In a few monthsâ time, Erju Zhang hopes he will be repairing bikes belonging to the stars of the peloton. According to the World Cycling Centre (WCC), the trainee mechanic from China has all the qualities necessary. It remains to see if the professional teams, who could possibly hire him after his training at the end of summer, are in agreement. One of these, Orica-GreenEdge (Australia) has already given him a chance to experience work at the heart of the UCI WorldTour.
The mechanic is won over. âIt was a very good experience, very different from what we do in a workshop,â he said. âThe team put its confidence in me. They left me to watch their mechanics and then let me work on a few of the bikes. I learnt to work in the heat of the action and I really enjoyed it."
Erju Zhang was invited to one day of the CritÃ©rium du DauphinÃ© and two days at the Tour de Suisse. He spent time at the hotel with the mechanics, before and after the stages, and followed the racing in the sport directorâs car. âIt was even more impressive because Cameron Meyer had the yellow jersey at the start of the Swiss event,â he recalls. But there was no time to marvel for long: this workaholic was part of the team, cleaning the bikes and carrying out the last adjustments on a bike before the depart.
âAt a race, a mechanic must be versatile. In particular, he has a very strict work schedule, and must hook the moving workshop to sources of water and electricity,â explains Alex Roussel, master mechanic at the WCC who has seven yearsâ experience working for professional teams. The âteacherâ hopes that his pupil will follow in his footsteps. âHe is an excellent mechanic,â confirms Roussel. âZhang is meticulous and a relentless worker. In China he has three different jobs. What he needs now is experience out in the field, in a pro team environment.â
It would appear that Orica-GreenEdge, shares the same optimism. The team, which already has a WCC trainee in its ranks (the athlete Daniel Teklehaymanot) would like to employ the mechanic to work during races this summer. Not as a trainee but on short-term contracts, an ideal first step towards joining the professional ranks.
Another team that has shown an interest in IAM Cycling (Switzerland) which invited Erju Zhan to spend a day at its race 535m2 "service course" near Geneva. Here he was able to put a bike together from scratch, in record time, thanks to his years of experience in shops and with the Shimano Neutral Service in China.
The WCC athletes also call on his skills for their weekend competitions and training sessions during the week, allowing him to remain in constant contact with the needs of high-level athletes.
The WCC Education and Training Manager, Keith Flory, has high hopes that his trainee will sign a contract with a team. The training course is designed with this in mind. "We've designed a tailor-made programme for our trainees,â he explains. âThey have a core programme and then we find individual solutions to help them to develop what they need to reach their goals".
As for Gebregiorgis Weldehiwot, the other trainee on the first mechanicsâ course organised at the WCC, he will soon be learning the art of repairing carbon frames. This skill will help him in his aim to return to his country, Ethiopia, to work for teams, clubs and the National Federation.