As we spend more time on our bikes than on our feet, professional cyclists can feel a millimetre of difference between bikes, shoes or cleat position. The team mechanics have some beautifully made custom jigs to align everything so our bikes or our shoes (each rider has a spare pair of race shoes in the team car) are identical.
Being a professional team mechanic is a trade in Europe. Mechanics start working with teams as apprentices when they are in their late teens and work until they retire. Most mechanics have a profound understanding and passion for the job which makes them meticulous. When we win they also feel a sense of accomplishment and share the victory with the team of riders. A champion will keep the same staff with him through his entire career. Few of Johan Bruyneel’s soigneurs or mechanics have shuffled around between teams as Johan tries to hold on to the staff he has confidence in and can trust. Geoff Brown, the Canadian mechanic who works for Radio Shack, began with Motorola before moving to USPS, Discovery and Astana worked on my bike for many years. Never once did I step on my bike and have a problem or worry that it would fail. Julien deVriese, Radio Shack’s head mechanic, has worked with everybody from Merckx to Maertens to Lemond to Armstrong. During Johan’s decade of dominance at the Tour de France they had few mechanical problems. DeVriese aged Lance’s Tour de France tubulars in a cellar for five years so the rubber was resistant to puncture while ours were aged for a few years. While at the races, they were checked daily for cuts and changed often. The team rode a whole Tour of Spain with only one flat tire. The details make the difference.
I will follow up with some more photos and videos of the mechanics and soigneurs at work from our camp this week.