They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. In this case, a road-hardened, neutral support mechanic is tough to catch at idle.
We have seen Jose at the races, exchanged greetings with him, and even passed his caravan on remote stretches of America's highways, but we've never had the chance to actually sit and have a conversation with him. If Jose wasn't setting up or tearing down at an event, he was bustling to switch a wheel, pulling Gs on a race course in the NRS Volvo, or making last minute tweaks to a competitor's ailing machine. BKW cornered race mechanic Jose Alcala a few weeks ago while he prepared the neutral race support (NRS) machines for the 2008 season. Although his hands never stopped turning wrenches, we managed to talk for a bit with Jose and learn more about what life on the road is like for he and the team at Specialized Event Management, LLC.
Jose has made his living in the bike world for the past 16 years. Beginning his tenure working for Competition Bike and Sport in Larchmont, New York (a shop that no longer exists). It was here that the fire was kindled and, like many of us, Jose was unable to shake the habit. Jose's years as a mechanic range from long hours in a shop to long hours on the road. During the years on the road, Jose has worked with the best of the best: 7 years with Campagnolo/Saeco, 2 with Lampre/Caffita, and 1 year with Saunier/Duval.
Jose's career didn't always center on the mechanical aspects. He was head coach for New York's Century Road Club, and during his years on the East Coast, Jose met fellow NRS mechanics, Hank Williams and Butch Balzano. Jose credits Hank with providing him with an early introduction to the ways of PRO wrenching and Butch with getting him out of the shops and on to the road.
Jose continues to work with Butch as part of Specialized Event Management, LLC, a company hired to provide rider support at races and to groups and industry events. Specialized Event Management relies on key sponsors to bring their resources to over 200 events annually. Sponsorship for 2008 comes in the form of vehicles from Volvo Motor Cars, frames and forks from Orbea, and rubber from the folks at Michelin.
A side note on Butch: Butch has been a neutral support mechanic for 20+ years and, to his credit, 20 of those years were spent delivering reliable service on race day to the competitors at Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic. Butch has really poured himself into these events as a true labor of love. In the early years, resources were thinner than they are today, Butch drove his own car, lent his own wheels and bikes and, got by with a little love from Campy in the form of a discount. Despite the high hurdles, Butch kept at it. The cycling world is truly blessed to have people like Butch who keep the flame lit.
Jose and company spend a lot of time on the road, roughly 290 days per year. Like all professions, work becomes a stream of familiar faces and Jose is careful to also keep in mind that his profession is unique in that he sees his clients when they are highly stressed and many are facing the day for which they have spent months training. With this consideration, Jose is careful to treat his clients with respect, remembering to simply be nice and do his job well. Jose laid it out very succinctly: he says his job is "a marketing job with a small dose of mechanics thrown in." For Jose, his presentations aren't done in a board room but rather in parking lots, expos, and road courses.
BKW: What items make life on the road tolerable, what can you not be without?
Jose: The Volvo, wheel sets, SRAM components, coffee, and good music.
BKW: What gear will be packed into each of the 5 Volvo NRS vehicles for the 2008 season?
Jose: 5 Orbeas built with SRAM components, 25-30 pairs of Zipp wheels, a mix of 404s, 303s, CSCs, and 808s, tools, spares, 3 Silca pumps, 2 Ultimate work stands, an A-Frame Ultimate display rack, a smattering of components, 4 boxes of SRAM parts, 2 Force and Rival, 2 Red, chains, spokes, saddles and Michelin Tires.
BKW: What gear/tools are most critical to your day?
Jose: Yellow Snap-On #2 flathead screwdriver and my Chicago Case Tool Box in limited edition white.
BKW: What is the best part of your job?
Jose: Seeing familiar faces far from home and the ability to continue playing a key role in racing. Without question, I have the best seat in the house!
BKW: And the worst part of your job?
Jose: Sometimes the travel, there is an element of danger we always have to be aware of.
If your summer plans take you out to the races, make sure you drop by and say hello to Jose and his team. And if your plans include pinning a number on your jersey, then it is a must that you drop by and say hello to Jose and Co. Who knows, it may be you who needs the lightning quick wheel change.
The Specialized Event Management L.L.C team
Jeff "Jasper" Mattson
Jose Alcala by the numbers:
Years in industry: 16
Number of songs in iTunes: 4,000
Miles driven annually: 60,000
Total dollar value of bikes handled annually: $1.5 million
Number of events attended by NRS in 2008: 120 (200 when you count stage races)