Watch a World Cup mountain bike race and you’re sure to be awed by riders like Kate Courtney. Speed, endurance, bike-handling skills, and courage — she’s got it all … almost.
Behind the scenes, top racers like Courtney rely on the unsung heroes of bike racing. Their work is done behind the scenes, and without them, top athletes wouldn’t be able to devote all of their energy to training and racing. We’re talking about the mechanics, people like Brad Copeland, who has been Courtney’s personal tech since she burst onto the scene as a young superstar.
Brad Copeland is always in the pits for Kate Courtney, tuning her bikes and keeping her in a relaxed and positive state of mind. Photo: Jochen Har
Partly because Courtney is a world champion and World Cup champion, and partly because she and Copeland often share their hilarious antics on social media, this dynamic duo has brought to life the essential relationship between rider and mechanic. They form an extremely talented team that wins races, supports one another, and makes it all look like a breeze.
After a spring and summer of postponed races, most notably the 2020 Olympics, the upcoming World Cup races in the Czech Republic, September 29-October 4, will see the dynamic duo will be back in action. We caught up with Copeland just before he jumped on a plane for Europe.
The Pro's Closet: When did you become a pro team mechanic?
Brad Copeland: Before I was a professional team mechanic, I worked at a bike shop and was occasionally hired to help amateur teams at races. But my first real job was with Specialized in 2014. The job was supposed to be a domestic team mechanic based at Specialized’s headquarters in Morgan Hill, California. A few months into the job, the scope of my role changed. At first, I was just working in the stateside, taking care of the triathletes and cross-country riders. After a cross-country race in Southern California one of the athletes I worked with, Lea Davidson, asked if I could come to World Cup races with her because it was nice to have a mechanic who knew her bike set-up, and she didn’t need to explain to every mechanic what each bike needed. And due to some luck with scheduling, I was able to work at the next European World Cup. And the next thing I knew, I was based out of Europe six months a year working the pro race circuit. I met Kate Courtney when I was working for S-Racing [Specialized]. And as Kate’s career blossomed, our relationship progressed. We trusted each other more. We have become this great team. The stars aligned and after she won worlds, we were inseparable. When she left Specialized, I was fortunate to be able to join Kate at Scott-SRAM.
TPC: The Scott-SRAM team travels to races all over the world. What does traveling, packing, and keeping everyone’s bikes in working order look like when the team is racing overseas?
BC: As a Swiss-based team, we have a service course close to Zurich. We don’t have one in the U.S. because Kate is the only U.S. rider. We are able to keep most of her equipment in her garage or in our team sprinter van. For this trip to the Czech Republic, the team is racing back-to-back World Cups, which is totally new territory for everyone. I’ll be bringing her home bikes, one hardtail and one full-suspension, to use as her spare bikes. We have new bikes for her to use for worlds, so those will already be in Europe. Generally speaking, when I travel overseas, I bring my toolbox, a bunch of small parts, a tech zone bag, and an “arts and crafts” bag. The arts and crafts bag is just full of random stuff. On this trip, for instance, Kate forgot her favorite pancake mix, so I’m bringing that. Plus a nail polish she found in Switzerland, but it was $28 there, so she bought it on Amazon and sent it for me to bring. The head mechanic, Yanick, is based in Switzerland. So he and I coordinate on items I’ll need for Kate. Our team does a great job of communicating and helping each other out.
The team that wins together, celebrates together. Photo: EGO-Promotions
TPC: The Scott-SRAM team is pretty small, do you work with all the riders or just Kate Courtney?
BC: I primarily just work with Kate. We’ve worked together since our time at Specialized. It’s helpful to the athlete to have a mechanic that knows what their bike needs really well. It makes setting up the bikes easier. But beyond that, it makes preparing for a race mentally easier. Having a solid and trusting relationship between an athlete and mechanic is very helpful, not just because I know her bike really well, but I’m able to read her mood. I tend to be the calming force that balances Kate out. We jokingly compare ourselves to a thoroughbred racehorse and an old pet horse that is its companion. I’m the old slow horse that keeps the fast racehorse calm before the race. There are a lot of things that contribute to the success of an athlete, beyond just fiddling with a bike. And the vibe of the team is that of interconnectedness, which allows the athletes to relax about logistics and just focus on the race.
I love doing what I’m doing. I didn’t know Kate’s success would happen as soon as it did. And I feel really lucky to be aligned with her. When we first connected, it was because of her integrity and how gracious she is when she does win. Win or lose, her positivity is infectious. And that’s the rider I want to help do well.
TPC: What is your process for getting a bike ready for race day? What are the most important things to consider, to double/triple check?
BC: A few days before race day, I normally throw on a new chain and sometimes a new chainring. They tend to run a bit smoother when they’ve had a few rides on them. Kate has a pretty structured pre-race routine. It starts with a meditation and yoga session in the morning. Kate normally sends me a full schedule, to the minute, of what her race day looks like. I don’t really abide by the timeline, but I do follow the structure.
So much of the morning is filled with meditation and yoga, and a lot of eating. Once she shows up at the tent, she gets some physio. While she’s doing that, I’ll go over the bike, check bolts, shifting, and the like. We start the tires and suspension at standard settings and adjust from there a few PSI depending on the course. I usually set pressures once in the morning and then after rollers. She jumps on the rollers after the physio session. Before she goes to the start line, I’ll do one last check of all bolts and pressures, mostly just to give me peace of mind. I head over to the start line with her. Prior to all of this, I run through my tech zone bag before I head over to the tech zone. I bring everything I think I might need: two sets of wheels, extra shoes, pedals, two chains. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, honestly. The tech bag is packed to the brim. We try to bring everything that we might possibly need. Better safe than sorry.
Copeland and Courtney might be the most entertaining rider/mechanic duo on the World Cup circuit. Photo: Jochen Har
TPC: What are you most excited about for the future of MTB races?
BC: I’m really happy to be involved in what I perceive to be a renewed, growing interest in the sport. I think Kate can impact the sport in such a positive way and I’m really fortunate to be a part of that.
Since the ‘90’s, the popularity of mountain biking, especially in the XC race scene, has been falling off the map, until recently. The women racing on the pro XC circuit are insanely talented and watching them race is maybe one of the most exciting things in cycling right now. It’s unconventional to have a young woman as a star who is supported by a team of men, but I hope that it becomes more normal. I think the attention that mountain bike racing is receiving will help achieve that. I think Redbull is doing a great job of broadcasting the sport. I think there is an opportunity to bring riding data in the broadcast. And the more people that watch these races, the more marketing dollars get funneled into it. Meaning more men and women can devote their time, fully, to the sport in a feasible manner.
I’m lucky enough to be able to work with Kate, who is such a great ambassador for cycling. I think Kate is such a great human, who is also an exceptional mountain bike rider. Our hope is that more people want to race or at least ride mountain bikes. I think people look at her and think, “Hey, mountain bikes can be fun.” It doesn’t have to be straight-up hurting, it is actually super-fun. We just want to set a positive example. You don’t have to be a pro, but just get inspired to take a chance and try something new. It’s made out lives better and we just want to share that with others.
You can watch the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup live on Redbull, starting with the Czech World Cup races on September 29.