The Importance of the Pit Strategy

Posted on 28. Nov, 2011 by in photos, race

When the course turns to muck which sticks to your bike making it heavier and heavier, getting a clean bike become of prime importance and the work of the mechanics during the race comes to the forefront.

“The pit strategy and trying to get a clean bike, that was a big part of it.” said winner Tim Johnson (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com) after the race. “I think I went one lap too many without switching in the beginning so I had a heavy bike, tires were full, gears were having a hard time. Once you get into that rhythm, I was switching every half lap that last half of the race and that’s a big advantage.”

Clean bike for Tim Johnson (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com)

Clean bike for Tim Johnson (Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com)

Maureen Bruno-Roy (Bob’s Red Mill), who finished second, agreed. “The bikes were picking so much mud and getting really heavy so you’re planning when you’re going to take a clean bike, to carry a dirty one up the hill or not so it was pretty important to be swapping at least once a lap just to get some of the weight off the bikes. I was getting enough grass stuck in my rear derailleur, my rear cassette to have some skipping.”

On Sunday’s final race at JingleCross, the mud and grass was sticking to pedals and cassettes, which meant that the pit was a busy spot with a possibility of two visits per lap per rider – that is if they had a pit crew and spare bike of course. For the men’s race, three power washers were in use, the one provided by the race, one from the Specialized crew and one from Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com.

If a rider was switching bikes every half lap, like many did, that meant that the mechanic only had three to four minutes to get everything ready for the next time around.

Last week, Matt Roy, mechanic for his wife Bruno-Roy and Cannondale-cyclocrossworld.com, explained the same situation that happened earlier this year at USGP Planet Bike Cup. “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.” (Read full interview with Roy – Life in the Pits)

“The mechanics were fantastic.” said winner Meredith Miller (CalGiant). “Because of them we’re able to roll up to a race and know that our bikes are going to be ready, they are there ready for us to pre-ride and we don’t have to think about anything but what we have to do out on course, and get our job done. We know that everything else with the bikes is ready to go. We’re very fortunate that we have such good mechanics that are always there taking care of us whether we’re doing bike exchanges or not.”

Bruno-Roy goes into the race confident in her equipment. “I have Matt and so I’m lucky to have one of the best mechanics in the US. So I don’t worry about my bikes ever, it’s usually pilot error if something is wrong with my bike so that’s more pressure on me because Matt is such a good mechanic.”

Meredith Miller (CalGiant) goes down during a bike change

Meredith Miller (CalGiant) goes down during a bike change

Oops. Of course, visits to the pits can involve more than getting a clean bike. Miller went for a new bike the first time through the pit. “Actually right off the start line I realized that my back tire didn’t have enough pressure in it and I was already bottoming out just through the straights, went into the pit right away on the first lap. I had to communicate with my mechanics what was going on with my wheel, tell him what I needed.”

She added, “Every time after that it was a pretty straightforward exchange, it was just the cassette and everything was just getting gunked up and the bike was getting heavy so there wasn’t really anything that I had to tell them that they didn’t know that I was coming in for.”

Well, not every time. Miller did bobble one of the exchanges. “I just went for the bars and one hard slipped off and then it was just a disaster”

Lending a hand. Watch the pits during a muddy race and you will see the mechanics helping each other out. It was obvious again on Sunday, when they would catch bikes for each other and help out with the washing – as long as their own riders’ bikes were ready.

“There’s a lot of generosity in cross where Jose (Alcala) is catching my bike, Steve is catching my bike, Meredith’s mechanics are helping out. The mechanics are a whole other team and they’re helping each other out and that’s really helpful.” said Bruno-Roy.

Typically, a bike exchange needs two people, one to catch to bike and the other to give the clean bike. Then one runs to the power washer to clean the dirty bike while the other watches the race. If they have more than one rider in the race, an extra pair of hands is needed.

Johnson agreed, “If you look at the pits, there might be 70 people in the race but there aren’t 140 mechanics in there, everybody lends each other a hand.”

He, along with his teammate Jamey Driscoll, often came into the pit at almost the same time. “And whether or not it’s two of us going in side by side, or Specialized guys or anyone else out there racing, everyone is there to catch a bike, to hand it off, to hold it while you do something else. If it is only a half lap to clean bikes, it’s not a lot of time so it definitely makes for intense moments. Luckily there were not fistfights for the pressure washers, or stubbing out cigarette on people, we’ll save that for Belgium.” Johnson laughed. “We’re all very civil out there today.”

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the muck

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the muck

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