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Monday, May 4, 2015

Axeon Cycling Head Mechanic Eric Fostvedt Takes Us Inside His Job, Gives Tips for the Everyday Cyclists

It’s all a matter of perspective, really. Take travel. Ask Axeon Cycling Team Head Mechanic Eric Fostvedt if he’s on the road a lot and he estimates he’s gone 150 to 200 days a year – a huge number for most people. Then he adds, “It’s not as many as most race mechanics, but it’s enough to feel like you travel. We run light race days. Our guys are so young.”

The Axel Merckx-led Axeon Cycling Team, the premier U23 development squad in men’s cycling, prepares high-potential young riders for careers on top pro teams. The team focuses on big races such as this month’s Amgen Tour of California (ATOC) where its athletes compete against the world’s best. For Fostvedt – a veteran mechanic who has worked for SRAM-supported teams for six seasons – the weeklong stage race means long hours maintaining bikes and riding in the race caravan ready to literally jump into stressful high-pressure situations.

Talk about perspective. Pro team mechanics travel and wrench bikes in extreme amounts. They have unique insight into getting the most out of equipment in any condition. Fostvedt along with fellow Axeon mechanic Zack Foley built and maintain Axeon’s flashy fleet of Cipollini RB800 framesets equipped with SRAM RED 22 components, Quarq power meters, Zipp Firecrest wheels, and Zipp Service Course SL handlebars and stems. We chatted with Eric to better understand one of the hardest jobs in pro cycling – team mechanic – and get a few tips for everyday cyclists:

Atmosphere at Axeon Cycling

“I love it. It’s so light hearted and yet I think everyone here on staff and everyone that’s involved with the program has such a deep-rooted passion for the sport and a real commitment. It creates this lighthearted fun environment but still a respect for the sport and a respect for what we’re doing and we’re trying to get better.”

Safety First, Pre and Post Ride Check

“Safety is the most important thing. I check every bolt (making sure every one is torqued to correct spec). I have a process I go through. I work from the back of the bike forward. I’ll check the derailleur, check the brake bolts, check the crank bolt, check the pedals. Once a bolt’s been torqued you can see if it’s loose. It’s not retightening everything. It’s just making sure nothing has rattled free and that everything is in its place. Brake cable fixing bolts, obviously I check those really carefully. It’s nice because we work on the bikes every day. One day a brake cable might have felt a little gummy so now today we change it.”

Life at Races Like Amgen Tour of California

“A lot of this job is preventive. You can be super stressed out in the morning if you didn’t do the work the night before. We don’t leave the equipment at night until we know it’s ready to race the next day, short of air pressure. You control the stress in that manner – be prepared. … Know you’re not going to get to the start and go, ‘Oh no, this cable is frayed.’ If something gives you an idea that it might fail in tomorrow’s race, then either fix it or replace it…. There is nothing left to risk. I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve really whittled down the stresses that I can control.”

Go Slow to Go Fast

“For me the most stressful situations are the ones in the race when something happens. When there’s a crash. ... When it’s an important moment and you need to be on the spot dealing with it. I’ve pulled the wrong bike off the top of the car before because I was going so fast. That’s a hard lesson to learn in that moment. … It’s really important to keep your composure and stay calm and breathe. Be aware of what’s going on around you. The lesson I learned from that was, here I was trying to hurry and get this guy on his spare bike but I was trying to hurry so much I gave him the wrong bike and we had to stop again. “When you pick a bike up off the ground after a crash, give it a good check. Don’t rush it because you’re worried that you’re going to shave this guy 15 or 20 seconds. After a crash it’s commonplace that we’ll get the guy back in the race.…  An extra 10 seconds or 15 seconds or even an extra minute checking this bike and making sure it’s safe so that then he doesn’t get back on it and go, ‘Oh, my wheel is broken,’ and you didn’t notice it in the first shakedown, then he has to stop again.

Keep Your Bike Clean

“First and foremost, wash your bike. Not only does it keep it clean and running well. But while you’re washing your bike you’re also putting hands on it. You’re going to notice frayed cables. You’re going to notice cracked cable housing. You’re going to notice cracks in the tires or cracks even in the frame or wherever.”

Proper Air Pressure

“Air pressure is a huge thing. A lot of people just in general don’t really pay a lot of attention to air pressure. They’re just like, ‘oh yeah that’s OK’. Clincher tires generally hold pressure longer than the tubulars we race. We air up our tires every morning. They bleed overnight. Air pressure is a huge thing. It will prevent you from getting flats. It will prevent you from folding a tire in a corner. It will prevent your tire from rolling off. If you’re running too pressure, that will make you more susceptible to punctures as well. The tire can’t conform to the debris…. Just because your tire says max 120 psi, doesn't mean you should just run 120 psi, in fact, the majority of the cycling population should live well below the 120psi mark.  We base our tire pressure decisions daily on rider weight divided by road, weather, course conditions, times the width and model of tire.  It's bit of a mad scientist equation. On our race bikes, we run anywhere from 85 to 115 psi depending on the mentioned variables. Keep in mind we have some pretty light athletes.   

Evaluate Your Fit

“You should be comfortable on the bike. After four or five hours, you’re going to have sore spots, but you should not be getting numb hands after 45 minutes. Being fit on the bike for your style of riding, you’re flexibility and your body style. … The Zipp stems and handlebars are great. We have everything at our disposal – 70 to 140mm Service Course SL stem with different degrees of angles and Service Course SL handlebars with a variety of reaches. … The everyday consumer can use their own feelings, their own sensations on the bike. They can say, ‘Oh, I feel like I’m reaching too far.’ If you feel like you’re reaching too far you’re probably reaching too far. If your saddle feels too high, your saddle is probably too high.”

High Tech, Low Hassle

“Quarq has really upped the game in the power meter department in regards to user friendliness.  From pairing with your ANT+ head unit, to something as simple as changing the battery, Quarq power meters are easier to use and more accurate and reliable than most of the competitors products across the board.  The Qalvin app is a great tool for anyone who desires a deeper understanding of how their power meter works and what is going on inside its “brain.”  With a small USB dongle, I am able to communicate with the power meters via my iPod touch and run diagnostics on each individual unit.  I can check battery life and even go as far as to recalibrate or “zero” the meters.  Power meters have become an absolutely necessary part of the cycling arsenal for anyone looking to be serious about their training and racing. Having the ability on hand to quickly diagnose and remedy problems via the Qalvin app is simply priceless for me.  Now that we don't have to use a magnet after the latest firmware update, life just got a bit easier again.”

Art of Gluing

“Obviously the tires are the only contact the rider has with the racing surface and thus I put the highest level of priority on the care, maintenance and preparation of our tires and wheels. If you are new to tubular gluing, find an experienced mechanic and beg kindly for their knowledge. Bribes of beer, coffee and cookies work well. Everybody has their own methods. Mine have been learned, tested and revised over the years, and I hold them close to my chest. If my techniques can give my guys an advantage, then I will take it. I will however offer these tips.  Keep it clean, from preparation of the surfaces, to protecting the glue layers from dust and debris during the process, you don't want anything between the rim surface and the tire but glue. Second, check your work. Once the tire has been mounted and given time to cure, deflate the tire and check your glue bond around the entirety of the wheel by peeling the tire away from the joint. No gaps or audible cracking of glue means you have a good bond. If you see gaps or hear a peeling or cracking sound, you don't have enough glue. If you see bubbles you have too much glue. Both can cause weak bonds. Finally, use the right tools.  I am constantly searching for a better gluing brush.  I prefer something about the width of my pointer finger that mates well with the rim bed (I'm currently using vent dusting brushes that I found in the auto department of a favorite hardware store).  I also transfer my glue into a ketchup bottle to apply to the tire and rim. It makes life easier and cleaner than dipping your brush into the glue can.”

Eric’s Perfect Ride

Eric loves Belgium, and if he were to ride the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Cyclo tracing the Tour of Flanders route, this is his setup:

Groupset: SRAM RED 22 with Quarq Power Meter with 172.5 crank arm, 53-39 chainrings and a 11-28 cassette… On second thought, he might opt for the 11-32 WiFLi cassette to tackle those legendary cobbled climbs

Reach Adjust: Adjust levers back for easy access to controls

Wheelset: Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubular

Handlebar: Zipp Service Course SL-88 alloy bar, 42cm

Stem: Zipp Service Course SL 120mm -6 degrees angle

Bottom Two Photos by Davey Wilson

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