Tornado Tom’s Trusted Wrench
Words and Images by James Startt
Like many young Belgian kids, Kevin Desmedt grew up with a bike. And when he was not riding or racing it, he was working on it. And although he never managed to compete as a professional, he did get the pro offer of a lifetime: full-time mechanic on the powerful Etixx-Quick Step team. For years now he has served as the designated mechanic to the team’s iconic leader, Tom Boonen.
Peloton recently spoke with Desmedt, who tells us about his path to the pros and working with Tornado Tom…
Peloton: Kevin, how did you get into wrenching for a great team like Quick Step?
Kevin Desmedt: Well, I started out racing when I was 13 and raced for more than 10 years. I raced on the same amateur team as Tom Boonen, Kortrijk Groeninge Spurters, although I was a year younger and we never raced in the same category together. I even had a tryout on the Quick Step-Davitamon team. I always loved working on my bike, and then, after I stopped racing, I worked in a bike shop. After about two years, a friend that knew Patrick Lefevere, the team manager here, said the team was looking for a mechanic. I had an interview with Patrick and have been working with the team ever since. It’s been for more than 10 years now!
Peloton: Interestingly, you followed Boonen into the pro ranks, and you have been virtually his personal mechanic for much of the past 10 years….
Desmedt: Yes. It’s important for a mechanic to work directly with a rider and I’ve worked closely with Tom for several years. I am always with him in the classics and I followed him to Qatar for the world championships with the national team this year. He has a lot of confidence in me. When you work with the same riders over the years, you just really know their needs, you know the little details that are important to them.
There are eight mechanics here at Etixx and each season we split up the duties and generally work on the bikes of several riders each year. We have 30 riders on the team and each rider has six or seven bikes each, three road bikes, a training bike, two time-trial bikes…there are nearly 200 bikes. So the mechanics split off the duties and we each try to follow the same riders as much as possible during the season.
Peloton: What is it like working with Tom?
Desmedt: Oh, Tom is really focused on every detail of his bike. He loves mechanical things and is tuned into his bike. If he says something is not right, however small it may be, you can be sure that he is right. You know some riders can ride anything. It doesn’t matter if the seat is a centimeter higher or lower. But with Tom, if the seat height is one millimeter off, he is going to feel it. It’s unbelievable. It’s really great for our sponsors like Specialized, because he gives them a lot of feedback. And Tom is just great to work with. If you are a fan, a journalist or a member of the team staff, it is always a pleasure to work with Tom. And you can tell how much he is appreciated because whenever he is on the team bus you sense it. There are bigger crowds waiting, et cetera.
Peloton: What is your greatest satisfaction as a pro mechanic?
Desmedt: Well, winning I guess. When you are in the team car when somebody like Tom wins the Tour of Flanders or Paris–Roubaix, wow! You really feel that you are somehow part of it! But the opposite is also true. When Tom finished second this year in Roubaix, after being so close to victory, you are so disappointed. Somehow it is your loss too. The whole team just works so hard for those moments.
Peloton: And what is the hardest part of your job?
Desmedt: Oh, leaving home. The traveling is great, but I have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and leaving home is not easy. Camille was born in June 2015 and when I had to leave for the Vuelta, two months later, oh, that was hard! But, you know, mostly I get satisfaction every day. A lot of people can only go to a race on the weekends or on holiday. So working on great bikes with great riders is like going on holiday every day.