of a Suiveur
In his sixteenth year as a mechanic in professional cycling, Alessandro Gaia, discusses the sacrifices and rewards of the racing life.
Caught between maniacal precision and last-second contingencies, a mechanic is much more than a technical and professional figure. They’re more like a friend you can count on in times of need because whatever happens, they’ll be there to help. As with the development of technical apparel, passion, precision and attention to detail all play a key role in achieving great results.
Let’s explore the world of the suiveur with Alessandro Gaia.
What does your daily routine consist of?
Being a mechanic is more than just fixing or washing bikes. Our work includes a variety of tasks that require you to constantly be on the ball, no matter what.
There are always a few of us who follow the race in the SAG wagon, ready to spring into action in the event of technical problems, flat tires and all the other unforeseen events that can happen while the competition rages.
Then there's the mechanic who goes from hotel to hotel with the truck and two others who, after following the race, wash the bikes and check them inch by inch, looking for anything that needs fixing or changing. Surely, the most difficult part is organizing the logistics and travel, fitting everything together like a perfect puzzle.
In your career, have you had an opportunity to work with riders who are particularly finicky about the technical aspects and setup of their bikes?
In the past, yes. For example, my dear friend Samuel Sanchez. He really has an incredible feel for his bike. I vividly remember how he was able to feel even a millimeter difference.
Precision is really crucial, as each tiny detail can make a big difference. Each athlete has different measurements and needs. Customization is very important, but not just in our work. Nowadays in cycling, all components must be examined with special attention and in different ways than in the past, and this applies to everything - including technical apparel.
What role has your passion for the sport played in your life choices?
My dad and my brother were cyclists, I started racing when I was 8 years old and continued until I was 22. I loved this world so much that I wanted to continue working in it, even after I quit racing. I had an opportunity to do so thanks to Claudio Corti and Team Barloworld. Certainly, it was my passion for the sport that led me to be curious, hungry and eager to gain as much experience as possible.
Although we don't physically pedal, ours is a profession that involves sacrifice. You know what time you’ll start in the morning, but you don't know when you'll finish in the evening. Time is relative; it's passion that drives everything. Now I can say I'm happy getting up in the morning with the knowledge that I can do what I love. Moreover, I enjoy the atmosphere we have within the team. I feel like I have second family, and this is a fundamental element that motivates me to do my best. I think it's important to make solid connections with the people you work with, including your partners. If they share the same vision regarding how to get the best results, then it's even better.
As I said, the smallest detail really makes the difference, so studying a material’s potential is fundamental, just as La Passione does with technical clothing, for example.
What has been the happiest and most exciting moment of your career?
It is not easy to choose just one. In the past, there have been memorable moments with all the time trials we won with the previous team, for example.
The best thing, however, goes far beyond mere victories. I’m most happy about the relationships I’ve developed with the athletes. In recent years, I’ve found loyal and sincere friends with whom I can still talk about everything - not only cycling, but about life and what happens on a day-to-day basis. To us, sports and life are pretty much one and the same.
Credits: Movistar Team
Was there a time when you felt most proud to do this work?
There have been many. During a time trial, I was all set to follow Rohan Dennis when, thirty seconds before the start, he noticed he had a flat tire. I didn’t even have time to think. I ran to the podium and changed the tire as fast as I could, and he ended up winning. It’s a good reminder that everyone can experience bumps in the road, but it's the attitude you have in dealing with them that makes all the difference.
Another time I was really happy was last year at the Giro di Lombardia. It was my first time with the Movistar team. Alejandro - my idol since I was a kid - was our captain, and I found myself in the SAG wagon with Eusebio Unzué, whom I always considered a true icon of cycling. Unbelievably, after fifteen years in this world, I still feel as excited as a child. That's what cycling does. You never stop feeling that spark that led you to it. You wouldn't do this job if it wasn't worth it in terms of emotions and satisfaction. What cycling gives you has no equal, and the sacrifices it involves don’t compare to what you get in return.