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Mechanic’s Corner: Q & A with David Gagnon of Specialized/Feedback Sports Cyclocross Team

In our Mechanic’s Corner series we’ve been shining the spotlight on the ones behind the scenes that make racing and riding happen for us, the mechanics. Earlier this week we announced that we would be the co-title sponsor of Maghalie Rochette and the CX Fever team. So let’s get to know her Mechanic, Coach, partner, and skilled baker, David Gagnon.

When did you start working as a bike mechanic and how did you get into it?

I raced triathlons when I was younger and quickly realized that having a bike that works properly is important. I liked working with my hands so I started doing small things on my bikes really young. When I was in university, we started a small bike shop where 3 of us really had to do every single task from building bikes to ordering and accounting, so I quickly learned the proper basics at that moment. That shop didn’t last long. It was a lot of work and we ended up closing after 3 years. From there I worked on my personal bikes but I never worked in a shop.

How did you transition into becoming a race mechanic? How long have you been working as a race mechanic at this point?

That really came out of necessity more than a transition. When Maghalie started racing cyclocross 7 years ago, there had to be someone for her in the pits and so I found myself working on her bikes and helping he out at the races more and more until it became clear that she was really good at this and that she would need full time support.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a race mechanic? What is the most stressful part, before, during, or after the race?

Honestly, it’s a great job. You have to be very adaptable and flexible with work conditions. You won’t always have the perfect light, the perfect environment and/or the perfect conditions to get the bikes ready, but if you are a bit creative and have the right tools, it becomes fun. For me, I see these different work conditions more as an opportunity to be creative and find solutions more than challenges. The biggest challenge for me is all the driving. Being from Canada, we often drive down to the US for a few weeks at a time and go from one race to another and a lot of times it means a ton of driving. Driving 40-60 hours per week can get hard on the body and mind sometimes.

The most stressful part for me is the first 30-60 seconds of the race. There’s a lot of traffic and if a crash is going to really mess up the race, it’s most likely going to happen in the first few turns. Once they go by the pits once, I’m pretty stress free. Since most of time it’s just Maghalie and I at the races, getting the race bikes ready, building the setup at the races, and packing everything up isn’t really stressful. It’s actually relaxing 🙂

What are some of the most challenging last minute or on the fly repairs you’ve had to do?

Honestly, nothing very exciting here. We come to the races prepared with all our equipment working 100% and spares of everything and Maghalie runs 3 or 4 bikes per weekend so if for whatever reason one bike isn’t perfect, we can usually do without it and I can fix things stress free following the race.

Only one time I remember being a little worried. At Supercross Cup in NY a few years back, it was very, very windy and one of Maghalie’s bikes fell on the ground really hard 15mins before the start – the frame was broken. That got me a little stressed but we ended up using a friend’s bike that we fitted as best as we could in 15mins as a pit bike for Maghalie. That friend was over 6ft tall, and had a 58cm bike, wider bars, longer cranks & a different company shifting/braking system. So needless to say, it was quite the change for Maghalie when she had to come in the pits. It was super muddy so she had to come in every half lap. We made it work and Maghalie went on to win, and sweep her first ever UCI race weekend!

Do you have any pre-race rituals? What are they?

Nope, no rituals. Except cleaning the bikes, do a proper bolt check and double check tire pressure.

How do you balance being a coach as well as a mechanic?

It’s actually great cause I can see the race from the inside and adjust training a lot with equipment testing and such. I only work as a mechanic for Maghalie and a few close friends that sometimes need help at home or at the races so my job is mostly coaching. Working as a mechanic feels more like a hobby and a nice change sometimes 🙂

You work with Maghalie exclusively all season, what sort of unique challenges does that present throughout the season and how do you move past those?

Working only with Maghalie is great, it gives us a lot of breathing room and a realistic amount of work and logistics that leave us enough time that we don’t feel overwhelmed. We do end up spending a ton of time together driving, training, travelling, eating, etc. and that could be a challenge for a lot of people, but we get along pretty well and we actually feel very fortunate that we can both do what we love, together, for a living. There is no one else in the world I would do this with.

You and Maghalie would be what most consider to be a privateer program, what are some of the largest challenges you face as a mechanic/only staff? What are some of the benefits?

You know, it looks like that from the outside, but Maghalie’s family help us out a lot. Maghalie’s mom and dad come to a lot of races and they are always happy to help, whether it’s in the pits or with the logistics of travel. Magh’s dad is a big cycling fan and for him, to have the pit passes and be around that environment makes him really happy and excited.

In North America, cyclocross is a very tight knit world and when the races require a bit more manpower, we’re always very fortunate to have friends at the races helping us. I’m also good friends with a lot of mechanics from North American teams/riders and so we help each other out in the pits. I’ll catch for them when their rider comes in and they’ll do the same for me when Maghalie comes in. CX in North America is a small world and everybody is super helpful. I could go on for days talking about situation where Cannondale Cyclocrossworld carried Magh’s bikes from one race to another or when we drove other team’s mechanics at the airport or used their bike wash area, etc. It’s a big family.

In terms of the benefits of being just the two of us, well, there are a lot. We only book 1 hotel room. We travel in the same car. It’s very easy for us to make or change plans since we don’t have to fit in other people schedules.

Having experienced a lot of different countries and meeting a lot of other mechanics, what are some differences you notice between the way North American mechanics approach a repair and the way European mechanic’s do? Are there differences in the relationships they have with their riders compared to that of North American teams?

The first thing that comes to mind is swapping parts vs. fixing stuff. I feel like Euro Mechanics will spend a lot of time trying to fix things and be very creative making custom tools for custom parts that they custom fixed as where here we’re most likely going to just put a new derailleur on the bike instead of fixing it. I guess that also reflects on  the overall lifestyle and choices of Europe vs. North America.

In terms of the relationship between mechanics and riders, in Europe a lot of riders have their dad, brother, husband, father in law, etc. be their mechanic. It’s not uncommon here in North America to see the same thing, but in terms of team structure, the American teams will most likely provide a mechanic for the riders, where in Europe, the rider has to have his own mechanic, the team will most likely not supply one.

What is the number one thing home mechanics can do to keep their bike in excellent working condition?

Clean it. Lube it & Protect it with some sort of shine/polish often. And pay attention to the bike when you do so. That way you’ll go over the bike and parts very carefully every time you wash/lube/protect it and you’ll see quickly what there is to fix, change, etc.

The one thing I tell people is make sure your cleaning setup is easily accessible. Leave the pressure washer plugged in water, or keep a hose and a work stand out. That way, it takes a lot less time and you’re not discouraged by the fact that you have to setup before cleaning. You can just come back from a ride, throw your bike on the repair stand, start the hose or pressure washer, clean, lube protect and you’ll be able to keep a close eye on things that need replacement, fixing, etc.

Your Instagram is chock full of phenomenal food photos, specifically loaves of bread and pizza, could you give us one simple recipe for bread or pizza?

Hahaha. I love baking. Pizza & bread are probably my favorite food. Pizza is a very simple recipe that you can make on the BBQ or in the oven at home if you have a baking stone. It’s delicious and it can be healthy if you put good stuff on it. We have a sourdough culture that we use at home, so we need to do something everyday with it or throw away a bit of it, so we try to bake at least every other day.

Quick Pizza, could be done with sourdough too if you have a starter

Dough-

1-Anytime before 2PM, Sprinkle a bit of yeast (like a teaspoon or so) on 400G of +- room temperature water.
2- Add 500G of pizza four (00 type) if you have some or just any flour to the water, a pinch of salt and knead for +-5mins
3- Let it rise for 30-60mins, Go back and knead again a few turns.
4- Let it sit for another little bit, until it +-doubles in size.
5- Take it out of the bowl, fold in a ball one last time on the counter, line a bowl with Olive oil, throw the dough ball in that olive oil lined bowl. Put in the fridge until 1h to dinner.
6- Take it out, split the dough in as many pizzas as you want to make. let it rest on the counter +-30 minutes before stretching it to a pizza!

Sauce –

1- Can of San Marzano Tomatoes. Drain the juice from the can.
2- Put the tomatoes in a bowl, break them with your hands, add a bit of salt & basil to taste and there’s your sauce.

Put in whatever you want on top of that and you have a yourself a nice pizza. I really like just the classic Margherita with a top quality fresh mozzarella on top of that sauce. Never gets old and lets you appreciate the quality of the dough and sauce 🙂

Bon appétit.

 

If you’d like to learn how to glue tubular tires from David, check out this post.