By Dave Towle
Read Part One
Flagstaff Mountain Prologue
I’d never seen anybody buy an entire case of toothpaste before. For that
matter, I’d never seen anyone buy every copy of the same album available at
Rocky Mountain Records and Tapes (the album was Tattoo You, by the Rolling
Stones which was high on the list). There was a lot of enthusiastic shopping
exhibited by the Soviet team and staff, as each day, as they wrapped up
training, they ate, then went shopping, and acclimatized for the biggest race of
the year for their formidable national squad. They were allowed to hold onto
some of the prize money they’d won in hard currency (for once), as they raced at
some of the biggest international amateur events of the day, like the Milk Race
in England. They didn’t hold on to a large percentage of what they won, but it
was a small piece of a huge pie, as they would regularly put 6 riders in the top
ten at the biggest races in the world. So every ruble they did have they brought
with them, as well as hard currency their friends and family at home had, as
this was a chance to use it!
1981 really was a different time, politically, and you’ll never forget, if
you were alive during that time, that the whole thing was pretty damn serious.
It was, looking back on everything, absurd, but the tension between the top two
world powers undeniably existed. The good thing was, that summer in Boulder,
you’d have had no idea, judging by the way the community embraced the team.
There was no way the Soviets expected this, and every time they were alone, they
would just laugh, and smile, knowing they were a part of something much larger
than a bike race. Lemond knew this, too. He seemed to be very well prepared, as
the teams would often ride past each other, during training that week, and each
day both teams would rubberneck.
The Soviets seemed to agree amongst themselves that Greg looked pretty tough,
but, did he have a team? The very young French guys of Renault/Elf/Gitane,
including Marc Madiot and Pascal Poisson, two riders who went on to do something
later in their careers, were dying in the heat and altitude this year in
Colorado. The natural beauty that the riders experienced on their daily
training rides was awe striking, and the toughness of the courses that they
previewed seemed to leave them confident that the best man would win. Luckily
for Lemond, he had a few American allies, and the teams were relatively small,
only five riders each. That was definitely to his favor, as it looked to be The
Red Five vs. the World, and the 1981 Coors was going to be the best racing in
the history of Continent!
The prologue would take place on a short, but steep, climb, from Boulders
Chautauqua Park, to the Flagstaff House restaurant, about 2 miles up the
mountain. I was actually wondering if they’d even use their small chain-ring at
all, as the whole Soviet team seemed capable of muscling up the climb in the
53/19, no problem. I used to work at that restaurant, and would use a 42/23, and
paper boy, on a bad day. I was impressed, to say the least. How do these guys
ride criteriums? That was one thing the Americans were asking. In reality, they
were excellent, but the general classification of the 1981 Coors Classic would
be decided in the long road stages, of which there were a few. If you’ve ever
spent a summer in Colorado, you know that afternoon thunderstorms roll in
everyday for about 100 days in a row, at about 4:30. The prologue started a few
minutes late, but so did the driving rain.
There was a connection between Italian and Russian cycling that existed long
before Yuri and Ernesto started their designs a couple years ago, to rule the
world with Landbouwcredit/Colnago, as the team that came to the Coors from the
Soviet Union was riding almost entirely Italian equipment, minus the tires - oh
those Soviet tires! The bikes though, were Colnagos, custom built for each guy.
The gruppo was Campagnolo Super Record, with Mavic rims, Cinelli bars and stem,
pretty much the top choice of the day, including Adidas shoes. The red Castelli
kit that they wore looked so freakin’ ominous, and fast. There was no amateur
team in the world that intimidated like these guys. How odd that they were so
nice off the bikes; no one who met them that year would deny that. My question,
to myself, was if they were like Darth Vader on the bike? I really hoped not,
and was really psyched when I had a chance to ask Greg Lemond, last year. “They
were fair and strong," he said. Greg is one of the few guys in the sport who
really tells us the truth, so that was awesome to hear.
The fastest riders averaged about 28 miles an hour, on a very tough course,
considering how short it was. Times of just over four minutes were being posted
early. The rain was really coming down, and the start ramp was painted 2 weeks
early, in the driveway at Aisner’s place. It looked great, as all of the Coor’s
Classic marketing stuff did, year after year, except maybe the Hawaiian theme
year, but you can’t hit it out of the park every time, right? So, the start ramp
turned out to be pretty slick, as the paint was applied in a way that slickly
coated the 30 degree, four foot wide drop onto the rain slicked tarmac.
Tony Hawk would have thought twice about dropping in, I’d bet. Rider after
rider did, though, and the huge crowd seemed to almost enjoy the tough
conditions. Colorado had already developed a very well educated, and vocal,
group of pro cycling fans, and this was a day they’d been waiting for. Huge
cheers went up as one of the most famous men in America, speed skating superstar
Eric Heiden, launched off the ramp, racing in the colors of 7-11, who’d just
begun their commitment to the sport. The level of excitement was starting to
peak, out in the crowd, as the last 20 riders, and therefore the top guys that
in racing that day, were warmed up, and absolutely chomping at the bit. It was
You just had to cringe when you heard Al McDonald’s electronic clock beeping,
down from five seconds until the start. Ian Emmerson, one of the top English
speaking UCI commissars of all time, was sending each rider off, into a huge
black hole of doubt, courage, teamwork, and 9 days of digging deeper than I
think any of them thought they could. It was war, but of a kind that we all
should love, on the bicycle, not off.
We’ll be back in a few days, and let you know how the general classification
sorted out, and who had the coveted Coor’s Classic leader’s jersey for the
Boulder Mountain road race, starting 12 hours after the awards ended, in front
of the Hotel Boulderado, right in downtown Boulder, Colorado.
Thanks for reading.
Listen to Dave Towle on The Winners Circle, Wednesdays at 9am Pacific