Down-Under Dispatch: Calvin's Corner

Editor's Note: Calvin Jones is Park Tool's education director and the chief mechanic for the USA Cycling team at next week's mountain bike world championships in Canberra, Australia. will publish his journals leading up to the races this coming weekend. An archive of his journals is available on the Park Tool Web site.

Editor’s Note: Calvin Jones is Park Tool’s education director and the chief mechanic for the USA Cycling team at next week’s mountain bike world championships in Canberra, Australia. will publish his journals leading up to the races this coming weekend. An archive of his journals is available on the Park Tool Web site.

Thursday, Sept 3. (Down-Under time!) 2009: Junior men XC Championships will be at 10:30, but DH smashing, I mean practice, starts at 9:00. As is the norm, we are up early, opening up the shop, performing on last check on the race machines, packing equipment finally heading for the venue. It will be a long day for us because 4X is from 1400 to 1830, including qualifying runs.

We get by here with a little help from our friends. Well, maybe more then a little, as we have been made very welcome. You only to ask and people are willing to assist. Steve Hanley is president of the local MTB club. He is loaning us three bikes to place on the trainers when riders warm up. The DH bikes can be very difficult or even impossible to mount on a trainer, and now they can just hop up on one of these great rides.

Bernard Condevau is a physical therapist and has work numerous elite events such as World Championship and the Olympics. He is part of what I consider the “A-Team” of staffers, along with the rest of us. To put his role in simple terms I can understand, he is the body mechanic. I take care the bikes, he takes care of the power plants.

Security is a very important part of our job at Worlds. There are thieves here, I can feel it, there always are. These are not local, but wolves the follow the herd to World Cups and Championships. I have had bikes stolen from under my watch and that memory I will carry forever. Since that time, we cable and lock the bike together with the best, with Kyrptonite security equipment. 

Tuesday Sept. 1 (Down Under time!): Today we pack up the DH bikes and we are off again to the venue. But today is also my favorite event, the Team Relay. I love the team events like this one, because the USA will pit its best team of four riders against the rest of the world. Each team must be comprised of a Junior, U-23, Elite Woman, and Elite man. The coach decides the order, and this must be submitted to the UCI, and cannot be changed after that. There is much strategy here, and for the USA the order is Heather Irmiger (Elite Women), Russell Finsterwald (Junior Man), Colin Cares (U-23 Men), and batting clean up is Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Elite Men). One rider from each country starts. They do one lap only, and must “hand off” in a zone by touching their team mate. If they do not touch, or touch outside the zone, it is an automatic DQ.

A little about Calvin and the Worlds: Each fall, near the end of the racing season, the best mountain bikers gather for the UCI World Championships. This year, the event is near Canberra, Australia, where the finest cross-country, trials, and gravity riders will meet to do battle and name a World Champion for each discipline. To me, the Worlds is a special event. Most of the year, athletes represent their respective corporate sponsors. However, at the World Championships, they ride for their country, and each other.

I will be attending this year as the USA Team Chief Mechanic, and will attempt to post here while I am “down under.”

The real important work began months ago, and we are ready to roll. What is to be done? Develop daily schedules, time lines, equipment checklist, tool checklists, and checklist for rider bike preparation. Also arrange for security, tents, heaters, lighting, scrap rugs to work over and catch that stupid screw I just dropped. Then contact and develop relationships with hotel and local bicycle shop owners, because it’s all about making friends … friends they didn’t even know they had … us!

The USA Team looks to have 41 riders. But to a mechanic’s mind, this means of course there will be over 100 wheels and about 3200 spokes, not to mention nearly 2,214 inches of chain. The USA Team mechanics have worked these intense events out of garages, basements, dank dark pits, and closed down bars, but this year we are in for a special treat. This year we will work out of shipping containers! This kind of excitement keeps mechanics going.

The USA MTB World Championship Team for 2009:
Elite Women’s Cross Country

  • Willow Koerber (Asheville, N.C.)
  • Mary McConneloug (Chilmark, Mass.)
  • Heather Irmiger (Boulder, Colo.)
  • Georgia Gould (Fort Collins, Colo.)
  • Katie Compton (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
  • Judy Freeman (Boulder, Colo.)

Elite Men’s Cross Country

  • Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Boulder, Colo.)
  • Adam Craig (Bend, Ore.)
  • Todd Wells (Durango, Colo.)
  • Michael Broderick (Chilmark, Mass.)
  • Carl Decker (Bend, Ore.)

U23 Women’s Cross Country

  • Amy Dombrowski (Boulder, Colo.)
  • Chloe Forsman (Tucson, Ariz.)

U23 Men’s Cross Country

  • Colin Cares (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
  • Rob Squire (Sandy, Utah)
  • Tad Elliott (Durango, Colo.)

Junior Women Cross Country

  • Jill Behlen (Boulder, Colo.)
  • Essence Barton (Thousand Oaks, Calif.)

Junior Men’s Cross Country

  • Russell Finsterwald (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
  • Zach McDonald (Bainbridge Island, Wash.)
  • Seth Kemp (Campobello, S.C.)
  • Eric Emsky (Fall City, Wash.)

Elite Women’s Downhill

  • Melissa Buhl (Chandler, Ariz.)
  • Kathy Pruitt (Santa Cruz, Calif.)

Elite Men’s Downhill

  • Aaron Gwin (Morongo Valley, Calif./Yeti)
  • Kyle Strait (Riverside, Calif.)
  • Duncan Riffle (Santa Barbara, Calif.)
  • Luke Strobel (Renton, Wash.)
  • Cody Warren (El Cajon, Calif.)
  • Brian Lopes (Laguna Beach, Calif.)
  • Joey Schusler (Boulder, Colo.)

Elite Women’s 4-Cross

  • Melissa Buhl (Chandler, Ariz.)
  • Jill Kintner (Seattle, Wash.)

Elite Men’s 4-Cross

  • Mitch Ropelato (Ogden, Utah)
  • Mike Haderer (Concord, Calif.)
  • Blake Carney (Camarillo, Calif.)

Junior Men’s Downhill

  • Mitch Ropelato (Ogden, Utah)
  • Kevin Aiello (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.)
  • Luciano Worl (Woodinville, Wash.)
  • Tom Neer (Arvada, Colo.)
  • Geoffrey Ulmer (Troy, N.Y.)


  • 26″ Elite Men: Michael Schiavone
  • 20″ Elite Men: Ryan Cecil

For the 2009 Worlds, the USA Team Mechanics are:

  • Than White
  • TJ Grove
  • David McMunn
  • Calvin Jones

Background: This part of the article will provide some background and history of what I do at these events.

In 1990, the UCI held the first ever MTB World Championships in Durango, Colorado. As one of the volunteer mechanics working at the Shimano Multi-Service tent, I saw first hand that there was no dedicated support for the US Team. Athletes, including the USA riders, such as Steve Tilford, simply stood in a long line at the Shimano tent for as long as it took to get their bikes serviced. Some riders used a trade team mechanic, but there was no US National Team support. My early race work was through the US Cycling Federation (predecessor to USA Cycling), where the emphasis was team and team support. I felt that US riders should be treated as a team, with technical support services provided by a dedicated staff of mechanics. After the event, I began discussions regarding technical support with the Director of NORBA.

My vision for Team USA technical support was put into action at the 1994 World Championship in Vail, Colorado. This was the first time there was a staff of mechanics whose primary responsibility was service to the athletes at the USA team hotel. In fact, all USA riders competing at the World’s are welcome. I call this effort the USA TEAM SHOP, both to emphasize the team aspect, and to model the professionalism of a retail shop. As our reputation grew, we began to get more elite riders and their mechanics, needing service, or needing to borrow tools.

To me, the purpose of race support is to allow the athletes a chance to focus on their competition. To me, the World Championships are a very special event, an event where our athletes, and staff, represent the United States of America. Corporate affiliations dominate the racing life for most of the year, but at a World Championship, these corporate allegiances should come second to loyalty to the other riders on the US Team. It is my goal to have the USA Team Shop model this team attitude and behavior.

I believe strongly in a team attitude and team approach to athlete support. For one thing, it is simply more fun. Working within a group allows each our special skills to be best utilized. However, even if you consider yourself a “downhill mechanic”, when you work in the USA Team Shop you better be ready to serve any athlete, wash the rental cars, or fix the hotel washing machine. Working in a group, in a team approach, raises expectations in our selves and toward each other. It sharpens your game, as you are taking it to the next level. It allows us to ask for help or a second opinion without fear of getting a damaged ego. Working with one’s peers is its own reward.

A typical day at a World Championship begins early, about 0600, by unlocking and stacking the bikes for easy rider access. The trucks will be loaded and packed for the day’s training/racing. We keep a mechanic at the Hotel Shop because athletes come and go all day long. At least two mechanics man the USA Team Tent at the race venue. They will do any quick servicing needed, such as flat tires, but the heavy lifting such as bottom bracket, fork installation, etc., is done back at the Hotel shop. During the day, the athletes smash things up, as is appropriate, and in the afternoon everyone returns to the hotel, where the work pace picks up as we get the machines ready for another day. Riders are welcome to come and work in the Shop on their bikes, but we attempt to close the Shop to riders at 22:00. Left alone, we can finish work and hopefully begin cabling bikes and locking down by 23:00.

There is of course a certain level of chaos and tension at race events. Having documentation and a service check-in procedure can help maintain a sense of order and calm for everyone. By recording and documenting our service, we will be able to review the work at the end of the day. We track our repairs with a simple repair tickets printed on card-stock paper. By using a repair ticket, we know who was the service writer, who worked on the bike, and what was done (or not done) to the bike.

Our work at these events depends largely on correctly diagnosing and recording the athlete’s service needs. A very critical skill at these events I feel is technical communication with the riders and with the other mechanics. Each mechanic will be acting as Shop Service Writer at different times. This means we listen to our customers (athletes) and their perceived symptoms. We reflect back their concerns by asking probing questions, and then record this on the ticket for the work mechanic. The mechanic writing the ticket may or may not be the mechanic that ends up working on that particular bike, so writing the ticket so it is understood by any of us is important.

The classic mistake of any service department is allowing the customer to diagnose the repair without digging deeper. It is important that we review the symptoms with the athlete and then draw our own opinion, even if we end up with the same conclusion as the athlete.

Each year, I try to develop a Shop logo. Taking the classic Aussie saying as our motto let’s the riders know that under the USA flag are … no worries.