Bringing the Passion
“I love my job.” It may sound cliché, but TWENTY16 team mechanic Ralph Medloff means every word of it. The German mechanical engineer has spent the last 11 years in the United States with nine of those years dedicated to working on pro race bikes. This year he’s with TWENTY16 RIDEBIKER powered by SHO-AIR, and he couldn’t be happier. While the perpetually upbeat young women on the team are responsible for much of Ralph’s positive outlook, the other big motivator is his passion for the sport.
“Our creativity and our ideas are about getting the athletes to their goals, since we are backing them up. If you love what you do and have the passion for it from your side and you help them to reach their goals where they can just focus on what they are doing, that’s what I love the most… These girls have often so much passion and see it from a different angle than the whole men’s field, and that’s what I love, bringing the passion.”
At the team’s preseason camp in Encinitas, Calif., Ralph’s passion is evident in the way he works. He’s a flurry of constant activity and nervous energy. Yet every move is focused on the task at hand: making sure the team riders never give their bikes a second thought.
In order to give you a better idea of what a pro team mechanic’s life is like, we spent a day of the team camp with Ralph and have a breakdown of his day below.
7:00-8:00 a.m. Ralph rolls all of the time trial bikes out of the tightly packed team trailer to keep them out of the way while he accesses the team’s road training bikes. He then checks over each bike: inflating tires, inspecting chains, ensuring that derailleurs are still shifting well after being tightly packed in the trailer the night before.
8:00-8:15 a.m. Ralph sets a couple of riders on the trainer so that the team can double-check their fit and position. Thankfully for Ralph, no changes are required.
8:15-9:00 a.m. Reserving 45 minutes before every team ride for small adjustments is a critical. During this time riders constantly flow in and out of his work area requesting small adjustments to brakes, handlebars, and brake-lever reach. One rider needs a fresh battery for her Quarq power meter. In seconds, Ralph has a battery in one hand while the other is twirling off the battery cover. At the same time he fields questions from General Manager Nicola Cranmer and Assistant Team Director Adam Pulford, who want to get him up to speed on the video shoot happening that day. Nearby videographers change camera batteries, affix tripods, and buzz around capturing short vignettes to use as B-roll.
Then former pro Dave Zabriskie shows up. He’s at the camp to ride with the girls and give a presentation on his chamois cream, DZ’s Nuts. Zabriskie makes the rounds and says hello to everyone, but Ralph never misses a beat and goes right on working without distraction.
9:00 a.m. Before the ride rolls out, Adam Pulford gives a quick speech on the primary purpose of the ride – shooting video - but encourages riders not to take it easy.
9:10-11:30 a.m. While the girls are out riding Ralph catches a short breather before changing out pedals on all of the team’s TT bikes to new Speedplay Zero Aero pedals. When he’s done, a mound of red Speedplay Zero pedals lay next to his work stand.
11:30-3:00 p.m. Riders return from the video shoot. Ralph continues working on the team’s TT bikes, some of which are being worked on for the first time since the end of last season. Medloff replaces worn derailleur cables, brake cables, chainrings, and handlebar tape. He says that he loves working on SRAM and Zipp components because, “There’s a lot of simplicity in SRAM and Zipp that I like.” Ralph takes a quick break from his work on Jennifer Tetrick’s bike to help Janelle Cole get set up on the trainer to have her position checked over by Pulford.
At noon Sophia Arreola stops in to tell Medloff that her new road bike fits perfectly. Medloff smiles and gives a knowing look. Through a combination of vast experience and a bit of luck, Medloff set up Sophia’s bike without any fit dimensions supplied to him. Now he’ll work backwards and measure the bike’s saddle and handlebar position to record it on the team’s fit spreadsheet.
While the team has lunch and sits through a hilarious sponsor presentation from Dave Zabriskie that involves a demonstration of his chamois cream applied to a pair of bib shorts worn by an inflatable doll, Medloff keeps working. At 2:30 Nicola brings him a plate of leftover rice noodles, spinach, and raw veggies from lunch. He takes a forkful from the plate before setting it down so that he can work while he chews.
3:00-3:10 p.m. We’re able to get Ralph to stop working long enough to grant a 10-minute interview. It’s during this time that he explains why he loves his job so much and how when he lays down at night solutions to mechanical problems often come to mind. But he’s also honest about the stresses of the job:
“You don’t always have the perfect tool or the perfect equipment around. You have to be just a bit more flexible. You have to take a lot of stress in certain situations, you can’t walk away from certain situations and you just have to deal with that and have a clear head...”
3:10-5:30 p.m. Ralph has intentions of gluing tires to the team’s Zipp 404 and 303 Firecrest Tubular wheels, but he gets bogged down prepping Jennifer Tetrick’s TT cockpit. A fit change requires a different armrest setup, removing the extensions, and replacing the derailleur cables.
5:30-7:30 p.m. Nicola informs Ralph that it’s time for the team’s dinner, but Ralph begs off. Too much work to do. Even if he took a break it would take a half an hour to get all of the bikes back into the garage. When the team learns of his predicament they all band together to pull the bikes into the garage in minutes so that Ralph can enjoy a nice meal with the team.
By the end of the day he’s ready for a well-earned early bedtime. Whether solutions to mechanical conundrums will come to him while laying in bed tonight remains unclear. But what is certain however, it that he’ll wake up with the same passion for serving the TWENTY16 Cycling Team that he did today.
Sleep well, Ralph, you have another big day ahead.