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Stories From A Wrench’s War Room

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Dec 19, 2016 – “I’ll never forget my first Tour,” Canadian mechanic Geoff Brown recalls of his debut at the world’s biggest bike race. “I was in the team car with [then Motorola team manager] Jim Ochowicz 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!”

Words and Images by James Startt

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Brown was one of the first North Americans on the European circuit when he arrived back in the early-1990s. But after more than 20 years’ experience, today’s Cannondale-Drapac team mechanic is nothing less than a fixture on the roads of the Tour de France.

And Ochowicz, who is now the general manager of BMC Racing, admits that he was guilty as charged. “Actually, that wasn’t the only car I wrecked,” he said, when reminded of his losing fight with a fly. “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 pros. One that he enjoyed working with the most was Briton Sean Yates. A former pro on the Motorola team, Yates later directed Bradley Wiggins to Tour victory in 2012 and worked with Alberto Contador on the Tinkoff team in 2016.

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“Yates was by far the easiest cyclist ever,” Brown says. “He always liked to have the most worn-out things on his bike—worn-out pedals, his saddle offset, his handlebars 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!”

Brown also gives high marks to a certain Lance Armstrong: “I worked with Lance from 1993 to 2005 and never had any issues. It was just ‘do your 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 Allen key.”

Brown does admit that he had a couple of equipment maniacs over the years, cyclists who were never happy with their bikes. “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.”