With the 2018 Amgen Tour of California now underway, we thought we’d check in with one of our favorite supported teams racing it– Team Holowesko|Citadel. Read the Q&A below with head mechanic, Doug Sumi (one of the most entertaining pro-mechanics we know) to find out what a day in the life is like for a mechanic at an event like the TOC, what super-secret skill every mechanic needs and what Feedback Sports product is practically glued to Doug’s side at every race.
FBS: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Doug.
Doug: Doug Sumi/ Seattle, Washington. I enjoy Imperial stouts and light roast coffees, though typically not in that order.
FBS: What led you to being a professional bike mechanic for Team Holowesko|Citadel
Doug: A friend of mine needed helping running a crit pit in front of the bike shop I used to work at in Seattle (Recycled Cycles). Since I had never worked in that situation before I was mainly in charge of pumping bike tires and setting up tents. After a pretty big crash I got handed a bike with a very bent derailleur hanger and my friend said I had 15 seconds to fix it our that racer was out. 15 seconds later I was pushing him back into the race with a bike that mostly shifted. After that I was hooked. I worked a lot of local events around Seattle to get started and since then have spent time with Hagens-Berman, Jamis, Raleigh-Clement, and Kona Factory CX and am just starting my 4th season with Holowesko-Citadel.
FBS: Explain a day-in the life of a pro road mechanic.
Doug: I like, sometimes to the frustration of my roommate, to be up an hour before any work has to start. I spend the first hour of the day drinking coffee, reading something that has nothing to do with bike racing and hopefully breathing slowly. After that we start the day in earnest. Bikes come out of the trailer and get aired up, spares of everything checked and loaded into the car(s). Breakfast generally happens right before or right after this depending on our setup. Then we head to the start. Mechanics float around a little bit and chat with the riders. Good riders always check out their bikes before they roll to the start. No one is perfect and typically if we’ve done our job well there won’t be any issues but we are always around to make sure everything is as good as it can be. Some guys just double check their wheel skewers are tight and brake calipers are centered, others take out a tape measure and double check saddle height or saddle fore and aft.
Once the race has started you’re hopefully in for a nice relaxing afternoon trying not to stay awake in the back seat of the team car. For us, the more boring the better. Any busy day for mechanics is not a good day for your riders. And in the end they are the ones that matter, otherwise all the TV coverage would be of us trying not to fall asleep. If there is a mechanical, flat tire, crash, any of those things we do our best to remedy any issues quickly and get the rider back in the race. With spare bikes on the roof and spare wheels in the car we usually can remedy any equipment issues pretty quickly. After the finish it’s back to the trailer. Every race bike gets washed, dried and gone over to make sure it’s 100% for the next day. We may also change out gearing or wheels depending on what the next stage looks like. Part of the reason we wash bikes every day is it makes it much easier to spot small issues before they affect the race. Small pieces of glass in tires or lightly bent links in chains are much easier to see on a very clean bike. It may seem like overkill from the outside but it’s very critical to what we do. If there were flats or crashes we replace parts or glue fresh tires. Then the cars get washed, trailer is packed and locked, and hopefully we have time for some dinner and a beer.
FBS: What’s a super-secret skill you are really happy you have as a mechanic?
Doug: I can eat really fast (apparently a genetic talent) and can sleep almost anywhere that isn’t an airplane. When you have really busy days, sometimes it’s nice to be able to knock out dinner in 5 minutes and get a good amount of sleep in a bed you’ve never slept in before.
FBS: Any crazy stories about pulling off the impossible before or during a race?
Doug: I was in the car last year at Tour of Utah when Robin Carpenter crashed and broke his helmet. Typically there is a spare helmet in the car but someone had pulled it out before the stage. For very good reasons riders are required to replace broken helmets before they can continue racing and we were standing with Robin who was literally seconds away from dropping out of the race. As we were trying to find a solution a man on the side of the street offered to walk to his house a couple blocks away and lend Robin his personal helmet. A couple minutes later Robin, rocking a early 90’s era Specialized helmet, was chasing back on to the peloton. He ended up getting 4th I think on that stage. That gentlemen also has a Holowesko-Citadel Giro helmet at his house now.
FBS: If time travel were a thing: who would win a sprint finish between Sean Kelly and Freddy Maertens?
Doug: I’m going to go with Sean Kelly here, but if time travel were a thing I would go back and tell my former self to watch many more classic cycling highlight reels. Then I would feel like I was more informed to make such decisions.
FBS: What’s your favorite Feedback Sports product and why?
Doug: I love my Sprint Bike Repair Stand. It’s a solid and firm way to hold any bike that I work on and the spinning action makes for faster/easier bike washing and fixing. When you can stand in one spot close to your tools and move the bike instead of your body everything is closer at hand and much more efficient. Plus I can carry it on to an airplane or easily fit it in my checked luggage. Road races in California or cross world cups in Belgium you won’t see me without one.
*The team last raced in the Amgen Tour of California in 2015, when Tom Skujins came out of the shadows to win Stage 3, setting the trajectory for his professional career.
This year, Holowesko|Citadel brings seven of its strongest riders to the the tour: John Murphy, TJ Eisenhart, Brendan Rhim, Andrei Krasilnikau, Fabian Lienhard, Ruben Companioni, and Miguel Bryon. Lienhard proved his clout while racing in Europe, earning a win during the first stage of the Tour of Normandie, as well as placing a close fourth in Stage 6 of Tour of Croatia. Murphy has always been a strong sprinter for the team, taking the first stage of Circuit des Ardennes this season, as well as back-to-back wins at the Athens Twilight Criterium and multiple wins at this year’s Tour of Southern Highlands.
“We’re excited to be back at Amgen Tour of California this year,” says Rich Hincapie, manager for the team. “With the team being in Europe this time around, the riders have had much experience and preparation. This year, we have a mix of climbers, sprinters, and all-rounders, so I feel good about our chances for a stage win.”
Chief sports director Thomas Craven has high hopes as well, particularly for rider TJ Eisenhart. “TJ has been looking forward to this race and the competition. I am banking that he brings the sunshine to Santa Barbara and the Gibraltar climb.”