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Calvin's Corner

2012 USA Cyclo-Cross Championships

Cycling has many facets, but for me cyclo-cross stands out as a shining gem. Perhaps a muddy and gritty gem, but precious nonetheless. What appeals to me about this great racing is the required combination of speed (from the road posture and road style bikes), the requisite toughness from the pounding, and the nimbleness and expert handling demanded to win. In a way, it is a combination of road racing and MTB racing. The racing is especially intense, if relatively short in duration. Races at the USA Cycling Championships in Madison, Wisconsin, were from 40 minutes to one hour. A fast lap time here was about 9 minutes, so that is only 5 laps. Seems short, but there is no letting up for any of it and you are just pounded by the course from start to finish.

 

frozen track
Frozen ground early in the morning made for interesting handling issues, but it softened to mush as the day warm up

Another great aspect of CX is that the mechanics get to be part of race during the event. Besides all the pre-race preparation, the technical support during race is very important. There is a pit area with an entrance and exit to allow the other riders stay clear of the bike swaps and other work going on.


It's the pits.  Doing all right, no problems? Then keep left. Flat tire, too much mud, problems of any sort? Go right and look for your pit crew. (photo credit Dave Vance)

The riders pass by the pit area twice per lap. Riders can enter to get a spare wheel, fix a twisted stem from a crash, or get other work they need if their crew is properly prepared. At the larger events, the riders typically have at least one spare bike and they simply swap bikes with their support crew. The support team must fix it in a hurry because it may be needed as soon as the next lap. The bike switch is a ballet when done well, and comical when not.

 

Bike swaps are also done if the bike has become loaded with mud. The mud can pack up in the fork crown and brake, in the bottom bracket area, and rear brake. This not only adds significant weight, it can make for horrible shifting and braking.

Now that's muddy
This is the reason to wash, and you have just over a minute to get 'er done

The bike is sprayed off, but it must be done quickly because they may need a working spare again in just one lap, and in extreme cases it is swapped again at the half-lap, which for us would have been in 260 seconds. A quick wash is about 80-90 seconds. so that is not much time to spare. That leaves the pit crew 170 seconds to run it back and forth to the spray area, give it a quick check and maybe a splash of lube.

At the 2012 Cyclo-Cross Championships, it was my intent to be a roving journalist of sorts, strolling about, talking to the mechanics (who know what really is going on), taking photos, sampling the coffee, listening to the entertainment and maybe later on, partaking of a brat and a beer. You can find lots of coverage of the race itself, with pictures of the athletes and of course the ubiqutous podium shots, but you don't see much coverage of the pits, where the mechanics live. It might be the journalist don't want to get their little tennies all wet and muddy, or they worry about their cameras, but the pits are backbone of the cyclo-cross racing. Besides, most of those journalists think it's not about the bike. Wonder where they got that idea, that's just crazy talk.


The requisite Wisconsin um-pa band was just killing it in the hospitality tent

But a nice relaxing weekend of chatting and eating was not to be, as there was work calling. The neutral spray area needed help. Mike Hill and Peter Wright of Bike Shark Bikes set up the water supply, the gas powered washers, and all the course fencing.  I had brought boots, the rubber pants, jacket and gloves. I thought this is where I could do the greatest good for the greatest number, and get a face full of mud at at the same time.


The neutral wash area below the team pit area.
That me holding the bike. Sometimes you are the sprayer, other times you are the sprayee. (photo credit Dave Vance)

The power spray area is not actually a "bike wash" area. There is no soap, no sponges, and no lubrication here.There is one purpose to this area, get the mud off. The bikes are then returned up the slope to the teams for the next swap. During the Elite racing, we ran five wash stations.


Between races the wash line back ups. Only one wash station was open as we needed to conserve water for the races to come. (photo credit Andrew Chaffee)

During the race, a muddy bike is run down to the wash area. The bars are hooked over a section of barrier fence and then you blast away. I prefer to work front to back.. Generally, this is my order of water-pounding the muddied bikes:

  • Front wheel, both sides
  • Front brake and fork crown
  • Cockpit and bars, but try to avoid blasting into the levers. Hit the levers harder if the bike was obviously crashed and levers are muddy
  • Underneath downtube
  • Pedals
  • Front derailleur
  • Rear wheel
  • Crankset and bottom bracket area (because the rear wheel will re-deposit dirt here)
  • Cassette
  • Rear derailleur
  • Seat tube backside
  • Under saddle
  • Top of saddle and bars, if time
The process is seen in the video below:

 


This one was not power washed. We are here to help, and the promoter asks us to "clean" this machine. Yes, it is completely covered in knitted yarn, and how they do that, I just don't know. I attempted to clean the tires oh-so-carefully. It is a kind of trophy bike, passed from US Cyclo-Cross Championship to Championship, traveling from Bend OR, to Madison, and then on to the next. (photo credit Andrew Chaffee)

 


The PRS-25 saw plenty of action and needed a bath itself. The two stakes would help keep the bike from twisting from the force of the sprayer.

 



This team support mechanic is using the heated washer, and the steam makes a nice ambiance in our pit of depravity


Double teaming a bike. The wooden pallet gets it off the ground, excuse me, I mean the mud. Note in the background the water trucks that feed the washers.
(photo credit Dave Vance)


Ryan Vergeront of Shimano Multi Service acting as both mechanic and repair stand, living proof that sometimes bikes are a pain in the neck

 

Michael Wakeley was pit mechanic in the Men's 35-39 race. He made and edited this youtube video below. Watch how the bike changes are made. The mechanic stands to the right of the bike, and the athlete takes the bike from the left.

;

 


The water crew hard at it, and Mike Hill uses the PAW-12 to switch the water lines between tanks


"NEXT, TAKE THAT ONE".  Directing traffic to the stations. (photo credit Dave Vance)

Small dog
Once again, the axiom proves true: at every cyclo-cross race there will be at least one small dog