Saturday, May 24, 2008

Part Three: Tech motor driver, the bitter and the sweet

In the ‘90s and until about 2005, I did as much tech motor driving as anyone in the US, probably more than anyone else. I worked primarily for Mavic and Shimano, but I also worked for the Pedro’s program once and the Bontrager program a few times.

Plus I worked for the race organizers when no national program agreed to provide support at the event: the Vuelta de Bisbee comes to mind, the Cascade Classic and maybe once or twice at the Tour of the Gila.

When I worked for Mavic, I rode one of their yellow motorcycles. If I worked for Shimano close to home, I’d ride to the event and use my own bike. A few times we rented or borrowed bikes, memorably in Greenville, SC, at the ‘89er Stage Race in Norman, OK, at the Norwest Cup in Minneapolis, MN and at the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

As the years and races passed, I became known to the officials. Most came to trust me and let me do my job as I saw fit. I was one aspect of the strung-out ballet that they did not have to worry about.

I learned to love certain races and put up with others. My favorite race today is the Tour of the Gila. I’ve been working that event for 10 years, I believe, so I know the staff and I’ve made some friends there in Silver City, NM. Super event.

My near-favorite race and my least favored race were both in Oregon. I enjoyed going to Bend and working the Cascade Classic. The country is gorgeous, the racing always good, the locals are fun and friendly and into the event. The weather has been good almost every year – although it has gotten hot once or twice.

If you have not been to Bend, it’s worth the trip. I wish I’d bought a place there before it was “discovered” and became almost California-pricey. A few bike race people did. The Classic brought them to Bend. They looked around, saw very little to dislike and bought homes there. Lucky them.

On the other hand there was the Tour Willamette, based in Eugene, just over the mountains from Bend. Eugene is a lovely town, a genuinely green town full of sincerely involved people. I hated their bike race. April in Eugene….

It just always rained. The courses were always far from town. The courses that remain in my memory were on Bureau of Land Management property, on remote roads that saw very little traffic except on race days. Those roads were not well maintained.

You’d be flying down a technical descent on one of those nearly flooded roads, chasing the break or more accurately trying to limit how far you’d have to chase it once the road straightened, you’d come around a corner and the road would be gone.

The road surface would be missing, or in chunks. You’d manage to navigate through the pieces of road, and you’d look off the side of the road and there’d be nothing there but drop-off and woods. If you went wide and slid off the road, you’d never be found.

You never had radio contact with the wheel car. You’d already have done a service or two, guys with pinch flats or guys who’d crashed, and you had no more good wheels. You didn’t know where good wheels could be found – or how long it might be until you found them. Without fresh wheels, you were useless.

You were cold and wet and tired and frustrated and useless.

You’d see guys standing on the road edge with a wheel in one hand and a bicycle minus a wheel in the other, guys looking sad and frantic. There’d be nothing you could do.

You were there to help. You’d ridden 400 miles to get there. You’d left a marginal motel at dawn, ridden for 90 shivering wet minutes to get to the start and frozen your ass off for three more hours in the race.

And you could not help that guy - or the other six or eight other guys like him you saw standing there in the miles and miles you rode before you found the wheel car.

Really tough racers loved the Tour Willamette. They felt it was a true test. No doubt you had to be a no-foolin’ all-around rider even to finish, let alone do well.

I was never nearly that tough. I survived two or three of those Tours but I never enjoyed one day of working them.

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