At a recent Giant Factory Off-Road Team training camp in Tehachapi, California, Cyclingnews took a tour of the team's race rig as mechanics finished setting up the team's equipment for the forthcoming mountain bike season.
While the team may focus on racing during the spring and summer months, the mechanics and managers focus their preseason time on procuring equipment, performing initial bike builds and helping riders get sorted with their new gear.
"I think we build about 40 bikes throughout the year. Sometimes they are race bikes, sometimes prototype bikes," said Joe Staub, who doubles as the team manager for the downhill part of the team and head mechanic for both the downhillers and the domestic cross country team.
Staub and mechanic Justin Morse had just returned from Idaho, where the team's truck and trailer are kept and where its equipment is stored. There, they spent 10 days building a majority of the squad's bikes. "We still have about 10 more to build," he estimated.
Staub has been with Giant since 2008 and says that the team's long-term relationship with its sponsors makes the early season setup much easier. "There have been no major changes in sponsors. We have multi-year deals in progress."
"This year, we're racing on equipment from Shimano, Michelin, Fox and fi'zi:k saddles," said Staub. "The cross country riders are on Shimano XTR kits and we'll be running the upgrade kit Yumeya for XTR. It includes titanium bolts and gold doodads. It's nice stuff and adds polish and finish on the cross-country race bikes."
"On the downhill bikes, we have a solid build with Shimano Saint and Fox suspension. We're running Mavic rims with DT spokes."
Staub is excited about the team's signing of two promising young downhill racers, Danny Hart and Duncan Riffle, who will join Jared Rando on the gravity team. "We're really stepping it up on the downhill side this year. Giant's had a long legacy of racing downhill with Rob Warner and Myles Rockwell, and it's really cool to see the program take a step forward with a bigger program and more support at the World Cup level."
Bikes, bikes everywhere
In a given year, the downhill and cross country racers will get several bikes. "Most of the gravity riders get about five or six bikes per year, depending on what they're doing," Staub continued. "The cross country athletes, like Carl Decker, Adam Craig or Kelli Emmett, get four to five bikes."
"Some years that changes. For example, when we bring a new rider in, like Duncan or Danny, they get more bikes because they need a road bike and a cross country bike. We give them a complete quiver of bikes so they can train on whatever bike they need to suit their purposes."
Cross country racers will usually receive both hardtail and full suspension bikes while the downhillers will get whichever models of bikes best suit the types of courses they'll encounter.
Given the ever-increasing prices of transporting bikes overseas for World Cup and World Championship events, Giant has established infrastructure on multiple continents to support the team.
"Ideally the guys have race bikes at their house and then one on each major continent where stuff is happening. So we have race bikes and infrastructure in the US and in Europe. It's important to not have to cart back and forth a lot of expensive gear."
For other less frequently visited countries or other continents like Australia or South Africa, Staub says the team has no choice but to transport its gear there and back.
Staub himself will travel with the rig to most major races. "I'll be at four Pro XCT races and three or four Pro GRT races. It's different from some teams because we have downhill and cross country riders so sometimes we have to be in two places at once domestically. We do our best to get our riders at all the appropriate events with the best support we can, but sometimes you just have to compromise with a schedule that accommodates the budget and rider needs and also gets us the exposure we need."
The rest of the gear
Staub and overall team manager Frank Trotter also have to handle the acquisition of lots of other gear, not just bikes.
"We ordered 45 chains this year and last year we ordered the same amount and had to order another 20 more," said Staub. "It's not because they break but we make sure the equipment is 100 percent all the time."
"On the downhill side, we probably go through 40 tires per rider per season for just World Cup racing. On the cross country side, it's usually less than that. If you factor in all the local races, the training and non-World Cup events, it's quite a few tires. Maybe 100 per rider in some cases."
"A guy like Adam goes through a lot of tires - all mountain, cross country and downhill tires. A guy like Duncan goes through a few less tires - less cross country tires for him, but more downhill tires. I'd estimate it average at 30-60 tires for racing and about the same number for training."
Behind every good racer is a good support crew
Giant backs its riders with talented support staff. "I don't know another program that has our support," said Staub. "For example, our soigneur Felice Beitzel is a doctor with a PhD in exercise physiology."
"We have a coach that is a veteran World Cup racer with tons of experience, Oscar Saiz. He raced for Giant for several years and he's one of the most intelligent people here with a mind toward racing. He's good at taking preparation off the track and helping riders get solid results. He's in a new coaching capacity for 2010."
Downhill team mechanic Morse backs up his wrenching duties with plenty of experience. "He's a mechanical engineer and a smart guy," said Staub.
"We're setting ourselves up for a super season. I'm psyched," summarized Staub.
Look for Giant's factory team downhill and cross country racers, along with the team rig, at international and domestic US events throughout 2010.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.