30 January 2009

Welcome Back

It feels like months since I last sat down to write, and from the dates on this blog, it has been. So without pleading and asking for your apologies for been such a slack ass. I will use a technique I have used many times, and I will just forget about any promises of stories I have made. With amends being made up in the future with some entertaining reading, wicked photo’s, some bike stuff, with a bit of racing thrown in. Getting to spend some quality holiday time in my own country was a welcome break from previous off seasons. Normally I work the busy summer season at home (when all the rest of the team are riding in snow and cold in Europe), and what a summer we normally get. After less than six weeks at home last season, I promised myself a bit more time relaxing and riding. This time around, I was successful, and only managed to work the bare minimum of a few weeks here and there. The riding was great, but more on this later, along with a few more cool local races, some wicked workshops, and a few other stories, if time and energy levels allow, (there are those promises again, oops).

For those that have not caught up with me since last season, there is a lot of catching up to do. The big change is a new team for me, or rather, a new position, on an old team. After spending a year with High Road/Columbia, things changed for me near the end of the season. When I originally signed for the team, it was under the T-Mobile flag, I was supposed to be working mainly for the Women’s team, with the odd race for the Men’s team to fill my time up. It was a good thing at the time, and a good chance to move into the Men’s side of the sport (which was always the plan). But within a few weeks of signing, the T-Mobile sponsors were out, part of the never-ending German sponsors pulling all their money from cycling. When the team decided to continue under the management company ‘Highroad’, I finally got the call that things were going ahead, and I did have a job (only a month later, with not a message in-between). The season started with a hiss and a roar, with enough work to keep me well out of trouble. With some early wins with both the Men and the Women’s racing, it was looking good for the year. Being one for working for the winning team, I was right in my element.

And George, my favourite modern day rider. It was pretty cool working for guys like this, makes the job all worth while.

The season was pretty busy, seemed they really wanted to get their monies worth out of me. The riders were happy with my work, and by the sounds of things, they were happy to get a little bit more care and attention spent on their bikes than they had been getting (the stories were rife, and embarrassing to listen to). After working on bikes for years, I still tend to get excited by them, I especially like the problems that they can throw at you on a regular basis. Kind of makes things interesting late in the night, or a minute or two before a race is about to start. Bikes are easy, you fix them, fix them well, and they work, it’s not rocket science (but close in terms of technical knowledge needed). But for many race mechanics, they tend to get one or two parts of that equation wrong. I thought I might have to lift my game a little when working with the men, but within a few weeks, I was very disillusioned with the some-what low level of wrenching going on every where. This was supposed to be the pinnacle of my profession, and all around me I was surrounded with mediocrity and a lack of passion in the job. Some of the mechanics thought they ran the team, and some of them thought they were more important than some of the riders whose bikes they were working on. It just didn’t make sense to me, and the more the season got going, the more the problems just seemed to unfold.

Rabon, Adam and Mark hanging out during the 'Giro'. Guys like these are always a pleasure to work for. Makes the long days, feel like they can go on forever.

The more I looked around in and around my own team, and the teams around us sharing the hotel car parks, there was a traditional, standard way of doing things. This may not have been the most efficient, or the best for the bikes. But why change, it was easy to keep it the same, things seemed to work most of the time, and more importantly, no one really cared (except the riders of course). A change was no good when it was the ‘way’ for the last 20 years, especially when it may increase the mechanics workload by 5%. The riders and the bikes were the only ones suffering, and amazingly enough, some of the staff just couldn’t give a shit. There were few of them that cared, but it was only three out of eight, which is not a good ratio in my eyes (blind, leading the blind, comes to mind). The few good mechanics (who shall remain nameless, but you should know who you are), were all very good, efficient, professional, and there for the riders, not for themselves. As for the others, I wouldn’t let them work on my own bike, let alone a top Pro’s machine. Things have changed with technology and materials used in modern bikes, time to up skill by now, I would have thought. And it’s not a rot that was just with us, looking around some of the other teams, they had the same problems, seems they all went to the same school, and all failed together. Think of them as the Belgium bike Mafia, (there was also the French and Italian bike mafia as well), they all look after each others inabilities and failings, watching out for each others asses. If the level of skill is low, that’s the standard they are happy with. They have no real interest in bettering themselves, or perhaps learning about a new product or two. If there were problems during a race, they would all pass the buck, with no one mechanic claiming any responsibility. Generally making up some sort of excuse as to why the problem arose, instead of being a man, and putting their hand up and admitting that they didn’t check or fix it in the first place. All of us are then tarred with the same brush, and all the riders look at us with the same discontent when problems arrive. Especially when the same problem has not been fixed after they asked specifically for it to be. This was the hard part of the job, especially when I was not even near the tools or that particular bike on the day.

The Women racing in my beautiful (bit dry at the time) country in the 'Tour of Wellington'

Nearing the end of the season, my contract was coming up for renewal. The people who had to make the decisions were becoming very hard to make contact with. Which was kind of funny, as they seemed to reply within a minute of any mail, up to then. When all the staff were getting the good news about their jobs for the coming season, I still could not get any answers from those making the decisions. Maybe my mouth got me into trouble again, it wouldn’t be the first time that happened, it’s hard to keep quiet when there are problems staring me in the eye. I should also not question the work of the head mechanic, he may have something to do with my contract renewal. I should not talk about the lack of quality or low standard of mechanical work to the riders, even if they are constantly on to me about it. They talk enough about them in the bunch, I was just confirming their beliefs. I should not have any opinions about the way the work is done, even if it is against everything I have ever learnt in 20 years of wrenching. I should not check another mechanics work in front of them, even if the problem was potentially dangerous, staring them in the face, and very easily fixed. I should not go back to the truck after dinner to sort out a problem bike (when the rider has asked me specifically to have a quick look), I should just forget about it, and plead ignorance when the bike has a problem, just like the rest of them.

The boys lined up for the team Timetrail at the Giro, my favourite race of all time.

Finally I got an answer, but, not the one I was after (but by now, the one I was expecting), nor from the person who was supposed to give it to me. Seems the top man, (not Bob by the way) did not have the balls to tell me personally, even to the point of making himself scarce, when he knew I was wanting an answer on my future. Our earlier discussions seemed to go well, but something had changed. The riders were all happy with me, seems they enjoyed my work, my skill, attention to detail and my devotion to the bikes and the job. All the Directors were happy with my work, I got on well with them all, we do spend some long days alone in the car, so that’s a must. They all seemed to be completely in the dark as to why I was going, even though at first they had been told I was leaving of my own accord (which was really strange). And to top it off, the mechanics were devastated I was going, seems they had no problems with my work either, and enjoyed working with me. So with the riders happy, the Directors happy, and all the other staff happy, it all ended rather strange. Maybe one day I might find the real answers, but at this stage, your guess is as good as mine. A couple of people will know, lets hope they get to tell me in person one day, I would love to know.

Some wicked scenery in the 'Tour of Ireland'. Over the Conner's Pass, and it was a successful race for the team again.

So on with life, and not being one for sitting around getting distraught with my situation, I moved on pretty quickly. I had a few offers to look through, and the one that seemed to work out the best for me was a position back in my old team ‘Flexpoint’. Back with the women, and back to living in the Netherlands again. Jean-Paul, the team owner/director is moving to work with the ‘Cervelo Test Team’ as director for the men’s team. So Klas (the Swedish guy) is taking over the management of the team, and I will be helping him manage, direct, and wrench as usual. Should be a nice change for me, with some serious racing, some good fun, and of course it’s great to be back with most of the girls I have worked with before. The men’s peloton can wait, now I know how easy the work was, and with all the politics, I have no real interest except watching them at this stage. I did get to work on some of my favourite all time races with the men, and I worked for some of my favourite modern day heroes. I worked for the most successful teams, both the Men and the Women’s team ended up being No.1 out of all the teams they raced against. I also worked for some of the Worlds best riders, now they can wait a bit to get me back again. I have no regrets with the quality of work I did all year, and I certainly gave 150% as per normal for my riders. I still have plenty of respect in my skills, so really it’s no problem for me getting work. I just can’t wait to start racing again.


Anonymous said...

Bummer, I really hope you get something sorted out soon. Keep positive!

benny said...

Think you missed this bit. " I moved on pretty quickly. I had a few offers to look through, and the one that seemed to work out the best for me was a position back in my old team ‘Flexpoint’. Back with the women, and back to living in the Netherlands again."

cheers benny

Philipp said...

Man, that sounds typical for nower days... shut up or leave. That pisses me off. Everybody wants to be THE MAN, but when it comes to responsibility everybody looks at each other.
Pah, stupid world.
Well, glad you sorted it out and you are happy with the way it is.

Cheers, Philipp

Ryan Sherlock said...

Great post and an interesting insight. I have seen pro bikes before with bottom bracket threads in horrible states - I had wondered what had happened.


Trine said...

Back on the blog, c'ya in the desert soon Benny :-)

Marco said...

Hi Benny,
I will miss you next year and hope to work with you again in the future,

benny said...

Thanks Marco, was a pleasure working for you as well. You still have a few years left on the bike. So see you soon.

Oli Brooke-White said...

Hi Benny,
Sorry to hear they didn't appreciate you, but Colombia's loss is Flexpoints gain - have a great season and say hi to Klas for me!
All the best mate, Oli

Anonymous said...

Hey Benny. Great blog, I stop by every now and then to see whats happening. Talk soon.


Anonymous said...

Great to have you back on line.
Sounds like you need to get a kiwi mechanic bike squad together and offer your services to the highes bidder. Thanks for your honest updates and well done on your new position and having seen what the other side was like

Brent from NZ

Paul said...

Hi Benny. I guess you wont be at the WLG tour this year. Enjoyed catching up at the Giro last year. I will keep track of your new/old team in Europe and we might see you around this year in Europe.
P.S they changed their bikes to Scott so probably best you moved on :)

scooter said...

back on line bro, good to see. when you coming back down to melbourne?

benny said...

Yep, your right no Wellington tour this season for most of the Euro teams. Qatar is paying us a lot of cash to race there instead. Geelong lost the World Cup, so no teams can justify heading south this time around. A shame, as Geelong has the Worlds 2010, so would have great for the organisation to have a dry run.
Talk soon.

benny said...

Hey Scooter, no Melbourne any time soon. have to wait till the end of the season, sorry. Shame as I hear you have some pretty nice weather there. Got a nice new 29" singlespeed to dust your trails on as well. Pics posted soon, just as soon as the ice melts on the local trails.

Anonymous said...

when High Road were "readjusting" last season, i was informed by someone in the team, of the need to reduce team personnel, ensure the one's remaining were self employed, and the imbalance in salary with various "mates of mates" whether they were massuers/mechanics/helpers.

They may be the most successful team of last year, but the overall management of the team, is lacking in a many areas.
They lost a top mechanic.
You gained an opportunity to go elsewhere.
I'd say you got the better deal Benny.