Portrait with Glen Leven, chief mechanic at the TdS (Team Trek-Segafredo)
Tour de Suisse: The year is almost over, how does the off-season look like for you?
Glen Leven: My last race was the Tour of Guangxi in mid-October. November is then always holiday season. On December 3rd the work for the new season started in our Service Course. We are setting up the new racing bikes and replacement bikes for the 2019 season. The training bikes on the other hand are already with the riders.
TdS: Do you change your complete set of bikes every season?
GL: Racing bikes and spare bikes are completely replaced and rebuilt with the latest innovations. Time bikes are usually ridden 2-3 seasons. For time trial specialists and leaders there are also more frequent renewals and adjustments.
TdS: With how many bikes did you ride on the Tour de Suisse?
GL: We have a minimum of 3 road bikes and 2 time trial machines per rider on tour.
TdS: And these 5 wheels are with you all year round, right?
GL: Right, these bikes are tied to the team. It can happen that we have a logistical bottleneck and ask a racer to bring his training bike as a spare bike to a one-day race. Most of the time it comes in handy for the racers; then their training bike is once again completely maintained by us mechanics.
TdS: But do all the racing bikes belong to the team?
GL: Yes, we only provide the bikes to the riders. At the end of the season or when a change is made, the bikes are returned. The racer can of course buy his bike, that’s fine. (grins)
TdS: In a stage race like the TdS, how intensively do you interact with the riders?
GL: We have a WhatsApp group of racers in the race. When I see that tomorrow there is a mountain stage, I ask the riders; do you all want your mountain bike tomorrow, with the wheels and the gear ratio – otherwise tell me what you want. It is possible that a leader or climber may want special wheels or gear ratios. We carry the Emonda (light) and the Madone (aero), so the riders can change depending on the stage.
About this WhatsApp group, the riders also inform me if there is any problem with their bike; for example, if a bottom bracket cracks or a brake slides.
TdS: What kind of special requests are you confronted with?
GL: In our job, it is also important to know the wishes of the respective drivers. At the beginning of the season it can well be that a rider comes and complains that a handlebar tape has been fitted too thickly. Someone else has the same handlebar tape too thin or too little over the handlebars.
But yes, it can happen that a rider will ask you for an Allen key before the start and will get on his saddle. At first this made me very insecure. By now I know the drivers and I know that some need this moment. (grins)
TdS: Have you already found “foreign products” on racing bikes? Are there drivers who want products from other suppliers?
GL: There are always wishes. Riders are particularly sensitive to the saddles and shoes. But Bontrager have a hundred different models of saddles, because we find one that fits every rider.
There have been riders who have asked me to ride other bikes. Then I refer them directly to the technical manager. (laughs)
TdS: I noticed at the TdS that you were driving exclusively with disc brakes.
GL: Yes, we were the first team to switch completely to disc brakes from the Tour de Suisse on. Only the time trial bikes are still equipped in the conventional way.
TdS: What has this changeover meant for you personally?
GL: Everything was new – because I had never worked with disc brakes before. But one learns quickly and I also got help and advice from colleagues.
Basically it is certainly easier now, like at the beginning of the season when we were still half/half on the road. We had to start running with two different wheels each time we crashed.
Now we are well-rehearsed from the mechanic team. We know a solution for all problems which can occur with disc brakes. We are now ahead of the other teams.
TdS: Whenever I see you leaning out of the car, trying to fix something on a driver’s bike, I can hardly look at you.
GL: It is of course always a risk. Usually we try to do 2-3 checks after a fall; a kind of troubleshooting. We fix faults, but do not make repairs from the car. If the faults cannot be rectified, we change the wheel. Then the driver is on the spare wheel, the second car goes in front and we have a short time at the side of the road. If we can repair the defect within 3-4 minutes, we will change the bike back. Otherwise, the rider has to finish the stage on the spare wheel.
TdS: Is a time trial stage a quieter working day for you mechanics?
GL: On the contrary. You have other bike setups as usual, you have to have all bikes checked at the UCI, you have the riders on the roll, then on track inspection. So it may well be that the racer wants a different gear ratio shortly before the start.
TdS: Finally, you are a passionate rider yourself – what kind of bike are you riding?
GL: I ride the Trek Emonda, not because I am a mountain climber, but simply because I prefer the classic geometry.
And I ride with disc brakes to gain experience and know where the racer is talking about when he comes to me and says the brake is grinding or something. To have this feeling and experience.
TdS: Thank you very much Glen and you then happy holidays.