This year saw the return of the highly anticipated UCI Track Champions League. The series was new in 2021 and was introduced in an attempt to bring track cycling to the masses, in a partnership between UCI and Discovery Sports Events.
As a relatively niche sub-section of the sport, track cycling has rarely had extensive coverage, bar events such as the World Championships and the Olympics. These events typically take place over three or four days and, to the uninitiated, can be a complex and even boring spectacle.
Enter the UCI Track Champions League. The event spreads across several rounds over the course of a month, with each taking place in a different location. The rounds feature both endurance and sprint races in rapid succession, with the races themselves condensed into shorter events.
At most track events, like in any pro sport, riders are usually accompanied by their team and support staff. At the TCL, however, the riders all share two neutral mechanics who are on hand to help with bike preparation and in the event of an emergency.
Not only is this practical from a logistical perspective, but it also helps level the playing field for riders from countries with a smaller track cycling background.
We caught up with mechanics Jim and Steve at the final round of the Track Champions League in London, to ask them about their experiences with the series. Outside of the UCI TCL, Jim Bryan is the race mechanic for the US track cycling team and for the TREK MTB team, and Steve Edwards is the race mechanic for the Australian cycling team.
Cyclist: Is this your first year as a mechanic for Track Champions League?
Jim: It’s the second year Steve and I have been doing the TCL. We got hired for the Mallorca round in 2021 because we both were local and knew the events manager from previous jobs. During the event, they realised it would be good to have a couple of regular mechanics rather than using new local mechanics every week.
Cyc: What does the role entail?
Steve: We’re on board as neutral mechanics to assist all of the riders with any sort of mechanical issues.
Changing gears is a regular part of the job, be it chainrings, sprockets or both to get the right combination. We also help pump up tyres for training and competition and thankfully we have compressors for that, as the tyres run at very high pressures, and there’s a lot of riders.
Cleaning tyres is another job that we often do, as the tracks can be dusty and grip is important. We do this with an alcohol-based cleaner normally, but white vinegar is also used (although it does remind me of fish and chips).
Jim: We are there to support the riders, but they are self-sufficient in terms of building and dismantling their own bikes, some ask us to help with specific things, and many ask us to bolt-check bikes once they are built.
During the racing, we are kept busy helping to stop the sprinters and get them off the track after their races, doing gear changes, cleaning tyres, while one of us is always watching the track for crashes/mechanicals during endurance races.
Cyc: The riders share just two mechanics. Did this pose any specific challenges for you?
Steve: I normally work for the Australian cycling team and, at a normal track event, we would have two mechanics looking after a team of between 12-16 riders.
There are 72 riders involved with the UCI TCL so it can get rather busy at times, although we don’t have as many normal duties as we would with a specific team.
One thing that does take a bit of getting used to is the different equipment that’s being used.
Cyc: As the riders don’t have the same size support team as usual, what happens when something breaks?
Steve: Normally within a team, it’s the same frames, wheels, tyres, chainrings etc. but obviously there’s a huge variety of different brands being used between all the different teams/federations.
Most of the riders will carry some vital spare parts with them and possibly spare wheels so it’s not normally an issue if something breaks, but we have had a frame break – that took a lot of phone calls and favours to get a new one sorted in time.
It’s like a big family, really, so the guys tend to help each other out if something is needed. The UCI TCL also gets a lot of coverage, so manufacturers try to help out as quickly as they can.
Jim: Any specific problems, punctures, broken parts or frames can usually be solved during the week until the next event.
Riders are independent, but all are on professional teams or national track programs, so as long as new parts are supplied to the riders when they need them, Steve and I can repair or replace bikes on arrival day the day before the next event.
Cyc: What do you enjoy most about the experience?
Jim: Although the riders are racing hard, with points and money for every race, the environment is much more relaxed than at championship events. Riders sit together, eat together, travel together, so are more relaxed and have fun together.
Steve and I work well together, always have a laugh and never take life too seriously, along with a good relationship with the riders and event crew, it makes the TCL series a really enjoyable month.
Steve: It’s a fantastic series to be involved in and I feel lucky to be a part of it.
It’s growing in stature year on year, and it gives us the opportunity to work with athletes of the highest level and we get to know the guys well both on and off the track, which is pretty cool.
We get a ringside seat that money can’t buy so what is there not to enjoy (apart from a little bit of pressure every now and then)?.
Go to the UCI Track Champions League website for more information about the racing, and where to watch the 2022 series online.
Photos: Honor Elliott