Christmas is one of the rare occasions a ProTeam mechanic spends at home.
Days on the road and at the service course are plentiful. The hours are long and the work is hard. The festive break is as welcomed as much by the men with the spanners as those pedaling.
The strain on family life can be intense. Kurt Roose, mechanic with Etixx-QuickStep since 2009, may face his final season on the road in 2016, but his marriage is more important.
“I married in September and took the decision in November that I would go to the races, but I said I would only do it for five years, and I am in the fourth part of that already,” he said when we interviewed him on the eve of the 2015 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Luckily for Roose, cycling is a passion shared by his entire family. He is a former racer and his wife and children ride too. But he is keenly aware of the importance of family unity.
“When she says, it’s too much for me at home, then I must stop, because the end is quick,” he smiled, before adding: “But not yet.”
Roose and his colleagues spend 180 days each year on the road. When they aren’t travelling with the team, there is work at the service course to take care of. Of the eight mechanics employed full-time by EQS, as many as half of them could be working at the team’s logistical HQ in Wevelgem, depending on the time of year.
Such dedication is essential, espeically for a team that specialises in races that place the greatest demand on the machinery. The Northern Classics, which frequently combine cobbles with bad weather, offer no hiding place for poor maintenance.
“You feel you must make something on the cobble stone Classics, otherwise we are not good,” Roose said. “We are always on the podium for the Classics, but when you don’t win, you have critics. There is only the victory. The winner takes it all, eh?”
He is used to working under pressure. As a teenager, Roose worked in the local bike shop of Johan Museeuw. The Lion of Flanders would call in with any of his fleet of road, ‘cross and mountain bikes, and Roose would set to work.
His breakthrough into the peloton came via a different route, however. His boss at the shop had a friend on the TVM team of Bo Hamburger, Tristan Hoffman and Servais Knaven. When one of the mechanics was unable to attend the now defunct Haribo Classic, Roose got the call. He hasn’t looked back.
There have been numerous technical changes since Roose began his career, when each rider was given a single bike and changed his tyres only for Paris-Roubaix.
“Now we have an entire bike for every type of race. It’s more work and it’s more complicated, but at the end of the day when you have a passion, that’s all that matters. You must work two or three hours or days more, but the return that you have from the riders, that they are happy, is everything.”
A little gratitude goes a long way in Roose’s book – figuratively and literally. Niki Terpstra made him ‘controller’ of his tyre pressures. Roose has the 2014 Roubaix winner’s tyre data logged in a book. Zdenek Stybar took the trouble to text his thanks after finishing second at this year’s Roubaix. His gesture has not gone unnoted.
The seasonal break for riders and mechanics will be brief. Etixx-QuickStep will reassemble on the Costa Blanca early in the New Year, for the business of team presentations and early season training.
Soon after, some of Roose’s colleagues will be despatched to far flung corners of the globe, either to the Tour Down Under or to the early season desert races, while those who remain in Belgium are likely to be inveigled in equipment testing for the Classics (see Issue 57), specifically the optimisation of tyre pressures.
The mechanic’s life is not an easy one, filled with long days and, often, with longer nights. At Christmas, Roose and his colleagues will take their ease, for a few days at least. Cycling’s travelling show relies on its technicians as much as its performers, as Roose will know better than most.