Life in the Pits

This week I am in Boulder, Colorado at the Cyclocross National Championships, which, for those of you unfamiliar with this sport, is sort of like steeplechase on bicycles. A course is laid out with twists and turns and barriers to jump over, stairs to climb up on, steep down hills to freak out on, and the pit. The pit is where the racer can switch to a spare bike or get an emergency repair during the race. I work in the pits. In every race where our team has a racer competing, I hold that racer’s spare bike.

And wait. When the racers come by, I set the bike up, ready to do the switch as quickly as possible if the racer needs it. Reasons for why he or she will switch bikes vary. Sometimes the course is so muddy/snowy that the gears clog up and the bikes have to be cleaned at the bike wash, or maybe something has gone wrong mechanically, in which case the rider will usually try to give a clue before they pedal away on the spare bike. Yesterday, Richie switched bikes and panted out “back is folding” before he left.

Hmmm. Is Richie’s back hurting? Is this a clue to me not to expect much in the way of results from him?

No. In fact, Richie was referring to an earlier conversation he had had with one of our team, discussing tire pressure. He had told Dan he was “afraid the back tire would fold if it didn’t have enough pressure in it.” Mystery solved. We put more air in the back tire and brought the bike to Pit 2 and had it ready for another switch when Richie came around again.

Sometimes the rider will gasp something out that I don’t quite catch. Then, I turn to my fellow pitters for translation help and we usually manage to decipher what is needed. Sometimes we don’t and so I check brakes, gears—the obvious stuff. The last resort is to yell to the rider when they come around again “what’s wrong with it?” But that is unprofessional, so we generally just try to figure something out.

When the course is really sloppy, the riders may switch bikes every half-lap. In addition to riders coming in and out of the pit as fast as possible, the pit crew needs to clean the bikes as fast as possible. The bike wash gets overcrowded, and sometimes we are reduced to just pulling the mud off with our fingers. I was at a race once where we started dumping the bikes into the lake that was next to the course to get them clean—

Oh, I see It is time to get myself up and out and over to the pits. Brittlee is racing in an hour and she might need me.

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