Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Team BMC - Equipment Truck

It's indisputable that the BMC team is one of the tidiest, cleanest looking teams in the world of PROfessional cycling. Its appearance to the outside world is rooted in simplicity and punctuated with bold, solid colors. BMC's PRO Machines pair the black of the multi-directional carbon with big, bold white graphics, emphasizing clean lines. The Swiss flavor continues with Assos' sponsorship, and if riders were to choose their PRO team by clothing sponsor alone, team BMC would have to issue numbers à la N.Y. deli style.

Surface appearances aside, the BMC team threads this clean style through every part of the team's appearance. Last year the highlight of my AToC was setting eyes on the mechanic's dream that is the BMC equipment truck; even if your cycling mechanic duties have stopped just shy of removing your front wheel, you'll have an appreciation for the well-organized and streamlined team truck. To a mechanic, stepping onto the loading ramp is almost a religious experience. The interior of the truck is outfitted with a custom stainless steel endoskeleton that provides a home for 26 bikes and 96 wheels. The fab work was done by a cycling fan and expert in stainless work. The work done on the BMC rig may seem like a fabricator's pipedream, but when you consider that his day job is building tanks and processing equipment for wineries, you have to wonder if this guy has the secret to living the good life.

During the Solvang TT, BKW grabbed a few minutes with PRO mechanic Vincent Gee and got the nickel tour of the truck and gear that strikes fear in the hearts of PRO teams.

BKW: What factors were taken into consideration when laying out the truck?

VG: Volume. We needed to get as much equipment and gear into the truck as possible in the given space. I think we're doing pretty well given the space but every mechanic is always going to want more.

BKW: How self-sufficient is the team?

We are self-sufficient for a pretty lengthy time; there are stretches where the truck will be on the road for 3-4 months without a return to the service course, so we need to be prepared for that, bike-wise, wheel-wise, for everything. We can't be without.

BKW: How does the truck get from stage to stage or race to race?

VG: We have three full-time mechanics, Ian Sherburne (head mechanic), Andy Stone, and me. We rotate the responsibility of driving the truck. I like driving the truck; it's medicinal. During this race, I was the hotel mechanic, so I go from hotel to hotel and I basically never see the start or the finish of the race. I go from hotel to hotel and I hook up power, find water, and help the soigneurs get the luggage done. As soon as the team returns to the hotel, we are washing bikes within 15 seconds.

BKW: How important is the location of the team truck at the hotel?

VG: For me, it's very important. It either makes your job easier or harder. I have been fortunate to have a little luck on my side and a director who allows me the time needed to get to the next hotel in a quick manner so generally I am getting the pick of the litter for the best parking spot. In San Jose, I was the third or fourth team there, but hands-down I grabbed the best spot. It was raining that day and we had shelter. Only one other team had shelter.

Has this year's AToC thrown any new challenges at you, with all of the constant rain?

I look at the challenges as ways to improve and to get better, the rain is tough because we have to wash bikes and wheels constantly. People ask, "don't you get cold"? Well, of course, but as long as you have the right gear. The right rain gear, the right screw driver, the right truck, a properly stocked truck, the right equipment makes the job fun even when its pouring rain. This year we had two days of washing bikes in pouring rain and, to me, it really wasn't that bad. We were prepared.

BKW: What steps are taken when the riders return from the day on the road?

VG: Each rider's bike is washed head to toe. The bikes are show pieces so we need to show the public we have beautiful bikes. Periodically, we wash the spare bikes. Especially if it is raining a lot; the spares are on the roof of the cars. The day before yesterday I washed 17 bikes. Luckily the weather was nice.

BKW: Do you change the tape daily?

VG: No, as needed, we don't have a fixed maintenance schedule. It's not like a car where you change the oil every 3,000 miles. When parts begin to wear we will change them immediately and as needed. In rainy weather the tape gets dirty. We run white tape, which I feel is quite beautiful, and in rainy weather it gets changed more frequently.

BKW: Do you replace chains on a scheduled interval?

VG: No, chains depend on riders, weather, mileage, and it's is a combination of those three aspects. It is not as simple as every 10th day, or a certain mileage. But with that said, we change items frequently, we change chains or or any piece of equipment not because it is bad, but as a preventive measure. We can't afford to take a chance. There is a lot riding on the bikes performing.

BKW: Any special equipment for AToC?

VG: Everything we ride is available at your local shop. The frames are stock, the Campagnolo, DT, Sella Italia, Easton bars, and stems. Gearing-wise we are lucky to be on eleven speed this year, the 11-25 cogset is our bread and butter and will be in use for 97% of our races. That is pretty cool for me because I will not have to change cogs as much.

BKW: 39/53t chainrings?

VG: 39/53t is very common. Every once and a while we will change out to something special, but for the most part it's 39/53t.

BKW: Any special tires for the rain?

VG: No, just pressure; we adapt for the wet. Running lower pressures.

Does pressure depend on rider or do you have a formula?

VG: We have a general rule of thumb, occasionally riders will request something special, but it is pretty rare. Ninety-nine times out of 100 the riders are happy with the pressure we choose. They rely on our expertise and we rely on their feedback.

BKW: Are you gluing tubulars on a schedule?

VG: Only when flat. Our tires last a long time, Continental has been very good to us with both quality and quantitiy, we start the season with a good supply of tires. I have only glued tires at AToC to replace flats, but I feel pretty lucky there were only a handful. We finished the Tour of Quatar with only 5 flats total. Some teams flatted 5 times a day. I felt we were very lucky. Continental's R&D and their knowledge of tires in motorsports really makes my job pretty easy. They give us great products.

What's the hardest part of your job?

VG: Not getting to the bar fast enough, the gin and tonic is too far out there. Every job has good and bad; for me the good out weighs the bad 1,000,000 to 1.

A special thanks to Vincent and Andy for their time, and the next time we see each other, the gin and tonics are on us.

Monday, March 2, 2009

NAHBS - 2009

1986 Tour de France: Stage 13

The commentary shows just how different our perception of the race is in retrospect from how it was to the announcers as it unfolded. Present tense, anything seemed possible.

And admit it, Tesh's music has a certain nostalgic thrill to it.