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French mechanic Frédéric Bassy has served his time well in the professional peloton as a mechanic with many of the top professional squads around the world, along with the Mavic neutral support team. But it is a job he never tires of and, for the past three years, he has been a fixture on the different incarnations of the Cannondale team that today is the distinctive Education First-Drapac-Cannondale. PELOTON caught up with Bassy at last month’s Tour Down Under where he took a look back on what is now a quarter of a century in the sport.
Words and images by James Startt, European Associate to PELOTON
PELOTON Magazine: Fred, I’ve seen you around forever, wrenching with teams, for Mavic neutral support, you name it. How did you get into the sport?
Fré déric Bassy: Well, I made it as far as a Category 1 amateur with the Étoile Olympique-Tarare team. We had one rider, Marc Thévenin, who turned pro on the Histor-Sigma team with Stephen Roche back in the 1980s and early ’90s, but Category 1 was as far as I got. My mother, however, knew Lucien Bailly, the longtime technical director for the French Federation, and one day he told her he was looking for a mechanic, so I went up to Paris and started working with the FFC. I started with the 100-kilometer team time trial squad [a now-defunct amateur event at the world road championships and Olympics] and spent a lot of time with the cyclocross teams as well.
Then, in 1993, I got my first shot at the pros with the Castorama team run by Cyril Guimard. I stayed with them until 1995 when they folded and then I went to AKI, a team based out of Monaco, in 1996 and then moved to Casino with Vincent Lavenu. That was a big team at the time with guys like Olympic champion Pascal Richard. From there, I went to Jean Delatour and, from 2001 to 2003, CSC with Bjarne Riis along with Laurent Jalabert. Then I went to Phonak until 2006 before starting to work with Mavic. I was with them almost 10 years before returning to the pro teams with Cannondale in 2016.
PELOTON: Wow, that’s a hectic quarter of a century! What has changed the most in terms of the pro bikes for you?
Bassy: Well, I would say that the biggest change is simply the amount of material that we are working on. I would say that we work on about three times as much material as before. I mean, today each pro has around 10 bikes. Every pro has at least one road bike and one time trial bike at home for training. Back when I started, only the team leaders would have a TT bike at home. Now every rider has a TT bike at home and two TT bikes at the race. And then they have five to six different road bikes, some are oriented more for climbing, others for being more aero, etcetera. So that is like 10 bikes per rider, inclucing all of the wheelsets and groups that go along with them. So that is a lot of material. But it is great, because it saves us a lot of time at the races. Before, a rider often would bring his bike to the race. He might get to the hotel late, or his bike might be broken in the flight, or it just might be dirty. So we had to do a lot more prep in the evenings before a race. Now, the rider’s race bikes are stored in the service course so we prepare them before putting them in a truck and going to the race. And when we arrive, they are ready to go. It’s really a much better way to work.
In addition, the evolution of carbon has just taken the sport to another level. Be it the wheel, the frame or the group, carbon has just transformed the machine and we are doing incredible things with it. To be honest, I don’t know if there is much room for improvement when it comes to carbon technology. Perhaps it will be replaced by other materials at some point, but carbon technology in cycling has reached a very, very high point.
PELOTON: You seem to have a particular passion for wheels. In addition to working with Mavic, you even launched the PULSE brand of wheels.
Bassy: Yeah, that is true, and in particular carbon wheels. I remember when the first ones started showing up. They just fascinated me. I really love carbon and composite technology. A lot of it comes out of Formula 1 or boat racing, and it has been fascinating to see how we have adapted it into cycling.
PELOTON: You always have a smile on your face and obviously like your job. What do you like the most about being a pro mechanic?
Bassy: Hmm, probably the traveling. Okay, I’m not on vacation when I go to a race, but the races take me to places I would never have been able to pay for myself. The conditions are very different than when we are on vacation. For example, I often drive one of the team trucks to and from the race. I was with the team at the Ruta del Sol this past weekend. We left at about 4 p.m. right after the race and drove until 10 p.m. I hit the road again on Monday at 8 a.m. and didn’t get back to the service course until 6 p.m. I saw one Italian team and the truck from Bora along the way and they still had another day of driving to do on their way back to Italy and Germany. That’s almost three days of driving after a race. It can be slow going, but that is the way it is when you are driving a truck with speed limits of 90 kilometers per hour. But that’s all right. It’s just part of the job. On the flipside, we get to go to amazing places like Australia, Malaysia, the United States or Colombia. It’s just amazing. In addition, no day is the same. Your job is ever changing. It’s great!
PELOTON: What is the hardest thing?
Bassy: The hardest? Hmm, well the 12- to 14-hour days don’t get any easier! That and those moments when the team is not winning. When you are pulling 12-, 14-hour days and the team is not winning, the results aren’t there, well that is hard on everybody. That can be hard to accept!
PELOTON: What did your years with Mavic give you?
Bassy: Well, working for a big company was very different for me than working from within a team. But it was fascinating. And when it comes to bicycle wheels, well Mavic has always just been a reference.
PELOTON: Between Mavic and all of the pro teams that you have worked for, you have been in the thick of the action in a lot of great races. What has been your greatest memory from a race?
Bassy: Oh, that would be the Clásica San Sebastián with Laurent Jalabert in 2002. That was his last year as a professional. He was given the No. 1 going into the race as the defending champion and he came up to me the night before, while I was working on the bikes at the team truck, and said, “Tomorrow, with the No. 1 on my back, I’m going to attack at the exact spot where I won last year.” He did just that and won again. I’ll just never forget that one!