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)


Chris Mayhew said...

I was a young pup in '99 and at that time idolized the mechanics more than the pro riders. At Superweek I offered to pump tires after my race one day. A day or two later I somehow ended up in a brand new Volvo 850, driving for the pro races with Jose at my side.

Mainly he slept and played a Fatboy Slim album for 4 hours straight. I hate that album to this day.

The next day was a day off from the races and I'd had an eye on Nicole Reinhart for most of the week. I asked him what he thought about me asking her out. His reponse?
"You'd have a better chance at becoming a Jedi Knight."

Anonymous said...

What was the deal with the crashed SRAM Volvo? Any details? That looks very nasty.

Brett Svatek said...

Dig the espresso machine on the bench. Makes me want to pick up the wrenches.


Anonymous said...

Those guys rock - whenever I see them at a race I feel like my entry fee was worth it.

Anonymous said...

Jose is the coolest! He is the epitome of cool, feathers cannot be ruffled, the Zen at the height of the storm. Thank you, Jose, for taking care of us nut jobs at the races.

Btw, the crashed Volvo was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer in Colorado. Butch was driving - he got out with no injuries but the six Colnagos in the back were totaled.

blue squirrel said...

SLS [brett]- you have the right attitude, espresso is the forgotten foundation of our sport.

anon- it was probably hit by the slipstream support car. last year at boulevard, while i was burning matches off the front with 40 mph crosswinds, the slipstream team car [pulling a trailer] had the audacity to actually honk at me to get out of the way, no respect for the masters class [note to slipstream, we are the age group that pays your bills].

blue squirrel said...

one last observation: from all i have heard sram components rock. i personally have not rode them, which brings me to my observation, i would freak out if i was pro and my lively hood depended on good results, and i was given a support bike that was built up with components that i was not accustom too. but than again i freak out when i have to ride a bike that doesn't have campy on it. so don't go by me, i just had a bad vision playing in my head of being given a bike in a winning break and i had to learn to shift on the fly.

bikesgonewild said...

...while guys like jose are appreciated, it's probably never enough considering the dedication & work involved..., on the volvo...colnagos can be replaced but not butches...

...epitome of PRO...

...chris m...good story, good chuckle...

B said...

I remember a time when Butch and I were the only guys on the east coast to go to races. Some races/ rides paid and some did not. The racers were always thankful and that is what it about. Small bit of trivia; Butch actually made his neutral bikes and painted them those crazy colors along with the car.

Anonymous said...

Jose is the epitome of calm, cool and collected. If he ever wants to change careers, he could definitely be a radio host with that smooooooth voice of his.

AH said...

Jose was one of the coaches when I attended a junior camp at the OTC in Lake Placid in 1990. He always had a funny story to tell and was very patient with a bunch of hormonal 16-year-olds.

He's good people. Thanks for posting the interview.

AH said...

Oh, and the rest of the SRAM crew are grade-A as well. They were at about a half dozen races I did this summer and treated all racers -- pros and amateurs alike -- really well.

STC Captain said...

Totally PRO post.
Mad props to Jose.
Its always good to see him, either in the pits or at his bench at SRAM.

Katsu Tanda said...

Major props to Jose. It's always nice to see a familiar face and friendly smile.

Unknown said...

Jose is my dad and I love going to race with you.
Signed you loving, darling, challenging,funny, loveful daughter.
Piera marteny

Touriste-Routier said...

Jose was toiling away at the USGP of CX Mercer Cup today. First doing his normal stellar neutral support job for the lower category races. Then during the elite races he was manning the SRAM Barbecue (in the pit area)! A bratwurst with your cleaned & repaired bike anyone? If they can down a beer during Cross Vegas... What could be more laid back than firing up the grill during a UCI race?

Unknown said...

Jose Alcala, a great guy who would loan his "Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star" album right out of his walkman to anyone who asked for it, back in the pre-ipod days when dinosaurs roamed manhattan.

My favorite JA story is from back when he was coaching in NYC.

They have their fair share of "wannabe pro" riders in NYC who would announce to Jose they intended to ride full time and quit their jobs and just race.

JA-- owner of the world's most acutely tuned bulls%#t meter-- would hear that from a student, and tell them to meet him for the next session at 6am for uphill intervals....

...when the wannabe never showed for his early-bird cocktail of pain, the next time Jose saw the no-show he would wryly and sagely say "I guess you overslept the start of your pro career, from now on you'll need a fantasy coach to train you."

Effin' cracked me up every time.

A witty, wise, and very bright guy is also the man handling the BBQ tools at those UCI events. He cooks a mean meal too!