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Aérogramme Day 08: The Tour Wrench

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Keeping Things Tight

For Canadian mechanic Geoff Brown, today is a double-overtime day on the Tour de France. “Today is going to be a long day,” he said, while dismounting bikes from the Cannondale-Garmin team car before the start of Stage 8 at this year’s Tour in Rennes, France. “But then the days before a time trial are always the hardest days for us mechanics. You have to do everything you do on a normal stage. After today’s road stage, we still have to clean all of the bikes and check them. But then we have to prepare all of the time trial bikes for tomorrow.”

Words & images: James Startt
From: Mur de Bretagne, France

Brown is not complaining. But he knows what awaits him once the team returns to the hotel this evening. After all, Brown is “wrenching” in his 20th Tour de France this year. Brown was first hired by the pioneering American team, Motorola in 1993, and has been a familiar face on the Tour ever since.

“I’ll never forget my first Tour,” Brown recalls. I was in the team car with Jim Ochowicz (the general manager of that team) on this stage when suddenly a fly got into the car and started buzzing around. Just as we came into this corner it landed on Jim’s nose and he went to swat it. The only problem is that the race caravan suddenly came to a halt, and when we came out of the corner, we crashed straight into the back of the Festina team car. Both cars were totaled. That was my first Tour de France. Felled by a fly!”

Ochowicz, who is now the general manager of the BMC team, admits that he was guilty as charged. “Actually that wasn’t the only car I wrecked,” he said, when recently reminded of the incident. “But I never hit a rider!”

It comes as little surprise that Brown holds a treasure chest of war stories from his decades of working on the bikes of the professionals. One of the riders he enjoyed working with the most was British cyclist Sean Yates. A former pro on Motorola, Yates directed Bradley Wiggins to Tour victory in 2012 and is currently working with Alberto Contador. “Yates was by far the easiest cyclist ever. He always liked to have the most worn out things on his bike, worn out pedals, his saddle off-set, his handle bars tilted down and his quick-release hubs as loose as possible. He’d set up his bike at the beginning of the year and that would be it. The only time you would see him the rest of the year was when he would bring out a tray of beers to the truck, when we were working after a stage.”

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Brown also gives high marks to a certain Lance Armstrong, who he worked with for over a decade. “I worked with Lance from 1993 to 2005 and never had any issues. It was just “do you job and get it done.” Okay we know how things turned out, but with me he was just professional. I wouldn’t say he was demanding, but he was exact. He knew what he wanted. He knew what he liked. At the start of every race, he would come to the truck to go over his race bike with a tape measure and an Allan key.”

Brown does admit that he had a couple of material maniacs over the years, cyclists that were never happy with their equipment. “The most demanding riders are often a bit insecure, thinking that the bike is always the root of the problem. They are always changing things up, always looking for some reason. Yeah, I’ve had a few of those guys over the years,” he says. “But you know what? Those guys never last too long.”

Check in daily as Startt brings a different personality to Aérogramme.