When Jeremy Powers made to move to headline the Rapha Focus Cyclocross team this year, he brought along ace mechanic Tom Hopper to support him.
“When I was looking for someone to could fill Stu’s shoes I knew that wasn’t going to be an easy task.” Powers told podiuminsight. “Tom worked at the Protour level with Garmin and I knew he was capable of handling the European travel and stress of cyclocross.”
This summer, Powers met with Hopper and the team’s field operations manager Brian Dallas at the service course in Colorado. “Tom lives close to there so when I was doing a training camp to get ready for USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Tom, Brian Dallas and I all got together, worked on bike fit etc.”
Hopper is well-regarded by many of the riders. But what makes him such a good mechanic? “I don’t know.” he replied. “I think the guys think I’m good maybe just from my experience. I worked with the Garmin Transitions, Garmin Slipstream, Garmin everything team for a few years over in Europe.”
It all started with six (or is it two?) degrees of separation with Adam Myerson for Hopper who was a mechanic through high school and college in Massachusetts.
“I was working in a bike shop and somehow I knew somebody that knew Adam Myerson, who back then was on Nerac. They were looking for a mechanic for the Tour de Toona.” Hopper added with a laugh, “And actually Chris Jones was on the team at the time as well. He doesn’t remember me but I remember him. That was my first actual race experience.”
“That was the first taste of road mechanic work.” continued Hopper who moved to Colorado in 2006. “Then after that Ben Turner, who used to work in the Slipstream office back in the day, was looking for help in the Spring of ’07 and I came out and did Georgia with Daimeo (Shanks) and the rest is history.”
Details. “I think the most important is just listening to your rider and being honest with your rider.” Hopper said. “I think if you’re honest with your rider and he sees that you’re being honest with him, when he tells you hey something’s not working and you’re trying to fix it, I think that’s the biggest thing. Because if you don’t have that relationship with the rider that is positive and that’s honest and healthy then there is going to be second-guessing, and you just don’t want that.”
Of course, some riders are pickier than others, but Hopper takes it all in stride. “Christian Vande Velde, Zabriskie, Millar, all those guys appreciate us as mechanics. They know we’re out there early in the morning, late at night, we’re trying to do our best. As long as you’re showing some respect to them and their bikes, that you care about what they’re doing and that you’re trying. It’s about giving that effort. If they see you sunbathing next to the truck when you should be working on a time trial bike or something then there’s probably an issue.”
Having wrenched for both road and cross teams, Hopper finds that the biggest difference is simply the number of riders. “Here in cross, I only have to focus on three maybe four bikes a weekend, where at a Grand Tour you have nine riders, everyone has two spare bikes, time trial bikes, spare time trial bikes. Hopper said.
But he does admit a fondness for cyclocross. “Besides the scene being laid-back and easy going, everyone here is friends, we’re having a good time out here, it’s one hour effort so that makes it easier. I definitely enjoy the cross, I’m from New England and there’s really some good cross racing out there and the Gloucester race is still to this day my favorite race of any cross race in America. So definitely first choice would be cross.”
So crucial in cross, a lot of his time is spent on tire selection and tire pressure. “It’s so important out here in cross. The rest, the cockpit, the saddle height, that we can usually sort out.” said Hopper, who added that Powers is very specific about his bike setup.
“When we fly back from Europe and I’m building a bike, I’ve got tape on the seatpost, I put it in and then he can get on the bike and tell me right away whether it’s a millimeter down or high. But that stuff he can usually work out himself but tire pressure, tire selection that is the most important thing. He’ll worry about that more than anything else if he doesn’t have it exactly where he wants it.”
Powers is happy to have Hopper on his side. “Tom’s attention to detail is incredible and he’s such a big part of our team. I feel really lucky to have him.”
Spend a day with Hopper: A Day In The Life Of … Rapha-Focus Mechanics