It’s 6am on a Sunday morning.
While you’re still lost in sleep, gaining those last precious hours of rest before waking to the sportive you’ve spent months preparing for, Andrew Wilcox is already in motion, getting ready for another day on which scores of riders will rely on his advice, mechanical skills, and carefully chosen stock of supplies.
Wilcox provides neutral service support (that’s mechanical back-up to you and I) at several of Britain’s most popular sportive events. He’s well suited to the role. His day job, as co-owner of Cirencester’s Performance Cycles, allows him to hone the mechanical skills on which the stricken sportive rider will depend and to select a range of essential supplies for those who have either forgotten or never owned the gear and tools necessary for a long distance ride.
To riders stranded at the roadside facing problems from punctures to broken mech hangers, Wilcox and his car packed with “an entire bike in small parts” are a welcome sight. “People are always pleased to see us. They seem surprised at the array of equipment we have with us. It’s like being the fourth emergency service. We’re the AA of the sportive,” he jokes.
Wilcox has provided mechanical support at many large sportive events, including the Eddy Merckx Gran Fondo, where he drove the lead out car. “I kept looking in my mirror and seeing Eddy Merckx,” he recalls, a tone of disbelief in his voice.
His black, Performance Cycles-liveried, Subaru Impreza estate car is positioned near the sportive’s start line so participants know he is on stand-by. “If people see a black estate car with Performance Cycles on it, they know it’s friendly, and they can relax. Even if it’s for three or four miles, we’re happy to back off and drive slowly,” he says. He drives the entire route to maximize his chance of being close to the incident when a stricken rider calls his mobile phone, although his policy of stopping where there is a rider in need means he his often at the scene of an incident before he is called. And it’s not unheard of for a rider to become a temporary member of his support crew.
“I helped a lady on the first day of the Tour of Wessex. Her husband had left her at the side of the road to repair her bike. She ended up staying in the car all day, helping me out by taking calls on the mobile. I could have taken her back to HQ, but she chose to spend the day in the car and still saw the route and the countryside she would have missed,” said Wilcox.
His support car carries a “full workshop tool kit,” that includes essentials (a track pump, Allen keys) and the less obvious (cassette removal tools so a block can be swapped from a broken wheel to one from Performance Cycles’ loan fleet). “We’ve been called on to do all sorts of repairs,” says Wilcox. “On the second day of the Tour of Wessex, a rider’s front mech dropped off his carbon frame. I had a rivet gun at the bottom of my tool kit and was able to pop rivet the mech back on. As long as they haven’t snapped a main tube in the frame, we can get people back on the road.”
Wilcox and business partner, Andrew Kirk, also bring a range of essential products from their Performance Cycles shop to many events, creating a “pop up shop” that provides a lifeline to those who almost inevitably will have forgotten to bring energy bars, gels, pumps and other necessities. Wilcox even carries spare cycling shoes from a selection kept for the shop’s guided rides to loan to those who, having left the house in trainers to drive to the event, find themselves sans cleats.
Despite involving long days, usually at weekends, the role of sportive mechanic is a rewarding one where support rendered in difficult circumstances is not quickly forgotten. “You end up knowing so many people,” Wilcox says. “We’ll look after someone on a sportive in May, and in June and July we’ll see them at another event and they’ll still be thanking us,” he says.
We’ll be bringing you Andrew’s mechanical tips for preparing for and riding a sportive throughout February. Check back for more.