Written by Calvin on August 23, 2013/Calvin's Corner
2013 MTB World Championships
This article will feature the 2013 Mountain Bike World Championships held in Pietermaritzburg, Republic of South Africa. I will attempt to post current information as it happens, that is, once I am on the ground in Pietermartinzburg on Sunday, August 25th. I will put the most current posts at the top of this page.
September 3, Monday
Bugout day, where we say goodbye to our wonderful hosts at the StayEasy Inn. We packed up last night, and today we travel to Durban, then home. An odd feeling, happy and yet sad. Hope we did some good for our USA riders.
September 2, Sunday
Last day of racing, and then bugout (that’s an entirely different story). In the morning there will be XCE, an exciting new race format. But at the same time is DH practice, so we must cover both. Beginning at 14:00 is the Elite DH Championships, beginning with the women.
For the first time ever, the XC Eliminator (XCE) will award the rainbow jersey, mark of the World Champion. It is only one lap, maybe 2 minutes, but you repeat this to advance through the rounds. The start is very critical as passing is difficult.
For the DH run, we set up the Team Tent again at the top. There is cool water, some snacks, and two great mechanics to help out the USA riders in anyway they need. One important thing we do is provide trainers for warm up. The DH bikes are very wide, and use a thru axle, making it impossible to mount into into normal trainers. We rent simple bikes from a local shop, but one has problem. In the image below, can you see the issue? Besides a blue arrow floating around, look at the axle length. A bit too long, and the skewer will not properly tighten, and this allows the wheel to shift in the frame.
September 1, Saturday
It has been dry and dusty all week, but late yesterday afternoon it began to mist, and then rain. The racing was over, but what this means is that we may learn the properties of the local clay. Mud, and lots of it. Today is Elite Men and Women’s DH Timed Runs, and also the Elite Men and Women’s XC Championships. At 04:30, I open the window and am pleased to not see the glossy sheen on pavement and cars. The rain has let up. The practice bikes are hardly dirty at all, and the ground is tacky. That slows times, but the mechanics are pretty happy about it. It will get dryer with every minute that passes. We are here early for practice runs. The Timed Run is a full protocol test run for riders, timing staff, marshals, mechanics and the UCI.
If you were following this blog, you may recall the embroidery work on the plane. Than White and I can now announce an exciting new product, the GRIP BUDDY. Each one is hand embroidered with the initials of the USA DH rider. This product comes in a pair, and covers the grips for the big runs to protect them from the mechanic’s dirty hands and dust from the shuttle. They are then removed at the top, exposing fresh clean grips. Silly? Perhaps, but we find pleasure in small details, and motocross does this, so, why not? Besides, mechanics should always be open to learning new skills, like embroidery.
August 30, Friday
Okay, pretty sure it’s Friday. Wait, I know it is but this is the time you have to really think about it. Junior DH Championships today, and also U23 Men and Women race. Most certainly the peak work day. First, congratulations to American rider Richard Rude Jr., your 2013 Junior DH World Champion. Nice job.
The DH riders are carried to the top by shuttle van hauling trailers. The bikes are set over thick padding and stacked in rows. These are tough bikes, but are actually easily damaged by this kind of bouncing and abuse.
We like to get to the top early for these timed runs and finals to a get good prime spot. We borrow a tent for our South African mechanic, Rob Cunnington. It looks a bit odd, with Cycles Africa on the pop-up and the USA flag waving, but we find it a nice fit. We set up the trainers and bikes, the bottles, jells, blocks, and our tools.
After the race, it is time to pack up and head out. You must walk everything in you need down a dusty (today maybe muddy) road that is 300 meters long. Then you, of course, bring it back out. We are used to not being the stars, but this time we are completely forgotten. There are no shuttles for us, and we wait an hour for the elite men to come up for their practice.
Today was also the U23 men and women XC Championships. Two of our staff work this event, and we also have to get the help of trade team mechanics. There are two feed and technical pits, where riders get bottles, nutrition, and if they need it, mechanical help. We can do anything to the bike, but they must finish with the same frame. The riders pass two such pits each lap, but you cannot turn back to get to one.
We have no trial riders, but I still love to see some of the event. This usually means I get 60 seconds of viewing as I walk to and from other race sites. The concepts of fitting the bike to the task at hand appeals to me very much indeed. Trials is a bit like golf; you do not want a high score. An official watches you as you alone complete various sections of the course. You are followed by a score board carrier with your score. You do not scream encouragement, it is quiet, again, like golf. Just a lot cooler.
August 29, Thursday
Work today ramps up quickly. We have XC racing to support for Junior Women and Junior Men. We are supporting the DH practice and then the important Junior DH Seeding Run. This is full race protocol for the riders and staff. We will be hauling a lot of equipment around for the next four days.
If you are looking to do this sort of work, allow me to make an observation. You must be technically good, you must know what you are about with the bike. But don’t forget the people. The racing never stops, the rules and style just change. We are here with four other countries, and we all get along. Still, the mechanic, especially, should reach out to be appreciate and connect to hotel staff, and begin with the chefs. When we need favors and special foods, this makes it easier. We want that extra edge, and sometimes you get that with respect and kindness.
The two basic types of cyclists we have here are the XC and DH. There is also a third species appearing now, the XCE (eliminator), and I will be curious to see how that evolves. What personality types will come out of this new racing? It is exciting to watch... by that I mean the development of a stereotype for each kind of racer. For XC, we have the skinny athlete, concerned about power-to-weight ratios. Carries their special diet food to the table. For the DH, dude, we have, like, you know, radness. Did that sum it up well enough? Which is best? The answer is “yes”. So for you, what do you lean toward below? The Example A group, or Example B. Both are a blast.
Seeding went well for the USA, with Richard Rude, Jr. sitting second. But that was Thursday, and today is what counts, yesterdays time is, well, so yesterday.
August 27, Wednesday
One of my favorite races is today, the Team Relay. To me, it is the TTT of the MTB worlds. Today each country picks four riders. One junior, one woman, one U23, and one elite man. It is a mass start race, and only one rider per country starts. The coach selects the order. There is a “hand off” zone where the second rider takes over. The team for the Team Relay includes Junior Men: Nielson Powless, U23: Karry Warner, Women: Lea Davison, Men: Stephen Ettinger.
There is sometimes last minute work. Things may fail, but sometimes a rider decides they want a different bike. You make changes to get the new bike as close as possible to the old bike, using the current ride as a template. The saddle is set the same relative to the center of the bottom bracket and then other changes follow from this.
Trials is also here. This is a great event, but sadly this year we have no USA riders. The courses are always unique and interesting. It is scored on a points system. The bikes are little, weird, and fun, but aren’t all bikes fun? A great tradition is rim grinding. You take brand new anodized aluminum rims and then use a side grinder to grind the surface. This ain’t no polisher; you are creating a rough and scarred surface.
August 26, Tuesday
Today was the first real practice day. Our lovely clean machines are no longer so clean, but still they are lovely in their way. No real issues, no equipment damaging crashing, so we are quite happy.
Sometimes there is a bike that turns into a “problem child.” Another way to view it that is becomes a project bike. The needed work just seems to increase the deeper you go. This one is classic and this rider needs to take the time to be this thing prepped. But these lectures are for later, he has racing to focus on, but you can be sure that we will have this discussion once the racing is over.
August 25 and 26, Sunday and Monday
These are prep days. Bikes get assembled and then dialed. We have a lot of bikes ready to go, and tomorrow brings practice in both DH and XC. It has been warm here at the StayEasy Hotel in Pietermaritzburg. We expect a cycle of building clouds and cooling that brings rain, which with clay, means fun.
We are not alone here. There are several teams with us at the StayEasy Hotel. It makes meal times a bit complex with so many people to feed, but I quite enjoy having other countries around. Here you will hear Dutch, German, French, English (both the American and Canadian versions), Zulu, and Afrikaans.
Preparation before the event is what we are all about. We send out a detailed checklist of what to check, and also a list of spare parts the riders should bring. Below are some paper thin pads, and even the pad holder is starting to rub the rotor. We do expect these bikes to be ridden but to show up at worlds like this?
Flight day, actually Friday as well. But we are here.
BEFORE THE STORM
The mechanics for the USA Cycling at World Championships are basically “neutral support” for the US World’s Team. Much of what mechanics do is simply to provide comfort. Comfort in the knowledge that things are under control. Each year for the World Championship, I like to develop a motto and logo to help bring focus to our purpose and work. For 2013, I am getting down to basics: Be Safe, Be Fair, Be Kind.
SAFE: We need to have our athletes safe from harm, or at least any harm coming from their bikes. Job 1: keeping the bikes tuned and working well.
FAIR: We are fair to our riders; each one will get service that allows them to compete. This does not mean everyone is equal, but everyone should have their competition decided by their abilities, not limited by issues with their equipment.
KIND: We are kind. We treat riders with respect. No condescension permitted in the shop. No grumpy-mechanic attitudes. Biking is fun, racing is fun, and fixing bikes is fun.
So, let’s say you want to organize technical support for a national team at a MTB World Championships. How is that done? How do you plan for a race with lots of different riders, different equipment, and different schedules? You begin with much forethought, followed after the event by much afterthought. Know your history, and for us that means keeping records of what we brought and the repairs performed. Go back and look at what worked and what you forgot.
You then need to learn everything you can about the race and the race venue. There is much to be learned from the promoter’s website, such as mtbworldchamps.co.za/. The race schedule is critical, but it is not the whole story. For example, if the race starts Wednesday, the riders will show up perhaps Sunday. But how about you? Whenever possible, you should arrive BEFORE the team. You can set up your shop and get settled in and be rested and ready for the arrival of the team. When the bus of athletes rolls up to the hotel, there will be bike assembly madness, yet this first day’s bike work is likely the most critical. Get the bike assembled correctly and the road ahead is smoother.
Next, have a look at the races offered. This year, the UCI has a new race format called XCE (cross country eliminator). This is new to me, but I must say I like it very much. It offers short races, with four riders per race, and this is repeated with the top two finishers advancing to the finals. This is not unlike BMX racing. The races may be two or three minutes long. The race promoter is given much leeway to design a course. Some may be in the city center, going up and down stairs. The clever riders for these races will change from the MTB knobbies tires to smooth tires, and pump up the shocks.
South Africa offers an XCE course that is quite different, with a total net gain of elevation. This course does not loop, but is one-way. All of it is “off road”, so the bike set up is similar to their usual MTB racing.
The promoter has provides a video to give us a preview of the course, which is very helpful.
The DH will be steep. Surprise surprise surprise. But for the mechanics, the important thing is that there is no chair lift, but rather, a truck shuttle. It may take 30 minutes to shuttle, plus the run time for practice. An hour practice slot might yield two runs. In the image below, the thumb tacks are DH Start and the venue. The shuttle road goes off to the left.
Mechanic staff must be carefully selected, and this is very important. You will have many considerations, and competent technical work is just part of it. I like to have mechanics who have different skills, and yet are willing to work together. A good attitude is critical, as is the ability to communicate. If done right, the mechanic staff is truly a team, where the gestalt, the group output, is greater then the sum of each person working alone. This year we have a great staff of five.
Representing the USA at the MTB World Championship will be:
XC Elite Men (Cross country)
XC Elite Women
XC U23 Men
XC U23 Women
XC Juniors Men
XC Juniors Women
DH Elite Men (Downhill)
DH Elite Women
DH Juniors Men
Richard Rude Jr.