EWS Crankworx Pits 2018 - The Horror!
EWS has strict rules for what mechanics can do to support their athletes and when. Riders must start and finish with the same frame, fork and wheels. This rule is enforced using the revolutionary technology of stickers placed on the not-to-be-swapped items. Several mechanics told me of instances where these adhesive markers were peeled off and applied to new parts mid-race.
That's the what, but when is equally restrictive. Mechanics can go to town before and after the race, but they can only work on bikes in official "Outside Assistance Zones." Otherwise mechanics can't even touch their athletes' bikes. This means riders can hang it out a little before the OAZ, which occurred after stage 2 of the Crankworx Enduro this year.
Most riders rolled into the pits in pretty good shape yesterday, but the Commencal team had a pair of virtually identical traumas. For riders at this level an inopportune flat, particularly one involving significant rim damage, could mean the difference between a solid result and no result. Fortunately decisive action and a skilled wrench can save the day.
The rim damage was significant but Nico, with Cecile's help, attempted to mount a new tubeless tire. A tube could be used for the repair but that would leave Cecile vulnerable to a pinch flat on the trail.
Most of the mechanics we spoke to had their riders using Cushcore and aluminum rims. Polar Bear, the Yeti mechanic went as far as to say, "I won't let my riders use carbon rims." Commencal has a sponsorship deal with Huck Norris and Nico had been impressed with the results up until this point, saying, "many rims have been saved using this product." When Huck Norris is installed it is cut to size. I assumed the best cut would be the smallest diameter that would fit around the rim. Nico's experiments suggested that the way forward was to use the largest diameter so the insert would sit against the inner carcass of the inflated tire.
Cecile and Nico tried several approaches, including sliding a sleeve of tube into the gap created by the dent in the rim.* When this too failed, Cecile was undaunted. She grabbed the biggest hammer in the pit, which wasn't big enough and used the steel staircase for support while she bashed the hell out of the rim. When this was unsuccessful he entire process was replicated with more vigour and focus, but then rejected quickly in favour of an old fashioned tube.
*this was suggested to Nico by Jeffery Bryson
Somehow Cecile won both the first two stages, and was able to ride to the pit after the stage, despite the bad dent which had completely deflated her rear tire. For the final stages, including the Top of the World, Cecile had a tube in her rear tire. Tubes and enduro racing at the highest level are not compatible. You can't beat the best riders in the world with a tube in your rear wheel, unless you are Cecile Ravanel. Her gaps were, 5.5 sec, 9.5 sec and 48 seconds for the Top of the World stage. The woman is a genius.
Nico Padovani had just enough time for his adrenaline to peak by the time Yoann limped into sight. Like Cecile, Yoann's flat seemed to have little impact on his ranking for the second stage, but the damage was much more severe. Resettng the tubeless was out of the question and a damaged spoke had to be excised. Yoann, realizing the hammer in the Commencal tent was inadequate, ran over to the trailer of his former sponsor, Giant, and grabbed a more persuasive mallet. Yoann smashed away with a little too much vigour and looked over to us and said, "I fixed it a little too good!" with a a cackle and a huge grin.
I really liked the Specialized movie, Motiv, but my favourite aspect of the film was sponsors having included one non-Specialized rider, But not just any rider. Ryan 'R-Dog' Howard, one of the most stylish riders of his generation, is sponsored by Trek. Another shock might be that there isn't a wealth of generosity and cooperation* between these two brands, each among the largest in the world. And yet someone** convinced Specialized that having R-Dog in the film was essential. My faith in humanity was similarly restored seeing Yoann be welcomed*** onto the Giant trailer to find the tool he needed.
It was likely we saw more action than most on course spectators, and talking to the mechanics is always amazing Thanks to all who generously helped us with this story
* little brotherly love either
** my money is on the Coastal Crew
*** in truth I didn't hear him ask any of the Giant mechanics, although he may have, but it was clear Yoann knew he was welcome
The more severe damage to his rear wheel led Yoann to throttle things back in favour of preserving a solid overall finish for the next two stages, but he let 'er rip for stage 5, the longest and most important stage of the day. The final stage, at almost 21 minutes,* represented over half the timed portion of the race. Even though 5th was his best finish of the day, the time was enough to land him in 5th overall. Another impressive result considering the compromised state of his rear wheel.
*for stage and overall winner Martin Maes