It’s no small task to organize the fleet of mechanics responsible for the Amgen Tour of California peloton, but that’s exactly what SRAM Neutral Race Support chief Mark Niemiec does. Like his title suggests, Niemiec is in charge of all aspects of the neutral race support for the Amgen Tour of California and beyond. When we spoke to the him, he was busy preparing the bicycles and equipment needed for this giant undertaking coming up in May.
It’s safe to say you do way more than people think as the head of Amgen Tour of California SRAM neutral service. How many vehicles, motos, bikes and wheels to do you need to operate during the week?
I’m responsible for six cars, a truck and trailer, and several motorcycles. I have a fleet of bicycles. I think last year I had 60 bicycles and 200 sets of wheels. I also hire all the crew. I’m also the point of contact for the race itself. Say the race organizers or officials need something, everything goes through me. Really, working on bikes is the smallest part of my job.
In the race, I’m the one who directs where the neutral service vehicles need to go, and I coordinate that with the officials, usually the day before. Our team have our radios that we communicate on during the race, and also have race provided radios so we can listen to radio tour and the race officials.
How big will your crew be for Amgen Tour of California?
For the Amgen Tour of California, I’ll have 16 people on my squad and a couple ancillary mechanics. They’re all contractors for the most part. I arrange their travel to get to the race and deal with those logistics as well.
What are some of the things you have to coordinate with the race officials prior to the start?
It’s all about where we are on the course at what point in the race. When would you they like us to move forward in the peloton? A mile up? Two miles? I already have it marked on my map and in my head, so they don’t have to tell us again during the race. Also, if there is some sort of issue that they’d like us to pay more attention to. For example, if they want us to carry extra water bottles for feeding during a hot day, we’ll make that happen.
Of course, feeding the riders isn’t our first responsibility, but we’re always cognizant of their well-being.
Nowadays, there are so many different group sets, wheel combinations, etc. How do you keep track of it all when dealing with the entire peloton?
Typically, a few days before the race starts, our team of mechanics will go around and see what everyone has. If they are on disc wheels, rim brakes, and what group sets they are on. This year it’s going to be a little more complicated because not all the teams have 12 speed, so we have to carry extra. Then, we have to account for the 12 speed teams who are on disc wheels and some who are on rim brakes, so we bring two sets of those. Then some are on 11 speed, then there’s the difference between the front and back wheel, different rotor size, skewer size, the list goes on.
There are about 12 different possibilities for wheels, and we can’t carry everything. At some point we have to say, “you’re getting a bike change instead.” You have to think fast on your feet when you jump out of the car to service a rider. Sometimes, the team will provide their own wheels, which is great for us.
During the race, how many vehicles do you have in the caravan?
We have three cars and two motorcycles. Typically, there will be a car and a motorcycle up the road for the breakaway. When a breakaway gets about 30 seconds on the peloton, we’ll drop a motorcycle in the gap because it’s more agile than a car. Once the gap gets to a minute, we’ll replace the moto with a car. The motorcycle will drop back to the front of the peloton. Their new job is to cover potential chase groups.
We also have a car behind the peloton and another back with the second caravan. So if something happens, say for example, car 1 is dealing with a crash, car 2 will come up and take its place.
How do you work with the team mechanics when the race is in progress?
Oftentimes we’ll be starting a wheel change when the rider’s team car shows up. For us, an assist is as good as a save. We at least got it started. That’s another job of the car behind the peloton. We have to pay attention to the radios. If an official summons a team car up to help a rider with a mechanical and they’re already busy with something else, or another rider, that’s when we step in.
It seems like having everything dialed in, being on the same page with your team, and quick thinking makes all the difference when working neutral service.
That’s the trick, to make it go seamlessly. At the end of the day, if no one says anything about you and you did your job, that’s great.