Friday, May 16, 2008

My life as a tech support motor driver - in two (or maybe three) parts - Part One

When I started cycling in 1975, I’d been riding motorcycles for 13 years. In those days, before US TV began broadcasting European races, many American fans were unaware of the role in bike racing played by support motorcycles. I had no idea. There was motorcycling, and there was bicycling. The twain will never meet, I figured.

By the mid-‘80s, when the Coors Classic stage race, previously a Colorado event, brought big-time racing to California, I had seen the dozens of motorcycles that accompany high-level races. I dreamed about riding support - on my own motorcycle.

And I had clout, sort-of; I was writing the column in the back of Winning magazine. I had no credentials as a bike-race motor driver but my editor at Winning, Rich Carson, could pull a string or two.

The first year, I followed a stage or two; Sonoma to Sacramento comes to mind, and tried to stay out of the way. I must have been only a minor nuisance, because no one screamed at me. The next year, Rich pulled strings. Winning sent a photographer to the Classic; I was to be his driver.

I worked Coors Classic stages only in California and Nevada and only for two years. I never worked stages in Colorado, and I did not go to Hawaii when the race ventured there. But I had amazing experiences working those California stages and I wrote about them for Winning.

I carried some of the best cycling photographers in the US. They taught me a bunch. I met Bernard Hinault and Didi Thurau. I saw top-class bike racing from my motorcycle and from the best spots on the roadsides. It was just magical.

By ’87 or ’88, the Coors Classic was no more. A new race back east called the Tour de Trump, sponsored by The Donald, rose from its ashes. I was asked to carry Darcy Kiefel, racer Ron Kiefel’s wife and the official race photographer.

The weather both Trump years was awful, dumping rain day after day. The first year, as I recall, the race started in Albany, NY, and ended in Boston. The second year it again started in Albany but ended in Atlantic City. I rode BMWs borrowed from a dealer in New Jersey.

In Albany one of the two years, as we prepared for the first stage, my buddy Simon and I rode down a busy urban street. A strange-looking, matte-painted Lamborghini pulled up to the light next to us. It was a super expensive desert car, ugly and low and flat, and Mike Tyson was at the wheel.

He wanted to tell us that he thought our motorcycles were cool. We talked to Mike Tyson at maybe four traffic lights, that high-pitched voice unmistakable. Later that day we saw on TV that he'd been arrested for speeding, for doing some ridiculous speed on a city street.

I had the best job in the race, I believe, hauling around lovely, gracious Darcy Kiefel. But the Tour de Trump and my days of carrying race photographers both ended when, in 1991, the Trump race became the Tour du Pont – and I became a Mavic tech support motor driver.

No comments: