Maurizio Da Rin Zanco working after stage 3 of the Vuelta a España

The hardest job at the Vuelta a España? Life of a WorldTour mechanic

UAE Team Emirates' Maurizio Da Rin Zanco provides a glimpse into the demands, stresses, and pleasures of being a mechanic on the road

Clock10:17, Monday 11th September 2023

“It’s a lifestyle, a mechanic’s lifestyle. It’s not so easy.”

Maurizio Da Rin Zanco has been a mechanic in the world of pro cycling for nearly 10 years now. He arrived at UAE Team Emirates at the beginning of the season after a two-year stint with Israel-Premier Tech, with his latest racing assignment being the Vuelta a España.

The third and final Grand Tour of the season provides one last opportunity for three-week success this season, and this year the race has attracted a stellar start list, boasting a wealth of previous winners and even the defending Tour de France champion, Jonas Vingeagaard. UAE Team Emirates has two major protagonists in its roster, last year’s third-place finisher Juan Ayuso, the second youngest rider to ever podium at a Grand Tour, and the ever-consistent João Almeida.

While the star-studded list of riders generates the headlines, their efforts on our television screens wouldn’t be possible without the tireless work of the support staff who follow the race up and down the country, including the mechanics.

From the outside looking in, the life of a mechanic appears to be tough, perhaps the toughest in pro cycling. Long hours, extended periods away from home, with plenty of stress mixed in, the role requires passion and dedication, as we found out when we met Da Rin Zanco after stage 11, a typically long day for the teams and riders.

Unpredictable hours

For cycling fans watching live coverage of the Vuelta a España, the race is restricted to a small window of action each day. That window is relatively large compared to the coverage provided for other sports, but for the mechanics and the support team, the hours spent racing only account for a fraction of their day - and the hours worked are far from the 9-5 that governs many other jobs.

“Normally we have breakfast here at the Vuelta at 8am, and today we had some problems, we broke one frame, so we finished at 10pm," Da Rin Zanco explains. "Maybe some days less and some days more, if a frame breaks or something like that.”

Those hours can be split into three sections, starting with pre-stage, which tends to be the quietest part of the day.

“In the pre-stage, we come to the truck and the bikes are ready, so all seven bikes are ready. We just inflate the tyres and put them on the roof of the cars, then we go for breakfast and then go to the start. At the start we check the pressure, so we check the perfect pressure for each rider.”

Things become more hectic, and the stress cranks up, once the race is underway, especially for Da Rin Zanco who is based in the lead support car for UAE Team Emirates. That makes him the first line of response for any major mechanical issues, putting out any mechanical fires through quick wheel swaps and bike changes.

“Normally yes [it’s stressful], because we have two directeur sportifs in the car and one mechanic. So, it’s only three people who are following the riders and it’s a little bit stressful with crashes, tactics, gaps, breakaways, general classification, sprint stages, it's a little bit stressful.”

From the television perspective, this would appear to be the pinnacle of stress, but things remain hectic after the stage when the team's Colnago bikes have to be prepared for the next day of racing, but only after the team has transferred to the hotel.

“When we finish the race, we take our car, and normally one or two of the riders depending on the stage, and we come back to the hotel. We arrive at the hotel at around 6:30pm, 7pm, 7:30pm, it depends. And then we start to clean all of the bikes and check all of the bikes, and then we finish when they’re done."

Read more: Vuelta a España tech in numbers: Behind the scenes with UAE Team Emirates

No such thing as a rest day

There’s no such thing as a rest day, as the old adage goes.

Even on days without a stage, riders still go for recovery rides to keep their limbs loose and prevent any muscles from seizing up. Some riders and teams will only do a short, light spin, while others prefer something a little more intense. Either way, it’s still a rest of sorts compared to race days.

“When there is a day off, for us, it’s worse than the race days

If there’s any debate over whether it’s a rest day for the riders, there’s no doubt that it definitely isn’t for the mechanics whose workload receives no respite, instead reaching new levels.

“When there is a day off, for us, it’s worse than the race days because on the rest days, we need to clean all of the spare bikes and we need to prepare all of the time trial bikes,” Da Rin Zanco explains, reflecting on the first rest day of the Vuelta which was followed by an individual time trial. “So for us, the rest days are more stressful than race days.”

The first rest day of this year’s race proved to be particularly tricky for teams who faced a mammoth transfer the evening before, one hampered by adverse weather, something that’s been a theme at this year’s race. With travel plans affected, many teams didn’t arrive at their hotels until the early hours of the morning.

Balancing family life

By itself, a three-week Grand Tour is a long stint away from home, especially when there’s so little time to rest. Within the wider context of the year, that’s only a small amount of the six months that mechanics regularly spend away from home during the season.

“Normally all of us have different contracts, but on average we work six months full, then six months at home. We do 20 days out, and 10 days at home, or 10 days out and 10 days at home. It depends on the time of the season.

“Now I will do the Vuelta, then I will be home for one week, and then I will go to Belgium and France. But before I was home for one month.”

It’s a demanding lifestyle, a “mechanic’s lifestyle” as Da Rin Zanco explains, one that isn’t easily compatible with family life. This, the Italian pinpoints, is one of the hardest parts of the role.

“It’s not easy. All of us here have a family at home and we have different times, so it’s not so easy to chat with them, or for them to chat with us.

“I now also have a daughter of six months, so it’s not so easy being out [at races]. It’s demanding for the job, you have a lot of hours working, but it’s also tough because you have distance with the family. For one month you are out, it’s not so easy to call them or to stay close to them.”

'You need to like this job and this type of life'

From speaking to Da Rin Zanco, it’s clear that he’s passionate about the job, something he believes is necessary to be a mechanic at a pro cycling team. Without that passion, it would be difficult to remain in such a demanding role with its unique lifestyle.

“If you are here, you need to enjoy it, otherwise you would not stay here. Because if you have passion, if you like this job, if you like these days, or if you like the adrenaline of being in the car or doing the bikes, then you stay here.

“Otherwise, maybe you do one or two races, then you understand it’s not your life and you quit and you go to do another job. If you stay here for a long time, you need to like this job and this type of life.”

“If you are here, you need to enjoy it, otherwise you would not stay here.

It’s this passion that has helped to drive the 29-year-old Italian’s career path, having taken a slightly unconventional route from a background which originally had “nothing” to do with the world he now finds himself in.

“I was an ice hockey player! And then I went to university, although I loved cycling because I watched it on television and I was riding my bike.

“But then I met one guy who was the boss of a women’s cycling team [BePink] and he asked me if I wanted to become a mechanic, and I tried. He had [one shop] and now he has a second shop in Milan and I learned to be a mechanic there in the shop and at the races, and now I’m here at UAE Team Emirates.”

That journey has led Da Rin Zanco into a world that, while challenging, is also very rewarding. When a rider takes a victory, they’re the ones who celebrate on the podium, receiving the adulation of the fans - deservedly so. But their victories are part of a wider team effort and provide as much satisfaction for the mechanics who play a key part in the team’s success.

“Everyone is part of the winning or part of the losing. Like yesterday [stage 10], we did a good time trial and all of us were happy, the mechanics and the soigneurs. We are not a big part or the protagonists of the win, but we are part of the winning, so everyone enjoys it and we are part of it.”

For more tech news, features and pro bikes from the Vuelta a España, including a behind-the-scenes look at UAE Team Emirates, check out our tech page, linked here.

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