A mistake by the pro team bike mechanic can cost the team the race
Mistakes can be hard to come to terms with, but, in fairness, in the world of professional mechanics, they are pretty rare. Out on the road with Kris Withington from Garmin, I asked him what the riders gave him the hardest time about.
“They don’t. We put the pressure on ourselves and feel it ourselves. I don’t think the riders complain much; they don’t come down here and rip into us directly, but if something goes wrong with the bike, it’s hard. Especially for GC riders like Millar or Christian Vande Velde or last year  Bradley Wiggins.
“Wiggins is pretty cool about it all, but when you hear them on race radio screaming: ‘My fucking bike, my fucking bike, my fucking bike!’ it’s bad for us, sure, but they don’t come down to the truck and rip into us personally.”
“The worst thing is, after a race where something goes wrong, the director comes and says, ‘Hey, what happened there?’ Normally the directors right away support us, and they look at the facts first, but if it’s our fault, it’s tough. But hey, that’s the difference between a mechanic’s job and a soigneur’s job. A mechanic’s job, if you fuck it up, it can actually cost the race. A soigneur can’t really fuck up. I mean, how do you fuck up a massage? And even if you do mess it up somehow, it isn’t going to cost them the race. But cycling’s on TV, and if something happens, it looks bad for us.
“Like David Millar’s chain snapping in the Vuelta, that wasn’t very pleasant, although that wasn’t our fault. He was in the break all day, and I was giving him water and Coke all day out of the car, and then five kilometers from the line the chain started ticking, but he didn’t bother to change the bike. We had a bike ready but he thought he’d be all right. And then when they started the sprint, he was going to win the stage easy, then the chain went — bang! And you could see on TV, he chucked the bike — fwoom! And because I was in the second car that day, we were already stuck in the deviation behind the race traffic, so I couldn’t get to Dave to get him his spare bike — so he was just left standing there. Then the other mechanic had to run, and at that stage we were back in the convoy — so he had to run up with someone else’s bike, for him just to cross the finish line. So that was a bad day. Worse was we didn’t know what the problem was. We thought, ‘What the fuck’s going on here?’ So we changed, basically we put a new gruppo on his bike, and Shimano in Japan investigated.
“Finally, it turned out that there had been a bad run of chains. Every Shimano chain has a code on it, so they could check. At the time, though, they thought it was something we’d done, but it wasn’t. We finished work and were at the hotel, and David was sitting at the bar and said to me, ‘Hey, Kris, come on’ — and we had four beers.”
Team Saxo-Tinkoff mechanic Rune Kristensen had a similarly frustrating experience at the 2010 Tour de France, when one of his charges was in the yellow jersey.
“My worst experience was in the Tour 2010 when Andy Schleck lost his chain. We could not do anything — just sit and watch it on the TV in the car. I was in the second car that day. He lost his chain from the big chainring and couldn’t get it back on again; it got trapped, and it took ages to get it back on again. We checked the bike so many times after that day, but we never found what was wrong.”
Bike Mechanic is an all-access pass to cycling’s back stage: the team truck, the service course, and the workshop. Through gritty photographs and striking interviews, Bike Mechanic explores the daily lives of the bicycle technicians who keep the pro peloton rolling, no matter the weather, no matter the hour. Bike Mechanic gets you inside the action that most never see, while providing bike tuning tips and time-tested procedures that will make you a better wrench. Buy Bike Mechanic from your local bike shop or bookstore or online from the publisher VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local bookstore, or Chapters/Indigo.