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The 1984 Coors Classic Part Four: Houdini
 
By Staff
Date: 1/8/2004
The 1984 Coors Classic Part Four: Houdini
 

By Dave Towle
The Winners Circle

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

The Irish teams that had raced at the Coors Classic up until 1984 were quite a bit different than the squad that showed up the Olympic year. Now to be fair, there were many reasons that the earlier Killian’s Irish Red sponsored teams weren’t entirely focused on the race.

If you grow up in Dublin, or anywhere in Ireland for that matter, during the 1970’s, you saw a world that was very, very grim at times. The IRA was a very powerful group, and they had a strange constant presence on the minds and in the lives of almost all of the Irish people. Whether you were with them, or against them, it was a scary time to be a kid in Ireland, or anywhere, for that matter. Now add in the fact that these young men chose to attempt the undeniably hard life path of becoming a professional cyclist, and you can only imagine what they had seen and suffered.


Ha'Penny Bridge in Dublin.

One of life’s more interesting parables is that adults who emerge from these hard times and rough upbringings often end up being the most amazing people - what they become when they’ve grown up. These guys were survivors. They’d seen tenement row homes, empty dinner plates and alcoholism at a much too frequent rate.

Generally, before this year’s Coors, Alan McCormack had been basically “The Boss.” Alan was the kind of guy everyone wanted to work for. I’d say that the only people who weren’t happy with Alan were those that he just showed a clean rear wheel to in a sprint. Even they would soon be laughing with him as they waited to get on the podium, as Alan just had a magical way with people.

Alan was a people pleaser, and he had a lot of say as to which Irish guys would get flown over from Ireland to race each season. They tended to be the best amateurs who were available and keen to race. The quality of the riders certainly was not that of Kelly or Roche. Then again, who was? I remember during one of the early years, a guy whose name I won’t reveal (he’s a happily married man, and this story would certainly not help to prolong matrimonial bliss), disappeared after the second stage in Estes Park. 

Estes Park, Colorado, is the home of the Stanley Hotel of “The Shining” fame. It’s also the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. That year, the town of about 3,000 was host to a brutal little circuit race at about 8,000 feet, in the pouring rain. “Patty,” as we’ll call him, never made it through the first selection. Actually, I guess he was the first selection, as he was first to come off the main group on the second 3 mile lap.


The Stanley Hotel. Courtesy The Stanley Hotel.

I could imagine Phil Liggett would’ve been saying something along the lines of, “The Irishman was dropped from the group like a hot rock.” I’m sure you can tell I just made that up, but if Phil ever reads this, he certainly has my permission to use it. Actually, I’ll take a quick time out to give “props” to one of America’s better know race announcers, Richard Fries. If you ever have a chance to hear the man announce a bike race live, please don’t miss it, he drops a gem on the crowd every few minutes, so listen close!

So, it was not long until “Patty” was so far off the back, the sharp end of the group was about to take a lap out of him. The way he was going, in the thin air, he must’ve know he wasn’t going to be taking any laps back, that was for sure. He ended up climbing off, and as the detectives report had it, went into a 7-Eleven [convenience store]. What happened from there is unclear. That 7-Eleven is still there, and if we could get them to dig up the surveillance tape, I think it would show a very attractive woman, looking to be about 30 or so, sitting in the parking lot, in her black Corvette. There are still questions about how they got his bike into the Corvette, but where there is a will, there’s a way.

In a stage race (the Coors that year was 9 days); you need to finish each stage to advance to the next, usually within a time limit of about 10 percent. That means you take the winner's time, add 10 percent of that time to it, and you have your cut-off point, the time you must finish within to continue the race. That number varies, but 10 percent is a fair average. That’s not always easy to do, it becomes a huge part of team tactics during stage races, and is just one of the many factors in the Machiavellian chess match that is high level road cycling.

“Patty” had entirely blown his chances of staying in the race by quitting, and dropping out of a stage race is almost always a highly embarrassing thing, whether it should be or not, for the rider. Although what he did actually just delayed his being told by Pat McQuaid, the team's director, that he hadn’t made the time cut, thereby avoiding being a 5th wheel for the rest of the trip. There would have been a lot of driving around at 18 miles an hour, when you weren’t racing to feed zones, or sitting in them for hours.

What he did from the time he climbed off the bike goes down in legend. Any rider who has quit a stage race should hear this one. “Patty” and the woman in the Corvette drove off, and that was the last the team heard of him. I don’t say saw, because the last they saw, he was at the ass end of the bunch. What they heard, from the people who saw him at the 7-Eleven, was that he seemed quite happy as they drove off into the Colorado sunset. There’s pretty much no doubt he was.

The team, however, was more than a little bit stressed out, wondering what happened to him, and had no luck contacting him during the entire race. He showed up, at the airport, to catch the flight back to Dublin. That must’ve been a heck of a flight home. They called him “Houdini” when they came back the next year. He wasn’t with the team.


Courtesy Harel Barzilai.

We’ll be back with actual race action next week - thanks for reading.

Dave Towle

Read about the upcoming Red Zinger and Coors Classic DVD Series here!

 
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The Olympic Year: 1984 Coors International Bicycle Classic
The 1984 Coors Classic: Part 2
The 1984 Coors Classic Part Three: Game On!

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