The Giro Rosa saw Kiwis Mikayla Harvey and Deborah Paine successfully navigate their way around their first outing at women cycling’s biggest stage race on the calendar. Every rider needs a great background staff crew around them, and Deborah Paine will likely argue that in her mechanic she has the best.
Steffan Fuller, Kiwi mechanic for Cogeas Mettler at the Giro Rosa, also happens to be Deborah’s boyfriend. He had a unique take on what it was like to be witnessing the biggest race in the calendar, and had a unique role in Deborah and the team getting through ten days of some of the hardest racing in their careers. We got to catch up with him during the race, with two days of racing remaining:
RC: First of all, you have a different position at the highest level of cycling to our Kiwi riders as mechanic, and a mechanic at the biggest race on the calendar with the Giro Rosa. Overall what has your experience been like working in a behind-the-scenes capacity at the tour?
Steffan: Yes, mechanics definitely do have a very different job than the riders, and it’s just as important as a riders job. Having a smooth, efficient and reliable bike can be the difference between winning and losing. The job is always full on, but it takes on a whole new level in World Tour racing. I really enjoy the behind-the-scenes work in the sport, I get to work alongside some of the best riders (and mechanics) in the world, and being staff on the team means I get to see how much organisation and work goes into bringing a team together, not just in preparation for a tour, but during it, all the staff work exceptionally hard here, but there is always time for some friendly banter and good conversations between other teams and also within the team.
RC: Describe how your morning unfolds as a mechanic at the Giro.
Steffan: My day starts with an early breakfast before I head out to bring the bikes out from the storage area in the hotel, lube the chains, check the brakes, headset, wheels, and bolts, to make sure it is all secure and in perfect, pristine condition. Then it’s onto loading the bikes onto the back of our team van, and putting spare bikes and wheels on the roof of the team car.
When we arrive, it’s time to take the bikes off the back of the van, double check brakes, and pump up the riders’ wheels, and then the spares.
Then it’s time to prepare the car for the race. The toolbox, spare wheels and a chilly bin with ice cold bidons are placed next to my seat in the car. I keep a map of the spare bikes on the roof too, so I know which rider needs which bike on the roof (out of 4).
RC: Do you find that the role of mechanic is particularly intense throughout the day or that some days, because of the type of stage, are easier than others?
Steffan: I think the intensity is relatively even throughout the day, in the car I find it hard to relax, I have to be ready to perform a speedy wheel change or a bike change at any second, so being alert and listening to the race radio is a must. Also, arriving back at the hotel late in the evening is another full on part of the day, a full bike wash and service is on the menu, and it’s up to me to make sure those tasks are complete and satisfactory to my standards and also the rider’s.
I would say my job doesn’t really change given the nature of the stage. In Cogeas-Mettler, we have one model of bike for this race, so (for example) changing to an aero bike isn’t an option, so that does make my job a little easier! My job in any stage is to be ready to do everything and anything within 20secs notice, so that stays the same, whatever stage it is!
RC: With girlfriend Deborah Paine being in amongst the team, how much input and encouragement do you find yourself having into Deborah’s racing aside from the practical assistance as mechanic? Do you quite vocally get alongside Deborah through the race, pick her up if she’s had a bad day etc or do you generally try to keep calm and quiet unless required sort of thing?
Steffan: Deborah and I work together to help each other up in any situation in life, and that carries on into this team. Being on the same team is great, we can spend time together and debrief together after every stage, which is really cool. I can be there for her on the hard days, but she has a great attitude, so getting her head out of the gutter is a rare occurrence! If I can say a few words of encouragement over the radio, I will definitely get alongside her and encourage her, but sometimes screaming out of the window can break the calm, collected and (as much as possible) stress-free race environment that the team works so hard to build. So a few calm words down the radio is the way to go! Otherwise, I try to not be too much of a distraction, but prefer to let her get the job done and focus on the team plan, and getting our end goal achieved.
RC: How have Cogeas-Mettler got on at the Giro so far? With two stages remaining the team have just three riders left in the race with Deborah, Antri Christoforou and Olga Deyko. Is that affecting the kind of race that they can execute day by day?
Steffan: The team has done well so far, we have had a few setbacks which has disheartened the riders, but the staff are very good at picking them up and encouraging them to keep going, and keep aiming high. Obviously we have less firepower now, but we do the absolute best we can with the remaining riders, and keep our minds focused on the races ahead and the finish line!
Deborah Paine went on to finish her first Giro Rosa, finishing 77th overall; the highest placed of all Cogeas-Mettler Pro Cycling riders.