September 30/08 9:30 am - Following Svein Tuft ...
Posted by Editor on 09/30/08
Following Svein Tuft ... Varase, Italy 2008 World Championships
Chad Grochawina was the Canadian national team mechanic for the 2008 Road World Championships in Varese, Italy. More specifically, he was the guy who had to make the split second decision about how to deal with Svein Tuft's flat front tire during the men's time trial, when Svein was in the lead! Chad has provided us with a personal account of following Svein during his silver medal ride.
It was a pretty exciting day for Canada here in Italy at the 2008 Road Cycling World Championships. Rob Jones has asked me to write a brief summary of what it was like in the car following Svein for his Time Trial.
Coming off a stellar ride in the TT in Beijing, I knew Svein was going to have a good ride here in Italy. Finishing his warm up in the Canada tent he mentioned to me that he had 'good sensations'. Not the first time I've heard that from him, as he said the same thing in Beijing.
I've been in the follow car hundreds of times and usually after the first couple of km's everything becomes routine; the athletes settle into their rhythm and I begin to write down the split times for the coach to relay up to the athlete. This day however started off a bit different. The TT course here in Varase was tailored to a true time trial specialist.
It was by far the most technically challenging course I've ever been on. For the first part of the race there were uphills and downhills (to which Svein spun out a 56-11 at 93 km/h!) and many sharp, +90 degree narrow turns. I must admit that I was nervous; Svein was riding top speed and pushing his bike to it's limit. I was hoping the 20mm tires were going to give him all the cornering traction he needed.
We knew after the first time check that he was going well. He had the fastest split by several seconds. Next came the second time split to which he still had the best time. Jacky Hardy, the men's road coach, was beginning to stress; Svein chose to ride without a radio and he needed to know how well he was going. We managed to relay the info to him by screaming as loud as possible from the car and fortunately he heard.
The remainder of the TT was exciting for us in the car. All the top TT riders were out on the course and Svein was still leading them through the first and second time splits.
Around km 39 the excitement changed to stress. A certain 'explicative' was yelled from [team manager] Vincent Jourdain as we watched Svein smash into a raised manhole cover through the apex of a really tight right-hand turn. I saw his bike bounce off the cover and figured something was wrong.
As we rounded the corner we saw Svein getting off his bike. From a mechanic's perspective, this is when things get interesting. I didn't know what the problem was but assumed a flat tire. Because there were only a few km's left to race and Svein's time was definitely podium potential, I had to make a judgement call.
The rule of thumb (when we don't have a spare TT bike) is typically to change the wheel if it's early in the race and change the bike if it's late in the race. The problem was the spare bike was Svein's road bike and his TT bike was next to impossible to do a fast wheel change on (rear entry dropouts and a fancy aero fork that made putting wheels into fairly slow).
The fastest thing I could do was put him on his spare bike and give him a really big push. Once back in the car I couldn't help but second guess my decision. However, at the end of the day the spare bike is always the fastest. Fortunately, the remainder of the course was tight, twisty and technical once again, and his road bike (set up with a disc and tri-spoke) was definitely more agile then a TT rig.
He was still on top of the gear and the car speedo was above 50 km/h for the rest of the race. It was a stellar ride and a fantastic day for Svein despite the puncture!! Still having finished ahead of TT specialists like Zabriski and Leipheimer, Svein's ride was one for the record books; Canada's first [men's] medal at a World Championship since 1984!!