The View From The Pit

With the Wausau 24 and the Salsa Two-Four both approaching, we felt a 24-hour inspired post would be appropriate. Today's blog post actually comes from Salsa sponsored rider Danielle Musto's husband, Scott Chambers. Scott is Danielle's chief pit crew person and he's got a wealth of knowledge to share. -Kid

All of the best 24 Hour solo racers don’t race alone. They have a support team. Sometimes it’s a friend, a mechanic or simply a courageous soul who volunteered to “help out” and doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into. While they don’t put in the effort on the bike that their solo racers do, they are sometimes putting in a longer day. And they’re often nearly as exhausted when the race is over.

I’ve supported Danielle Musto at every 24-hour mountain bike race that she’s ever competed in. Over the past decade that includes three World Championships and three National Championships and countless other races all over North America. Every race has been a challenge and an adventure. But every one of them started with a plan and weeks of preparation.

Scott waits for Danielle to come in from a night lap...

When Danielle preps for a 24-hour event she spends weeks or even months following a training plan to get her to that race physically prepared. In the lead up to the race we also have to prep her gear, which includes her Salsa bikes, Nite Rider lights and a literal truckload of equipment. Danielle is lucky enough to be supported by Ada Bike Shop, a Salsa dealer in Southwest Michigan. In the weeks prior to the race, Ted, Ada’s head mechanic, will prep the bikes that Danielle intends to ride for that race. Ted’s prep work might include everything from adjusting suspension on Danielle’s Spearfish to mounting the specific Kenda tires that Danielle has selected to ride for that race.

The mechanical support doesn’t end at the shop. For Danielle’s “A” races, Ted usually comes along to provide mechanical support during the race. At Danielle’s last National Championship race she switched bikes every two laps, whether the bike was functioning properly or not. Ted would spend 30-60 minutes washing, tuning and prepping the bike for the next bike switch. At the beginning of every other lap Danielle had a showroom-ready bike waiting for her. Danielle has been very lucky to have never suffered a mechanical while racing in a 24-hour event. The reason for that has been a meticulous focus on her bikes.

Quick check for any issues...

When Danielle first started racing we learned from other top 24-hour racers like Mark Hendershot and Chris Eatough. Both of them came to races prepared, they stayed on their bikes the entire race without taking a break, and made sure that they had a pit crew that treated their role in the race the way that a NASCAR or Formula One crew would. During the race all the racer should be doing is riding. It’s the pit crew’s job to worry about everything else.

During the race Ted works on wrenching Danielle’s bikes, and I follow a checklist in the pit area. On each and every lap Danielle has a prescribed food and liquid plan. It is my job to ensure that her Hydrapak is filled and ready, and that she gets the right number of gels in her flask. I also ensure that Danielle gets quick updates each lap on her lead or deficit to other riders, her lap splits and reminders of upcoming gear changes (such as bike switches or when we’ll be mounting lights for night riding). If she gets negative and starts worrying aloud or getting off her plan I have to keep her going. Once she’s out on the course, each lap becomes a series of steps through the checklist. It can become repetitive. Sometimes, like the solo racers, I lose track of where I am and what I’m doing, including the time and what lap we are on. I often have to refer to the checklist just to know what I’m supposed to do next, even after I’ve done it 15 or 20 times before. As each lap goes by I also keep notes in a log. We review those notes after the race, and sometimes Danielle’s coach reviews them.

Taking care of business...

At the beginning of every 24-hour race it feels like the race will never end. Most of these races start at noon on a Saturday. That means race day for me starts at 5 or 6 AM. I usually go the race venue early that day to set up the pit area. That includes our Salsa tent, chairs, tables, coolers, tools, etc. We even travel with a deep cycle battery pack and lights for working in the pit area at night. After that it’s back to the hotel to make breakfast for the pit crew. Eventually it’s time to wake Danielle up, feed her and get her to the start not more than an hour before.

The worst time for everyone is just after midnight. It’s the point when the pit areas become the quietest, and the race course becomes less crowded. That’s when all the adrenaline has worn off and real fatigue sets in. The solo riders are usually the most tired just after the 12-hour mark. If there’s going to be any negativity, any chance of Danielle getting off the race plan, it’s going to happen between midnight and 2 AM. While Danielle is one of the most driven pros in ultra racing, occasionally even she will roll into the pit in the middle of the night and ask whether she can stop for “just a minute” to drink a coffee. The answer is always no. It’s my job to keep her moving. I’ve been to a lot of 24-hour races and watched some of the best pro riders in the world throw down amazing performances from noon until dusk, only to see them curled up on the ground in their pit area at midnight, or sitting in a camp chair wrapped in a blanket staring at the premature end of their race. I tell everybody that in 24-hour racing the race really begins at midnight.

And she's out again...

At the end of the race, when Danielle can finally get off her bike, I get her to a shower, get her a recovery meal and then I spend the next hour or two breaking down the pit area. All of her bikes, gear, tents, tools, etc. all have to be cleaned and packed up. Then, if all went well during the race it’s time for a podium photo. While most of the time the race is over between noon and 1 PM on the second day, I often don’t get to bed until later in the evening on Sunday. At the World Championships in Whistler one year, it rained for 36 hours straight. After getting Danielle down the mountain to the hotel, I had to clean her bikes, wash all her gear and pack everything into our shipping crates so we would be able to make our 7 AM flight out of Vancouver on Monday morning. On that occasion I was awake for 40 hours straight and I got only five hours of sleep in three days.

While it can be grueling to work the solo pits at a 24-hour race, it’s also very rewarding. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when Danielle finishes the race. And there’s nothing like seeing Danielle climb the podium, more than an entire day after the race started. There’s also a great feeling of community in the solo pit areas at many 24-hour events, such as the Salsa Two-Four. It’s a kind of community you only find in cycling, hundreds or thousands of like minded people coming together to accomplish something positive. That little community of tents and camp chairs and RVs pops up out of nowhere in a field or a parking lot somewhere. It’s there for just the weekend. Then it’s gone. And before you know it, it’s time to start planning for the next race.

Many thanks to Scott for sharing this insider's view from the pits. -Kid

This post filed under topics: Danielle Musto Guest Blogger Sponsored Riders Ultra Racing

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cmherron | July 20th, 2011

This is great information.  I have been toying with the idea of riding a 24hr solo or at least as a 2-person team.  I was inspired by the riding of Kris Cannon of Honey Stinger at last years 24 Hours in the Sage at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, CO.  I passed her on every one of my laps and she always had a smile.  I would politely let her know that I was rolling up behind her, exchange a quick hello, and keep on spinning.  She almost always had someone riding with her at a nice casual pace and I thought to myself, “that looks like it would be fun”.  Now I understand a bit more about how these riders are able to compete for 24hrs straight: a good team to help them and a positive attitude.  When I eventually take the solo 24hr test, I will remember these insights.  Thanks!

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George Budd | July 21st, 2011

From a rider’s perspective, I’ve often thought that being the pit crew is harder than actually racing in some respects - especially if the weather is bad.  At least on a team the riders get some sleep - our pit crew usually is up like Scott, for 24hrs straight - planning strategies, washing bikes, checking time gaps…  It really is a whole team effort. 

Now it’d be great to get Danielle and some of the other Salsa USA riders over to the UK for the Mountain Mayhem 24hr race in 2012 and team up with us in the Salsa UK team.  I’m sure we could find room in our EZ-Up village…

Salsa UK team

Danielle | July 21st, 2011

I completely agree with you George. My first experience with 24 hour racing was as a pit crew person (for Scott) and it was NOT FUN! From that moment on I decided that I would start racing solo so that I wouldn’t have to pit anymore :-)

PS. Racing in the UK for the Mountain Mayhem would be a blast!!!

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George Budd | July 21st, 2011

I like it - you decided riding for 24hrs would be easier!!

Maybe we need to start asking around then I you’re keen - 2012 will come round quickly…


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Tim Ek | July 23rd, 2011

U.K. Sounds great to me!!!

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