Ed: How many years have you been with PEZ, Al?
Alastair Hamilton: Since 2002 – April 6th, Angel Vicioso winning the GP Indurain was my first report. Then I did the race report on the Tour of Flanders, which Tafi won. And I remember being in the Bernebeu stadium in Madrid when Aitor Gonzalez won the Vuelta that year.
Al has been a regular at the Vuelta since ’02.
Andrea Tafi’s impressive Flanders win in 2002 was one of Al’s first race reports.
From Scotland to Spain?
Initially it was because of a woman, but from an international cycling perspective, Britain is out on a limb. It’s OK if you’re happy to watch riders going round and round a track, I suppose. I’ve looked out of my window here to see the QuickStep team pedal past – that’s not going to happen in Britain. But it’s not just about cycling, the weather and the food are so much better. And maybe not so much now, but back then, it was a lot cheaper to live in Spain.
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Nine years you’ve lived in Spain; has the public’s enthusiam for cycling risen or fallen in that time?
It’s about the same, remember that back then there were a lot of very good Spanish riders – Heras, Mancebo, Casero, Olano, Sevilla, Gonzalez, Beloki, Etxebarria . .
Al and his wife Olivia.
Do you miss Scotland, the hills and glens?
There are bigger hills and glens here – and besides, it’s warmer! I do miss the Scottish humour and sarcasm – in Spain you just can’t do sarcasm.
You started off as a graphic designer in Glasgow?
Yes, I just fell into it – it seemed easy and gave me time to ride my bike. Work wasn’t that important in those days, it was just something you had to do to make money to let you go on holiday!
You moved to England?
That was because of a woman too; I married ex-pro Dave Cumming’s sister and worked in his bike shop.
How did you get into pro mechanicing?
I was in Glasgow visiting my parents, but I was actually out of the house when the DS of the Raleigh-Banana pro team, Paul Sherwen rang – I still don’t know how he got the phone number. He rang back and asked if I fancied being his team mechanic. I met him in a restaurant and agreed a deal; I was working in a bike shop on Friday and by the Tuesday I was in the Raleigh team car at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The team rode a full programme in the UK and Europe, including the Milk Race, Nissan Tour of Ireland and semi-classics like GP Isbergues.
Good times as a mechanic?
Paul Sherwen always said that the mark of a good mechanic was that he could sleep throughout a stage – because nothing was going wrong – I managed to do that most days. I worked the Worlds for road, track, time trial, and mountain bikes.
Setting up Boardman’s Lotus bikes was tricky, the seat pin had to be millimetre perfect and then there were two holes to bore which had to be spot on – or a couple of thousand pounds worth of carbon frame was wasted.
Chris Boardman and Lance Armstrong having a chat way back in the day. Al has worked with half of this pair.
At the world pursuit champs semis, Boardman broke a spoke after just five metres and I had to change the wheel – the world’s cameras were on me, but in a situation like that, you just have to keep calm. What was frustrating though, was that wheel was the one he’s used on his time trial bike to win the Tour prologue. I’d spent all day tapping threads into the hollow spindle so we could use bolts to fix it.
Al worked with the eccentric Graeme O’Bree at one point.
At the road Worlds one year, Robert Millar was the first to puncture and again I had the world’s cameras on me.
I quit mechanicing when I moved to Spain, it’s not a real existence, you’re never at home and you’re working seven days a week.
You worked with Graham Baxter as a training camp guide, too?
Yes, he’d have the likes of Robert Millar, Neil Stephens and Sean Yates at the camps – and he’d have a guest appearance from Valverde, one day.
Claudio Chiappucci was fortunate enough to get a picture with Al.
How did you get into journalism?
You forgot the two years I spent as DS with the Maestro team, where I had riders like Tim Harris and Ben Luckwell riding for me.
I got into journalism because Richard Pestes got in touch with me through a Yahoo ‘chat’ group, and asked me to write for him – I started with Spanish Shorts. Since then, I’ve covered every Vuelta; the Tours of Valencia; pro training camps in the area, written race reports for just about every big race and a heck of a lot of interviews.
Al’s all-time favorite: Freddy Maertens.
All time, Freddy Maertens, he was a character and had a lot of style. Alberto Contador deserves a lot of respect, especially if you seen the TV footage of him lying in the road surrounded by blood, when he had the brain haemorage. He’s won all three Grand Tours, but he’s a nice guy too. Boonen has a lot of style and class, as do Ballan and Devolder. But there are a lot less characters around now and no hardmen left – Museeuw and Van Petegem were the last. For the future, Nicholas Roche is a name to watch.
The Tour of Flanders, it’s a man’s race, it has everything that Paris-Roubaix has; cobbles, mud, rain, plus – hills.
PEZ Press Creds will see you to a finishing straight walk inside the barriers at the Vuelta…or Worlds.
Best thing about being with Pez?
Walking down a finishing straight at the Vuelta, with your Pez creds, looking at all the folks on the other side of the barriers wishing they were you!
Any tricky Pez moments?
At last year’s Vuelta, Spanish TV wanted to interview a member of the International Press Corps – in Spanish – that was me! I had no idea what I was going to get asked; I never saw the broadcast – I’m glad about that!
It might have been eons ago, but don’t forget: Al was a bike racer and a pretty fair one at that.
Lance joining Astana?
I don’t think it’s a good idea, there will be conflict – Armstrong, Contador, Leipheimer and Kloden, all in the same team? And I don’t think there’s any doubt that Armstrong will ride the Tour. It’s good for Nike, Oakley and Trek; it gives the press plenty to write about; it brings American dollars into Europe with all the Lance fans, but I think the sport should be looking forward at what the young riders are doing, not looking back at Lance.
Al with his wife Olivia sharing a meal last week with Ed Hood and his wife Marlene (Ed isn’t in the picture, he’s taking it).
Schumi, Bernie and all the rest – what’s the answer?
Stupid boys, they don’t think about the consequences of their actions – all the people who loose their jobs because of what they’ve done. Life time bans are the only answer, it has to be written into the rider’s contracts that if they are caught doping, then it’s finished.
Al also does a bit of lion taming work in his spare time.
So you’ve sold bikes, fixed bikes, directed riders and written about bikes and riders – what else is there?
Al: Well, I wouldn’t mind riding my bike a little more often!
Don’t forget to say hi to Al on Facebook!