Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving II

I wouldn't be here if it weren't for cycling. Not that I wouldn't be part of BKW, or that I wouldn't be writing about cycling in general, but I don't think I'd still be on this spinning rock, were it not for cycling.

Each soul has a dark night, or two. Generally, we find our way through. We talk to friends, family, maybe a shrink, make jokes about the course of Prozac, but soon enough a day dawns and we realize that life ain't so bad. At least, that's how it works most of the time.

Not too many years ago I experienced what they call in the parlance some "setbacks." Relationship, career, finances, there wasn't a break to be had. I celebrated a birthday moonlighting as a limo driver. And while I stayed on the bike, I didn't have the will or energy to do hard miles, which is to say, I couldn't express myself; there were no statements to be made.

There came a point when I began to believe that I was taking more than I deserved, giving less than I believed I should. And in the only way I could do the math, I began to think the world would have an easier time without the burden. As much as I knew my solution would hurt others, I began to think it was the lesser of two evils.

But I kept pedaling. Even when there seemed nothing to be gained, I kept going. I began riding more miles just to keep myself from brooding. I rode through sunrises and sunsets. I lost weight, and even though I didn't feel like attacking the hills, I was suffering less.

The simple act of turning the pedals and moving through the world around me kept me rooted to it, ironic as that sounds. Seeing the wonder of the landscape, the changing vistas, the fun of descents, the inexorable reminder of my fragility as I climbed worked better than sunlight itself.

I don't know when I turned the corner. I just recall that with each successive ride through that winter one thought kept returning: I'm glad I'm here; I wouldn't want to miss this. And that was the key; selfishly, I knew I wasn't finished yet.

Since then, of course, everything has changed. Family, friends, career, it all runs as well as freshly installed Dura-Ace. I'm not going to try to wrestle with the mystery of our existence, why we're here or what we're meant to do with it. The answer is different for each of us. What I continue to marvel at is the way a simple device meant for transportation has allowed us to discover so much more, not in going or even arriving, but in the doing. The doing is enough for which to be grateful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chapter Two

I find it hard to believe that two years have passed since the lights first flickered to life at BKW. In two short years, we have seen our readership and traffic grow to reach a loyal, worldwide audience.

Since BKW began, the number of cycling Web sites available has grown exponentially and there are countless urls worthy of a bookmark or an RSS feed. Given all the choices, we thank you, our readers, for spending a small part of your day with us, for leaving insightful commentary, and for dedicating space to BKW on your own blogs.

BKW owes a debt of gratitude to all of those who helped us this past season: industry folk, friends, PRO athletes, team management, and to our staff - thank you for your time and generosity. Your contributions have brought BKW to unanticipated levels of success.

Thank you,
Radio Freddy

Photo Courtesy: JS

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Road to Paris - 27 Days with the US Postal Team

If you wish to be out front, then act as if you were behind - Lao-Tzu, 6th Century B.C.
In the winter I spend countless hours sweating it out in the bike room. Riding indoors sucks, there is just no way to sugar coat it. In order to help the subterranean time go by as fast as possible, a rider needs to have the tools of distraction. For me, it's a DVD player and a collection of the cycling world's greatest videos: a decade of Paris Roubaix and De Ronde, scattered Tours, the Vuelta and select Spring Classics. In addition to the races, I love the cycling documentaries and among my favorites are Stars and Water Carriers and, of course, the art house classic, A Sunday in Hell. In the last 10 years, a new batch of documentaries has emerged, providing a close look at the inner-sanctum of the PRO team and delivering unrestricted access to the intenal workings. I am a complete and utter sucker for this perspective.

One of the finest examples of this genre is Road to Paris (RTP). In 2001, cameras followed LA and the Postal team in their preparation for the 2001 Tour, exposing the diligence and dedication the team put into man and machine in pursuit of a third Tour win. The film opens with a view of LA, slowly churning up a narrow mountain pass, emerging from a cold mist; there are no spectators, no fans, no helicopters, no team mates, and no competitors. LA is dressed in typical spring training gear, tights, booties, a wind jacket, and a cycling cap. As LA rolls closer to the camera, subtitles provide the context, first they read: Reconnaissance Training, The Alps, France, they fade out and then fade in to reveal the post script: Hour 4. To a viewer who knows nothing about LA, this opening sequence embodies the hardman mentality that propelled LA to seven Tour wins.

But RTP is not completely LA-centric, the filmmakers follow the Classics Squad through their spring campaign, culminating in one of the wettest editions of Paris Roubaix since 1994. The lead-up to Roubaix focuses on Circuit de la Sarthe and the early season chaos that is so common with all teams. The 2001 spring was bitter-sweet for hardman Georgie Hincapie, first winning Ghent-Welvegem by a tire's width and then placing just off the podium in Paris Roubaix by the Domo boys, the strength of Domo was so overwhelming it forced the creation of a new term in cycling, the verb "Domoed". As in "I got my ass kicked, I got Domoed".

The Roubaix sequence is a dirt-in your eye experience and done beautifully but my favorite scene in the film is the Amstel Gold segment where LA tests his legs and battles Dekker for the title. The film transitions between "on the course" with LA and "in the team car" with Yoo-han. (The accompanying Phil Liggett commentary may be some of the best I've ever heard.)

The camera work and the editing is incredible, the music is original, and both come together to provide a sensoral experience that does justice to the sport we love. Clearly, the filmmakers are cyclists and their vision is spot on, capturing the pain, glory, confusion, determination, and sheer lack of glamour that is the PRO scene.

"you have to make sure that everything is proper and nice, and also you have a heart for the sport." - Freddy Viaene

A Sunday in Hell is the bench mark for cycling films, a film that can appeal to even the non-cyclists. The haunting sound track and the epic battle among the sport's greatest classic riders have earned this film a place in cycling history.

I honestly feel RTP is worthy of a spot aside A Sunday in Hell. In 2001, this film was as close to all-access as you can get, and spawned shows like Chasing Lance on Discovery and OLN's Lance Chronicles. If you enjoyed these shows, then this film is a must. In addition to the film, the RTP disk also includes roughly an hour of additional footage complete with Lance's two cents on training with power and a classic Merckx-like scene where LA measures and measures and measures his machine to insure it's set-up is to his liking.

Winter is coming and once the cross season is over it will be trainer time. Do yourself a favor and add RTP to your winter rotation, because...

"When the soup is good, all is good" - LA

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tradition vs. Technology

Paris Roubaix is a race steeped in tradition. Every chapter in the race's history sees common threads woven throughout, and this lays the foundation for Paris Roubaix's timeless appeal. Almost every other race in the PRO calendar has been touched by the hand of modern bicycle technologies. A look at the Tour de France reveals high-tech machines taking advantage of the most advanced technologies available to the manufacturing world—an engineer's showcase of the thinnest, lightest, and fastest—an envelope pushed so far that the UCI has a specific rule in place in an attempt to keep things safe.
The race's tradition extends far beyond the route, the stones, or the concrete showers, rather the tradition extends into the mindset of the riders themselves. Many understand that the race is comprised of unpredictable events and the fastest way to a win is to limit as many unknowns as possible.

A walk though the start village in Compiègne illustrates the different strategies of the teams. Some teams and riders opt for cantilever brakes, others the standard road calipers. Some go for double tape, the 23, 25, 27, 28mm tires, and suspension forks. The list of Roubaix-specific accoutrement is as long as the line at the espresso tents. However, there is one gear selection that remains almost unanimous among teams: the decision to ride "traditional wheels".

The term "traditional" is used by many of the teams to describe the traditional, 32-hole hub, three cross spoke pattern and "low profile" rim with a tubular tire glued to it. Over the years and with all the developments in wheel technology, it is fascinating that the wheel choice for Roubaix remains a "low-tech" option.

Undoubtedly, the high-tech players are in hot pursuit of a seat at the Roubaix table. Zipp, for example, has been hard at work developing a deep section carbon wheel capable of delivering all the performance characteristics against the wind, while continuing to be able to handle the stones. Most recently, the CSC team has been spotted at Flanders with a deep section, rear wheel, and a traditional front.

(BKW has spent some time speaking with the folks at Zipp; stay tuned for a future post featuring Zipp's experiences at the Classics and the future of a deep-section carbon Roubaix wheel.)

For more information on the traditional wheel approach, we placed a call to BKW friend and PRO mechanic George Noyes. As a recap, George turned wrenches for cycling's best and did his time in the trenches for 7-Eleven, Motorola, Cofidis, and Mapei. George has built enough wheels in his career to fill a stadium and included in his builds are wheels that carried the Lion himself to victory at Roubaix.

When speaking about the traditional wheel style with George, it becomes immediately evident that he remains passionate about wheel building and he respects the love and attention to detail so common among traditionally constructed wheels. Although the options for wheel building seem endless, the builds at Roubaix all seem to be alike.

A wheel for Roubaix needs to deliver overall durability, lateral stiffness, and the ability to absorb impact. George confirmed that in the years before deep section, carbon wheels, mechanics often built the wheels with lower spoke tension to give the wheel a softer ride. Today, however, George notes that riders prefer their wheels built with a higher spoke tension because most are accustomed to the ride quality of today's high tension wheels.

An interesting side note regarding the wheels for Roubaix: George recalls, the mechanics always pulled the oldest wheels first. Back in those days, the traditional wheelset was the only wheelset. The Mapei team used the oldest wheels on the truck for Roubaix and, quite simply, Roubaix would be the final ride for these wheels, prompting immediate retirement upon removal from the bike. The team's star riders would always begin Roubaix on a new set of wheels.

Here is a quick glance at the wheel builds for Johan and team:

Front Wheel
Rim: Ambrosio Nemesis 32 hole
Hub: Shimano Dura Ace 32 hole
Spokes: Sapim or DT (Aero when available*)
Tire: Vittoria
Build: 3X with lower tension in spokes

Rear Wheel
Rim: Ambrosio Nemesis 32 hole
Hub: Shimano Dura Ace 32 hole
Spokes: Sapim or DT (Aero then tied and soldered)
Tire: Vittoria
Build: 3X with lower tension in spokes

* Aero spokes were an expensive option and despite the Mapei budget, they were not always available to the mechanics.

Tire pressure remains as much art as science. According to George, the ideal tire pressure for the Roubaix course walks a very fine line, balancing enough pressure to keep the rider above the stones and low enough that the bike feels stable and provides shock absorption. Like cyclocross, tire pressure is considered too high if the rider doesn't frequently bounce off the rim.

The best riders have mastered the art of riding "lightly" enough that they can run a ridiculously low pressure without puncturing. Typical pressure for the Mapei riders hovered around 5 3/4 bars (83 PSI) for the rear and a shockingly low 5 bars (72 PSI) in the front. "The lower the pressure, the more stable the bike is over the stones," notes George.

During our talks, George laughed as he recalled Museeuw's tendency to bleed out air prior to the start of Roubaix. This served as an outlet for nervous energy and the best were always pushing the envelope, seeking the lowest possible pressure. "I used to threaten to glue the valves closed so Johan could not change the pressure," says George.

The traditional wheel set-up has been a part of Roubaix's history since the first race back in 1896. Although developments in wheel design have grown exponentially in the last few years (and some are Roubaix specific), Roubaix appears to be a race where the PROs themselves fear leaving anything to chance and the fear of embracing technology comes from a traditional mindset trusting a traditional wheelset.

The wheels featured in the photos above were built by the skilled hands of George and bound for Max Van Heeswijk's Willems Veranda's Continental Team.

Photo courtesy George Noyes

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bring the Noyes - 1993 World Championships

Interbike is great way to see the latest and greatest, and any films from the gang at World Cycling Productions provides insight into the PRO peloton and the art of racing in the big leagues. Both, however, lack the depth and insight into what it means to be deep in the PRO world. Deep in the sense that you are living and breathing PRO cycling.

BKW recently caught up with veteran of the PRO ranks: journeyman, mechanic, and Belgian resident George Noyes, to discuss the subtleties that make the PRO circuit so enthralling.

About Mr. Noyes
George began his career in the mid-eighties as a team mechanic for the Schwinn PRO team, graduating to the International stage, and making his Tour/Classics debut with the 7-11 team. From there, George built on his experience and knowledge as head mechanic for the Motorola squad in the early 90s, a short stint at Cofidis, and then the mother of all Classics squads, Mapei. George’s professional experience included Andy Hampsten’s Giro win, Armstrong’s World’s victory, and complete and utter Mapei domination at the “Queen of the Classics,” Paris-Roubaix.

George has prepared machines for some of the 20th century’s greatest riders and lived the "behind the scenes" experience by which BKW is so captivated. Over a few espressos, George opened up about his experiences and, naturally, I probed him for information and a sense of what his life was like while working for these teams. Honestly, there was so much incredible information that came from our discussion that it would be impossible to compile it into a readable form in a single post. Therefore, based on the size of George's experience, I'll provide small vignettes that comprise George’s experiences. Some parts of our discussion dealt with the classics, others with the Grand Tours. A few times, we merely spoke in generalities, other times, in full swing with detailed accounts of the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the moments in PRO cycling that are burned into all of our memories. The title for these posts will be “Bring the Noyes” and, it's only fitting that I commence this series with a tale of LA’s World’s victory in a rain-soaked Oslo in 1993.

Oslo, Norway - August 29, 1993
Lance has always been a leader. Early in his career, LA's tough exterior and strategic mind were beginning to take shape, a glimpse of the road ahead perhaps. In the days leading up to the road race, Motorola's team management had exhaustively discussed race day tactics and without question, LA felt he had the legs to capture the rainbow jersey.

Motorola's staff and riders awoke to a steady rain the morning of August 29th. LA was to ride a Tennessee-built titanium bike for the day's event. George had prepared Lance's wheels and glued a fresh set of tubulars. The pressure for the day's rain: 7.5 bars (r) and 6.5 bars (f). As the mechanics feverishly prepared the team's machines, LA and Motorola DS Jim Ochowicz had come out to the service course to check on the bikes and the weather. Ochowicz was especially concerned about the weather, the rain, and the team's chances. The big issue for the mechanics focused on LA's bottle cages. Apparently, the threaded inserts that held the bottle cage into the frame would not tighten properly and both cages were rattling. There was risk they would fire off mortar-style, mid-race. With the start approaching rapidly, one of the mechanics disappeared into the hotel to seek out a solution. He returned a bit later with four, self-tapping screws; the kind an old ski binding would use to mount to a ski. (In fact, they were the very hardware that held the hotel owner's bindings to his skis!) The four simple screws were forced into the frame, securing the bottle cages to the frame. (Rumor has it the hotel owner had no idea that the screws from his skis had been carried to a World's victory. That is, until his ski holiday was brought to an abrupt close mid-run. Apparently the screws never made it back to his skis.)

As George applied the finishing touches to LA's machine, Ochowicz and LA continued to discuss the weather and the team's chances and George was treated to a front row seat, which made him privy to a defining moment in LA's career. In fact, in hindsight the comment seems so telling: As Ochowicz expressed his concerns for the weather, LA with an air of coolness and simplicity, reassured Ochowicz by saying, "Let me handle it." In 1993, LA knew he had the mind to be a legend, it was only a matter of time before he began to lay the groundwork. Hours to be exact.

Photo Courtesy: JS

Monday, November 17, 2008

Service Course

A typical PRO road team requires a lot of stuff, from bikes and wheels to kits and food. A well-funded team receives this by the truckload early in the season: shelves stocked, bikes built, tires glued, and kits disseminated. For the entire season, inventories of gear are kept in some nondescript, bunker-like warehouse on the edge of town. This is known as the Service Course.

When the team travels to races, the trip begins by backing trucks and team cars up to the Service Course to load up gear before rolling out in search of a victory. When in the field, team trucks and buses serve as the rolling Service Course and small parts, pressure washers, vices, grinding wheels, spare parts, spare frames, and spare kits all have a home in the organized and spotless rolling team shop.

But what about the small time team, or the independent rider? Anyone who has ever traveled to a race or even traveled to merely ride knows that the rental car and the hotel room are the Service Course. If hotel management ever knew just how resourceful bike racers are, they would ban us like pets and rock stars.

I have built bikes, rebuilt BBs, mixed bottles, glued tubulars, done laundry, cooked for a crew of 10, and hosted post-race parties all from the confines of team HQ - the hotel.

The hotel room is your sanctuary, your temple for the pre-race prep. Ride the rollers, hang your freshly washed kits in the window, and wash the nasty bike that just endured a warm-up of torrential rain and toothpaste-thick mud. Wheels off, bike on the fork tips, shower on: done... then try to get the big chunks to go down the drain. Gear bags and travel cases stack up in the room's corners like freight containers at port; horizontal surfaces become home to the grocery and messenger bags containing the personal items that help us adhere to the pre-race rituals, attempting to bring the comfort that comes from routine.

Like many of you, I seek out the extended stay types with a fridge, microwave, stove, and often, a common living room area with a couch. The added space is always in-demand and offering up the couch helps out a mate and can offset the travel expenses.

Having a PRO bus and support staff would be ideal, but for those of us who live the dream at our own expense, the hotel room is our beacon in foreign cities and a warm embrace during the cold cyclocross months.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Urge

Suppose for a second that you are God. Not Eddy Merckx, but God. It’s T-minus 1 hour to the Big Bang. What would you want to have happen? You’ve got the power to create anything, everything. Wouldn’t you want explore the range of your own ideas?

Even though organized religion doesn’t often discuss what God wanted to occur independent of our arrival, I have often looked at our world and beyond and attempted to tease meaning from what I see. The conclusion I draw is that our maker wanted diversity, wanted weird, wanted beauty, wanted destruction, variation, surprises, confusion and the unknowable.

While I struggle with the idea that God actually likes war and death, I think they must have been an intended expression in the range of creation and no less important than waterfalls, hummingbirds and fluffy kittens.

One of my favorite features of the cycling world is, similarly, the incredible range of ideas and creativity we see. Bicycle frames have been made from steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber and more (anyone remember beryllium?) Marino Lajaretta gave us knickers. We’ve got bicycles made specially for time trials, for road races, for dropping off cliffs and going to the store. Think about how Miguel Indurain wore a cycling cap. Bright minds have invented devices to track our heart rate, record the wattage we generate and even map the routes we ride in real time. What about the ever-interesting and changing route of the Tour de France? Let’s not forget that the bicycle has evolved from a single-geared contraption to a sophisticated drivetrain that can contain 30 gears or be shifted—gasp—electronically.

I write this as a way to frame my incomprehension at the blowback against technology that I sometimes see. I saw it against heart rate monitors and cyclocomputers. I saw it against integrated brake and shift levers. There’s opposition to carbon fiber frames and you’ve seen it against electronic shifting. On the other side, there are those for whom the world can’t evolve too quickly. They’d sooner drive a stake through a lug than ride steel or overshift a downtube lever.

Personally, I’m grateful that a lug cut by Peter Weigle doesn’t look like one cut by Brian Baylis or Richard Sachs. There’s nothing better than when an attack comes in a surprising way or at a surprising location. I love that Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM are engaged in a battle royal of fresh ideas. Love it. As much as I love the age-old courses of the Spring Classics, I’m always excited to see a fresh course used at the World Championships. And every time a frame manufacturer comes up with a fresh idea, a new way to express the road bike in carbon fiber, I’m game, especially if they’ll give me some insight into how it was designed and manufactured.

Someday I’m going to have a durable 12-pound bicycle with eletronic shifting automatic transmission smooth. It will track my course, HR, wattage and provide POV video of my ride in a 1-ounce device I won’t have to plug into a USB port. It will be unspeakably stiff in torsion and offer 5mm of vertical compliance. It will have the aerodynamics of today’s best TT bikes. It will be gorgeous. It will fit me perfectly.

I’m grateful for the creative urge that drives the sport's engineers, racers, builders and designers to make my pipe dreams reality.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ridden: Dura-Ace Di2

We’ve just returned from our first opportunity to ride Shimano’s leap into the great unknown. Unknown because no one really knows how the market will accept it. In a down market fewer $5000+ bikes are leaving shops and there remains some resistance to bikes that can cost upwards of $10,000 even among those who aren’t hurting.

Already there is blowback to a group that will price more expensively than many well-equipped bicycles. The tech geeks are salivating and the traditionalists are wondering what unasked question has been answered.

I’m going to split the difference on this one: We don’t need Di2 the way we need more efficient cars. The Segway was an invention that hasn’t made the world more interesting. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to still be stuck on Nuovo Record. Great as it is, I’m glad for integrated brake and shift levers—now there’s an answer to a question someone asked.

A few thousand people have already had a chance to ride Di2 on a trainer. I was excited to try it out on the road and feel what it was like under braking and attempting to downshift in corners and upshift the chainring during hard out-of-the-saddle efforts.

I’m going to cut to the chase: Di2 rocks. The shifting is simply the fastest I’ve ever experienced, faster, I dare say, than I would have imagined possible. While rear derailleur upshifts aren’t much faster than current Dura-Ace, the front derailleur upshifts are honestly smoother and faster than I thought possible, even when out-of-the-saddle and stomping the pedals in a Tom Boonen-goes-bye-bye effort. As a matter of fact, the faster your cadence, the faster the shift.

The automatic front derailleur trim function is another neat touch. Even if electronic shifting is an answer to an unasked question, a front derailleur that needs no trimming is something we have all fantasized about at some point.

I found the sound of the shifter, when far from the halls of the Sands Convention Center (and the crowds milling around the bike), to be strangely amusing. It’s not terribly unlike the sound of some brake pads on a carbon fiber rim, the difference being that the sound doesn’t last long (very short for the rear derailleur and just twice as long for front derailleur upshifts) or change in pitch.

The textured lever hoods feel like a rubber diamond file pattern. I’m not sure I’d want to ride on these for more than an hour or two with no gloves. That said, grip won’t ever be a problem on these.

Short of coming up with a lifetime battery, the engineers at Shimano have thought of most everything it would seem. I am precisely the guy who would forget to charge his bike and find himself riding home in the 50x17 at the end of 85 hilly miles, but I can’t escape the intrigue of this stuff. Heck, in the event of a crash or anything else that might throw off shifting performance, the electronic equivalent of the rear derailleur barrel adjuster is located near the handlebar so that adjustments can be made on the fly.

One thing I barely had time to experiment with was middle finger braking from the drops while downshifting with my index finger, or braking from the hoods and sliding my middle finger around to the downshift button. I’ve always appreciated how you could brake and downshift the rear at the same time with Dura-Ace, and I don’t particularly want to give that up.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this stuff is cool enough to warrant its place in the market. Whether it gains acceptance due to the serious coin it will take to purchase the stuff isn’t my say; units sold will be the judge.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Jose Alcala - Neutral Race Support

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?

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

Chad Contreras
Merlyn Townly
Chris Kreidl
Jeff "Jasper" Mattson
Butch Balzano
Jose Alcala

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)