Ben Arnott is one of the mechanics on the Trek World Racing team, and this year he will giving us an insiders view of the World Cup races. If you missed his account of the season opener in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, then you can catch up with that first here, but if you’re already up to speed then simply read on and enjoy his take on round two in Cairns, Australia…
2014 UCI World Cup Round 2
A Mechanic’s Point of View
Words: Ben Arnott
After being shamefully addicted to ‘Neighbours’ during my high school years I had always been keen to visit the land down under. When I saw Cairns announced on the schedule last year the memories of Ramsay Street started flooding back in and I was already excited. With a Vegemite sandwich in hand I googled ‘Cairns’ and checked out the venue-to-be of UCI DH World Cup #2, 2014.
After a brief three day stint back at home after South Africa consisting of catching up with my girlfriend Lucy, finalising my lorry license and washing a mountain of clothes, it was back to Edinburgh airport to rack up some more air miles. The long flight to Australia and back promised to boost me up to the elusive Gold status, which before this job meant nothing to me, but now has become the focus of many hours of internet research and mile counting. A Gold card means access to lounges, which when you spend as many hours as we World Cup staffers do in airports, is quite literally the golden ticket. These air-conditioned havens provide a refuge from the reality of two days of wearing the same boxers and have free food and drinks, as well as a whole spectrum of frustrated looking businessmen.
The closest thing I can compare to flying into Cairns is the bit in Jurassic Park when they see the island out of the helicopter window for the first time. A proper rainforest image helped along by the fact it was pretty overcast and wet on the ground when we arrived. The first thing that hits you when you leave the plane is the humidity, the minimal exertion of bouncing down the stairs from the plane leaving you sweating like a dyslexic on countdown. That was the first sign that this could be a challenging race to wrench at, but still high on the new sights and smells we made it to our condo in a pretty clapped out rental van. The condo was perfect for a World Cup, away from the support truck – a huge balcony with a sea view on which to set our work stands up and a big lounge in earshot of our bedrooms to store the bikes in, so we know they’d be safe at night. The abundance of wildlife was striking. The sun set as we started working on the balcony and massive fruit bats filled the sky while geckos darted around the roof and walls.
With the bikes built the previous evening it was an early start out to the pits to check them out and set the area up. The venue at Cairns is just outside the grounds of a big university and the pit area is a big field. Much like South Africa the organisers supplied the teams with marquee style tents but with the addition of a plastic floor inside, which at the time garnered some dismissive comments along the lines of ‘why do we need that? The ground is bone dry, this is Australia right!’ Well it turns out that the brochure pictures of an eternally sunny Australia with sunbathing wallabies and guys cheersing fosters cans next to the barbie aren’t taken near the rainforest in April. Almost as soon as we arrived in the pits on the Thursday it started raining, and we’re not talking drizzle, but torrential downpours of fat, warm rain. The intriguing red dust quickly turned in to orange clay and left all the teams frantically checking they’d packed the mud tyres.
Practice went off much the same as usual, the only difference here being that we had our new junior Laurie Greenland along for his first World Cup, meaning early starts for his practice sessions (juniors, women and non-top 80 riders practice at different times than the top 80 men). Laurie is new to a team of this scale but has taken the transition in his stride, and we spent the first morning getting his suspension dialed in with Fox and determining a baseline for his bike setup (i.e. tyre pressures, axle to crown height etc.). I take a note of these settings and update them as changes are made. This means next year if we race here, the bike can be setup close to how it was raced the previous year which means less time spent getting to a setup we already know works. Once the seniors arrived and started practicing we were once again preparing wheels and digging out the spares we thought we were going to need in these conditions. Greg started on dry tyres and stuck with them for most of practice, only swapping to muds when it had rained enough that he felt the extra grip outweighed the rolling advantage of the drys on the flat pedal finish of the track. Compared to South Africa, his setup changes were slight, with a smaller chain ring and a slightly higher front end for the steeper track being about all that was new. Each new day his and Laurie’s bikes got new pads and rotors if they were looking tired and a new chain. The relentless jet washing after each run would wreck your bike at home in a matter of weeks but we need them this clean after each run to inspect the bike and tune it for the next one. I checked for any signs of jet wash related wear after each day and there weren’t any, but regardless the bikes will get a full rebuild before the next race which will catch any rinsed out bearings or breached seals.
By quali morning the pit resembled those pictures you see of Glastonbury in the mud but with less girls in short skirts and wellies and more grumpy mechanics lugging bikes and toolboxes across the sodden ground. The organisers had rightfully forbidden the vans to be driven on to the soaked field so everything had to be carried from the gravel access road a hundred meters or so from the tents. The once scoffed at plastic floor was now our island in the tent, which was now crowded as riders and other staffers relished the opportunity to stand somewhere without sinking in. Something that I haven’t yet seen reported about this race is the uplift, which was done in Toyota Land Cruisers on a super steep road that was apparently prepared just for this event at the cost of several hundred thousand dollars. It was an awesome trip and after first experiencing it before track walk I was looking forward to doing it another two times for quali and race day.
Quali went off without a hitch, and the timing was a learning experience due to having a junior as well as an elite now. Both my riders got down in good times, both feeling good about the race the next day. On race day, our skills coach Justin Leov took Laurie to the top of hill for his race run so I could stay in the pits and prepare Greg’s bike for his run. Laurie got down in 11th place, a good result although the thick mud and limited practice time in these conditions didn’t suit him ideally. His first World Cup on the team ran smoothly though and I am confident we’re going to be a good team together for the season. Once we were at the top for Greg’s run, the race got stopped when he had just started his warm up.
Apparently a rider had crashed and the course was closed while he was extracted – nothing too out of the ordinary there. However when Peaty went for his run and then we got the news that the course was yet again closed, we were all a bit confused up top and hoping that he hadn’t come a cropper. There was no news from the marshals as to what the delay was for, just that it was 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, and so on. A few of the riders were starting to get agitated as not knowing when their run will be makes the warm up difficult to time. After about 15 minutes of waiting I got a text from my brother who was watching the race online in Canada, saying something along the lines of ‘apparently some guy has taken the crashed guy’s bike, rode down the track and now crashed!’ I read this out to the riders and mechanics around where I was standing and I don’t think anyone believed me. I didn’t even really believe it. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have seen the footage of that guy ending himself on the whoops, and as we didn’t know the severity of his injuries, or if it was even true, it lightened the mood at the top as everyone chatted and laughed about the idea of it. Eventually Greg got his run after a 41-minute delay, but his day was ruined by the rock garden which grabbed his front wheel and held it while he kept going, over the bars. The result was a badly taco’d wheel that would hardly run through the fork and his hopes of a good time dashed. He got back on and rode it down the hill at a good pace, so fair play, and it actually got him a decent amount of exposure, the best tweet being something along the lines of ‘You should be sponsored by Taco Bell!’.
Cairns was a good experience but I’m glad the remaining races for the season will be with the support of the full pit setup. After an amazing but sunburnt trip to the Barrier Reef Greg and I are off for a few days R & R in Sydney, so if I make it back I’ll report after the next World Cup, in Bonnie Scotland!