By Dave Towle
The Winners Circle
When the Coors International Bicycle Classic announced that the 1984 edition
of America’s national tour would be a very different race that year, everyone
wondered what the race organizers had up their sleeve.
Michael Aisner was right about it being a special edition, and as the plans
for the 1984 Coors Classic were laid out at the press conference at the Hotel
Boulderado, I instantly knew it would be a classic. With the Los Angeles
Olympics coming up later that summer, the race took on a bit of an Olympic
preparatory role, and became the most international Coors ever!
The race would, for the first time ever on American soil, be competed with
national teams, from the nations that had qualified road racers, and teams for
the now defunct 100k team time trial, for the Los Angeles Olympics. The Tour de
France used this format in some of the earlier editions, but this year's Coors
Classic was sure to be one of a kind. The US would be allowed to enter 3 teams
(a red, white and blue team). The rest of the world would be sending one team
per country, comprised of up to six riders per team, made up of the 100k team
time trial guys, and the riders who would compete in the road race.
There were obviously a lot of guys doing both races, and some smaller nations
only brought 4 riders to the US, with everyone doing both races. At this years’
race, I was assigned to work with the team from Ireland. I was more than
disappointed that the Soviets weren’t attending the Olympics that year, as a
sort of "payback" for our boycott of their Moscow Games. The Coors Classic was
out of the question, with no Olympics on their docket. I looked around for a new
team, and lucked out, ending up with the great bunch of people that comprised
the 1984 Irish Olympic cycling team.
Over the last few years, the Irish had already made quite a name for
themselves at the Coors. This was mainly due to the exploits of Alan McCormack,
and in more recent years, his brother Paul had become quite the showman too! The
thing about Alan was, as much fun as he had each year (he was, along with Davis
Phinney, the biggest crowd pleaser in the races’ history), he also knew how to
win. He did it over and over, and not just at criteriums. He posted a victory on
the devastatingly tough Morgul Bismark road course, which was an integral part
of each year's GC battle.
Paul McCormack, shown here in 1987, winning the FDB Milk Ras.
Courtesy Milk Ras.
The Irish however, wouldn’t have Alan on the team, as he was a professional,
and the Olympics were, at that point, an amateur only event. Paul, on the other
hand, wasn’t a pro, but he had been basing himself out of the US for the last
few years, living with his brother Alan. They were racing the lucrative US
circuit, and Paul was helping Alan clean up the top prizes on many a weekend.
The problem for Paul was that he’d fallen out of touch with the Irish Cycling
"Feds" and was off the radar, as far as the very competitive Olympic selection
was concerned. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, because Paul was one of the
stronger Irish guys around. He was acclimatized, which the others weren’t,
coming straight from Dublin one week before the race.
When the team arrived in Denver, there were five riders (Paul Kimmage, Martin
Earley, Phil Cassidy, Seamus Downey, and Gary Thompson), Pat McQuaid (now a
prominent member of the world cycling community, working for the UCI and
directing major efforts, like bringing the tour to Ireland a few years ago), and
Jackie Watson (also a UCI delegate) were there as well, in the role of the
director and mechanic, respectively.
Phil Cassidy, 1983 Milk Ras winner. Courtesy FDB Milk Ras.
Although not well known in the US, Kimmage had nearly won the previous
edition of the Milk Race, in England, which, at that time, was a premier amateur
stage race, and held in very high regard. With the typical luck of the Irish,
Paul lost the race on the last day, to American Matt Eaton, who would be racing
at the Coors this year too. Gary Thompson had won a critical stage of that
year's Milk Race as well, and the team seemed to have very strong international
credentials. It was an interesting time for sport in Ireland, and this team
personified the face of a struggling nation. Jackie and Seamus were from the
North. Jackie was the only Protestant with the team, but it made no difference
amongst the guys. They were clearly sportsmen first.
Recent photo of Pat McQuaid, courtesy Irishcycling.com.
Things have somewhat improved in Ireland since 1984, as far as the "Troubles"
go, but looking back, it was a pretty rough time in old Eire. There was no doubt
that the guys on the team seemed genuinely happy for every opportunity they got,
as they were very close to living the Irish equivalent of the American dream,
and riding their way out of the ghetto and into the pro peloton. Two of them
made it, and all of them are very successful today, which is comforting to know,
as things didn’t look so great as far as the future went, in early July, 1984.
Okay, it wasn’t that bad, it was more like riding out of a Dickens novel, I
learned, when I visited Ireland for 6 months after the Olympics.
Since each team was allowed six riders, and the Irish Federation had sent
only five guys to the Games, it was decided to let Paul McCormack join the team
for the Coors Classic part of the trip. Why not, he was over in the States
already, and had great form. Later in this series you’ll see why that was a
pretty big decision, down the road.
Courtesy the legendary
Click for larger image.
The American teams were split along trade team alliances, for the most part.
There were the 7-Eleven boys, led by Davis and Ron Kiefel, the Alexi Grewal led-Pinarello/Giordana
squad run by Len Pettyjohn, and then the composite team of remaining American
Olympic long-shots. The Norwegian Dag-Otto Lauritzen was there, as was Steven
Rooks of Holland, and once again, the altitude of Colorado would prove to be a
challenge to a lot of these riders.
There were quite a few upsides of attending the race, for these teams. The
time zone was only one hour different than Los Angeles, and the climate, very
hot and dry, was also similar. The benefits of altitude would also prove
effective, as the podiums at the 1984 Games were filled with riders who raced at
the Coors Classic.
When the team flew into Denver, it was a decidedly smaller production than
the much ballyhooed arrival of the Soviets a few years earlier. They did have
sweet looking Raleigh bikes, but it was one per rider, with no special TTT
equipment, and only one spare frame and bike, for a long trip! I ended up doing
a bit of the mechanical stuff for the team, mostly washing bikes for Jackie, as
he was excited as the rest of the guys to explore what America had to offer, in
their typical, always looking for the bright side of things, Irish way.
They took Colorado by storm, defining, as a group, what it means to be the
life of the party. The first day in Boulder, one week before the start of the
race, the guys went out for a couple hour spin, to stretch the legs, and start
getting used to the rarified air. The concept of sunscreen was something as
foreign to these guys as "Frankie Goes to Hollywood" was to me, and a couple of
the guys paid hard for the lack of knowledge. Who knew that 3 hours, with your
jersey folded up (no, I’d never seen anyone do this either) exposing about 1
foot of your midriff, would leave a sunburn that took weeks to finally stop
causing discomfort. The first couple days were brutal, as Thompson and Cassidy
were also learning about the wonders of aloe.
I’ll be back, with the next installment, as we follow the Irish Olympic team
around Colorado, as they race in the 1984 Coors Classic. Thanks for reading!
Be sure to check out the soon to be released DVD, "The Red Zinger and
Coors Classic, 1975-1981" the first in a 2 DVD series! Read about it