SRAM’s Road Runners
Head to the start of the Tour de France July 4 in the Netherlands and – amid the chaotic moving mass that is the world’s biggest bike race – you may just spot Jason Phillips and Thorsten Wilhelms.
Here’s a hint to recognizing them – they’re two extremely busy 40-something guys wearing SRAM gear.
Jason and Thorsten, based in Germany, are part of the SRAM’s Road Sports Marketing team that serves as tech liaisons to sponsored pro road, track and cyclocross teams and triathletes. (Colleagues Dan Stefiuk and Richard Breininger focus on athletes and events primarily in North America.) They’re among our closest staff members to pro athletes and mechanics. They help the pros get the most out of their SRAM components, Zipp wheels and Quarq power meters while also seeking feedback from riders and mechanics to continuously improve products. Jason, of Australia, and Thorsten, of Germany, are both former pro racers themselves. At this year’s Tour de France they’ll be helping to support AG2R LA MONDIALE. We spoke with Jason and Thorsten to learn more about their behind-the-scenes work:
SRAM's Jason Phillips riding recently with Sir Bradley Wiggins of Team Wiggins in England. Photo credit: ©Balint Hamvas CyclePhotos.
Top photo - Thorsten Wilhelms preps AG2R LA MONDIALE bikes, ©BrakeThrough Media.
When did you start racing bikes?
Jason: I started racing when I was 10, my dad owned the local bike shop and both my older brothers raced, so I was pretty born into it.
Thorsten: When I was 6 I did my first beginner race. From the first minute I took off my fenders and assembled a road race HB. My biggest problem until the age of 10 was to find a small road bike…wheels with 24” and the saddle on the top tube.
Thorsten, in 1978, has his number pinned on and ready to roll on those 24" wheels.
In what ways do you interact most with pro cycling teams or triathletes? Do you attend team camps and races and consult with team mechanics?
Jason: All of the above. Our season never ends. We are already preparing for the next season when the current season is only half done. Team camps, early races, major races, service course visits and training the team techs are all part of our work.
Thorsten: Before the season starts we try to teach the mechanics at their service course or at team training camps in the winter. In the best case, they visit us in Schweinfurt, Germany, to train them and show them SRAM’s European Development and Training Center (EDTC) to get them closer to our products, company and vision. We visit them at the training camps and before the important races. Before the Tour de France, for example, we meet the guys three to four days before the race to check the bikes, get feedback of our products and to build our relationship with the team.
Staff from SRAM's Road Sports Marketing spend time throughout the year with sponsored teams and athletes. ©BrakeThrough Media.
In working with pro cyclists, are there any big differences between what men and women riders are requesting?
Jason: Not really. The women generally have shorter cranks but not much else is different.
Thorsten: The mechanics and riders on the women’s teams are good listeners and want to benefit from our instruction. For both men’s and women’s teams, we have to increase their trust…. Our service to them and availability helps a lot for us to work toward the same goals. Among riders, you´ll find those who are really interested in technology and some who are more focused on trainings methods. In recent years the interest in technology is growing as riders look to push their performance to the best level.
In what ways have you seen pro cyclists or triathletes use their Quarq power meters? In training? In race situations? Are they very curious about how to better use power data?
Jason: Power meters are standard equipment for pro athletes these days with 99 percent of all race, time trial, and training bikes of our athletes equipped with a Quarq power meter. Training programs and even race tactics are based on power data.
Thorsten: For triathletes, the Quarq power meter is pretty important for the races to find their rhythm and to go not over their limits.For pro cyclists, the Quarq power meter is a must-have in training for recovery and intervals and to increase the power limit. All UCI WorldTeams are working with a coach who needs the data of riders when they do their training at home. They are also pretty excited about the Qalvin app (for power meter zeroing, diagnostics, calibration changes and firmware upgrades).
Jason and Thorsten's toolbox includes Quarq's Qalvin app. Checking AG2R LA MONDIALE includes making sure Quarq power measurement is dialed in and up to date with firmware. ©BrakeThrough Media
What sort of product feedback do you seek from pro athletes riding SRAM, Zipp and Quarq equipment?
Jason: We are interested in ergonomics, control, speed of shifting, braking power and modulation, wheel-ride feel and stiffness.
Thorsten: What they like and what they miss on shifting performance: speed, handling, quality and accuracy. If they use all our features and brake lever adjustment (with SRAM Reach Adjust). If we can do anything to help them find the best and most comfortable position on the bike.
Jason glues tires for SRAM-supported pros before last year's Ironman® World Championship in Hawaii. ©BrakeThrough Media
Describe a typical day for you at a big race like a Tour de France stage, Tour of Flanders or Kona Ironman® World Championship?
Jason: The great thing about our job is that everyday is different. Race days are always long and busy. When you look at Kona where we add neutral support to our pro athlete service, we are going from 3:30am until midnight.
Thorsten: At a race like the Tour de France, we talk to riders, mechanics, team boss, etc., to get feedback and see what support, material and service we can provide. We spend a lot time with the mechanics to help and teach for and answer technical questions. We need to find the right way for our communication so we don´t annoy the mechanics. We work to have our products looking and working perfectly so that all pro riders are happy and proud to ride with SRAM and Zipp!
Jason Phillips racing at the Tour de Swiss 2001.
Thosten, shown above winning Stage 5 of the 2002 Tour of Qatar, now expresses his love and passion for cycling through his work with SRAM. Photo below ©BrakeThrough Media
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? A big race win? Something else?
Jason: Winning is great, but having athletes and mechanics smiling and happy with our product is even better.
Thorsten: When the riders and mechanics fall in love with our products and talk at interviews by themselves about the performance of SRAM’s technology and innovation.
Of all the places you’ve visited as a SRAM techie, tell us the one place you’d pick for a vacation ride… And tell us what bike setup you’d pick for that ride.
Jason: I’ve been lucky enough to do Levi’s GranFondo in Northern California a few times. It’s a great event and spectacular course. For this I’d choose RED 22 with Hydraulic Disc Brakes, 52x36t rings, 11-26t cassette, Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubular Disc-brake wheels with 27mm Zipp Tangente SLSpeed tubular tires along with a Zipp Service Course SL-80 handlebar and 120mm SL Sprint stem.
Thorsten: I did the Trois Etapes in the Alpes in France two times for World Bicycle Relief as the team leader of a group of fun riders. We did in one day the Col du Télégraphe, Croix de la Fer and L'Alpe d'Huez. I used SRAM RED 22 crank 53x39t rings with a WiFLi 11-32 cassette. I rode the Zipp 303 Firecrest with a Zipp Service Course SL Stem and Service Course SL-88 handlebar and SRAM RED 22 Power Meter from Quarq to tell my teammates that they started to fast and strong the long climbs. My target was that all guys with different (riding) levels feel perfect to ride their own speed and enjoy this event. For descents, the Zipp 303 or 404 Firecrest are like magic!