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In his day job, Kenny Latomme is chief mechanic for the Etixx-Quickstep team. But when track racing comes to Ghent, he can often be found on the infield servicing the stars of the six-day circuit. This year, Latomme was the personal mechanic to Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.
Written by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton
Peloton caught up with the Belgian before the last day of racing to discuss the differences between wrenching on the road and on the track.
Peloton Magazine: You’ve been part of the Etixx staff for years. Do you often do the six-day races as well?
Kenny Latomme: Well I’ve been working at Ghent for the last fives, but next year I will be moving to the Dimension Data team to work with Mark (i.e. Cavendish) again. I was his personal mechanic at Etixx and now I am following him to Dimension Data. So when he asked me to work for him and Bradley here in Ghent it was just natural.
Peloton Magazine: What are the differences between being a mechanic with a top professional road team, and here on the track during a six day.
Kenny Latomme: It’s actually completely different. Already the bikes are so different. First off there are no gears and just a single speed. That changes a lot of things. To change wheels for example is completely different because there is no quick release hub on a track bike. When you change the rear wheel on a track bike, there are things you have to consider that you don’t even think of on a road bike. Adjusting the chain tension for example is so important on a track bike. There is no derailleur to do that, so you have to do it manually. If the chain tension is too tight, it slows you down. If it is too loose, then it can just come off.
You also have to constantly check the tires as well. The track develops splinters that can cause flats easily, so you really have to check the condition of the tires before and after each race. You don’t want to be having flats at 70 kilometers an hour! We actually had two flats this week, but I caught them both before the race, because I always verify tire pressure and when it starts to go down, you know there is a leak.
And then, of course, any changes have to be done quickly because they guys are constantly racing.
Peloton Magazine: But a track bike is easier to work on I imagine? After all there are less moving parts.
Kenny Latomme: To build them up yes, but there are a lot of hidden elements. Getting the saddle position just right for example is really hard because the riders are constantly turning. And the Ghent turns are so steep that the guys are really putting a lot of G-Force on the saddle all night long. Often they are really on the tip of their saddle and it is easy for the nose to come down. Or the shell of the saddle can just break.
Peloton Magazine: Have you broken any saddles here this week in Ghent?
Kenny Latomme: No but the first night the nose on “Cav’s” saddle really came down. We fixed it but we just had to glue and sandpaper every moving part!
Peloton Magazine: Are there any other particularities with a track bike?
Kenny Latomme: Yeh for sure. Tire pressure for example is much higher than on road wheels. We pump the tires up to 12-14 bars. That’s a lot! Max on the road is 8-9 bar, but here on the track the minimum tire pressure is 12 bars. And while some of the mechanics use the same tire glue for their tubulars as they do on the road bikes, but I prefer to use a faster-drying glue, so that you can actually use the wheel within an hour after gluing on the tire. That’s important in races like this.
Peloton Magazine: You work very long days as a professional road mechanic, but the hours on the track seem even longer?
Kenny Latomme: Well I would say they are very different. Because so much of the racing at a six-day event is in the evening, you finish very late. The actual racing finishes at 1:30 in the morning. By the time you break everything down, lock it up and eat something, it is already three o’clock in the morning. Then you get up around 10h30 to catch breakfast in the hotel and soon it is time to head back to the track. You also have to spend a lot of time cleaning the bikes here because there is so much dust in the vélodrome. It’s just a very different schedule!