It’s not only the riders who shoulder the brutal demands of the spring Classics.
For the mechanics tasked with maintaining the machines essential to the task of surviving, far less winning the legendary one-day races of March and April, the period can be equally draining.
Enrico Pengo, mechanic with Team Lampre-ISD, describes himself as “born between bikes”, the son of bicycle shop owner, imbued with a passion for the bike since birth.
He sets up, repairs, and maintains a fleet of Wilier team bikes, including Zero 7s for team leaders, Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego.
A day in the life of a mechanic working the spring Classics begins at sunrise, says Pengo. Despite his early start, he only has time for a quick breakfast before completing a final check on the bikes he prepared the previous evening.
Satisfied that they meet the exacting standards of his riders (more of whom later), Pengo mounts the machines on the team cars, adding a substitute bike for each of the domestiques, and a second substitute bike for the “captains”.
“Then the whole team moves to the start place, where the mechanics perform the last check on tyre compression and the gear” he says. “During the race, there’s tension in the team cars, with the mechanics ready to respond to the cyclists’ needs. After the race, all the team moves to the hotel, where the mechanics wash the bikes and prepare them for the next race.”
He readily agrees that the spring Classics provide distinct mechanical challenges, and identifies the Flandrian races and Paris-Roubaix as the most challenging. Roubaix is the only race of the season at which the riders use modified frames, he says.
Experience and preparation are key to success, he adds, as are long-term relationships with manufacturers. He singles out “constant cooperation” from tyre supplier, Vittoria, as an asset to draw upon when preparing the bikes for the most demanding conditions on the professional calendar.
Wheel and tyre choice are left until the afternoon of the day before the race for the latest possible assessment of weather conditions. He offers the Amstel Gold Race, the opening race of the Ardennes Classics, as an example of wheel choice. “Usually, the bikes for Amstel are set up with low profile carbon wheels that allow the cyclists to control the bikes in the best way. The pressure of the tubulars will be chosen in the morning of the race,” he says.
Pengo began work with Lampre-ISD in 2006 after more than a decade as a mechanic with professional teams including Gewis and Batik, and a two-year period with Ballan between 1998 and 1999.
He lists Lampre-ISD’s sprinting sensation, Alessandro Petacchi, as the rider with the greatest attention to detail. “Petacchi is very demanding, because he’s very precise for what concerns his bike, but I think it’s a pleasure to work with such riders. For instance, I learnt so many things about the bike and technical solutions from Gilberto Simoni. He could have been a fantastic mechanic,” he says.
While the mechanics have the necessary equipment to set up a bike to rider specifications, however precise, the riders are left to trust their mechanics, and their concerns, says Pengo, centre on “all the things that the riders can’t measure because they don’t have the instruments and the necessary tools.”
“It’s very important to keep a constantly updated archive with all the necessary and precise data: only in this way can the rider completely trust the mechanic,” says Pengo.
Like the seated ranks of Formula One mechanics, poised to spring into action when a driver in difficulty signals a pit stop, so the work of the mechanics of the WorldTour continues throughout the race.
“Huge attention is required from the mechanic in the team car: you need to be ready to act, to make the right choice in a short moment,” says Pengo. “I think that the mechanic needs to feel the emotion.
“If you don’t feel the emotion any more during the race, well, the time has come for a change of job.”