MFS found the Mavic Neutral Support Team at Starbucks #10329 before Stage 05 the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. What follows is an amalgamation of their own words.
Today we woke at 6:00 AM and got everything packed, like every morning. Then we washed everything: all of the bikes, all of the cars, the Sprinter, everything. Now we're at Starbucks right outside Breckenridge getting something to eat before we go find our spot at the start and line up. Once we have a place in line, we'll go get more food, batteries for the radios, gas for the cars, and find our VIP passengers.1 Eventually the race starts and we hope nobody has an emergency. That's a bit of a simplification, but it's true. You could break it out detail by detail, but think about it: when you wash the bikes you need a hose, you need a bucket, you need soap, you need sponges.
We have a routine and we do it. Our day-to-day is pretty straightforward, and that's why we're able to do it consistently.
There are some nuances though; for example, when we line up before the start, we need to figure out where each vehicle should be, what it should carry and how the drivers should be prepared. We base those decisions on things like the profile of the course, how the race is playing out, and the weather. If the forecast is for rain in the afternoon, do you wear a rainsuit from the start, or do you wait till the middle of the stage to stop and put it on? How cold will we be?2 We adjust our tire pressure according to the weather—with rain you lower the pressure to increase traction. Things like that need to be sorted out based on the specific conditions of the day, and can't be planned on from a long way out.
Being around these races you learn some things about cycling you might not otherwise. You can be sure there is going to be a breakaway, every day. Within the first few miles of the start the peloton will figure out who it wants in the break; if some riders try to get away that are too close in the GC, the peloton will chase them back. If a break goes that has a bunch of people nobody cares about, they'll be allowed to go up the road. You can be almost sure that it's going to get swallowed up eventually—despite the announcers best efforts to sell viewers on the break.
When the peloton gets near the finish, it realizes, "Oh, there should be a sprint. We should probably catch them." Then they hammer and catch the breakaway right before the line. It's almost choreographed.
Second to the officials we have the most people in the race with communications equipment, so we know more about the race situation than anyone else. Long before you hear it on the broadcast, we know about the gap extending or shrinking. People don't realize that if they'd ride in our car, they'd be privy to all of this information. They could have a much different perspective on the race. We do give rides, mostly connected to marketing stuff: dealers, contests, that sort of thing. And it is eye-opening for those poor people who have no idea what it's like to drive one of these stages.3 They're usually equal parts horrified and impressed. You don't get used to having cars pass you on either side with six inches to spare in everyday driving.
At any given point, you're constantly looking in ten directions looking for moving parts.
When you're in one of the races you're surrounded by local authorities, but we're allowed to drive around them—carefully—at extremely high rates of speed. It's not that the riders are moving at 100 mph, it's the fact that we need to move, quickly, in between the peloton and the break and the grupetto and everyone in between, who are spread out over miles of road. It's against your normal nature to blow by a State Patrolman at 110 mph, but you have to be quick. Sometimes you'll be shooting down the road and, seeing a yellow light turn orange, you have to stop yourself from hitting the brakes. And on the other hand after the race, it's a tough adjustment to be a civilian, to see a red light and tell yourself, "I need to stop." Sometimes local cops will give you the stink eye when you're squealing tires through their corners, but they have to let you do it.
People also don't realize the monkey business that's going on in the caravan, the chaos caused by different teams in different spots being called up at different times to go feed or do a mechanical or what have you. And you'll see riders literally being towed back up to the group, things like that.4 So far everyone in this race has been pretty courteous though. We actually saw one of the Garmin riders come back to the car yesterday with a jersey malfunction.
The mechanic was halfway out of the car with a pair of shears trying to snip something on the guy's jersey at 35 mph. If they hit a speed bump, they're down a rider. They're down a human.
Last year I traveled 282 days, I think that's the highest I've ever done. I was thinking I must be approaching the team mechanics in terms of time on the road, so I asked one of them about it. He was shocked I traveled that much. We don't just get sent to races is the thing, we go to dealers, demos, press launches, all sorts of events for Mavic. I have a house in Longmont, Colorado, but I don't see it much. I'm one of the company guys, and we travel to Europe as well, but every other guy here is a volunteer. I put the crew together and each of these guys is giving me nine days of their vacation. Those of us with our race mechanics licenses,5 we're a small, tight-knit family. Lots of us are officials, moto officials even. You get a lot of things out of it. You get yellow shirts and wheels, but really beyond that, you get to experience the race in this amazing way. You have the best seat in the house, you're in the race, you see what actually happens rather than a neutered description on TV.
Being part of the chaos, hearing what Jens is joking about, seeing food fights in the peloton, see guys puke, you miss that on TV. I've been peed on by Lance Armstrong, and I don't know how I feel about that. But not many people can say that.
STAGE 05 – BRECKENRIDGE / COLORADO SPRINGS
24 AUGUST 2012
MEDIUM-MOUNTAIN STAGE, 189.7 KM
- Tyler Farrar (USA) Green Jersey. Garmin-Sharp 3h 58' 27"
- Taylor Phinney (USA). BMC Racing Team s.t.
- Alessandro Bazzana (ITA). Team Type-1 Sanofi s.t.
Stage 05 is the race's first moment of relative respite since the first day's stage. Beginning with a climb to 11,500' on Hoosier Pass, the course settles down until a short but steep loop of the Garden of the Gods and a set of downtown circuits in Colorado Springs; with little climbing after the first pass, the stage is one for the sprinters.
- Various individuals that have earned/won a ride-along for the day's stage. [↩]
- The Official Mavic Neutral Support Meteorologist is the Apple iPhone. [↩]
- Following a race, especially one through mountain passes and windy roads, requires one to let go of "traffic laws" and "defensive driving." [↩]
- MFS has witnessed countless "sticky water bottles" and "brake adjustments" over the last three years. [↩]
- Issued by USA Cycling. [↩]