By Dave Towle
The Winners Circle
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
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
“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
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.
We’ll be back with actual race action next week - thanks for reading.
Read about the upcoming Red Zinger and Coors Classic DVD Series