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Setting the Cornerstones - Ron Kiefel
By Staff
Date: 10/21/2006
Setting the Cornerstones - Ron Kiefel

Setting the Cornerstones - Ron Kiefel
2006 Moab Century - Riding with Ron Kiefel of the historic 7-Eleven Team & looking back at his Stage 15 Victory in the 1985 Giro d'Italia... Photos and Selected Palmares

By Dave Shields

At the 2006 Moab Century I got the chance to ask American cycling legend Ron Kiefel to briefly describe his historic 1985 Giro d’Italia stage 15 victory.

On the Alpe d'Huez  Photo c. Ron Kiefel

“Okay. In brief, I won.”

Hmm. Maybe I’ll relate the extended version he shared with the capacity crowd at the pre-ride pasta dinner instead. He had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Ron and his fellow American teammates on the 7-Eleven squad didn’t know too much about what they were up against when they were entered into their first Grand Tour. He’d heard it was three weeks long and remembers thinking, “That sucks.”

As the season began Ron was surprised that at six feet, he was bigger than most of his competition. Their small stature wasn’t matched by small attitudes, though. At one point Kiefel got into a bit of a handlebar match with one of the cockier Europeans, each of them giving the other several nudges.

Ron’s future teammate, Dag-Otto Lauritzen (the Norweigan joined 7-Eleven in 1987), eventually got his attention. “Hey Ron, do you know who that is?”

“Ah, no.”

Dag grinned. “That’s Bernard Hinault.”

Whoops. Ron hadn’t realized he’d been messing with The Badger.

Ron on the attack  Photo c. Ron Kiefel

This was before the days of radio communication or in-car video monitors, so athletes had to make a lot more of their own decisions with a lot less information available to them. Their only info came when 7-Eleven directeur sportif Jim Ochowicz drove up alongside his athletes.

When he made such a visit on the stage to Perugia he told them that a group of thirty men had escaped off the front. “How come none of you are in that break? Get up front and chase them down.”

Ron and his teammates all agreed with Och that it was a good strategy, until their directeur dropped back into his spot in the caravan again. Then they said, “Yeah, right. Us chase? We’re just the Americans.”

They got away with it because a pair of Italian teams were both looking for a stage wins and sent their powerful squads up front instead. Ron couldn’t believe how much pressure they applied, shredding the peloton. In no time at all only two 7-Eleven boys were remaining, him and Andy Hampsten.

As they captured the breakaway three cyclists attacked off the front. Ron thought to himself, I guess I’d better go with them so that Och doesn’t get mad again. So he did.

Ron Kiefel at Red Rocks 2004
They hit the final climb which was about 4 kilometers long at a mild 4 or 5% grade. Then the attacking started. Spaniard Marino Lejarreta, Italian Roberto Conte, and Portugal’s Acacio da Silva each attacked separately. On all three occasions the other riders brought the escapee back. So Ron, who had already been surprised to learn in an earlier stage that he wasn’t a world-class climber, decided, I guess I’m supposed to give it a go next.

He did, and he looked under his arm at the incredulous threesome as he left them behind. He could tell they were probably thinking the same thing he was. “Yea right. Like an American is going to win this race on a solo attack.”

The peloton was right on their heels so they let him go as the mass of cyclists swallowed the escapees up. Ron was burying himself in the effort to stay out of reach of the hungry pack when he noticed Dutchman Gerrie Knetemann up ahead. This was a surprise. How many more cyclists were still farther up the road? Ron thought he might be in the lead until now. Knetemann and others must have either been remnants of the original breakaway, or they had attacked when the front of the pack had been out of his view.

Ron decided he’d better jump past Knetemann fast, before the Dutchman knew what had happened. But somehow Knetemann sensed he was coming and tucked in behind his wheel. He couldn’t shake his passenger as the climb continued.

After they crested the hill, the road undulated toward the finish line. In his minds eye Ron can still see the hazy route to the finish. Dust had been kicked up by the lead vehicles. Fans leaned over the barriers and dangled from roadside balconies. The road into the plaza was made of rough cut lava stone. Ron kept searching for cyclists in the blurry distance, but whether due to a vibrating ride or low visibility, he was never certain that he saw any.

Three hundred meters from the line he decided that he may as well give everything he had in order to finish in the best position now available. He kicked as hard as he could, burying himself in extreme misery, yet knowing he didn’t have the strength to hold off one of the top cyclists from one of the premier cycling countries.

Meters away from the line he wondered why Knetemann hadn’t yet come around, then saw the Dutchman still on his rear wheel. Somehow Ron was the stronger man at this moment, even though he was sprinting from a disadvantageous position. He poured his remaining effort into the pedals and crossed the line.

Two dozen cycling photographers simultaneously captured Ron’s look of pure confusion as the flashing bulbs made him aware that he had just won the biggest race of his life. In the photograph of that moment that he now displays in his home Francisco Mosier leads a furious European peloton in the sprint toward the line only seconds behind Kiefel’s illogical and unexpected triumph over Knetemann.

Although the finish city is among the world’s most famous for confections, for some reason Ron’s prize didn’t include any of the candy at all, much less his weight in Perugia Chocolate as many would have expected. He now wonders if he was too disoriented to ask for what was probably due him.

1986 Tour de France suffering on the Alpe d' Huez 
Photo c. Ron Kiefel

When asked to describe riding Grand Tours Kiefel summed it up in typically succinct fashion, “Not fun to do. Fun to talk about, though.”

I asked Ron what he does for fun these days. “We hold 7-Eleven reunions every five years or so. The stories get better every time.” The last gathering was in Cabo San Lucas so you know they had fun.

1986 Coors Classic         Photo c. Wheat Ridge Cyclery

Ron now runs Wheat Ridge Cyclery along with his family. He’s in the process of overseeing a major expansion where 10,000 square feet of the formerly 18,000 square foot store have been demolished and replaced with a new 30,000 square foot structure now billed as Colorado’s largest single store. They carry premier lines like Trek, Gary Fisher, Lemond, Specialized, Serotta, Orbea, Seven, Titus, Yeti, and more. Wheat Ridge Cyclery is known for fitting bicycles both physically and financially to their clientele. They look at all of their customers as athletes and they pride themselves in presenting opportunities to make cycling enjoyable.

Ron in the Stars & Stripes  Photo c. Wheat Ridge Cyclery

Ron Kiefel Profile
Birthdate: April 11, 1960
1985 - 1989 7 Eleven
1990: 7 Eleven - Hoonved
1991- 1992 Motorola
1993 - 1994 Coors Light (United States of America)
1995: Saturn (United States of America)

Selected Palmares
1983: USA Road Champion (Amateur)
1984: 3rd 100 km Bronze Medal Los Angeles Olympic Team Time Trial
(Ron Kiefel, Roy Knickman, Davis Phinney, Andy Weaver)
1985: 2nd - Stage 2 Tour Méditerranéen, Toulon to Mt Faron
1985: 1rst - Stage  15 Giro d'Italia, L'Aquila - Perugia 208 kms.
1985: 60th - Giro d'Italia General Classification
1985: 1rst - Trofeo Laigueglia, Laigueglia, Italy
1986  96th - Tour de France General Classification
1986 1rst - Coors Classic
1987: 1rst - Los Gatos Road Race
1987: 2nd - Stage 5 Tour de Suisse, Brügg bei Biel
1987: 7th - Stage 17 Tour de France, Millau-Avignon,
1987: 82nd - Tour de France General Classification
1988: 1rst - National Elite/Pro Road Champion
1988: 3rd - Gent - Wevelgem
1988: 69th - Tour de France General Classification
1989: 73rd - Tour de France General Classification
1990: 3rd - Stage 4 Criterium du Dauphiné Libéré
1990: 1rst - Stage 1 Critérium International, Apt
1990: 3rd - Stage 8 Tour de France, Epinal-Besançon
1990: 82nd - Tour de France General Classification
1991: 3rd - Stage 8 Tour de Suisse, Murten
1991:138th - Tour de France General Classification
1992: 3rd - General Classification Tour de Luxembourg
1992: 1rst - Stage 2 Tour de Luxembourg, Dippach
1993: 1rst - Los Gatos Road Race
All photos courtesy of Ron Kiefel c.Wheat Ridge Cyclery

Dave Shields is the author of the bestselling and Benjamin Franklin Award Winning novel, The Race. His sequel, The Tour, is receiving widespread praise for introducing doping issues from the perspective of the athletes. His work in progress is the story of Saul Raisin’s miraculous recovery from a coma. Dave is often seen discussing these topics on networks such as CNN, ESPN, and Fox News. By special arrangements with the publisher, personalized copies are available through the Daily Peloton by clicking here.

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