All season long Trek mechanic Ben Arnott has been giving us a different viewpoint of life on the UCI World Cup circuit, and this latest instalment of the series focuses on the final round in Meribel. If you’ve missed out on the previous stories then you can catch up below first if you want, but otherwise just read on to see what life is really like behind the scenes on the World Cup road…
UCI World Cup Season 2014 – A Mechanic’s Point of View Part 6
My trip to the final World Cup of the series in Meribel started with a flight to Belgium, to the home of the Head Mechanic, Sander. After passing my truck test before the season started it was time to get some experience driving the team’s Scania truck. Since I’ve held my license I’ve had a strange mix of excitement and anxiety about getting behind the wheel. On the plus side, it’s pretty cool to be trucking around Europe in a massive lorry, but the consequences for getting something wrong are pretty huge. So with thoughts of having to call Martin (our team boss) and tell him his truck was in a ditch with a pile of carbon dust in the back put aside in my head, we set off south and in to France. As it turns out, my worries were unnecessary and with truck driving legend Sander in the passenger seat, the kilometres flew by as we munched on liquorice and listened to cheesy French radio. After checking the map and seeing a winding wee yellow road up to the resort from Albertville, I was pretty keen to let Sander do that bit, but as it transpired I was in the drivers seat as we started ascending the hairpins. The attitude has to be ‘I am coming, you better get out of the way’ and with this in mind, it was pretty uneventful getting to the top. Unsurprisingly, there were a couple of Renault Kangoo drivers that almost died on some blind corner overtakes, which merely confirmed to me ‘ah, I’m back in the Alps.’
Unlike most other venues, Meribel didn’t use a single large car park to house all of the teams, instead we were all spread out over the centre of town. Once Sander had edged us in to our spot (I let him do that for a treat) we set up, looking straight at the basement level of Meribel Ice Rink. Not ideal! However once set up I went for a walk around the venue and was instantly impressed. From the finish area you could see almost a minute of track, and this bit of track was some huge old-school corners cutting through what looked like a black ski run. A walk through town after brought about some nostalgia from summers spent in the French Alps as a teenager, with shops selling only suspect looking sausages and Genepi (French Alpine hangover juice), and then there’s the general air of fromage everywhere you go. The frequent British accents that are heard as you walk around are a reminder that there’s a huge ex-pat community in the French Alps and during the day this certainly feels like a good thing, but perhaps not so much in the evenings when they try to re-enact every UK town centre on a Saturday night.
The track at Meribel had a minimal amount of pedalling and because of this we were concentrating on tyre choice and pressure more than anything else. The bikes weren’t taking a beating and the only bit I changed other than the usual was a chain device on Laurie’s bike that he introduced to a stationary French rock at speed. Qualification went well for both guys, and was a treat for the mechanics as we got to stand around as the riders warmed up with a view of Mont Blanc over the surrounding mountains. Greg came down somewhere in the 30s, safely in but with more in the tank as they say. Laurie came down in a blinding second place, a happily surprising result that confirmed to everyone what he is capable of.
Race morning is about the only time I get nervous in a race weekend and usually as soon as my alarm goes off I lie in bed going through everything I’ve done so far in the weekend, and everything that can potentially happen. It’s all too easy to get bogged down and start thinking about the chances of something going wrong, but I’ve learned to put it aside and concentrate on doing the best that I can on that day. After some practice laps, Laurie told me he was finished and this is my cue to get the bike ready for the race run. This starts with a wash, then a systematic check of everything on the bike, usually a new chain and a polish for good measure. Once this is done I get the warm-up bike and trainer ready for Justin to take up for Laurie. With the timings of the junior World Cup I am usually preparing Greg’s bike for his run when Laurie sets off for his run. Martin and Paul who are at the finish will relay back results over the radio and for this race, we are jumping with joy when Laurie crosses the line in the lead, with one rider to go. At this stage, a second place is still Laurie’s best World Cup result by far so we exchanged high fives in the pits and waited to see how the favourite French rider did. He eventually crossed the line in first, but it was a good start to the day!
Shortly after Greg set off on his run, I heard on the radio that he had come down in the lead, a few seconds up. Once he had left on his race run, I headed down the hill to look after the pits while the other mechanics started their riders at the top of the hill. Luckily as Paul the Road Manager has a French mobile, I could watch the race live on his iPhone with a beer. Eventually Greg finished in 9th place, matching his best World Cup result and proving he can do it outside of his home track. A most OK day!
The range of alcohol going around the pits after the race was inspiring, and within the space of an hour I drank Genepi, pine flavour Schnapps, beer and wine. This made for a pretty uninspiring Sunday morning, but Ely, Laurie’s dad and myself headed up the hill for a ride of our own, and rode the best ridge ever. Meribel is definitely somewhere I will return to and explore all the riding in the area.
It’s been a great season, and I can’t believe it’s over (minus the World Champs). It has felt shorter than last year, ironically I think because the season was more spread out, and there were less consecutive weeks on the road. Norway is going to be an amazing race because almost every rider I’ve spoken is thinking that because the World Cup season is done and dusted, it’s now all or nothing. More importantly, Norway sells the best liquorice ever, called Dragster 3000. I’ll report back once I’ve stocked up…