Last Saturday, Rob - a friend, was given the unique opportunity of riding in the SRAM car as the Jayco Herald Sun Tour made its way around the Mornington Peninsula. Thanks Rob for giving us this insight into the fast-paced world of support vehicles.
Words: Robert Merkel
I wish I could tell you about my ringside viewing of the battle of
Arthur's Seat. Haas and Bobridge trading blows, while up ahead Silin
took his first pro stage win.
But that would be a fib. One brief glimpse out the rear window near the
bottom of the climb - that's all I got. I didn't see the riders again
until I jumped out of the car at the finish line. Nor did our friendly
mechanics have any mechanical incidents to deal with; so I can't tell
you just how fast they can change a wheel.
Nonetheless, it was a fascinating few minutes in the neutral support vehicle.
first thing you notice when you jump in the car - after it stopped for
all of a millisecond to pick us up - is that it's a busy, busy
workplace. Race radio is constantly nattering away. "All back
together". "112, 63, and 47 off the front". "Jerseys in the bunch".
"Moto 2, follow the break". The driver listens carefully for any
instructions to reposition himself, while the mechanic in the back seat
is constantly noting down who's in the breakaway in the course "mocka"
- a very detailed description of the route provided by the organizers.
While we were able to have a brief chat at times, working in a support
vehicle is certainly no holiday. It was clear that our hosts were
pretty tired after four days of doing this.
I was interested to see how the neutral support car managed the
profusion of possibly incompatible wheel standards. There's two
different cassette standards (Campy and Shimano/SRAM), and two
different types of braking surfaces (carbon and aluminium) that the
neutral support car might have to deal with. If you think that's bad, a
couple of years ago there would have also been Campy 10 speed to deal
with, making six possible combinations!
To simplify this, the support car used older-style Zipp (owned by SRAM)
clincher wheels with aluminium braking tracks, and borrowed a wheelset
from the one team in the race using Campagnolo. Even so, the car was
completely full of spare wheels; I had a rear wheel sitting on my lap.
Disc brakes, if they ever bring them in for road bikes, are going to
make things even more complicated!
While you see it on television and you get a bit of a sense if you
descend yourself, it's still a shock just how fast the convoy has to
drive to keep with (or ahead) of the pros on descents. The cars and
drivers get a real workout at times, and it's a testament to the
professionalism and experience of the drivers that there are so few
I've helped out backstage at a few amateur theatre events, and the
parallels are clear. While it's the stars that make the show, without
the dedication and skill of a lot of people doing their jobs properly,
the stars won't get their chance. I'm very grateful to see how it's all
done, even if, on the surface, not a lot happened.
I should also add that my prize included a very high-quality
collection of loot from SRAM, including an Apex conversion kit. This
rear derailleur lets you fit a mountain bike 11-32 cassette to a
SRAM-equipped road bike, giving the kind of gearing that makes climbs
like Mount Baw Baw or the Dargo hill doable without the expense and
inconvenience of fitting a triple crank. I just wish Shimano made a
similar derailleur for their road range.
Thanks to CyclingTips and SRAM for organizing this excellent prize.