Life In The Pits With Matt Roy

Posted on 25. Nov, 2011 by in interviews

Matt Roy started wrenching professionally over 10 years ago on the road with the Saturn Pro Team. But now, the 39-year old can be seen in the pits at cross races, in both the Elite Women and Elite Men race.

Roy is one of the Ms in the MM racing cross partnership with his wife, racer Maureen “Mo” Bruno-Roy (Bob’s Red Mill). Before the start of a race, Roy is there at the start as his wife lines up, taking care of last minute details, picking up the extra clothing and always giving a good luck kiss. Then he runs to the pits. Roy is not done after the women’s race, he also wrenches for the Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com team, working for Stu Thorne.

Matt Roy waits for wife Maureen Bruno-Roy to finish at 2010 Zolder World Cup

Matt Roy waits for wife Maureen Bruno-Roy to finish at 2010 Zolder World Cup

Roy also races ultra endurance events during the ‘cross off-season’. He won the Saratoga 12-hour race, completed the Boston Brevet Series (100k, 200k, 300k, 400k, 600k) and set the North to South Cross State Cycling Record for the state of Maine (382.2 miles, 22:24 hrs, 17.06 mph average.)

The man leads a double-life too. During the week, he is a full-time PhD candidate in Immunology through the Harvard Medical School. Matt’s research at the Broad Institute in Cambridge explores the innate immune system and the detection of nucleic acids.

Who best to tell us the mechanic’s view of the differences between racing in Europe and the United States? Life in the pits or materiaal post.

How long have you been wrenching?
I started working for a pro cycling team in ’99, I started working with the Saturn Pro Team, sort of out of serendipity more than anything. A couple of phone calls and this guy knows this guy kind of thing led me to Philadelphia to work the First Union I think it was called at the time, that week-long series of races that culminated with Philly. I ended up getting lots of calls from the Saturn guys after that, they wanted me to do everything East Coast and the next year, I ran my own program, mechanic for this pro team. It’s a great family, the staff, the riders, a cool community to be part of and even though I have this other life, I always try to keep my hands dirty so to speak.

So you’ve always been a bike geek?
Yes pretty much. I grew up in this little town north of Boston, Beverly where a lot of local cyclists live there, Jesse Anthony, Tim (Johnson) grew up around there, all that crew. I used to hang out in this little mom & pop shop, from 13 on, I would go there pretty much every day after school. I had this crappy bike but I was totally into it, I hung there every week and I really wanted to work there. My dad said ‘tell them that you’ll sweep the floors and clean the toilet if they’ll show you how to fix bikes’. So that’s basically what I proposed to them, ‘hey I know that I’m underaged but I want to learn how to fix bikes, I’ll sweep your floors and I’ll clean the toilets’, and they said ‘you’re hired’. I got paid under that table, I worked on zero speed bikes for a year, so I grew up in this little mom & pop shop and I’ve always been into it, mechanically interested I guess you could say.

Do you still do road races?
I’ll do a few events a year. Cross is the priority because of Mo. I’m kind of a very fortunate list of who to call when somebody is needed and I can select some great events as a result. For example, I got a call from BMC to be one of the three mechanics at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado in August. I don’t have any real vacation and this came up and getting to work for Cadel Evans and George Hincapie and all the great folks at BMC is a really great opportunity.

Obviously you are good so what makes you so good?
I don’t know, it’s hard to call yourself good.

Well, they call you.
There are few reason I guess, they know that I pay good attention to details and that they can trust my work. I know what needs to be done, I know what the next step is most of the time, I don’t need someone to hold my hand. I think more than anything is that I’m not a jaded on the road mechanic. A lot of the times they bring me in because they know I’m not the typical mechanic, I provide at least a little bit of comic relief, good energy and reliability. It’s kind of a good combo I think.

Matt Roy re-pinning his wife Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob's Red Mill) at 2010 USGP Derby City Cup

Matt Roy re-pinning his wife Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob's Red Mill) at 2010 USGP Derby City Cup

Is that why Stu Thorne brought you in for the comic relief? I don’t think so.
I don’t think so either. That’s what Daimeon is there for (laughs). Pretty much with cyclocrossorld it’s all business. For those guys, I am an efficiently reliable set of hands, that’s really what they need.

I am curious in the differences in the pits between the US and Europe. First of all, what is the difference in the US in working in a women’s race and men’s race? Is there a difference?
It’s getting more similar actually with the depth of the women’s field. I would say in general, the first two laps of the men’s race are more hectic than the first two laps of the women’s race, just based on sheer number. But now that is starting to change, you see 20 quality women showing up at Louisville and that changes the game in the pit a little bit too. The pattern is pretty typical.

There’s always going to be differences between men’s and women’s races based simply on the amount of time that the races are run. In a 40-minute race for the women, there is no chance for that lull. In the men’s race you get to see the lull, the first three laps are full on and then there’s a sort of look over your shoulder period, and you can actually see the pace drop for maybe a lap, people are testing each other out and then it’s totally on again for the last couple of laps. In the women’s race, there is no lull like that, it’s always go, go, go for them. Because of the length, I don’t think they have the luxury for that kind of thing. Maybe from a racer’s perspective they would argue differently but this is my observation so because of that, it can be a little different in the pit pattern-wise. That lull might be the time where do you a bike swap for tire pressure, they sort of have that luxury to play with course conditions a little bit more and they have more time to make up for their 10-second loss in the pit. I would say in general in the women’s pit, there aren’t changes for subtleties but in the men’s race, I can’t make the argument that it’s because they are more in-tuned with their equipment, I can only really say because they have more time to play with.

That’s very interesting.
Watch a guy like Stybar at Worlds two years ago in Tabor. He had a guy on course that he had a signal with, he would raise his fingers up two or three denoting a separate bike which would have a different tire, or that could be some symbol for the number of bars in their tire pressure. He’s got 10 laps to figure this out, to make little subtle change here and there. The women have six (laps) or something like that so there isn’t that same luxury, if course this is my perspective.

Okay, then what is the difference between working in the pit in the US and in Europe?
Keep in mind that most of my experience in Europe is World Cups and the World Cups are very different because you have bins assigned to you by country. There are comical patterns that happen in these pits, men or women, based on country because of intra-European biases. So Belgium always picks bin #1 no matter what, it could be the worst spot but they pick #1. And the Netherlands because they hate the Belgians always pick #7 because they don’t want to be next to them. It’s funny, you see the Americans coming into the pit, you see Mark Legg-Compton or Stu or myself, we’re walking the pit, checking the lane looking at the track, where it’s set up, what is actually the best place to chose. We always in our best estimation what strategically for the riders is the best place. It seems that a lot of these federations are like choosing one and that’s it.

The World Cups have assigned bins. There are obviously huge pits but other than that, a pit is a pit. They usually have good access to water, power-washers in the pit. That’s one thing I would say is physically the Europeans, regardless if it’s a C1, C2 or a World Cup is that they actually follow the rules mostly to the letter as to what the requirements are. Like you never have to cross a course to get to a power-washer, there are power-washers already available, there are multiple power-washers. The pit is wide enough, the pit is usually set up on the course so it’s equidistant so it’s not an uneven course. For example, Nationals a few years ago, the second Kansas City year, the first entrance to the pit was two minutes, and then the next entrance was five minutes later, so really uneven for the rider. When they think about course design in Europe and again I’m grossly generalizing, I really think that they have the rider in mind, the quality of the course for the rider is paramount. And then that way, they design so that the bikes can be washed, the pits are equidistant and things like that.

At the C1s and C2s, it’s scaled down a little bit, you don’t have to worry about assigned bins. Everyone is in a pit because they want to be in a pit. These silly stories about tussles in the pit are kind of baseless I would say. Sometimes there are bump ins with the officials but not in Europe and sometimes there are bump ins with other mechanics but those are history or personality but those have really nothing to do with the situation I would say. I’ve never had a problem with anyone, that might be my personality, I’m a lover not a fighter.

So how much do you watch the other mechanics to see what they do?
That’s the key to my success. I have learned how to be a good mechanic through mistakes and observations. There are people to look up to. You don’t get that opportunity in Europe to go nose around, to see what Sven’s mechanic is doing because it’s full on when you’re in the pit but when there is that lull, you get to bounce ideas of people. Do you always use sealant when you seal your tires? Is it something that’s available Stateside? Probably not.

I think Mark Legg is similar to me in that he does everything in his power to make Katie’s equipment the best possible. He doesn’t just open the box to put things together, he really thinks about ways to take what’s in the box and tweak it. He’s a first example, I always like to see what little super-anal has he come up with now. (laughs) We can play off each other a little bit on that stuff. Whereas a guy like Stu, he has a bog program so he’s about efficiency. He can’t have that same attention to details like the really anal things that we do, he can’t do it but it doesn’t make him any less of a mechanic. It’s a different kind of great mechanic. I’m always watching, what do people use for lube? Especially the Euros, they always have some little trick, something that we can’t get Stateside that I like to keep an eye out for it.

What is the most important tool that you need to bring to the pit?
I don’t bring everything. If you saw what I brought to the pit in the first National Championships compared to what I bring now, I have pared down dramatically. I always bring a pair of shoes for Mo, that’s a worst case scenario if she loses a shoe in the mud, I can give her a new shoe. That’s one totally excessive thing that I still stick with. We have two bikes, and sometimes we have three. You shouldn’t have to do major repairs, and those major repairs only in case of crashes because you have faith in your equipment going in, you know you shouldn’t have to worry about something coming loose. It’s typically mud or crashes. So for me, I always bring my airgun and I also bring lube and a towel because you don’t want to grad a bike with wet handlebars.

Let’s take Madison day two for example, that was Mo’s great ride this year. That was one of those instances where you truly get to be a team, rider and staff. Mo was changing twice a lap that race, so what do I have time to do? I have time to get her bike, run over to the power washer, give it a wash, go back, have a chance to dry it off, get it back in the gear that I want her to receive the bike in, throw a little WD40 or some Pam or some kind of Pledge or something in the pedal and that’s three minutes and then she’s there. That’s really all you’ve got. You need to have a clean bike, you need to have a lubed bike, you need to have a dry bike.

Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob's red Mill/Seven) gets a new bike after a hard crash on first lap at 2010 USA Cross Nationals

Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob's red Mill/Seven) gets a new bike after a hard crash on first lap at 2010 USA Cross Nationals

What’s the trick for a smooth bike exchange?
You have to plan it ahead of time, you have to time the laps. When I get to the race, I start my watch when the Masters go off, a couple of hours before Mo to see how long the lap is. I walk the pit lane, I keep my eye on some of the better Masters mechanics to see if they’re swapping, I look at where the washer is. I try to look at the variables and plan the best I can. And I also try to remind Mo to ride through both pit lanes so you know the entrances. I rarely get a chance to see the whole course, so I would ask her ‘what is the section of the course where you’re most likely to need a bike change after?’ Those type of things.

I’m learning a lot here. What is your favorite race to work in and your least favorite?
I’m really looking forwards to work at Diegem this year because they’re going to have a women’s race. You got to see what that was like. I don’t want to sound jaded but after awhile a pit is a pit. The more fun Mo has racing, the more biased I am to liking it. I love working at the pit when it’s muddy because it’s so much more of a team effort, and also Mo is having fun out there too so that helps. It really makes the team component come through, you have to kit dialed with its muddy and it shows when it’s not.

The worst pits are typically the ones where the mechanics get to see essentially none of the race. You only get to see your riders for ~30-45 seconds out of every lap… and you are, for all intents and purposes, trapped in the confines of the pit during the races. Those are the worst. The best pits are the ones where you are conveniently situated within site of the jumbotron! You get to watch the race and wrench. Those, however, are far and few between.

Do you have any funny or weird stories from the pit where you just shake your head?
This isn’t super funny but I see Marianne Vos’ dad in the pit a lot. He speaks Flemish and essential no English but he’s just the friendliest guy, we always smile and say hello. Marianne flatted and he didn’t have enough air in one of her tires, I offered him my air pump but it was in PSI and he uses BAR and I didn’t have a smartphone at the time and I couldn’t do the conversion for him for whatever 1.8 bar was. So the two of us were using pantomime to try to figure out what psi and trying to estimate what bar… it was just a funny little bit of lost in translation. He ended just getting a hand pump from somebody.

It ends up being a family to some extent. The people who travel, the top 15 or so in the field, everyone helps each other out. Troy will wash Ryan’s bike as long as the Cannondale bikes are done because no one has access to it. Granted in Europe, that’s not a problem because they already have all that water there. People lookout for each other. When we go to Europe, the family that Mark and Katie stay with, they take care of us. They have Katie to take care, they have Katrine their daughter to take care of, and they are like ‘we’ll be at the start for Mo to take her jacket, do you need us to carry anything to the pit for you?’ They’re just great people and it makes it easier for us.

Roy will be in the pit again at JingleCross this weekend where mud is a distinct possibility.

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4 Responses to “Life In The Pits With Matt Roy”

  1. Bridget

    25. Nov, 2011

    Is it just me or is podium insight like 10,000x’s better than VeloNews. (Plus, no articles about big Tex!) Always interesting articles about “real” athletes and the people behind them. Awesome photos as well. Keep up the great work.

  2. Name swilled

    29. Nov, 2011

    Gotta agree about the quality of the reading. Besides entertaining it is also quite informative. I learned a thing or two and was reminded of a couple other tip of the trade of bending bicycle wrenches. Love the photos too!

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