Friday, May 25, 2012

Exergy Tour: SRAM Neutral Race Support—the UN of Repair Crews

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2012 at 11:33 AM

OK, so you're an elite cyclist competing in a major race and your bike has a meltdown somewhere in the middle of nowhere and your team car is miles away—what do you do?

You hope the SRAM Neutral Race Support team is nearby. The crew sponsored by the bike-parts company is kind of like the United Nations of bike racing—they don't care what team a rider is part of, if someone needs a hand on the course, they're willing to help.

Standing under the group's bright red tent at the Prologue Stage of the Exergy Tour on May 24, mechanic Chad Contreras explained how various members of the team cover different regions in the United States, putting between 50,000 and 70,000 miles on their donated Volvos each year.

With three Volvo wagons and one motorcycle stationed at the Boise event, the Neutral Race crew will travel among the racers with stockpiles of wheels, pedals and assorted gear to handle just about any breakdown—they even carry replacement bikes of assorted sizes in case of a catastrophic breakdown.

The team's motorcycle carries a collection of wheels on the back, in addition to a diver and a mechanic. When asked if there's a trick to being a motorcycle-riding mechanic, Contreras just smiled and said, "Always wait for the motorcycle to stop."

Contreras said the team has been working back-to-back events since mid-April, but he, for one, is still excited to be back in Boise.

A longtime bike mechanic, Contreras was first in the City of Trees in 1993 for what was then the OreIda Women's Challenge—the one-time signature race in the state. He was last in Boise in 2001, when the race had become the HP Women's Challenge before disappearing altogether.

But even after more than a decade, Contreras said Idaho still has a highly regarded reputation among bike racing circles.

"We're glad to see it come back," he said, adding that he was impressed with the size and scope of the event.

The Neutral Race crew has also been impressed with Boise, Contreras said, quickly ticking off the restaurants, friendly community and overall atmosphere as prime reasons he was excited to make a return trip to the city.

Contreras and his team will be on the road today as the participating teams head to Nampa for the first full stage of the race. While the weather may be inhospitable, Contreras said it's all par for the course.

"That's why cycling is one of the hardest sports," he said. "You ride through everything."

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