I was on my bike, halfway to the Cross Vegas venue in pitch dark, when I received a breathless call from Bjørn Selander. “Lennard, I need your help,” he said, holding back panic. “I just rolled my rear tire in the course pre-ride!”
The Borah Teamwear powered by Bingham Built rider had just flown alone to Las Vegas with one bike and no extra wheels. It was to be the former junior and U23 national cyclocross champion’s first time riding Cross Vegas. His dreams of a good result to restart his cyclocross career and gain some UCI points to qualify for World Cup events after nearly a decade of racing as a pro on the road, including a stint in the white jersey as best young rider at the 2011 Giro d’Italia while on Team RadioShack, were hanging in the balance.
I have known Selander since he was a baby and was there when he donned that white jersey, but that Giro (initially won by Alberto Contador on one of the toughest Giro d’Italia courses ever) would mark the beginning of the possible end to a promising road career for him. (Michele Scarponi would inherit the Giro GC and points victories after they, as well as a 2010 Tour win, were stripped from Contador due to a doping violation.)
It took all Selander had to complete that super-mountainous Giro because his left leg was going numb and producing far less power than the right leg whenever the hammer came down. This marked the beginning of years in a frustrating odyssey of drifting from team to team due to poor results until finally receiving a diagnosis of iliac artery endofibrosis, the same blood-flow impingement that slowed Joe Dombrowski in 2013.
The diagnosis took three years to come to, and, like Dombrowski, Selander eventually had surgery to keep the artery open when pedaling hard. After a couple more years of working to return to form and trying unsuccessfully to continue his road career in the midst of a contracting period among American teams, he had returned to his cyclocross roots on a team with a single member — him.
I had agreed to pit for Selander this night, but, until the moment I received his call while riding to the race, I had been relating to the job as being one with nothing to do. After all, I had been to every Cross Vegas since its inception, and, barring crashes, I couldn’t remember any pro rider pitting, thanks to the forgiving nature of the smooth, dry, grass course.
Since the pre-ride and course inspection for the pro women and men went from 7-8pm, the pro women started at 8:15pm, and the pro men at 9:15pm, I only departed at 7:11pm for the 45-minute, mildly uphill ride west from my hotel east of The Strip to the race venue. I arrived a bit before 8pm, hoping that while I rode the remainder of the way there, Selander would have found himself a rear wheel to borrow. Alas, he had not.
Fortunately, just after entering the venue, I found former Boulder Cyclesport shop owner and my former teammate on its eponymous cyclocross team, Brandon Dwight, stripping some parts off of the bike of Denzel Stephenson (Evol Devo Elite), who is the son of a friend and longtime cyclocross competitor of mine. One of Stephenson’s brakes was not working, so he was borrowing a bike for the race, and the fact that the rear wheel on the abandoned bike had the required 12mm through-axle and 140mm rotor caught my eye. I arranged its loan from Stephenson, pumped front and rear tires on Selander’s bike, and he was back in business.
The nice bookend to the story is that Selander finished fourth, a couple of seconds behind Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) and another 15 seconds behind Belgian superstar brothers Laurens and Diether Sweeck. Stephenson also had a good result (11th), and the borrowed wheels and bike sustained no damage.
Selander’s left leg apparently once again has good blood flow, and his trip was rewarded with some UCI points and prize money in the last edition of this race in Las Vegas. And I was reminded once again that the job of pit crew is largely done before the race, not during it.