Durangoan takes the Olympic wheel

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Tom Neb’s handiwork has brought him from Kentuky to Durango to head of the Giant mountain bike program to the World Cup circuit to the Olympics. The owner of San Juan Cycles was selected by USA Cycling as a mountain bike mechanic for the 2012 London Games.

By Dale Strode Herald staff writer

When America’s top mountain bikers hit the cross country course at the London Olympics next month, they’ll be riding bicycles fine-tuned by a Durango mechanic.

Tom Neb of San Juan Cycles in Durango recently was selected by USA Cycling as a mountain bike mechanic for the 2012 London Games in Great Britain – an honor he embraces with his trademark enthusiasm.

“The way I look at it is: This is a career-defining moment for these athletes,” said Neb, who has worked for USA Cycling at other international cycling events.

“You want to make sure ... you give them every chance to succeed. You want to do whatever it takes ... everything you can to help the riders,” Neb said as he prepared for his departure to Europe next week.

First, he’ll work with the mountain bikers at a pre-Olympic camp in Germany. Then, it’s back to Hadleigh Farm in Essex, the mountain bike venue for the Olympic Games.

“At the Olympics, at world championships ... the riders don’t ride for their sponsors; they ride for their country,” Neb said. The sponsor mechanics from the various bike companies will be in London to assist the USA Cycling mechanical staff members, he said.

Neb worked with USA Cycling at the Pan American Championships the last two years. His international wrenching dates to the 2000 World Mountain Bike Championships in Spain.

Additional security clearance, however, was required for the 2012 Olympics.

“There have been a lot of security checks, more background checks,” said Neb, who earlier this month received notification that he had cleared international security to work the London Games.

That means Neb was checked out by Scotland Yard and Interpol.

“It feels pretty good to know that you’re not blacklisted from some country where you forgot to pay a speeding ticket five years ago,” Neb said with a nod to his ever-present sense of humor.

A career’s worth of international travel as a mountain bike mechanic and head of the Giant mountain bike program send Neb all over the world.

Last year, Neb went to London to preview the Olympic course.

“I was over in London last year for USA Cycling. They have a test event before the Olympics,” Neb said. “It’s an opportunity for the riders to see the course.”

He said the staff members used the test event for reconnaissance, logistics practice, etc.

The manmade mountain bike course at Hadleigh Farm, Neb said, will offer a unique venue for the Olympic competition. The course is on the side of a rolling hill with no trees and unlimited visibility.

“They brought in a rock/gravel base for the track itself,” Neb said. “It’ll be able to handle the weather.”

Rain, he said, will not be a problem.

“The British ... I think they know how to deal with a little rain,” said Neb, who opened his San Juan Cycles shop in September 2010. Neb, 38, has worked in bike shops since he was 15 years old.

He said the Olympic mountain bike cross country race is special for another reason.

“The Olympics are unique in that you have such a small field compared to a World Cup,” Neb said.

The Olympic Games limit each country’s entries whereas World Cup races are open to a wider field.

For the United States, two men and two women were selected for the Olympic mountain bike team.

They include Todd Wells of Durango, who will be riding in his third Olympic Games. He also competed in Athens and Beijing.

Wells will be joined by Samuel Schultz of Missoula, Mont.

Georgia Gould and Lea Davison make up the women’s U.S. team. Gould lives in Fort Collins. Davison, a former Middlebury College racer, is from Jericho, Vt.

“Because the Olympic field is a small field, you get the cream of the crop ... it’s what you expect at the Olympics,” Neb said. “It’s a little more fair because there is less traffic.”

He said the optional lines in the rock gardens will be great for spectators at the Olympics.

“Those option lines ... we used to see that in the old NORBA races from back in the day,” Neb said. “You can take a more technical, direct line or a more roundabout, conservative line.”

He said the options will add to race strategy for both the men and women in London.

“It brings another element to cross country racing,” Neb said.

“With the course in London, the sight lines are good. It’s right on the River Thames. You can see a lot of the race unfold ... which is unique for a mountain bike course.”

Neb’s journey from his native Kentucky to London by way of Durango is a familiar cycling scenario.

“I grew up in Kentucky, and I started getting into mountain bikes in high school,” Neb said.

“One of my best friends growing up was going to Fort Lewis ... and Durango was a hotbed of mountain biking then (1992),” said Neb, who frequently visited and eventually moved to Durango in 1997.

He worked in bike shops.

He worked at bike camps.

He raced.

He traveled.

A top trials rider, Neb qualified for the U.S. team at the world championships in 2000. He doubled up and competed in trials and worked as a mountain bike mechanic.

The multitude of bike racing contacts paid off when he was offered a job with Giant Bicycle.

Neb went from mechanic to team mechanic to World Cup mechanic to head of the Giant mountain bike program.

“I worked for Giant for ... eight years. It was very travel-intensive,” he said.

Eventually, he settled back in Durango, then he started San Juan Cycles in a modest location on Main Avenue.

In March of this year, his bike shop moved to its current location at Florida Road and East Animas Road just across the driveway from Bread Bakery.

“The timing was right,” Neb said.

And the timing couldn’t be better for the U.S. mountain bikers on the eve of the London Olympics, he said.

“At the recent World Cup in Windham (N.Y.), all four of our Olympians were in the top 10. It seems like everyone is on good form.”

That should translate to solid finishes at the Olympics.

“I think they are all riding really well,” he said. “The potential is there for them to get their best results.”

dstrode@ durangoherald.com

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