Memories of Colombians at the Tour. An interview with mechanic Chris Van Roosbroeck.

Chris Van Roosbroeck is known by many as Lance Armstrong's personal mechanic, but during the fourteen years that he's spent in the highest level of the sport, he's also worked for many other riders and teams, and has the stories to prove it. I spoke with Chris in Maastricht, Netherlands, about his memories of working for and alongside Colombian riders and mechanics. 
Thanks to Chris for his time and patience.

During the Tour de France in 1988, you often worked alongside the Cafe De Colombia mechanics. What are your memories of that Tour, and of the Colombian team in particular?
I remember that Tour very well, because it was my first. I was working for the Super Confex team. In that Tour, Cafe De Colombia had great publicity. They had coffee stands at the start of the race which certainly made them memorable, but the most important thing is that having them at the Tour was still very special for us. We loved seeing a team from Colombia in Europe. I mean now, you have something like Katusha. That may seem a bit far off, but it's expected. A team from Colombia, particularly back then, was very different. And they were at the Tour de France, the biggest race. They had great riders and an amazing leader too. It was great, and we loved being around them, and talking to them.

Did you have much interaction with the team or the staff?
Yes. In the days before the Tour, we were in the same hotel as them. Super Confex showed up to that hotel, and we already had all the bikes built, and everything ready. But not them. I think this was because they were a smaller team, and had just come all the way from Colombia. We felt so bad for them. We would just work a few hours, and they would be working literally from dusk until dawn. Every day. They had it tough in every way. They worked so hard, and had so much to do and take care of. I think we won the second stage that year, and one of their mechanics came over and said, "Hey! That's not fair. We work so hard, we work our butts guys barely do anything, and you win a stage!" (laughs).

Do you think the problem was that they didn't have the right equipment, or the right tools?
For the Tour, you always get new material, new bikes. Ours came early, but for them it was hard coming all the way from Colombia. They got their bikes really late, and their material came in the last minute from all the companies. They were having to build bikes the night before the start of the Tour!

Delgado, Rooks and Herrera in '88.

Was there a deal between Super Confex and Cafe De Colombia at the Tour that year?
There was no deal really, maybe more of an agreement. I remember that our tall dutch guys, who were very good in the flats, they helped Lucho during those flat, windy stages. They kept him at the front of the peloton, out of trouble. Particularly when they started pulling.

Was that something that a Cafe De Colombia director arranged with Super Confex? That they would look our for Lucho during flat, windy stages?
Yeah, but really...everyone had great sympathy for the Colombians. We wanted to help them!

Oh yeah! They were really liked by teams like ours. We loved having them in the race. They were special, new and different. We got along with them very well.

So that made this agreement work.
Yeah, it was just a matter of helping Lucho stay at the front when we started pulling for van Poppel. So we didn't start pulling if Lucho was sitting in the back. They would go get him, bring him to the front, and then pull. But he couldn't stay up there all the time, he had a hard time hanging in there, but they tried.
[Jean-Paul van Poppel won stages 3, 17 and 22 that year. Fabio Parra won stage 11 into Morzine. Parra was third overall, Herrera was sixth] 

van Poppel

You worked for US Postal for several years. That included the Tour de France where Victor Hugo Peña wore the yellow jersey. What do you remember from that part of the Tour?
It was a very, very special day. Victor Hugo was one of the very first guys to start in the prologue. He started much earlier than Lance. Once we did the team time trial, he was the best in the team, so he got the yellow jersey. Lance was really happy for him, he liked that one of his best helpers had the yellow jersey.

It was obvious that this was a big deal, it's the yellow jersey...but we really understood how important this was that night at the hotel. The president of Colombia called, so to us it suddenly felt like a huge deal too.

How did Victor Hugo react once he knew the president was going to call?
He was very nervous for the whole afternoon. We sat down to dinner, and he looked almost concerned. He told us that someone from the president's office had called him, to let him know to expect the call at some point. He was so nervous, that I don't think he slept much at all.

Was there a celebration for him at the team dinner?
Oh yeah! Wine or champagne, I forget which. It's a very special thing when something like that happens. It's the leader's jersey, but it's also a team worker being rewarded. Everyone was very happy for him, and he also happened to be very loved within the team, so we were all so thrilled for him. Also, if we got the jersey with Lance, that was the job. That was what the team was there to do. Someone like Victor getting the jersey was just a fantastic treat for the team, and for him.

Victor Hugo Peña, still the only Colombian to ever wear the yellow jersey.

Have you seen Victor Hugo this year, now that he's racing with Colombia-Coldeportes?
Yes, it was just a couple of weeks ago. I saw that they were in the same race as us (Lotto-Belisol), and I went to say hello. They were still having their team meeting, but I said hello through the glass. Then I went back, we talked and had some great laughs.

Does it bring back good memories of the Tour in '88 when you see a team like Colombia-Coldeportes?
Yes it does! I love seeing them, the jerseys with the flag look great. It reminds me of how great it was to have an all-Colombian team. I miss seeing more Colombians at the Tour.

What do you miss most about them?
The great free coffee at the start! (Laughs) No, really, they were great to have there, and it's fun to see a new Colombian team. Especially one with Victor Hugo, who I'm so fond of, and have so many great memories with.