Cycling was not a big sport in the former Soviet bloc country of Lithuania. And it was even harder to ride when your bike got stolen. But nothing was going to stop Mindaugas Goncaras, who was passionate about bike racing and bikes. Moving to Belgium in the 1990s Goncaras raced for 11 years as a top-flight amateur and journeyman professional. And when he was not racing, he was working on bikes, something that eventually led to his current career at the Bora-Hansgrohe team, where he is the top mechanic for two-time world champion Peter Sagan.
Words and Images by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton
Peloton Magazine: Mindaugas, how did you become a professional cycling mechanic?
Mindaugas Goncaras: Well, I come from Lithuania. It’s not a big cycling country, but I got into cycling in an original way. One day when I was just 11, my bike was stolen. A bit later there was a race in my city and the first prize was a bike. So I borrowed a bike and signed up. I was just 11 years old. I ended up finishing second, so I still had no bike. But a local coach saw me race and gave me a chance to come ride for his team.
I raced for 11 years at a high level, three years as a professional, but mostly as an amateur in Belgium. I raced in Belgium for the first time when I was 16. I moved here in 1997 because there were just so many races. I knew I could race almost every day and pick the races that suited me. I wasn’t really a sprinter, but I never waited for the sprints and often got into breakaways.
Then I turned professional in 1999 with the Ipso team. But even after I was no longer a professional I continued to race as an amateur. I still rode all of the Belgian kermesse races that were often open to amateurs. And I still did well. Looking back, I think I never had a real chance. I was just doing what I knew what to do. But at that level you really need someone to guide you.
Peloton: And how did you get into wrenching?
Goncaras: From the very beginning I always loved working on my bike. After I stopped racing in 2008 I worked in a post office and in my free time I would help my friends with their bikes. Then in 2010 I got a job with RadioShack and stayed with them for four years. In 2015 I went to Tinkoff and last year I was with the Israel Cycling Academy team. During the classics Peter asked me if I would like to join him on his new team in 2017. I knew him from Tinkoff and we worked well together. I said yes right away, although I didn’t know if it would really happen. But then he called me in June or July and said all was good.
Peloton: What is it like working with Peter?
Peloton: Well, you’ve worked with a lot of great riders on teams like RadioShack and Tinkoff. Some riders are really focused on their bikes, while others not so much….
Goncaras: Peter is very relaxed when all is good! No, he’s pretty easy really. But he can be very focused. Personally, he doesn’t ask me to do a lot of adjustments, perhaps because he is happy with my work.
Peloton: And what about his bikes? I’ve seen him ride both the S-Works Tarmac and Venge.
Goncaras: Mostly, he rides the Tarmac, but on some courses he rides the Venge because it is a very fast bike. He really likes it on the flatter races. Mostly though he tends to prefer the Tarmac. He really needs to have the exact position on both bikes and he can feel the slightest millimeter of difference. He really pays a lot attention to his position and then he often talks with the performace manager on the team about a particular setup—you know, wheel choice or the frame choice.
Peloton: Does he change his setup often?
Goncaras: It all depends on the race, if it is flat stage or a climbing stage. I would say that he changes wheels a fair amount. That said, I would say that most of the time he prefers a 50mm Roval wheel.
Peloton: What is the most satisfying thing about working with Peter?
Goncaras: I think his personality. He’s a great champion, but also a great man. He’s always very thankful. It’s a pleasure to work with him.
Peloton: And you get to celebrate victory with him a lot. Do you feel part of those victories in some way?
Goncaras: Me personally, no. For me, it is the riders and the tactics that win the race. The mechanic is a part of it, but a small part.
Peloton: What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Goncaras: I just like to work on bikes. I just love it!
Peloton: What is the hardest part about your job?
Goncaras: Well, there are a lot of long days. Sometimes you are really tired, but you still have to do your job 100 percent.