In the Pits
Claire has raced cyclo-cross for the past three years. Last year in Rapha Condor colours she was ranked fourth in the National Trophy series. At the weekend it was her time to change a bike for a pressure washer.
"Cyclo-cross racing is sometimes described as 'the longest hour'. I'd tend to agree, especially when you're fighting to get a muddy bike back to the pits and exchanged for a fresh clean one.
I've never really been at the other end of it, as a bike catcher, a runner, a washer or mechanic. At the National Trophy in Mallory Park it was my turn to be part of the pit crew. My role was running the wash station for Andy Waterman.
Instead of the longest hour it was quite possibly the shortest, most stressful hour of my life. There is a double pit at the Mallory Park course, which meant as Andy ran through the pit and picked up his clean rig. We had about four minutes to get his bike clean, re-oiled and back in case he had a mechanical needed his bike as he passed the pit on the other side.
After 2 laps, I was up. Andy's bike was delivered to me covered in mud. I cranked up the petrol jet washer, put the bike in the work stand, and working from left to right began firing pressurised water at the tyres to clear the mud. Next I blasted mud away from brakes and drivetrain, concentrating on not forcing too much water at any bearings, spraying water at an angle on delicate areas.
Then it was onto the non-driveside of the bike to repeat the process. Caught up in my methodical process of cleaning with his bike at the centre of my world, I sprayed through the triangle of the frame smacking another lady full pelt in the back with a load of water. I don't think she noticed, but I averted my gaze and moved the stand somehow trying not to let her know it was me. If you're reading this, I'm sorry, it, er, wasn't on purpose...
No sooner had I handed it back that another bike appeared. Once clean I would grab a damp cloth to soak up excess water from the saddle and bar tape. A quick spin of Finish Line Wet Lube through the chain and I shouldered the bike back to the pit.
Mid way through the race, there was a momentary lull. I looked up and all I could see was the mist and spray from the jet washers. All I could hear was the petrol washers buzzing, drowning out any conversations, commentators and my fellow crew.
I checked the water levels, and after handing back yet another clean bike it was time to run over and drag the spare barrel to our wash station and refill the little tank.
Kev ran through the pit with the bike for a final time and asked me if I knew how many laps there were to go. I put the bike in the stand and made a dash/skid through the now water-logged pit to the start/finish just to hear the leaders go through to the sound of the bell. Upon hearing that ding all I could think was sheer relief. Excited, I reported back: "they are on the bell lap!".
It's only cleaning a bike and returning it to a rider, but if it's not there when he needs it, that's it all his effort, his exhausted, screaming muscles ridden in vain. You just don't want to be the weakest link. Despite that I'd do it all again. I loved the thunderous noise and being part of organised chaos."
A pit crew needs a fair amount of equipment but here are the basics I think you'd need to survive.
1. Wellies - ruined shoes, wet toes - there is nothing better than dry waterproofed feet!
2. Thick socks - standing in cold water makes your toes cold.
3. Latex gloves underneath warm gloves - latex adds the waterproofing element and keeps your finger tips away from freezing water.
4. Hat - keep the heat in, you'll catch a cold otherwise.
5. Team gilet - so your fellow pit crew members can find you through the mist.
6. Spare rags - for wiping contact points of the bike.
7. Pit Stop tyre sealant - just in case you puncture all your tubs in a race, this will be a quick fix.
8. Pump with gauge - to make any pressure adjustments the rider asks for during the race.
9. Spray lube and liquid lube - spray lube for all the hard to reach nooks and liquid lube for the chain.
10. Brushes and a stick - for getting mud out of fiddly places if your jet wash ever stops working.