It's a late afternoon in April, '94. We're in the lobby of The Grove Park Inn Resort in Asheville, in the mountains of western North Carolina. Three guests, a tanned young man and two ladies he's never met, ladies a decade or three older, are gathered at the concierge's station.
The young man, a bike racer from the Midwest, is here to train on the area's demanding roads. The ladies take two-week vacations together like this one, a garden tour of the eastern states, every year. They're from southern California and have been friends since their husbands were roommates at Stanford.
They're enjoying their visit; Asheville is a lovely garden-tourist destination and the Grove Park Inn a breathtakingly beautiful, flawlessly hospitable place to stay.
The young man talks with the concierge about where to go to dinner in town. The ladies, too, discuss dining possibilities with the concierge and ask her to call a cab. The cab, it seems, will be slow to arrive. The young man has a rental car outside; he suggests to the women that they can simply take his keys. Use the car. They will not hear of it.
Perhaps we'll join you, they say. Where're you thinking about going?
I hadn't decided, he says, maybe for Italian food. Oh, Italian food; great, they say, let's go together. So the three new friends, a 30-ish bicycle racer and two women nearly twice his age, hop into a rental car for the drive down into town, looking forward to a pleasant meal.
During dinner, the ladies ask the young man what he does professionally; he races his bicycle, he tells them without elaborating. The ladies agree that they have never met anyone who earned a living exactly that way. How interesting.
The conversation shifts quickly from work to subjects less mundane, more mutually stimulating, among them gardening and the collecting of certain categories of antiques.
The friendly, soft-spoken athlete and the two ladies of a certain age discover they share many enthusiasms and have much in common. They exchange names and addresses, expressing a unanimous intention to extend this chance meeting into a fruitful friendship.
The racer soon left Asheville. The ladies checked out not much later to move on to the next garden adventure. Each woman, upon her return home, told her husband about the charming man in Asheville, about his kindness; his varied interests, rare in such a young man; his pride in his family and his uncommon vocation.
They were quite taken aback, each of them, when their husbands recognized the athlete's name. How remarkable. So modest...
A pleasant, frequent correspondence, letters and occasional gifts, ensued. A casual mention in Asheville by the young man that he has at least some Native American ancestry prompted the arrival at his family home of a small library of books on Indian lore and history.
When his wife mentioned her fascination with novels set in China, books began to appear from her two new friends in southern California. When she visits there, she invariably receives an invitation to share a meal, the invitation always accompanied by flowers.
And just as the two women learned that the racer was far more prominent in his sport than he let on, the athlete and his wife discovered that the two unpretentious women and their husbands are widely known in the business world, known especially for their philanthropy, for supporting public television and endowing a library at Stanford.
Last fall, the two ladies learned that the athlete and his wife were soon to visit the Los Angeles area. The young man was to announce the end of his racing career in conjunction with a banquet in Beverly Hills.
They learned that the banquet, at chef Wolfgang Puck's famous Spago, would be underwritten by the generous Korbel Wine people. Korbel would arrange and pay for exclusive use of the restaurant for the evening.
They further learned that corporate cycling sponsors and supporters could buy tables for notables and guests. The tables would sell for serious money, that money, thanks to Korbel, earmarked to benefit the United States Cycling Federation.
Hmmm, they said, did a little quiet research, and called Mark Gorski at the federation.
As you looked around Spago the evening of the banquet, called the Korbel Night of Champions, you saw bike racing and bike industry individuals-of-weight, clustered around tables laden with delicious, elegantly presented food.
Centered on each table you saw cards reading GT or VeloNews or Motorola or Oakley... Except for the table at the front-right, the untitled but universally acknowledged table of honor.
Seated around that table at Spago (Beverly Hills) were the young racer, gardener and antique buff from Minnesota, Greg LeMond, retired from racing only hours before; his gracious wife Kathy; the two ladies, their husbands and two other couples, Southern California friends of theirs.
That table, proceeds to benefit the USCF's Project '96, had been secured by the two ladies, whose names no one at the federation recognized. Two ladies who'd never been the least bit aware of Greg LeMond, the federation or cycling - until they were befriended by a gentleman bike racer.
Two ladies who never dreamed they'd be friends of U.S. cycling - until a chance meeting with a friendly cyclist at the Grove Park Inn in far-off Asheville, in the mountains of western North Carolina.