Aevolo Cycling mechanic and Unior Ambassador Vince Gee spent an open block in his team’s schedule to go work his 13th Tour of California with Katusha. Always a contemplative man, he sent in this short reflection on the friendships made while making a living on the road.
Working the Amgen Tour of California has been so many things to me. A dream come true to be able to work a big international race in my home state. Even more so proud to have an occasional stage in my birth city of Sacramento. To have so many friends and family able to see what it is I actually do as a team mechanic is very special. Working with some of the top athletes in the world regardless of the sport is amazing to watch, not to mention the joy I get from doing a job I love.But of course, it isn’t always glamorous, the life of a team mechanic. Regardless, I love it. I love my job. The days are long and the work is demanding both in volume and quality. All races I work require dedication, hard work and attention to detail. But the Amgen Tour of California is a World Tour race (World Tour teams are required to attend) so one must bring their A game regardless if it is a Rider, Director, Soigneur, or Mechanic. Everyone must be polished.This is the 13th edition of the AToC and I have been blessed to have worked every edition since it’s inception in 2006. This year I am working with the Katusha team. Its star rider here is Marel Kittel, one of the best sprinters in the world. There are two mechanics here including me. Juan Lujan is a full-time mechanic with Katusha and I have known him for two decades. Almost my entire career as a team mechanic. We got to work together from 1999 to 2007 on US Postal and Discovery Channel, thus the call-up to be here as a part-timer. My full-time trade team, Aevolo, does not qualify for this race since we’re a Continental team. This leaves my calendar open for this race to work part-time with other teams.One of the great things about this race, in particular, is to see friends from European teams I have not seen in years. This year I was able to catch up with a soigneur who is here with Trek/Segafredo. I only worked with him once, at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens, Greece with the US National team. 13 years ago. So fun to catch up. With the job being very demanding, it is friends around the world that is one of the big rewards. Those are the special moments of being in the world of professional cycling.
We’ve got another update from Vince Gee of Aevolo as he puts the final preparations on the team’s equipment for the upcoming season. In this note, he tells us about the team’s two training camps leading into the upcoming season and what he looks for in a good mechanic.
Our Las Vegas Camp in January was a very low key event. Three days with low volume on the bike and high volume in the fun department. Besides the shorter than average rides, there was Go Karting, Zombie Apocalypse, and a brief boot camp style workout. I was super sick well before camp started (starting around Christmas), all during the camp, and well after that camp. But with this job, there are very few sick days one can really take. So, I had to slog it out for not only camp but the few days of bike building, trailer packing and driving to and from camp. I don’t think I got back to normal health until early February. That wicked bug that many had, got me down for well over 5 weeks.
While our second and more traditional camp started on Saturday, March 3rd, “camp” for me started a full 8 days before that. Flying out to Colorado Springs, CO to prep equipment for camp as well as drive the van and equipment trailer to Oxnard. It’s sometimes strange for me to think that one of the main things I am happy about is just being healthy and not sick with the Flu and thus ready and able to do the best job I can.
I feel pretty blessed to have my nephew Bobby Gee here at our Oxnard camp as my second mechanic. His primary job here is to help me build race bikes. Home bikes were built and distributed at the Las Vegas camp. These race bikes will stay with me as I drive from race to race with the team trailer. I always enjoy it when people get into cycling either for sports (competition) or just for fun. While Bobby rode bikes more and more it was the other part of cycling that got his interest: fixing and repairing bicycles. He even worked at the same shop I worked at after he graduated High School. His desire to be a mechanic no doubt got me excited, but to have him work at the shop I used to work at was quite cool for me. It really made me want to share my experiences with him. And of course, it gives me a chance to hang out with family. Especially true now that I live on the East Coast 3,000 miles from most of my family. And like many, my family is very important to me.
For me, this job is about having a good attitude and working hard, being willing to work hard, and willing to put long hours in and doing the best job possible with each task that is required. I always say it’s easier to get the “overachievers” to do less than to get the opposite group of people to work harder. On the 4th day here at camp, I told Bobby we would go over to the main house (two streets over) at 7:45 AM to start work. When I woke and got ready to go I realized Bobby had been gone AND the trailer keys were also gone. I walked over to the main house at the appointed 7:45 only to see Bobby with the trailer wide open already working on the day’s tasks. For me, that is one sign of a good mechanic.
Our pro mechanics have been busy! Vince Gee of Aevolo is currently at the team’s headquarters building their new bikes for the 2018 road season and prior leaving home to get back to work sent in this note about getting ready to hit the road and what he’s walking in to at work…
I’m a tinkerer. Sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad. I think my good days far outweigh my bad days successfully tinkering with things. My wife and I Just moved to Boston last January (her) and last April (me) and our neighbor who owns the business complex next door has been great. He has gifted us a used/old gas powered leaf blower and a gas powered snow blower. Both needed some simple TLC and neither ran. Neither item I had ever dealt with before. But they sounded simple to fix so I attacked them and was successful. As our winter hit with some solid temp drops (sub 20F) our heater seemed to malfunction. With a little help from the manual I was able to diagnose one item. Unfortunately I was unable to order the replacement part as I was not “certified” to install it. They would not sell it to a non-licensed repair person. Bummer as it was a simple $30 part install. There was another factor that I couldn’t diagnose nor install. But felt pretty good diagnosing the first item.
I’ll have to put the household tinkering on pause for now. Today I fly to Colorado to build team bikes for our Aevolo Professional Cycling team. Today is the start of my 24th season as a professional team mechanic. I’m just as excited to get things going as I was in February 1995 when I was driving to Milwaukee to work with the Saturn Professional Cycling team. Our team is a U23 team thus all of our riders are under the age of 23. This my second season with the team and 2017 was our inaugural season so it will be fun to see how our team grows. As our team grows, so do our partners. Our bike supplier for example has basically doubled the frame quantity of our previous supplier. Thus there is more equipment for me to manage. I started in a bike shop in 1977 so I have used quite a variety of tools. I’ve recently got my hands on some Unior Bicycle tools (and non bicycle specific tools also). Tinkering with my own bike prior to today, it was a joy to handle well made tools. Tools I know I can trust to do the best possible job for our Aevolo buys. Here’s to wonderful 2018 season.
At the same time our Operations Manager Chris Kreidl got back into the trenches at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships working for his old team, Maxxis-Shimano. Chris also was asked to be a judge at the Mechanic’s National Championship, a tongue-in-cheek event pitting cyclocross race mechanics against each other in feats of beer drinking and tire changing all while raising money to send junior cyclists to the upcoming World Championships.
Just when I thought I was done with standing in a field for a living, there I was in Reno, standing in a field. The weekend went relatively smoothly with only a couple minor issues. The riders on the team have largely been self sufficient this year, traveling with their bikes themselves to the races without a full time mechanic, and as such the bikes needed some TLC when I got there. In my past life as a full time team mechanic I’d have been a little upset that we were bringing bikes that needed work to a race, but this time I was actually excited as it afforded me a chance to really get to know the new Pro Kit and to use some of our tools that I hadn’t been able to yet.
The part of working for a racing team that very few people outside of the sport ever think about is how all the flashy tents and bikes get from race to race. Riders will sometimes fly with bikes, but everything else from the tents, pressure washers, chairs, tables, etc. all get driven from one race to the next by hard working team mechanics. After a quick 3 day drive from the team’s warehouse in Asheville, NC to the race in Reno, NV I began setting up our paddock space and prepping bikes for our two riders that would be showing up Friday afternoon. Some quick adjustments with our T-handles and some brake rotor straightening and the bikes were good enough for the riders to get on and spin their legs out. I’d do a more thorough inspection the next day, Saturday.
An early wake up and a long breakfast got me to the park at around 9am and I got to work straightening derailleur hangers, changing chains, replacing worn bar tape, and checking cassette lock rings. By the time the athletes got to the venue I was mostly ready and all I had left was to glue some new tubulars since the trailer was short a few wheels. Ordinarily I’d be hesitant to send out a tire that had been glued the day before but the combination oft he decent weather, dry desert air, and really great mating surface between the team’s rims and tires meant I thought it would be OK. Plus, the tires getting glued were to be last-resort backups as they weren’t the tread pattern the riders were starting on, but were all that the team had left to stick on.
Sunday was race day and the day was going great until about halfway through the women’s race when our rider Crystal Anthony flatted. She had been riding a great race until that point, easily maintaining 5th on course. By the time she got to the pit to take her spare bike she’d slipped down to 10th. It was still early, and there would be plenty of time to claw back at least a few spaces. Disaster struck again two laps later when she flatted again in the same place. This time she lost even more ground falling back to somewhere around 20th. I was devastated for her.
In the men’s race Travis Livermon rode a strong race picking off riders that went too hard too soon and finished inside the top 10 after catching a few guys on the last lap.
It’s now 6:45AM Monday and I’m getting ready to hit the road back to Asheville to return the team’s equipment and catch a flight back to our Unior office. I met a lot of great mechanics out here in addition to those that I’ve known for a long time and it seems that everyone I talk to about Unior Tools is really excited to see the brand grow it’s presence in the US, and that makes me excited to be working here. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to use our tools in a race setting I’m convinced more than ever that we’re making the best bike tools on the planet.
Thanks for reading!
We make tools for the most demanding mechanics and we’re thrilled to be working with Mike Berry and Vince Gee as brand ambassadors.
Mike has a long and varied history in the cycling world, having spent the last 25 years working as a mechanic. He’s spent the last 5 years as a mechanic for the Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com cyclocross team, the most successful team on the American circuit. Mike has also been an integral part of the NRS & Events crew, known around the country for the last decade as SRAM Neutral Race Support.
Vince has worked as a mechanic for some of the largest teams in the world: US Postal, Discovery, BMC, Radio Shack, and now works for the U23 development team Aevolo. Vince is unwavering in his desire to educate the next generation of mechanics and teach not just mechanical skills but professionalism.
Both Mike & Vince will be outfitted with the new 1600PROKIT tool case & full line of Unior tools. Keep checking here as they’ll be sharing some of their favorite features of their new tools, some photos and stories of their travels supporting the best riders around, and whatever else they think is worthwhile.