So.... we're riding along on the motorcycle behind the pack or the break. We'll see a hand go up, and a rider will work his way to the right side of the road. He'll usually point at his front or rear wheel if he has a flat, or he'll point at something broken if he needs a bike. Yesterday a guy pointed at his saddle, which had broken and tilted oddly at 90 degrees to its usual orientation.
If it's a flat tire, I watch the rider and time my braking so I stop behind him on the shoulder. I plant my feet so my mechanic's getting off the motor doesn't topple it over. I watch as the mechanic runs to the bicycle, removes the dead wheel and puts in a new one. The mechanic picks up the dead wheel and pushes the rider, who has just remounted his bicycle, off to a rolling start. I follow on the motor and the mechanic jumps on.
We ride up to one of the support cars, wiggle in behind it and ride up to the rear door on the right side. My mechanic hands the wheel thru the window to another mechanic in the back seat, who in turn hands out a fresh wheel. We ride forward and through a gap in the line of cars to our position just behind the pack.
Savvy riders realize they have a flat, raise an arm and ride over to the shoulder. They have shifted gears until the chain is on the outermost cog. They get completely off the bike and stand next to it, waiting patiently (no kidding) until the service is complete. Sometimes the wheelchange goes badly and seems to take forever. In most cases the rider is cool and says nothing, even as he watches the pack disappearing in the distance and his race going up in smoke.
I have done as many as 20 services in a race - in the rain at the Olympic Trials in Jackson, Mississippi. I have done as few as none - yesterday at the Tour of the Gila in Silver City, New Mexico.
If the rider needs a bike, my mechanic will radio his need and his bike size and pedal choice to the support cars. One of them will drive forward past the pack and stop a distance up the road. While they are driving, a mechanic will stretch out the window and get a bike down from the roof. He'll put a wheel in it if the front has been removed and put pedals in it. He'll stand on the shoulder with the bike so the rider can pedal up and switch bikes in seconds. The seat post binder is quick release so the rider can adjust the seat height as he goes.
Often riders finish well on bikes loaned them by support crews. When I worked for Mavic, for a year or so we loaned bikes with Mavic's electronic shifting, so riders had to figure out how to change gears on their strange loaners - midrace!
Some of the team mechanics understand what we do and why we're there, but some are so proprietary about their riders and the riders' bikes that they'd rather we ignored their guys.
If a team has only one team car, as is typical, and the team has riders in the pack and in the breakaway, the car can't be both places. We help riders whose team cars are unavailable - because the team has riders in both places or because the officials won't let the car into the short gap between pack and break.
If the officials do allow cars into that gap, pack riders will draft the cars and catch the break. Generally, if the gap in 30 seconds, the officials will put a support motor behind the breakaway. When the gap reaches a minute, they'll put a support car in - and the team managers can choose to stay back behind the pack, or go forward to their rider or riders in the break.
More later.... from scenic Silver City NM