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The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Four
By Staff
Date: 9/24/2003
The 1981 Coors Classic: Part Four

The 1981 Coors Classic
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 Silvertree Hotel

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 enough!).

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

Dave Towle
The Winner's Circle

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