The 1981 Coors
Classic: Part Two
The 1981 Coors
Classic: Part Three
Suicide Hill: The Day That Hurt at the 1981 Coors Classic.
The race was still wide open when Snowmass, Colorado, hosted the first stage
of the 1981 Coors International Bicycle Classic, which seemed to be at a “hors
category” level. The climb in Snowmass went straight up the 17 percent grade
along the amazingly chic village of Snowmass for 1 kilometer. The hill in the
ski town near Aspen reminded me of Taylor Street in terms of its severity, as
well as lack of switchbacks. I love switchbacks when I race or ride, as they
truly make getting up the brutal climbs a little more humane. In this year's
T-Mobile International, where I announced on the PA at Taylor Street, I noticed
the big difference between San Francisco and Snowmass was, for one, the
altitude, a difference of about 9,000 feet, and secondly the fact that Taylor
has a step by step journey through lactic hell, while in Colorado, there were no
cross streets offering a level stretch of 25’ per every city block of climbing;
it was a true pain fest up the steepest kilometer in American racing.
The climb up Main St. in Snowmass is the only heated road in the world. That
was true in 1981 (and might have changed by 2003), but at any rate, a heated
road was the only way it would be possible to keep it dry enough for cars to use
in the winter. Snowmass was a part of the Colorado Ski Industries machine of
money making. The fact that it had to be heated in the winter made this climb
the North American Angliru of its day. The gearing options available in 1981, on
a Campagnolo equipped bike, were pretty much a 42/52 in front and a 13-23 in
back; nothing lower was available to the Soviet team here, or anyone else for
that matter. At least the playing field was level, no pun intended!
Snowmass Village, courtesy the
The race had everyone that had been tipped as a danger man, well, still
looking dangerous. All five Soviets were in the top ten, with a few Colombians,
Lemond and Mount all right there. The Colombians were looking forward to the
race in Snowmass; at it looked to be their last chance to put time on the
non-climbers, which included everyone not on the Colombian National team, for
the most part. This was also a strong-man's course like San Francisco, as the
circuit was only about 5 kilometers, with the climb coming up every 10 minutes.
Lance would have gone off on this kind of circuit, as the ability to flush
lactic acid, one of the truest indicators in a lab of the ability for a pro
cyclist to win at the highest level, would be critical here, on this hot, dry,
day in July, 1981.
The race started at noon, and it was already hot, and very dry, as the riders
rolled over to the start. The Soviet team was getting more and more popular as
the race went on. There were now groupies - the truest sign of fame in the US, I
assured the guys. The marshalling team, which comprised of about 80 people,
traveling from stage to stage, was made up of about 60 old men and 20 hot babes.
The amount of attention they paid to the “safety” of the Soviets was
mind-blowing. Oddly enough, the riders were a little too busy to truly enjoy the
comfort, and that left the rather odd-looking mechanics and the rest of the
staff (all they ever wore were the national team sweat-suit, everyday, all day),
the lion's share of the attention. You got the feeling this was the best stage
race they’d ever been to, by the ear to ear grins they always had on.
There wasn’t much a strong team could do to take advantage of what in cycling
is almost always a huge factor in the outcome each day (a strong team). It was
every man stomach to the street from the gun, as they say in Italy. The crowd
knew in the first 2 laps; it was every man against the course, the heat, and the
unbelievably high altitude. To say the field blew up early would be an
understatement. It imploded on the first time up the 18 percent grade. Our team
was handing up bottles the second it was allowed, and they didn’t stop taking
bottles until every team had run out. It goes against the unwritten rules of the
feed zone to recycle a used bottle, but we had to. I’ll never forget when a
young American amateur took a bottle from a fan (big time no-no, not because of
“doping” or anything like that. You don’t know if he just filled it in the
stream, with a dead sheep 100 meters up stream), and emptied it on his head. The
bottle was filled with red Kool-Aid,
and the day became that much tougher.
Sergie was in the blue King of the Mountain jersey, and he stayed at the
front all day. It was unreal watching them dig they all were digging, each lap.
Eric Heiden was memorable that day. He was working hard at losing the weight he
needed to, to be competitive, but sure showed why he won 5 Olympic gold medals
in speed skating, as he never came close to quitting. Everyone there that day
was awed, as Lemond and a Colombian rode the Soviet team off their wheels; with
only a few laps to go, it was Greg and the Columbian, over the handlebars,
punching tickets for the first time at this year's Coors Classic. They never
really put much time on the chase, containing “Soukho”, Barinov, and Kashirin
(who now coaches the amazing Canadian Mountain Bike team, interestingly
At the end of the day, the Soviets limited the losses, to put it succinctly.
Lemond moved into the leader’s jersey (what a beautiful awards ceremony, as Greg
was absolutely beaming), Sergie Soukhorutchenkov held onto the KOM jersey, and
all seemed right in the world on that beautiful Colorado night. The team stayed
in town, at the condo, right on the side of the mountain. The next day was a
rest day, with a transfer back to Boulder in the afternoon. They were left in
peace, as nobody outside the inner circle knew where the team was staying. In
the age before cell phones and computers, info was a lot slower in getting
around. I learned that day that Oleg Logvin, my simpatico friend in the team,
had never played Frisbee. We had so much fun, and he couldn’t believe my tricks,
which were pedestrian at best, but were so funny to us that night, as we just
connected; a Soviet and an American, but actually, just two guys who like to
laugh, and race bikes.
Next up: The Morgul-Bismark