Tech Feature: SRAM neutral race support, October 23, 2007
SRAM's neutral race support program has helped countless racers in North America and Europe since its inception in 2006, and now hopes to have a similar impact with a sister operation in Australia. Mikkeli Godfree sits down with SRAM to see where things are headed in the coming months.
In an Australia-first, SRAM neutral race support (SRAM NRS) had its first outing supporting the 2007 Jayco Herald-Sun Tour. The company who doesn't like to do things by halves is riding on the back of its success in the European and US pro peloton by setting out to run the best neutral support Australia has ever seen - one which would rival the best in the world.
SRAM is hoping to make 'red' the colour most associated with neutral support instead of yellow (ie, that French wheel company), and has dumped a considerable amount of time, experience, passion and coin into its NRS program to help it achieve that goal. While that outcome remains to be seen, it is at least safe to say that the days where neutral spares consists of some stock-standard bikes and a bunch of pretty good wheels are now well in the past.
SRAM has initially fitted its Australian NRS program with 10 carbon bikes, naturally kitted out with full Red groupsets as well as 20 sets of Zipp carbon wheels (whom SRAM has recently acquired). Since you can't just jam this stuff in the back of a van, SRAM will cover the race with two Hyosung GT650s motorcycles and two Volvo wagons (an XC70 and a V50).
"People think SRAM is a new company but forget that we started in road and tri twenty years ago," said Rob Eva of SRAM Australia at the tour depart in Bendigo. "SRAM is as much about support as the product and that's why the launch of SRAM Red this year coincides with us showing our support on the ground here with the NRS program."
"We are really providing the full package here in terms of support, we've even brought along Soul Kitchen to provide the riders with coffee before and after the race - all they need to do is race!"
SRAM has tapped into the experience of some well-seasoned road veterans to help run the new program, including Kristjan Snorrason who will run the road/tri event support this season, while Carl Wilson headed support vehicles for the Herald-Sun Tour with assistance from Michele Primaro and Stephen Nash.
Snorrason has raced in the United States of America, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and beyond, but is now happy to be providing the kind of service he would have wanted as a racer. "Basically, we want to help boost the level of professionalism in Australian cycling," he said. "Our Aussie riders are doing a great job both here and overseas and we are happy to step up alongside them and take the support models from the US and Europe and apply them here."
Wilson - father of Jittery Joe's-Zero Gravity pro Trent - brings an enormous amount of experience to the program with 18 Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classics, 10 Herald-Sun Tours, six Tours de France, and two Giros d'Italia under his belt. The elder Wilson is similarly pleased to be throwing his experience behind a program which aims to do things properly. "This week we have the people, equipment and experience to ensure that no one is disadvantaged by getting a puncture or mechanical - it has to be the best quality neutral spares ever at an Australian race," noted Wilson at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
In talking to Wilson, one gets the sense that he can deal with nearly any situation that might arise during a race. "In the Tour de France you're driving two-abreast at 80 kph down skinny mountain roads hitting mirrors with journos throwing up in the back and a rider trying to pass on the inside, so I think this week will be pretty straightforward," he laughed.
While it remains to be seen how the program will fare over the coming months and years, one thing for sure: the SRAM NRS team has a lot of faith in Australian cycling and its ability to support one of its premier events by making sure riders aren't disadvantaged by having a puncture or mechanical.