Dr. Glenn Kotz, finds a solution by rolling some old tubes and stuffing them in the bar end. It works, at least for now.
The Kotz End Plug gets points for using recycled inner tubes.
The junior riders came up with a clean elegant solution, if you have the locking grips with just the right clamp.
If there is time to lean, there is time to clean. A tidy shop we are not, however, it helps to try. A mechanic's nightmare (one of them anyway), is that a rider will pick up some sharp shards of steel or wire pieces in his/her tire, resulting in a flat from your shop. The Hippocalvie Code is then, "Primum non nocere" (First, do no harm.)
We are responsible for a lot of bikes, and we keep them safe and locked day and night with Kryptonite cables and locks.
Professional DH racer Kathy Pruitt washers her ride using a Park tool repair stand. She knows the mechanics will do a better job working on a clean bike. Note to new racers: keep your ride clean.
Downhill athlete Tim Price cannot believe how smooth his Race Face bottom bracket is after we replaced it. To test a worn bottom bracket, spin the cranks with out the chain while holding the frame. Feel nothing? All is good. Feel like you are grinding coffee beans? Time to replace.
A broken one-key release cap, one half out and one half in the crank. This is not a good thing. The bottom bracket had play and needed replacement, but this was unexpected. Note to self: Check torque on the one-key before loosening crank bolt.
With the hands of a surgeon, Duncan Riffle (Dowhill, Elite Men) uses a dremal and a cutting bit to remove the offending ring.
Brian Yezierski (Trials, 20") shows the power of the Magura brake caliper on a ground rim surface.
Neil Willey (Trials, 20") works the logs in front of a hushed crowd. Cheering is seriously frowned upon.
Friday, September 7, XC U-23 Men, 4X, Trials
The XC racing makes it a busy day. Riders are nervous, but the entire staff works to keep it a good kind of nervous. The food and drink for the feed areas is all prepared, the bikes work great. The elite riders take the time today to dial things in just right.
Jeremiah Bishop (Elite Men) changes his cleats the day before his race. Duplicating the cleat position is important, and Jeremiah uses a Park tool SBC-1 ruler to extend the two ends of the cleat. He has a mark at the heal and align the cleat to this mark. A cleaver idea.
My office. A little cramped, but the location is great. It has everything you need: lap top, portable speakers, coffee thermos, tools, and a lots of bikes needing service. Note to new race mechanics: If traveling overseas, pick up your own hot sauce, as the hotel is unlikely to have Tabasco. Also download the Bicycle Mechanic Language spread sheet to help you get the job done.
Thursday, September 6, Junior Men XC, Downhill Seeding and Trials
We are about 10 miles from the race venue, and we must load the downhill, trials and 4X bikes each day. The XC athletes prefer to ride as part of their worm up. The city of Fort William was kind enough to even build a special path up to the venue
The promoters are very helpful, and deliver a load of rock to help raise us out of the mud. Dr. Glenn Kotz, team physician, is always willing to help out.
The USA downhill and XC riders mix at the USA Team tent. They are of the same genus, yet of different species. A downhill rider might as a XC rider, "Why would you ride up hill when you can take the lift?" A XC rider might ask the DH, "What, did you add lead to that bike, you can hardly pick it up."
The team tent work area, featuring the PB-1 work table. A great table to keep us out of the mud.
TJ Grove pulls a bottom bracket out of a downhill bike. We are installing a different chain retention system hours before the rider's seeding run. This is exactly the type of work I would rather be done at the hotel, but we react and deal with the cards we are dealt.
We are staged at the top of the downhill for seeding. Athletes from different contries develop friendships, as there is much common ground. I just love the jerseys of the South African team: elephants and lions.
Yes, that athlete is grinding his rims, and not for a polished finish. Brian Yezierski is a trials rider, and when he wants that wheel to stop, he means NOW!!! Modulation is a bad word for these bikers.
Our graphic artist at Park Tool always says to never trust a picture, but some how this one seems to capture more reality then was intended as the work load and intensity build.
To help keep calm in the middle of the storm, I like to get some alone time with the bikes. Just me, the bikes, my tools, some coffle, and my very boring tedious music, preferably Music from the Hearts of Space.
Wednesday, September 5, Junior Women XC, U-23, and Trials Semi-Finals
Since 2005, the rules regarding the use of technical pits in the cross country racing have changed. Mechanics are now allowed to help in the these zones, which effectively means we do the technical work during the race. Just like NASCAR pit mechanics, we can either save the day, or, well, we don't talk about that other option. Depending upon what the race is, we might take:
- Tools, well, of course, and lubricants
- Spare wheels, both rider's personal wheels and USA Cycling wheels for neutral support of US riders.
- Spare air cartridges
- Tubes and the PFP-4 pump. We install a fresh wheel and then turn the flatted wheel back into a useable spare.
- Cables and housing, which we hope never to need
- Duct tape and PVC tape
- Zip ties
- Saddles mounted to seat post. Posts are 27.2mm and we use shims to fits various sized bikes.
It is said that good fences make good neighbors, but in this case it is a trench. The Canadian DH Manager borrowed a pick to dig a drainage trench. The National Team tents are, as usual, down in the swamps.
Getting a ride in before your ride? The wind trainer are brought out to warm up the riders. Amy Cox gets focused on her coming race.
The USA tech pit is ready to go. A pre-cut chain is hung ready to go if needed. Wheels have quick releases pre-set, and the small variety of tools are in my pockets. Standing in the rain all day with the biting bugs, now there's a job.
Ever the professional, Chris Mathis (Team Luna) has a garbage sack ready as a floor matt while changing between the passing rain. In this job, you watch and you learn. He also road up the pit on a bike, while yours truly hoofed it.
China was over four minutes ahead of the pack at this point in the race.
China's tech pit set up.
Ukraine flats, but the team has no staff in the pit. Shimano is there for just this purpose, and installs a front wheel.
Only a few hours ago, this was a nice shinny bicycle. The grit and rain takes a hard toll on the drive train and brake systems.
Trials semi-finals are also going on. The golf-like crowd watches intensely, without making a sound while the rider is, well, riding, sort of.
No one works as hard as my staff. Well, okay that's not true. Larry Foss (above) and Bernard Condevaux are soingeurs. The effort here would collapse without the bike mechanics and the body mechanics...but not necessarily in that order.
Tuesday, September 4, Team Relay
Today is the Team Relay, an event where each nation selects four of its best riders to compete as a team. Personally, I am huge fan of the team events. Team pursuit, team time trials, and team relays bring out the best in the riders, and the staff. Each team must have one rider from the Elite Men, Elite Women, U-23 Men, and Junior Men. Like baseball, the starting order is critical. Matt Cramer, USA Cycling's National Development Coach is our Tommy Lasorda. He must turn in the starting order on Monday, and it cannot be changed for the race on Tuesday. Will Matt have the USA start out fast, perhaps leading off with Adam Craig? Or, perhaps lead off with the inexperienced riders and then finish with our strength? We will see when the race start at 13.30, I only know our USA Relay Team will be, in no particular order:
- Elite Men: Adam Craig
- Elite Women: Georgia Gould
- Junior Men: Ethan Gillmore
- U-23 Men: Sam Schultz
Podium day for the USA!!! Third place, a fantastic result.
Junior Ethan Gilmore waits his turn in the exchange area, and appears very focused.
The podium flowers will soon be compost, but the mechanics, represented by Joey, savor this metal.
On Tuesday, the downhill athletes were allowed to walk the course. Mark Fitzsimons, the Gravity Manager, will lead the procession, discussing the strategies of the descent. I always send a mechanic to accompany this hike. We are not there to give coaching advise, but we need to see the course because it provides us a better understanding of symptoms when discussing repairs. This year, I will go, and descend 555 meters (2185 feet) in 2.82 kilometers (1.77 miles), giving me a lesson in isometric muscle contraction, as well as lessons in physics through joint impact. So what will a couple of days soreness knees have taught me? That it is always better to ride a bike, of course!
Team USA Gravity Manager Mark Fitzsimmons (second from right) discusses the best line though this mess, I mean section.
The course enters the forest, and the fun continues with a series of boardwalks.
Why walk when you can ride? The Hotel West End has a perfect shop bike in the garage we repair, and then use to return a borrowed TS-2 truing stand to Off Beat Bikes.
(Late night Monday, but close enough to call it Tuesday)
Ken Whelpdale is Chef d' Equip, or head of the USA team. A former pro mechanic, he cannot resist the smell of rubber and oil, even while he labors over paperwork.
Labor is an interesting concept, but also difficult to grasp. You cannot really see it, but the results can be felt. You cannot touch it, yet you will know when it is missing. I am very proud of the labor flowing from the USA Team Shop, and I can tell you we have a 100% successful repair rate so far, with no mechanical failures. Okay, perhaps the racing hasn't started as of 05:00 Tuesday, but we hold on to the small victories we are given. By working as a team, we rise to the level of expectations of the others. (In other words, don't screw up, TJ is watching.)
The finished repair tickets begin to stack up as each day progresses.
Mechanics at the race have a odd life. You may get to travel, but it is to airports, basements and garages of the world. Your friends are other mechanics. We have some other trade team mechanics here at the Hotel West End, all of us this long hard slog together.
Team Giant mechanic Tom Neb shows a little humor in how our boxes get searched every flight. He is kidding, sort of.
Luna mechanic Chris Mathis pumps up the volume using the Park Tool PFP-4.
Monday, September 3
The final run in the cargo van to the airport for another bus full of athletes. Once again, I manage to cheat death by staying on the left side of the road. We have a very busy afternoon helping riders assemble bikes.
No time to go to lunch, so Joey brings us something to eat. We watch each other's backs, and stomachs.
We are guests at the Hotel West End, a great hotel for our needs. The staff is kind and forgiving of our eccentricities.
Cameron Kwoll, one of our trials rides, can find a place to train anywhere.
The one-two Peterson punch, brothers Mitchell and Chris are heading out for a spin.
Andrew uses the PCS-11 to hold a downhill wheel while installing Stan's Tire Sealant
Sunday, September 2, More Work:
Preparation, that is what our shop is all about. We look for problems before they become mechanical failures. We soon find a bike that shows many of the classic issues we see:
A nine-speed freehub has become an 8-speed. A lock ring was loose, and the rider spun the first cog, pealing metal form the end of the body. It worked, as long as you didn't want the fastest gear.
Disc brake pads worn down to the metal. We show the rider, and get a response, "I can't believe that, I replaced them last year!"
These pedals are lacking the end caps, which eliminate lateral motion. Additionally, the pedal ends present a sharp edge, which can result in stitches, as this rider found out.
This rear derailleur housing was split and blowing apart, a classic example of what we try to catch.
Saturday, September 1, First Team Arrival
The charter bus pulled up and athletes poured out. So now, the fun, I mean the work, begins. I have added another mechanic Reg Stuart, owner of Stuart Cycles in Moray, Scotland. It is good to add some local flavor, and his accent cannot be beat.
Today's work is assemblies, and we get to find out what shipping damaged occurred. Rotors are bent (they should be pulled for travel), some computer brackets broken, and some paint is missing, but mostly every thing is fine.
Trials rider Cameron Kowall assembles his bike, which dose not take too long, as there are no derailleurs.
An old saying goes, "When you don't have a dog, you hunt with a cat." Joey creates a truing stand to make due.
August 31: Shop Time
Set up day at our new home, the Hotel West End in Fort Williams. There is a room on the lower level, and it is perfect, for long hours of work that is.
The USA Team Shop stands ready to serve the men and women of the US Team.
August 30: The Highlands
One critical aspect of the race world is simply getting there. In Scotland, we adjust again to driving left, "the other right side of the road." I drive the cargo van with worn out wiper blades, and replacing them will be my first repair. It is fun to look for bikes where ever I am, and you find them in the most unusual places. The Real Food Cafe near Fort William has, besides fish and chips, a bike wash station for all the mountain bikers in the area.
Biking is huge up here in the highlands, and they like a clean machine.
August 29: The Early Team
Travel day today, and I am at the airport, ready for whatever comes my way. I will rendezvous with two other USA Cycling staffers in Philadelphia for the trip to Glasgow and then Fort William. The baggage restrictions on air travel make the life of the race mechanic complicated, as normal checked luggage is only 2 bags, each only 50 pounds. We coordinate on tools to keep our weight down to the minimum. For example, we need only two of the DAG-1 Derailleur Hanger Gauge, one at the hotel shop and one at the race venue. However, plenty of parts are also lugged over, and riders cannot share a chain or cables.
A total of 170 pounds of fun, and a BW-1 with my mobile office as carry-on.
The UCI World Championship are a special event. The best riders in the world meet in the culmination of a year's effort to proclaim a World Champion in their particular discipline. It is a time where you want your machine to work perfectly, and that is where a good mechanic can be of service. For most of the racing year, the riders' allegiance is to the corporate world, but during a World Championships, their loyalty is to their national team, and to one another.
It was in 1990, Durango, Colorado, USA, that I worked my first World Mountain Biking Championships, which was in fact the first ever World Mountain Biking Championships. As one of the volunteer mechanics working at the Shimano Multi-Service tent, I saw first hand that there was no dedicated support for the US Team. Athletes simply stood in a long line at the neutral support tents for as long as it took to get service. Having come from a team support background out of the US Cycling Federation, I felt that US riders should be treated as a team, with technical support services provided by a dedicated staff of mechanics.
Four years later, I organized for USA Cycling a team of mechanics whose primary responsibility was service the US athletes, this time in Vail, Colorado, USA. I call this effort the USA TEAM SHOP, both to emphasize the team aspect of our services, and to model the professionalism of a retail shop. The goal of the USA TEAM SHOP is to provide technical services so that the athletes are able to focus on his or her competition. We do this by getting repairs done correctly and consistently, working in a calm, organized manner, and by providing accountability to the athletes and to the management at USA Cycling.
That old saying, "the job is not finished until the paper work is done" has it backwards. For me, the job begins with the paper work, and that is the repair ticket. It is critical to the smooth operation of the USA TEAM SHOP that we track our work. Each mechanic on staff will at times act as "Service Writer," being the eyes, ears, and brains of the shop. You may not be working on a bike that you check, and become important to extract symptoms from the athlete, and then reflect back their concerns so we get the results we need. The ticket lets us know who on our staff did the work, and this helps diagnose any further issues. This feedback loop allows us to provide the best possible service.
The repair ticket is card stock, one half of a 8-1/2" x 11 sheet. Administrative information such as rider name, type of bike, day of the event, who did the work, who was the Service Writer, and the time the finished repair is require are noted (figure 1).
The USA Team Shop repair ticket ready for 2007.
The ticket lists the common repairs we have seen through the years. Like any shop, we also offer "pre-packaged" repairs.
ASSEMBLE: This is the most critical of all the repairs. The first hours after the team lands are insanely busy, and there is much pressure to slap the wheels on bikes, throw the bars on, and get it done as quickly as possible so the riders can stretch their legs. However, there is no short cut for a properly assembled bike, and these first days will mean some long evening hours for our staff.
BOLT CHECK: We will give each bike that we work on an initial BOLT CHECK, which is a check of fastener security and basic bike functioning. You cannot possibly check every bolt on every bike every day, but this one time check lets us know that fasteners were properly tight. Even if a rider puts their own bike together, when the bike gets up in our repair stands, we do a bolt check. Fasteners also include rivets, and the bolt check also includes inspecting each and every rivet in the chain.
PRE-RACE CHECK: This is a performance check of shifting and braking, done typically the day before an event. It gives both the athletes and our staff a sense that everything is ready for the start of the race.
USA TUNE UP: We leave this one purposefully vague and up to the mechanic/rider discretion. It may include installing new cables or a chain.
There are of course many possible repairs needing more detail and description, and these are recorded on the back of the ticket. I then keep all the tickets to compile the types of services provided and the type of parts used. Knowing your history is a great advantage when planning for the future.
This year, USA will have nearly seventy athletes in Fort William. Some athletes will use corporate provided technical service, but the majority of our riders will use the USA TEAM SHOP.
The USA athletes selected for the 2007 UCI World Mountain Bike Championships are:
XC-Elite Women: Willow Koerber, Heather Irmiger, Mary McConneloug, Georgia Gould, Lea Davison, Kelli Emmet
XC-Elite Mens: Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Adam Craig, Todd Wells, Jeremiah Bishop, Barry Wicks, Michael Broderick. Carl Decker
XC U23 Women: Chloe Foresman, Caitlyn Tuel
XC U23 Men: Samuel Schultz, Sam Jurekovic, Colin Cares, Tad Elliott, Mitchel Peterson
XC- Junior Women: Stephanie White, Amy Cox
XC Junior Men: Ethan Gillmore, Gregory Carpenter, Stephen Ettinger, Chris Peterson, Tristan Cowie
DH Elite Women: Kathy Pruitt, Melissa Buhl. Lisa Myklak, Amelia Colosurdo, Darian Harvey
DH Elite Men: Cole Bangert, Duncan Riffle, Luke Strobel, David Klaasssenvanorshot, TJ Sharp, Chris Van Dine, Christopher Herndon
DH Jr Women: Christina Pinney
DH Jr Men: JD Swanguen, Logan Bignelli, Brad Oien, Tim Price, Tyler McCaul, Joey Schusler
4X Women: Jill Kintner, Melissa Buhl, Jessica Vogt, Tara Llanes, Neven Steinmetz
4X Men: Brian Lopes, Ross Milan, Eric Carter, Jeremiah Work, Tommy Tokarczyk, Lars Sternberg
Trials: Cameron Kowall, Neil Willey, Brian Yezierski, Dave Campbell
Staff: USAC management- Ken Whelpdale, Matthew Cramer, Marc Gullickson. Downhill Manager-Mark Fitzsimmons. Trials Manager-Michael Friddell. Medical- Dr. Glenn Kotz, Karen Eberhardt. Soingeur- Bernard Condevaux, Lawrence Foss. Mechanics- Andrew Hawkes, TJ Grove, Joseph Ernst, Calvin Jones, Reg Stuart
This year we have a staff of four mechanics:
Joseph Ernst: Mr. Ernst works for the USA Cycling U-23 program.
TJ Grove: Mr. Grove works for the USA Cycling U-23 program and has worked at numerous international events. He is an instructor at the USA Cycling Mechanics Clinic.
Andrew Hawkes: Mr Hawkes is the resident mechanic for USA Cycling at the US Olympic Training Center.
Calvin Jones: I am the Team Leader of the USA Team mechanics for the 2007 MTB World Championships. I work at Park Tool as Director of Education.
Reg Stuart: Mr. Stuart is owner of Stuart Cycles in Moray, Scotland.