When a racer suffers a mechanical and a team car isn't nearby, Mavic jumps into action to get the rider rolling in a jiffy. While riders seldom give their yellow-and-black angels a second thought, someone has to sweat the details to ensure that quali?ed people are there with the right tools for the job. Enter Mark Niemiec.
Now the boss of Mavic's domestic road neutral support program, Niemiec got his start in a bike shop. Like most of the men working Mavic race support, Niemiec began suiting up in yellow as a volunteer. "I wanted to learn what the race guys deal with to improve my chops as a mechanic," he said. "The only way to do that is to get out there and experience what's going on."
After eight years as a volunteer, Niemiec became a Mavic employee two years ago. Today he, his mountain bike counterpart and a man in Mavic's Massachusetts office coordinate all of the company's domestic race support.
"There are times when we're doing three, four races a weekend," he said. "Logistically it's hard to get everything where it needs to be. And almost all of it is done by volunteers."
At the 2007 Tour of Missouri, Niemiec ran an 11-man crew. Although their expenses were covered, they were paid only in experience. At the end of the year, Niemiec will ?oat some swag their way.
"I think it's a pretty good deal," he said. "You get some good experience. You get to see the race from a good perspective, a perspective you don't see on TV or by following it live on the Web. You get to see it from inside the race."
All Types of Neutral Support
"The worst is when riders have to get taken away to the hospital. We've been in situations where we're doing rescue breathing and CPR for racers until the ambulance gets there. But I haven't come up with anything that I couldn't manage with what I had. If the bike is broken, we get them on another bike. I've seen 'how does that happen?' stuff. Like when the head tube separates. Or at the Tour of California last year (2007) when a guy crashed, and his bike was literally in three pieces: a rear triangle and rear wheel, a center triangle, and the fork and front wheel. You're looking at it like, 'How does a guy still want to ride a bike after that? That had to have hurt.'"
Race Wrenching 101
For the amateur racer, Niemiec recommends the following tools to bring on the road: "De?nitely an Allen tool, chain tool, spoke wrenches, electrical tape, screwdrivers, tire wrenches—the basics. And chain lube. Really. You don't know how many guys we see with chains going squeak, squeak, squeak. 'You're a professional racer—who are your team mechanics? You need to ?re those guys.' Another key thing I tell beginning racers is after you're done racing or riding, clean your bike. That's when you ?nd all the problems."