Hilton Head's Butler works on cycling craft out of spotlight

July 17, 2011 

While the eyes of the cycling world were on the first stages of the Tour de France last week, Hilton Head Island native Chris Butler was toiling in the mountains of Austria, helping the BMC Racing Team to a third-place finish in the Tour of Austria, a race that draws decidedly less fanfare.

And that's OK with Butler.

In his second pro season, Butler is still learning what it takes to ride on the sport's biggest stages -- and biggest mountains -- and riding in Austria while the world's best were competing in one of the three grand tours provided opportunities he wouldn't have had in France.

He got a lesson in how to close out a stage, finishing sixth in the second stage -- on July 4, no less -- and had the experience of fighting to hang onto a prime position, riding in the top 10 overall until he had to sacrifice his position for the good of the team in the sixth of eight stages and faded to a 38th-place overall finish.

It was a strong return to top-level competition for Butler, who crashed out of the Giro d'Italia in his grand tour debut in May with a broken pelvis.

After the time off the bike recovering from the injury, Butler was especially content to sit out the Tour de France -- "The Tour de France is just so, so hard that it would be too tough to get a result," he said -- and the Tour of Austria provided just the kind of confidence boost he needed.

"I felt like I was one of the strongest people in the race," said Butler, who finished 10th among riders under age 25. "If the plan worked out for me, I should've been able to finish top 10. That would've been huge, but I kind of had to throw that out and help the guy who was just a little bit better than me."

That might seem like a bitter pill to swallow for an up-and-coming rider on the cusp of the best finish of his young career, but that's all part of the learning process, too. Butler has been learning the ropes from the team's more experienced riders, and he knows his place as one of the squad's newest, youngest cyclists.

"It's no questions asked. It's what you have to do," Butler said. "When I'm in that position and I'm the strongest on the team, I'll want everyone to help me. That's what it's all about."

Butler doesn't expect to race the final grand tour -- the Vuelta de Espana -- this season, saying he would rather stick to the one-week races and try to compile more encouraging results like last week's.

After a handful of tune-up races, his next big race is the Tour of Poland next month, followed by the Tour of Utah and the Tour of Colorado.

Those races are far from the sport's spotlight, but that's OK with Butler.

He's content to learn on the job with the knowledge that his time will come soon enough.

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