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My Road Racing Years

Posted Oct 23 2011 5:12pm
This will be ancient history. I posted a comment on another reader's blog post a few weeks ago and mentioned my racing days. That reader didn't realize I had been a road racer for a few years. I thought I've talked about it now and then, but maybe not recently. So, I thought I'd do another post on it. Warning: I will be name-dropping and not being my normal humble self. I am quite proud of what I accomplished in the few years I raced despite having very little natural talent.

For a little color, I dug out every single picture I have of me from my racing years. For the first time I scanned them into the digital realm. There is only 16 known photographs from my 3 1/2 years of racing.

A brief history and the first name-droppingSomeone, or several someones, have said, "If you want to get better, race and train with people who are better than you". That was never my plan, it just happened. Looking back it was amazing how I was in the right place at the right time.

1976: We were living in Pittsburgh. I turn 13. For my birthday in May of that year I got my first geared bike: a Paris-Sport labeled 10-speed. My best friend had gotten his first 10-speed for his birthday a month earlier. My friend and I lived on our bikes that summer. We rode for hours everyday. By summers end we were riding 20-30 miles a day. My brother, older by two years, was already racing. Mostly at the local Thursday Night Races run by the Allegheny Cycling Association in the parking lot of the Pittsburgh Zoo. A perfect 1 km, four corner criterium course with slight drop on the back stretch and rise on the front stretch.

1977: My friend looses his interest in riding. I continue. I start going to the Thursday Night races with my brother. First to watch. Then by mid-summer I tried a race. They ran three races. A "C" race, "B" race and an "A" Race. The slower, less experienced racers ride the C. Top racers, ride the A. The A race had the local Cat 1 racers and top level Juniors. That first year I ride the C and quickly advance to the B. I was having fun. I catch the racing bug. Late summer a new rider arrives in town and is bunking at the Chew"s house. Danny and Tom Chew are two of the best Junior riders in town along with Matt Eaton . My brother was doing quite a bit of training with Danny. The new rider is Davis Phinney . Davis says in his latest book, The Happiness of Pursuit, released this year, "I spent the autumn crashed at Chez Chew, going up against some surprisingly stiff competition in the Thursday-night races around the parking lot at the Pittsburgh Zoo".

1978: I make more of a commitment to racing. I start training through the winter. I spend a lot of time on rollers, jump roping, and weight lifting. I earn money mowing lawns in the summer and shoveling driveways in the winter to buy my first racing bike. My parents helped with the frame, a 1977 Nishiki Pro. I pay for the rest. By the spring of 1978, at the age of 14 (going on 15) I am racing the "A" race with the likes of Davis, Tom, Danny and Matt. I get my USCF license so I can race in USCF sanctioned events and set my sights on qualifying for National Championships to be held in Milwaukee, WI. My age puts me in the Intermediate Boys Classification. I'm racing with a restricted gear of 89 gear inches. I'm not winning any club races, but I'm finishing every Thursday night race with the lead group, which is usually won by Davis. Some laps are so blistering fast we are pulling in 1K lap times of 1:18-1:20. Amazing to think I could do those times in a 89 inch gear. I spun my butt off and hung on for dear life.

The first USCF sanctioned event I ride is the Intermediate Boys State Championship. There are only 8 of us. I had never tested myself against guys my own age. The top four of us would qualify for the National Championships. It was a hilly course and I was a climber. I attacked on the first big hill to test everyone. Four guys blew up from my effort, three guys came with me. I got second, nipped at the line by Dave Letteri . I would finish higher than Dave at the Nationals, but that would be the last time I beat him. He was a track rider and would become the Intermediate Boys National Track Champion in 1979 (I had the pleasure of watching him win that first title at the Northbrook IL Velodrome). The first of 8 national titles he would win in his career. He would be on the 1988 Olympic Pursuit Team and later be Lance Armstrong's TdF mechanic in 2000.

The very first pictures of me racing are these blurry ones my dad took at the National Championships in Milwaukee where I would finish 13th in the field sprint.
1978 USCF National Championships, Milwaukee, WI
This is the Intermediate Boys lining up for the start. I am in a red jersey with white stripe down the side. If you look at the finish line podium at the window with the blue shudders on the right side, my head is at the bottom of that window. I'm wearing a red and white "Raleigh" hat. Which a race official made me turn inside out just after this picture was snapped because I wasn't sponsored by Raleigh.

1978 USCF National Championships, Milwaukee, WI
Here's us on the first hill. I had hopes of winning and was quite disappointed with the 13th place. Despite two small hills, it was basically a flat course. Not one for a climber like me. I really feel I could have been very aggressive if it had had some decent climbs. One week later, I raced a USCF sanctioned race in Pittsburgh, called the Pittsburgh Classic. One half of the course was uphill, the other half was downhill. I ended up soloing away after one lap, lapping the entire field and winning. Seems like I peaked one week too late.

1978 USCF National Championships, Milwaukee, W
A blurry photo of the final sprint as we cross the finish line. I've never been able to pick myself out in this picture, but I'm in there somewhere in 13th place.
Velonews 08/25/1978
Here's a write-up of the race in the August 25th issue of Velonews. I had a great time watching the other National Championship events that day. I got to see Greg LeMond race in the Junior road race. As well as many other Junior and Senior riders I looked up to. But Greg was my hero at that time (and always has been).

A few weeks after we return to Pitsburgh my family relocates to the suburbs of Chicago. Gone is the cycling community I was racing with. I no longer have access to weekly races, or club training rides. Looking back many years later, I realized it was the beginning of the end of my racing career. My racing results went downhill from there. I trained solo and never realized how to replace the high caliber race training I had when I was in Pittsburgh. It's probably better it happened this way. Coming off the results of 1978 I had set my goals very high. Way higher than my potential ever would be.

I was able to ride three USCF races in the Chicago area that summer after we moved. All the results were disappointing. A bad crash in one (not my fault), and a couple of freak mechanical's in the others.
1978 Elk Grove IL Criterium
The first of was criterium in Elk Grove. It took place in an industrial park. Here I'm in the red and white jersey on the right. I think that's our new family station wagon in the background. A gold Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser. That's the car would I would drive to my Senior Prom in 1981.
1978 Elk Grove IL Criterium
And here I'm taking a pull on the front. I don't recall my placing, but I remember having a mechanical on the last lap and having to chase back on. On caught onto the back of the pack just as the final sprint started.

1978 A criterium in the South Suburbs of Chicago
The next race would be in a south suburb of Chicago, I don't even remember where. Here my brother is putting in a few more pounds of pressure into my front tire.
1978 A criterium in the South Suburbs of Chicago
Here I am in action coming out of a corner. I would later be taken down by another rider and spend the rest of the race bloodied and chasing. It was the guy you see behind me here. He is also in the Natl Championship start line photo, number 68 on the very left hand side of the photo. This guy couldn't ride a straight line to save his life. He would take me down again the following year in the Illinois State Championships. Maybe I was the idiot for being behind him when I knew how dangerous he was.

I was very excited to finish my 1978 season at the 1978 Boul Mich race in downtown Chicago.
A big name field was to be expected. Since there was no Intermediate Boys race, I was to race with the Juniors. I would be moving up into the Junior ranks in 1979.

1978 Boul Mich race, downtown Chicago
There was a big name Junior field as well. On the left is Jeff Bradley in the red Kretschmer Wheat Germ Jersey. He won the Junior National Championship that summer defeating defending champion Greg LeMond in a sprint. I'm not sure why he isn't wearing the Stars and Stripes jersey of the National Champion. He would go on to be on the original 7-Eleven team that made history for American Cycling. I am in the second row in the red and white jersey, center of the picture. Andy Hampsten was in the front row, but not in this picture. I thought I'd hit the big time riding in this field. I would end up dropping a chain on the rough Chicago streets and not being able to catch back onto the peleton.
1978 Boul Mich race, downtown Chicago
On the streets of Chicago.
1978 Boul Mich race, downtown Chicago
Racing past the famous Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. I'm on the right side of this photo. It must have been a blistering pace because we are strung out only two wide.
1978 Boul Mich race, downtown Chicago

Over the winter leading up to the 1979 season I keep in shape all winter. I ride rollers, lift weights and with an unusually snowy winter I put in 500 miles on the cross-country skis as well. I have big plans. The biggest goal is to qualify for the Junior National Championships on the road and time trial. First year juniors don't typically make it to Nationals. Even though I train hard, by the time State Championships roll around I haven't even raced one race yet. I just didn't have access to any nearby races. I've been training alone. The State Championships are on a weekend in June. The time trial is on Saturday, road race on Sunday. Held at two different locations. My dad is nice enough to drive me both days. The time trail course is an out and back in the middle of Illinois farm country. It's windy. I drop out half way through the 25 mile time trial in order to be fresh for the road race on Sunday. I would have had to use everything I had to make a qualifying time in the wind.
1979 IL District Championships
This is the Junior Men crossing the start finish line after the first lap of the 12 mile course with rolling hills. I'm in the white jersey with a red and blue stripe. Talk about retro before it was retro. I'm in wool head to toe. We will ride 6 laps for 72 miles. The longest race I've ever raced up to that point. A few miles up the road after this picture was snapped, two guys rub tires and take some people down. I have no where to go and end up endoing over a guy that's already on the ground. We're going downhill, I hit hard, land on my head and somersault to a sitting position. My bike was was flung into the ditch. My front wheel is toast. The guy driving the van with our spare wheels is the father of another racer that has crashed. He's helping his son and tells me to get my own wheel. After the race I make a formal protest that goes nowhere. I eventually get my wheel changed and start my solo chase. I pass a few others that had crashed. They can't latch onto my wheel as I pass. It takes me a lap of solo time-trialing, but I catch the main pack. I ask where everyone is. There are four guys off the front. The first four finishers qualify for Nationals. I don't wait around and breakaway from the pack and chase solo for the rest of the race. I finish alone in fifth place. Again I was disappointed. I rode solo for more than 50 miles and just miss qualifying for Nats.

I'm lost. I miss out on my goal for the year. I eventually decide to make a new goal and train for my first Stage Race later in the summer, the Wisconsin Milk Race. My parents take a week of vacation to take me. It turns out to be a big embarrassment. I get dropped in the criterium stages and bonk big time on the long road stage. Training alone hasn't given me the speed I needed to race at that level. However, the fun part was watching the other riders. It had a big name field. Juniors Greg LeMond and Jeff Bradley were racing with the Seniors. Eric Heiden was in the field and his sister, Beth was racing in the women's field. Lots of other big names as well. It was fun.

The next four pictures are from the only other race I rode that summer. It was the same race in the south suburbs that I had gone to in 1978. This time as a Junior. I don't remember what I placed, but I finished with the main pack. I don't remember his name, but the guy in the yellow and red jersey in the second picture, was a guy I had raced with back in Pittsburgh. It was cool to reconnect with him.

1979 Chicago Suburb Criterium

1979 Chicago Suburb Criterium

1979 Chicago Suburb Criterium

1979 Chicago Suburb Criterium
I made big plans again for 1980. I trained all winter again. My first race was in April. It was the Capital Criterium in Madison, Wi. A criterium around the capital building. I finished ninth in the sprint, a surprise for me. I was not a sprinter. It would be my last road race. I was burnt out and decided to take a year off from racing.

I never went back.

I kept training, it's all I knew how to do at the time. I did a triathlon that summer. It was 1980 and triathlons were just catching on. I did that one and didn't train for anything again for 7 years when I decided to run a marathon.
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