For Team Cannondale-Drapac mechanic Sam Elenes, his job couldn’t have gotten much worse. Preparing bikes for a time trial is always a complicated affair for a mechanic, but the stage 4 time trial at Paris-Nice had just become more complicated by the freezing rain that greeted Elenes that day. But he remained relaxed as usual—giving 100 percent still inspires him.
Words and images by James Startt
Peloton Magazine: Sam, how did you get into wrenching and how did you become a mechanic on a major WorldTour cycling team?
Sam Elenes: Well, I guess, like most people, sort of by accident. You have a passion for the sport and you meet someone that needs somebody to help out, and you just sort of fall into it. And before you know it, you are spending the entire year away. But every day is a learning process and you learn something new every day.
Peloton: Did you work in bike shops before you got into the team situation?
Elenes: Yeah, I was working in bike shops since secondary school. I was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Los Angeles area. The first company I worked for was InCycle Bicycles, then I worked with some smaller Continental teams and amateur teams.
Peloton: Today at Paris-Nice is the crucial time-trial stage. Is is safe to say that, from a mechanic’s point of view, this is the most stressful day of racing?
Elenes: I’d say that it could only get worse in one way, and that is if it was a team time trial. And there is only one thing worse then that—a team time trial in a split day where there is also a short road stage. But any day you have a TT stage, it can only get compounded by a certain number of factors, weather being one of them. And we have that today!
Peloton: Why is a TT particularily difficult for mechanics?
Elenes: It’s not a mass start. So you have eight riders that each need as much attention as an entire team normally would. You have eight individuals that each have their own goals for the day. They each have their own start times. Their material can be unique. It’s just a much more demanding day in terms of time, in terms of material, in terms of equipment and in terms of individual needs.
Peloton: I imagine there is a certain familiarity you have with the rider’s road bikes that you don’t necessarily have with a TT bike, because, well, you are not working on them day in and day out.
Elenes: Yes, that is correct. Unfortunately any time you work on a specialties bike, be it a TT bike or a classics bike, there are gong to be nuances. Each one is going have its subtleties. On top of that, with a TT bike, the parcours is going to impose certain factors. A normal TT bike will have a disc rear wheel with a deep dish front wheel. But today, for example, we have a traditional time trial with a 3- or 4-kilometer climb at the end. That’s a curve ball! How much time are you going to lose with a disc wheel on the climb, as opposed to how much time are you going to lose with a traditional spoked wheel on the flats? It’s going to be a bit of a trade-off. You punch in some numbers and the riders ride the course and you make a decision. But today is tricky because you really have to estimate, for example, how much time you can gain on the flats with one wheel, as opposed to how much time you will lose with it on the climb. It’s a close call.
Peloton: Do you have a say in that decision-making?
Elenes: No, we give our feedback on what will or what will not work, but ultimately the performance directors make that choice.
Peloton: What’s the biggest gear you’ve fitted to a TT bike?
Elenes: A 58 X 11. A lot of guys have used that.
Peloton: Have you seen much technology from TT bikes transferring over to road bikes?
Elenes: Yeah, sure. The aero road market didn’t exist before the TT bike became lighter and lighter. The aero road market is only the bastard child of a TT bike that has gotten lighter and less specific in terms of geometry.
Peloton: Is there a big difference in the geometry of a road and TT bike today?
Elenes: Yeah, all of it is different, in terms of a head-tube angle, a seat-tube angle, everything is different. Where you sit on the bike, how it is weighted, will all go in to determine how a bike is going to handle on a climb, on a descent, in a sprint, whereas a TT bike, you could be sitting directly over the front triangle and some of them just about do.
Peloton: What is the average seat-tube angle on a road bike today, 73 degrees?
Elenes: Yeah, somewhere in the 70s.
Peloton: And on a TT bike?
Elenes: It’s going to head closer to 90 degrees. They want to get it over the bottom bracket as much as possible.
Peloton: Best part of your job?
Elenes: Knowing that you can reciprocate. Knowing that if I give 100 percent, the riders are doing the same. It’s good to know that; we’re still a team in all regards. If the riders are giving 100 percent, I can’t give any less. It’s rewarding.
Peloton: And the hardest part of your job?
Elenes: Giving 100 percent all of the time. Sometimes we are in freezing weather like today. But the riders are giving 100 percent today, so it is the least we can do.