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The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Three
By Staff
Date: 8/27/2003
The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Three

By Dave Towle

The 1981 Coors Classic Part One
The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Two

“Our motto is: top speed, at all times.” --Victor Kapitanov

That really was the “motto” of the Soviet Olympic cycling team; I learned of the “motto” that morning, after the translator explained to me what Victor Kapitanov (the coach, and 1960 road race gold winner at the Rome Olympic games), had just told the team.

Oleg Logvin looked over at me, and he just rolled his eyes. Oleg was by far the most simpatico of all the guys, at least towards me. He really seemed to love what he was seeing here in Colorado. Being a blond, blue-eyed, 6 foot tall Olympic team time trial gold medalist didn’t seem to hurt his confidence much, either.

The first rider expected at the start house from our team was Zhakhid Zagretinov, and he was warmed up and ready. The guys were primed, their special rubberized Adidas skin-suits were brought out that morning, and that just helped add to the pressure. This was a day that would start what was sure to be a very long and hard 10 day, 1,000 mile race. Everyone at breakfast that morning knew that the team would need to do something special, and show themselves on the way up Flagstaff Mountain that day. When Zhakhid hit the finish, he had ridden the fastest time so far that day, but there were a lot of big engines left to come.

It seemed like the crowd around the VW Van that was issued to the team for the race was starting to get a little too close. The mechanic would kind of sneer at people every now and then, and they stayed at bay. It was kind of a weird vibe that morning, as Greg Lemond was talked into sitting at the breakfast table with some of the Soviets. It didn’t make for good TV, as the Soviets just stared at Greg, who had to wonder to himself how he would let himself get talked into this idiotic media stunt. No worries though, the guys just didn’t speak any English, and Greg wasn’t exactly taking Russian in school at that point.

"Smilin" George Mount, far left, inducted into the Cycling Hall of Fame in 1997. More info here.

George Mount was another guy that the team was worried about. He certainly was doing some talking before the race, and they’d gotten wind of that. The team's strongman, winner of the road race gold medal in Moscow, was Sergei Soukhorutchekov. He would be the last Soviet to start; at least the rain had let up quite a bit by then. The crowd had thinned out too, the rain had been coming down really hard for a while, and it was too much for the hearty supporters to weather. A lot of people were taking refuge under nearby buildings, listening to Michael Aisner giving his commentary on the race, through the PA, which it was hard to believe was still working in the monsoon.

I will say this was one of the tenser days during the race, for sure. In the back of everyone’s mind was the question, how will this crowd react to the Soviets, now that the racing had begun? The rain made it hard to tell, oddly enough, as it was really was raining that hard! The guys all finished in the top 20, when it was all said and done, it wasn’t a bad day’s work, on such a short course, and with a long, 100 mile road race with 10,000 feet of climbing to come, they were happy to go get dinner and just hang out amongst themselves that night.

That was when I first learned that Oleg wanted an entire case of toothpaste (AIM I think) - he was sure that it would be easy for me to get, as he’d seen stores overflowing with all the consumer goods a poor boy from Minsk could ever imagine. I pictured him going home after the race, handing a tube to everyone he saw, and I wanted to be a part of this beautiful dream! The funny thing was, my first two trips to the store didn’t go well, as the produce guy, in the first example, didn’t seem to want to get involved, probably figuring I’d figured out some way to get high with toothpaste, and the cashier seemed to think I was up to some kind of a prank, and she wasn’t going to be suckered in. Oleg was disappointed when I came back, at 9 that night, without the goods. “Maybe it was better,” Sergei said, as we didn’t want to carry the box around for the whole race. Oleg and I just started to laugh; we hadn’t even thought of that. I’d guess it was about then that I realized Sergei was a pretty smart guy!

Courtesy Hotel Boulderado

The next morning everyone was up at 5am, as the race was starting at 8am, in front of the historic Hotel Boulderado. There were some Colombians at the race whom the Soviets were marking as danger men, as they also knew of the abilities the mountain goats from the Andes possessed. They also were smart enough to realize that their big diesel engines probably weren’t ideally suited for the long, hard climbs they’d see that day, and the altitude reaching 10, 000 feet that day also suited the Colombians.

The guys were intent on not letting the race get away early, though. You can lose a stage race in the early days, but you win it in the final few, and the team was not going to be baited, that was for sure. Greg seemed to know the same thing, as he didn’t seem ready to drop the gauntlet, either. There was a lot of marking that day, as the race wrapped around the mountains that are west of Boulder, in what a lot of people would say is one of the most beautiful road courses you’ll ever see!

The typical, doomed, early break went away, and there was not a lot of interest in chasing, from anyone. The Colombians were just waiting for the first hard climbs to light it up, and they sure did! They had to drill it, on the way back into Boulder, as Jose Patracinio Jimenez really rode well that day. They did limit the losses, but man, were they wiped out when they got to the finish. It was really hot in downtown Boulder when they got back. I’ll never forget sitting there with Oleg, while he drank a cold Coke and just stared at the road he was sitting on. I realized at that moment that this is one tough sport.  

I’d spent the day in the support van, with the wheels that the mechanic would come back and get when he needed them, after servicing from the motorbike he was being driven on. He never came back to the van, so I was now thinking our tires were something special, even if they did smell weird, and came in an odd, yellowish color. I was starting to talk them up with the other teams, letting them know we had a few of them available, and that the team might be willing to part with some, at a nominal cost, of course. The seed had been planted, and when I told Oleg at dinner, he was pleased. We would turn the stockpile of tires that they had hoarded into a Mustang, he was sure. I told him they should cost somewhere around 5 thousand bucks. We have enough tires, he assured me.

The guys had only lost a handful of minutes that day, and the race was well in control, that made for a happy team and staff as we looked forward to leaving Boulder, for the upcoming stages in the mountains. Stay tuned, we are just getting rolling!

Listen to Dave Towle on The Winner's Circle, Wednesdays at 9 am Pacific Time, 12 pm Eastern, on AdventureSports Radio.

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