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The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Two
By Staff
Date: 8/19/2003
The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Two

By Dave Towle

Read Part One here.

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 on!

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.

Dave Towle

Listen to Dave Towle on The Winners Circle, Wednesdays at 9am Pacific Time on AdventureSports Radio.

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The 1981 Coors Classic

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