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The road that winds its way to the top of Monte Zoncolan often stretches no wider than a Fiat Panda. It’s further narrowed by over-enthusiastic tifosi hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite riders, or run alongside them in the chaos. It only gets more chaotic after riders cross the finish line to drop down the kilometer descent back to the team buses. That’s why during stage 14 of the 2018 Giro d’Italia, keen-eyed viewers saw team mechanics in an altogether new position: shouldering spare bikes on the back of motorcycles.
For mechanics used to jumping out of a team car and fetching a spare bike from the roof — an altogether more complicated affair — the possibility of a bike change after jumping off a moto presented a learning curve. “I had a bit of a practice run getting off the bike about an hour before the race came through,” says Mitchelton-Scott’s Sport Director Dave McPartland. “I was sitting on the bike and did a little dress rehearsal. I was struggling by the time I got off.”
All told, mechanics had to shoulder the bikes for about 11 kilometers up the climb. And while they were toting some of the lightest bikes in the world, the cumbersome position required some savvy accommodations. EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale team mechanics affixed thick sponges to the bike’s top tube to provide some padding. AG2R-La Mondiale’s Factor bike had a closed-cell foam packing tube wrapped around the top tube. But others, like Mitchelton-Scott’s McPartland, just toted the bike, sans-padding. “I was probably one of the more disorganized ones,” he says. “Most of the teams had some sort of foam on their shoulder, but it was only 20 minutes so I put up with it.”
Comfort wasn’t the only challenge. Since the run-up to the finish line is exceptionally narrow, and Giro tifosi are notoriously enthusiastic — narrowing the already claustrophobic tunnel of road — it became necessary for the mechanics to note the position of the bike’s front wheel and handlebars as it hung off the side of the motorcycle. “We were the first motorbike in the convoy, they weren’t expecting anything wide coming,” McPartland says. “The front wheel had to stick out a little bit and I kept catching people on the side of the road.”
The consequences of catching the bars or wheel on a fan could be catastrophic, not just for the rider who would be without a spare bike in the event of a mechanical, but also for the mechanic and motorcycle driver who run the risk of crashing.
And while there were altercations between motos and fans — and between Chris Froome and a dinosaur — there was no drama for the mechanics who took on the unique task of the day.
It was certainly out of the ordinary. And it came on a stretch of road already etched in Giro d’Italia lore. It should come as no surprise, then, that some of the mechanics spoke of the experience with smiles on their faces. “I prefer going in the car, but I was happy to do this today,” says EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale mechanic Jorge Queiros. “It was a good experience and we can see things we don’t see inside of the car.”
McPartland agrees. “It was nerve-wracking. It was a different experience. It was fantastic with the crowd, and in the end, I probably did the last three or four kilometers right behind Simon. I had to concentrate on what we were there for, but when you’re that close behind, it’s really nice. You’re not relying on the radio, and in the car, you can’t actually see. Sometimes you can see the TV in the car, but half the time in the mountains you don’t get TV in the cars anyway. I was right there in the action.”