By Matt Pacocha
After experiencing problems getting service to riders in need within the peloton, Bruno Gormand had an idea — why not devise an means of offering immediate neutral assistance to race leaders and serving as a liaison between the caravan vehicles and racers? And so he created Service Course, Mavic’s neutral race-support system.
The first race handled by Mavic Service Course was the 1973 Paris-Nice, and since it has become one of the company’s most revered legacies.
This year Mavic has three of its Service Course cars in the Tour de France peloton. VeloNews caught up with Nate Field, four-year veteran of Mavic’s domestic neutral service in his first trip to the Tour de France.
“Mavic France invites over at least one guy every year,” said Field. “So we kind of circulate through, and if you haven’t gone before you get to go and you also kind of have to go, because, like I said it’s a totally different kind of program. It’s very educational to come over and do this.”
He is riding in the back seat as the car’s sole mechanic; they call it “jumping” for obvious reasons. Each car has two Mavic employees working, the driver and the back seat mechanic. The front seat is reserved for Mavic VIPs or the press.
Field says the driver has the harder job.
“There aren’t too many guys from the States that have done too much driving in the Tour,” said Field. “Some of us could do better than others, but the main thing, really, to be a driver is that you’ve got to be really familiar with the language because people shout stuff over the radio and sometimes the transmission isn’t all that great and you have to be able to react.”
He won’t have the opportunity to drive in his first Tour, but he’s okay with that.
“My French is basically non-existent, so I wouldn’t even want to drive,” he said. “We do have a couple of guys [from the U.S.] that have driven cars and even motorcycles over here.
“For the most part when we come over here, I don’t want to call it a vacation, but it’s a break. It’s nice to actually be the guy that’s just sitting in the back doing what I’m told, as opposed to the States when I’m in charge.”
Because the teams bring so much support themselves, Mavic Service Course’s role is smaller in the Tour than in races like the spring classics. For example, Field’s car only had three wheels inside, though its roof rack was full.
“For over here we basically have these three [in the back hatch],” he said. “One Campy, one Shimano and one front. Over here, that’s plenty. Every team has multiple cars, so everyone here is already really well supported. Back in the U.S. it’s a different story. When we load up, I usually have 10 rear wheels, 10 front wheels and sometimes we go through them all.”
Service Course does see action, though, especially in the mountains or on flat stages when breaks gain lots of time.
“We help when there are early breaks and the team cars haven’t made it yet,” he said. “Or on the stages when we hit the mountains because things get really spread out. Even though every team each has two cars, they could have guys all over the place. We’ve got three different-sized bikes up there, so we can use those when needed, but again for the most part we’re there just to get guys going again until their team car can come take care of them.
“On the mountain stages in particular people just get spread out so if someone has a mechanical we just get them going until their last team car catches up.”
A typical day for Service Course starts early and usually ends late. The mechanics go through their equipment every day and repair or replace tires and wheels as needed. They also have to keep their outfit looking sharp, so the cars get washed almost every day as well.
“We get here really early, so that we can get inside the circus here,” Field said. “Then for the most part we just kind of hang out and press the flesh a little bit, you know, talk to some of the other teams and everything.”
If you think that it would be boring sitting in a team car for upwards of six hours, Field says you’re wrong. At the start of the longest stage he wasn’t worried about boredom. And for the driver it’s always tense.
“Today [stage 3] is going to be really long,” he said. “It’s something like 230 kilometers long, so they can be long, but on the route there’s always something to see. It’s amazing what some of these towns do, setting up some of the displays that you see out there on the course. So there’s enough stuff to kind of keep you interested, even though we may not be doing services or anything.
“That’s especially true for the drivers. It’s a circus out there. There are just a lot of vehicles to be aware of. Yesterday [stage 2] we were following a break of three riders and there were two dozen cars and probably just as many motorcycles with us. At any given time they were kind of shuffling around back behind. So the driver definitely has to stay alert all of the time.”