Rain pounded down on the tens of thousands of spectators gathered in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, Jan. 30 and 31 for the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships. Mud-caked cyclists from more than a dozen countries whizzed past their flag-toting fans, heads down and legs pumping. Just off the course in an area called the material post or "pit," Missoula's Dave Hartman stood amid a cluster of bikes, wheels, tools and spare parts, his multitool and Craftsman cordless air gun at the ready.
"Belgium is the epicenter for bike racing," Hartman tells the Indy. "So having the World Championships there is like a major football game in the states. Sixty-five thousand people were at the races on Sunday ... Rainy, muddy and cold, and the people love it."
Hartman, who co-owns Hellgate Cyclery, was invited to Zolder last month as one of eight mechanics on wrench-monkey duty for the USA Cycling team's 30 racers. Hartman says his path to the sidelines of the top cyclocross competition in the world actually goes back to 2010, when Helena English teacher and national cyclocross coach Geoff Proctor hired Hartman on for the EuroCrossCamp program. Hartman wound up helping out at the 2013 world championships in Louisville, Ky.the first championships held outside of continental Europe—but never expected to be called up for a mechanic position this year.
"I think just having this big a team they needed extra help, and I guess I'm kind of first on the list outside of full-time guys," he says.
Cyclocross is a particularly grueling discipline within the cycling world. Courses typically consist of pavement, dirt trails, steep hills and sharp turns. Video from the Zolder race shows seasoned cyclists slipping and tumbling in the mud. One racer even got his foot tangled in the spokes of Belgium's Wout van Aert, who powered through to win the men's elite division. The event was no less chaotic for mechanics like Hartman, who have an average of four to eight minutes to clean bikes, lube drivetrains and execute any necessary repairs between handoffs.
"We're pressure-washing a bike sometimes, on a race day, nine or 10 or 12 times a day," Hartman says. "They just get trashed."
Despite becoming so soaked by the end of the first day that he "couldn't move," Hartman returned from Belgium with some indelible memories. He has long been a fan of famed Belgian cyclocross racer Sven Nys and the world championship Hartman worked just happened to be Nys' last.
"Even when Sven was warming up, the crowd, it was crazy how loud it was," Hartman says. "You could just hear it coming like a wave of sound."