So, was Lance’s bike nobbled in the 2003 Tour? I’m referring to the rubbing rear brake story… “Media hype, the calliper was probably bumped against a wall or another bike on the way to the start.” When the man telling you this is Alan Buttler, one of Big Tex’s mechanics and a no-nonsense Nottingham man to boot you cannot argue.
Eh – a Nottingham man? You thought that Lance’s personal mechanic was Belgian? Only for Le Tour – the rest of the season Lance’s Trek is cared for by the USPS team of mechanics under the leadership of Julien de Vries.
The Nottingham connection comes with Alan, his broad accent and bizarre phraseology causing USPS main man Johan Bruyneel so much of a problem that Buttler had to buy him a Nottingham dialect phrase book.
When you have one of Lance’s spanner men sitting across the table you have to ask the big questions…
So what about the crash on Luz Ardiden?
“When he came down, Mayo landed on top of him, when Lance re-mounted he didn’t know that his chainstay had cracked in the crash.
“When he got out of the saddle the stay flexed and caused the gear cable to slacken momentarily and slip a gear.
“Lance cottoned on that there was a problem and rode the rest of the climb in the saddle.”
This was also the incident that gave Buttler one of his most heart stopping moments as a mechanic.
“He had his own mechanic in the car behind; I was already at the hotel having driven the truck up there. When he went down then pulled his foot I thought he had broken a shoe plate.
“That’s a nightmare, you have to go into the rider’s bag in the back of the car, fish out his spare shoe and he has to sit at the side of the road and change shoes! I thought that the Tour was lost.”
Fortunately the shoe plate was not the problem and the Tour was not lost. Buttler says he “fell into” the job, an injury sustained racing saw him do some work on the bikes for the BCF whilst convalescing.
One job lead to another and via Paul Sherwen he found himself doing some work for Motorola. This became permanent and he joined USPS in 1997.
The Buttler family has been involved with cycling for 100 years and he likens the USPS to an extension of his family.
This atmosphere is no accident but something which he says Bruyneel works hard at to cultivate.
What about Lance, is he aloof? Buttler gives us an anecdote which would seem to belie this;
“I popped into the camper van at the start of a stage after he had started to ride more strongly in last year’s Tour.
“He thought I wanted something signed; I’m always doing stuff like that for the Dave Rayner Fund or whatever.
“I said, no, I just came into see if you were looking any better, you’ve been looking rough these last few days!
“He just frowned and said, ‘Has it been that obvious?'”
Is Lance as demanding as he’s made out?
“Not really, but he is very knowledgeable about equipment, right down to the smallest technical details. One of the main reasons USPS ride tubulars rather than [the easier for the mechanic] clinchers is that ‘Lance likes them!'”
Hutchinsons are the tyre of choice secured with Buttler’s patent Vittoria / Clement blend of cement. The spare machines are on clinchers though, to make life just a little easier.
Are any of the riders real equipment fanatics?
“Not really but one of my pet hates is guys moaning about their bike at the finish if they have bad legs, I say why didn’t you tell me 100 kilometres ago? You have no idea the amount of guys who don’t think to click the cable tension adjuster if their indexing goes off a little bit.”
Whilst on the subject of pet hates;
“Spanish hotels, you can’t get breakfast before 10.00 and we’re up at 6.30! Washing the bikes, I still don’t enjoy that, even with the hot water pressure washer we have in the truck.
“Every rider’s machine is washed after every race, even in dry conditions, as Buttler explains;
“Energy drinks make a sticky mess and if there is a lot of sand flying about the bikes get in a heck of a mess.”
The team cars get a wash too, every night on a stage race. The aforementioned truck is a real Aladdin’s cave, not only do the road bikes live in there but also those exotic Trek airofoil TT bikes.
The Olympic TT champion Vjatcheslav Ekimov’s machine is there as is the one that took big George Hincapie to the overall win at de Panne.
The TT bikes are still on 9 speed, (no point in wasting good equipment) but one of the benefits of the bar end shifters is that the indexing can be clicked out and a 10 speed wheel fitted.
On the subject of gearing, the new 10 speed cassettes are a real boon to Buttler and his colleagues. The 11-23 configuration means that mountain stages apart the ratios almost never have to be altered.
The truck contains the pressure washer; washing machine; tumble drier and a generator (Spain again — dubious electricity supplies!), but Buttler says the generator in the bus is more important because it powers the coffee machine.
What about the new Dura-Ace chainsets?
“Very strong, sealed bearings, simple to work with.”
I ask why the team rides Chris King headsets;
“Shimano don’t make headsets anymore, pretty much everybody is on hiddenset with A-head clamping and Shimano won’t pay the licence fees to the patent holders.”
Despite the apparent glamour of working with a tour winner, it really is a demanding job, between the 3 days of de Panne and the Tour, Buttler will be at home for only four days; a trip to his God-daughter’s wedding will involve a complex web of flights to get him to Newcastle and back to the continent for the start of the Tour.
So next time you hear Johan Bruyneel speaking in a Nottingham accent don’t worry, he’s just talking with the mechanic!
VeloVeritas wishes to thank Alan for his time, and wishes him and his team all the best for 2007.