Interview: Gary Blem - Team Sky Head Mechanic

South African Gary Blem is the Head Mechanic for Team Sky. He has worked for a some of the world's top riders such as Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and currently Chris Froome. Bike Hub was lucky enough to interview Gary at the Standard Bank Africa Cycle Fair.



 

Gary Blem Interview Part 1:


1. Who are your favourite riders to work with?


"My favourite ridder to work with is Chris Froome. Other favourites of mine are Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas."

 

"I watched Geraint Thomas mature as a bike rider. I was with him when he did his first Tour de France seven years ago. I think he finished second last and now in 2015 he was 4th overall for a large chunk."

 

"With Chris you could pitch a tent for him to sleep in and he'll be happy to sleep in that. Chris is not a rider than needs to be treated like royalty or the super famous."

 

"I try to bring everybody down to my level. I don't imagine these superheros that they are, so I can work with them like anybody off the street."

 

2. What is it like working with Pinarello? 2:33


"It's a fantastic company to work with"

 

"I've been working closely with Fausto Pinarello, he's a great guy and very passionate about the bikes. You can see why the Italian brands are so popular because you know a lot is driven by passion behind the scenes."

 

"In the years of them sponsoring Team Sky there's been a lot of a lot progression with the bikes and equipment. I think before Team Sky there was a bit of a dead spot in the industry where there wasn't a lot of development going on. Now it's really fast paced."

 

"Pinarello are totally on top of it. They had Jaguar come in to assist with developing the new Dogma F8. It's a lot lighter and 46 percent more aerodynamic than the previous model."

 

3. Where did the idea for the rhino on Chris Froome's bike come from? 4:17


Rhino Chris Froome Pinarello Team Sky Gary Blem.jpg

 

"I was sitting on top of a volcano in Tenerife with Chris Froome after a six hour ride at a beautiful cafe overlooking the mountain range when I mentioned doing something special for the Tour de France. We always have the same bike with the same colours and he's a previous winner of the Tour de France, so let's do something special."

 

"The marketing department of Team Sky took a bit of persuasion. By the time the Tour had started, the bike still wasn't in production. I said look Chris is now in yellow let's do something special for him. They agreed and Pinarello came up with the design."

 

"When it was launched, it was even tweeted by Prince William and Prince Harry and it got headline news across the world"

 

4. What goes on behind the scenes at the Tour de France? 6:37


"This year's Tour de France (2015), we had one cobblestoned stage for which we needed to build an additional 27 bikes just for that stage. To be used once and never again."

 

"At this year's Tour de France, Chris had 14 bikes and that's just Chris and we have nine riders. The average for each rider in the Tour was 10 bikes per rider. We (Team Sky) had 95 bikes in this year's Tour de France."

 

"There are four bicycle mechanics and a Jaguar mechanic. There are a lot of bumper bashings and crushes in the cars following the riders. We need a mechanic to repair the car after every stage. We also have a kitchen truck with two chefs, a nutritionist, a team doctor, two coaches and six carers."

 

"When you watch television and you see the stage finishing at six o'clock in the evening. We usually have a hundred kilometre drive back to the hotel and then we can only start working on the 27 bikes."

 

"Time trials are super stressful. This year we flew in a private jet to where the time trial was to be held. We did some testing there and we saw that we would need 58 chainrings. Shimano gave us some prototype chain rings. We then flew back to the Tour of France which started two days later. That's the difference that Team Sky makes."

 

Team Sky Gary Blem Chris Froome.jpg

 

Gary Blem Interview Part 2:


1. How has the introduction of electronic groupsets changed things for the mechanics?


"Initially it was it was a bit of a nightmare getting used to the system and understanding it was a lot of extra work. I've spent a few years now with the electronic system and there's no better groupset on the market."

 

"As Shimano develop the system, they send a software updates to fix little bugs like with your phone."

 

"I love it. I think it's brilliant"

 

2. Mechanical doping. Fact or fiction? 1:52


"It's super frustrating because I've been to a few bike doping controls with Chris where we have had to take off the cranks, seatpost and hubs to look inside with a camera for motors."

 

"There are motors out there and people have been using them but at an amateur level, not at the WorldTour level."

 

"Dope control needs a lot of improvement. I think they should have a better system where you just walk your bike through as you finish and it's scanned automatically for any motors."

 

Pinarello F8 Gary Blem Team Sky.jpg

 

3. How do you go about staying within the bike weigh requirements? 3:58


"I remember when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour. It was a mission for me to get his bike down to the 6.8 kilogram limit"

 

"With the new F8, I have to add weight to the bike."

 

"I buy fishing weights from the local pawn shop in Pretoria. I put the weights into a glove and put the weights into the bottom bracket."

 

"It's harder to get a bike up to the legal limit than it is to drop the weight of a bike"

 

"The weight that you add impacts the performance of the bike so you have to put the weight as low as possible on the bike which is the bottom bracket."

 

4. How much preparation can you do for each stage? 7:18


"You start off by have a meeting on the bus and making a plan but not everything always goes as it should."

 

"Chris is really calm under pressure and helps calm everybody down."

 

"It's crazy in the race. It all looks calm on the television but you don't hear the radio communication. If you heard that you'd understand just how much stress is going on the race."






2 Comments

Ferro, Jan 19 2016 12:23

Interesting article. Thanks...and this:

"This year's Tour de France (2015), we had one cobblestoned stage for which we needed to build an additional 27 bikes just for that stage. To be used once and never again."
...wow.

Iwan Kemp, Jan 20 2016 08:26

Super cool guy. Enjoyed the interview very much.