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Back 2.2.2018

At Cyclocross Worlds, Team Mechanics’ Dedication on Full Display

Four curious fans approach the Crelan-Charles camper van and gaze at the fleet of Wout van Aert bikes before them.

Belgian Kristof Cop, van Aert’s mechanic, takes a short break to chat with the men. He picks up a couple of Zipp wheels, adorned with world championship stripes, and shows them to the men. Van Aert will look to defend his title this weekend at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Valkenburg, in the Netherlands.

Cop, who grew up in the same part of Belgium as van Aert, understands this is the sort of access cyclocross fans want. The appeal of cyclocross comes not from watching it on TV but from being there, he said.

Cycling is a sport contested among the people in the most common of areas – fields, parks, and woodlands. So it’s not surprising that final bike prep, for even the biggest stars in cyclocross, also happens out among the people, rain or shine.

CANYON//SRAM Racing’s camper was situated atop the iconic Cauberg climb just off the course. Team mechanic Jochen Lamade, at the moment re-taping handlebars, is busy preparing bikes for Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France.

“It’s just one rider but you almost spend at least half a day out here to take a look at the course, take a look at the bike,” said Jochen Lamade, CANYON//SRAM Racing mechanic for Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France. ”Just after breakfast you come over here… and then it ends at 5 or 6 o’clock.”

One of the major decisions made during this last-minute preparation is selecting tire pressure, always a hot topic in pro cyclocross.

He said that cyclocross fans tend to be knowledgeable about the equipment and appreciate seeing it close up. “The spectators who come to cyclocross races are really deep into the sport. They know every rider. They travel week-to-week to the races,” he said.

The Crelan-Charles camper is parked in a mostly empty Valkenburg parking lot. An awning protects Cop as well as SRAM technical staff Thorsten Wilhelms and Richard Breininger from the rain as they prepared Aert’s five bikes for final training rides and Sunday’s race.

“They’ll all get used,” Breininger said. “Our goal is to make sure the bike can’t get any faster than what it is when it leaves our sight.”

That means every part is checked over for needed adjustments or lube. Van Aert has roughly 25 pairs of Zipp wheels, 202s and 303s, available. With muddy conditions expected Sunday, small stickers are placed on two sets to keep them pristine for Sunday’s race. The SRAM staff works with Cop on an ongoing basis on equipment choices. After a bike fit session, van Aert switched to the Service Course SL 70-Ergo bar, with its shorter 70mm reach, to have a slightly more compact position for the technical demands of cyclocross. The bikes, built with SRAM RED eTap HRD, are set up with 46/36t chainrings and 11-28 cassettes, each tooth cleaned and inspected.

As the three men work, a boy comes up and asks if he can take a photo of van Aert’s bike. Sure. Then a cyclist rides up and asks if he can borrow a pump, which Cop provides. Several people check out the team camper and bikes as they walk by with their dogs or make their way into the bank across the street.

The rain falls. The sun briefly comes out. The rain falls again, this time harder. Cop remains focused. More mud means more work. “The muddy track here, every lap we’re going to change the bike,” he predicted. “It’s very difficult.”

Pro mechanics work quietly behind the scenes. Many seem to prefer it that way. Yet they’re also front and center interacting with the fans.

And that’s one of pro cycling’s enduring charms.