Focus on mechanics: Brendan Milliken

Brendan has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about the past two years he has spent as a full time mechanic for Endura Racing.

You’ve spent the past 2 years as mechanic with Endura Racing, remind us how you got the gig?
Since the age of 14 I have been involved in cycling, as a rider and working in cycle shops as a mechanic, cycling has been a big part of my life and to be involved in the professional scene on or off the bike has always been a dream. I have been involved with Endura Racing for 4 seasons now, from the original incarnation that was PedalPower Race Team/Endura where I assisted the team with mechanics and support in the team car at a few Premier Calendar events. During the 2009 Halfords Tour Series after a mechanical-strewn 1st round, I was offered the position of mechanic, looking after team bikes, driving and logistics which led to a full time job with Endura and Endura Racing.

Tour Doonhame 2011 | Photo by Larry Hickmott | courtesy of Endura Racing

Were there any particular high points during the 2011 race schedule?
There are races you look forward to working on, whether it be a well-known race, or for the riders or the scenery! The biggest high point for me was the 2011 Tour of Normandie where through all the ups and downs with crashes, a stage victory, long breakaways and the yellow jersey, the lads defended their lead on the final stage to take the GC and Team prize! It was an awesome experience and we all thanked each other, it was a team win!

–Alexandre Blain won the 8-stage event after getting into a decisive break and winning the day’s stage and the bonus seconds that came with it, followed by teamwork to protect the lead.

Photo: © Etienne Garnier | courtesy of Endura Racing

image courtesy of Endura Racing

Did you meet any big name pros along the way?
Working with Endura Racing i have seen and met so many professional riders that I could chat all day about it. Working alongside Julian Winn, Alex Sans Vega and Rob Hayles you meet so many of these riders past and present due to their respective careers in cycling! Working in the car with any of these 3 you can have many famous riders pulling along side the car to say hello or have a quick chat. Memories that stick in my mind are cycling with Lance Armstrong, Stephen Roche pouring my pint (below), following Xavier Tondo up a mountain on our training camp, sitting with Sean Yates at a managers meeting, Carlos Sastre and Menchov holding on the the car chatting with Alex during Tour of Murcia, and exiting a lift to be greeted by Contador!

image courtesy of Brendan

There are always some lows or difficult times- anything you can share?
The race calendar is highs and lows– highs coming into a race and lows coming out, as its all over. The lows are more difficult when the lads miss out on GC and are unhappy at their own performance if they didn’t win, especially when they know they could have had it!

The difficult times are the crashes– they happen in every single race and it’s a tense time, especially for the DS and myself sitting in the car! The word for crash in Europe in chute– any time you hear this you gotta be ready to pounce from the car with spare wheels and a couple of tools! As mechanic, you will be first on the scence and it is not a pretty sight: bikes and riders all over the place! I have two difficult times that stick out to me:

Jack Bauer at Haut Var, this was my 1st European pro race with the team, we also had the Cyclevox film crew with us in the car, and as we passed over the summit of the highest climb of the day the riders were soon hitting 60mph on the twisty descent and soon we were unable to keep up in the convoy. Then the phrase I hate came over race radio: chute, chute Endura Racing. I get ready with two wheels and allen keys to jump out the car, we pass a few corners and see nothing, and then as we turn the next corner there is a single rider down the ditch. As I run out it is Jack Bauer, he is still holding his bars and clipped in his pedals lying in the bushes. As I try and help him there is no response: his eyes are shut, and I quickly realise he is knocked out. Jack made a full recovery and only minor cuts n bruises – you can see this incident on one of the Endura Racing videos!

Tour of Normandie 2011 all the lads were on top form and in the mix for GC, nearing the end of stage 2 the lads took to the front and in the hustle and bustle Jack Bauer came down with a touch of wheels, after getting service and paced back on he was right back up there, then 500m to go CHUTE, CHUTE– no teams mentioned which means lots of riders down, as all the cars stop and mechanics dash to the scene its apparent this is a big pile up. I scour the mess and see Bauer picking his bike up, shaken but able to finish. As I walk back to the car and see another of our team bikes smashed under a few other bikes, I investigate and not to far from the wreckage Wilko is in major pain and pretty knocked up, he suffered a broken collarbone and some serious road rash!

Wheel change for Jack Anderson, Tour Doon Hame 2011
Photo by Larry Hickmott | courtesy of Endura Racing

The mechanic’s job seems tough- it’s far from glitz and glamour is it?
Any job on a professional cycling team is difficult, to be in this line of work its a lifestyle rather than a job! You do visit and travel through some really nice places but there is no time to be a tourist! A mechanic is always referred to as the unsung hero which is very true. As a mechanic you have so many responsibilities not only looking after the bikes!

A typical stage race in Europe will involve myself and the DS planning logistics, booking all the hotels for each stage. I will have to prepare the race bikes, spare bikes and wheels, spare kit, cleaning kit, hoses, tool kits, electrics and much more, as well as pack the vehicles. Where riders fly into a race and have everything prepped and ready to go, I have to drive from the UK and be set up by the day before they arrive.

A typical day will see you rise at 6:30 am and won’t see you finished until 9-10pm depending on how the day has went. You have 8 bikes to prep, 4-6 spare bikes, 6-8 pairs of spare wheels to load in car, then we drive to race which is normally 30-60 mins from hotel, unload bikes, riders will then normally test them out, then final tweaks, load the bike rack and car for the race, we follow the race… once race finishes reload bikes in van, transfer to hotel, clean all the bikes, inc spares, clean all vehicles, usually 2 cars and 2 large vans, then its time for dinner and bed! On stage races: repeat every day!

Setting up Jack Bauer’s bike, Normandie 2011
Image courtesy of Craig Hardie, who also worked as a mechanic on this race

–I was a big fan of the Look 695 that Endura has been riding for the past 2 years and wanted to ask about this. But since posing these questions to Brendan, the 2012 launch took place and the team will be on Giant bikes. I have seen it mentioned that these are Giant TCR Advanced SL but apparently this is unconfirmed. Components are Sram Red with Mavic wheels. Look still supply the pedals.

Working on the Look bikes must have been nice?
Look has a long history in cycling and is a huge name over in Europe. Getting to use there bikes for the lest 2 seasons has been a pleasure and working on them is real easy as they are nice simple frames. With the amount of riders on the team I had in excess of 50 bikes to look after with race bikes, spare bikes, TT bikes and training bikes, my work was cut out!

I had the pleasure of visiting the Look factory during a race as Jack Anderson had broken a frame near the end of a stage in a nasty crash and as Look was nearby, I was able to go and collect a replacement in person. The factory is pretty big and after a little tour you can feel the passion for cycling they have.

–There was a nice piece in Rouleur issue 24 if you want to read more about Look and their factory.

Any other bits of kit that are a pleasure to work with?
Endura Racing was supplied some of the best kit around with Sram groupsets, Zipp wheels and Continental Tyres and these are all easy to work with making my life so much easier! I have learned a lot in the setup of equipment, and original equipment when set up correct will work amazing.

Endura Racing’s programme in Brittany has led me to follow the Tro-Bro Léon race, a tough one-day event in the style of Paris-Roubaix, with off-road sections on the ribins, a Breton word for farm tracks. I covered this on the blog before and again there is a photo piece in Rouleur about this.

Tro-Bro Léon tyres

Did you do the Tro-Bro Léon last April? How did that affect the equipment?
I have been mechanic for the last 2 seasons for Tro Bro Leon, it is a very tough race, very hard to win for a rider, it can be a lottery as almost every rider will suffer punctures, it has to be raced aggressive from the front! The race features 20+ off road sections, not pavé but gravelly forest paths!

For a mechanic the bikes have to be kitted out to endure the tough terrain and minimise the chance of punctures. For this I work with Continental for the best tyre for the conditions, Grand Prix 4season 25mm was the recommended model. Tyre pressure is also very important again to minimise punctures yet maximise grip. We draft in as many of our spare wheels as possible for this race and helpers as the roads are narrow and very hard to get the car to your rider for service. we had a plan with helpers driving ahead to the end of the off road sections with spare wheels for this year! I have been in the car changing inner tubes as quick as the wheels come in! We have Zipp wheels in all the different models, the one we used for the race was the aluminium 101 model, light and very stiff and safe in the knowledge they wont break in such conditions!

Alex Blain was our rider for the win in 2011. I put him on the carbon Zipp 202 wheel with a Gatorskin tubular, but with a double puncture in the final stages on a off-road section, Alex had to ride to the end of the section, damaging both wheels beyond use. However with a swift wheel change he was soon paced back in the game by his team mates and finished off with a grand 6th place! Alex has a goal of winning Tro Bro Leon in 201.

–which I will follow with interest. There is a relaxed sportive on the route, the day before, and it’d be great to volunteer as one of those ‘wheel helpers’ on the day.

James Moss
battling on the gravel roads
image courtesy of ‘Mr Keff’ on flickr

tro bro leon
Alex Blain 6th place | image courtesy ‘Mr Keff’

You’re hanging up the spanners for the next wee while, though, is that right? So tell us what is in store…
After the National Championships, due to personal circumstances I made the choice to transfer to working within Endura sharing my time between the office and Events. The last 2 years myself and other Endura staff travel to and set up the Endura stand at various bike shows around Europe. Endura is growing at a very fast rate in Europe and we are expanding all the time with the help of our excellent products, staff, marketing and Endura Racing.

Prepping wheels for 2011 National Championships.

Many thanks to Brendan for his time in answering the questions and to Endura for permission to use many of the pics.
Good luck to the team in 2012.

Related posts
Lots of other posts on Endura Racing.
A chat with local mechanic, Mark Leadbetter.