Our recent trip to the Tour de Georgia wasn’t just phenomenal for the racing we witnessed there, but for the fact that it grabbed us by the scruff of our necks and dragged us down memory lane. It’d been 16 years since we’d last seen truly authentic world-class bike racing on American soil. And, in a nice coincidence, on both occasions what we’d seen were time trials.
What were you doing in 1990? Your humble author was taking his licks as a young college student — writing B+ papers in scary sounding classes like ‘Proust, Joyce, Faulkner’, and riding just enough miles to hang at the (very) tail end in crits against local riders with names like Carney and Nothstein. Philadelphia was home back then, a fact worth citing here only for the fact that it’s a quick trip down I-95 to get from there to Wilmington, DE — site of the Prologue of the 1990 Tour de Trump.
The Tour de Trump, as you may recall, was the predecessor to the Tour Dupont — to date the coolest bike race ever put on in America. It was a brutal weeklong affair that had the potential to become North America’s Paris-Nice or Tour de Suisse — distilling all the drama and pain of a Grand Tour down into just 5 or 6 savage days. What the Champs Elysees is to the Tour de France, the Atlantic City boardwalk was to the Tour de Trump. Donald Trump was convinced that the race would shine the limelight on his casinos, so the race took a circuitous route around the eastern seaboard before reaching its crescendo in New Jersey’s filthiest, saddest city — a shame given all of the underappreciated beauty throughout the rest of the Garden State.
Memory lane is indeed an amusing place to visit, and in the mildly inebriated state I found myself in one evening shortly after my return from the Tour de Georgia a few weeks ago, I was determined as hell to get there. It was a dare from my wife, in fact, that spawned my determination. I’d just polished off two gin & tonics, and my wife assured me that (a) if I attempted to climb into our attic I’d surely break my ankle on the rickety ladder that leads up there, and (b) even if I survived the trip I’d never be able to find the photo album in which I’d long ago filed away my photos from the ’90 Tour de Trump. The dare was this: If I failed in (a) or (b) I had to make the next round of drinks. If I succeeded, we agreed, not only would she make the next round, but she’d take the photos in to get digitized so I could email them to my friends who’d appreciate a glimpse back to the glorious era of downtube shifting. I’m happy to report that my ankles are fine, though my hangover the next morning was wicked. But, my friends, it was worth it. I welcome you to take a quick jaunt back to yesteryear. The names, the faces, the details of the photos — they’re sure to put a grin on your face.
Name that rider…Can you do it? Vladislav Bobrik, baby! 1990 was when Gorbachev was still consolidating power and the USSR was still an evil empire by almost all accounts. Dupont sponsored the red-clad Soviets for the race (Dupont logo on the chest, Imron branding on the shorts), and Bobrik had all the markings of the scary eastern bloc automaton. He hid any signs of personality behind his Oakleys and a language barrier, and he went about whooping almost everyone throughout the week. He didn’t win the race, but he was a real threat to do so — at the tender age of 19, as I recall. He ended up having quite a notable pro career, including a rain-soaked solo victory at the Tour of Lombardy several years later. And dig the Serotta TT bike! Sadly, between this and the Coors Light team, this was the last sign of Serotta-badged bikes at the top level of pro racing (though unbadged bikes made by Serotta enjoyed many more years of success on the international pro scene).
Check out the yellow and black Team Lotto jersey. Talk about a commitment to the sport — Lotto is still involved at the very top end of the ProTour. I don’t know who the rider is. Sometimes I look at early 90’s photos of journeymen Belgian pros like this and have the same feelings I get when I see photos of U.S. paratroopers right before the D-Day jump into Normandy. It’s an undeniable sadness — the high likelihood of imminent death. 1990 was when EPO was first starting to enter the pro peloton in Belgium, and the list of twenty-something year old Belgian pros who keeled over dead from stroke with their 75% hematocrits back then ain’t short.
1984 Olympic road race champion Alexi Grewal. His career racing in Europe never gained any real momentum, and he cashed out all of his remaining potential by racing domestically for Crest then Coors Light. He’s in a very thick file: American riders who could’ve been more than they ended up being.
A skilled photographer can do artsy things with speed and motion. This is not an instance of that. Rather, it’s a highly blurry shot of Mexico’s greatest-ever cyclist, Raul Alcala. He left the storied 7-Eleven squad for the Dutch PDM team to race alongside Sean Kelly, Gert-Jan Thuinesse, and Stephen Rooks. Feel free to email us with your favorite PDM moment: Ours is their en masse exit from the Tour de France that year from ‘food poisoning.’ What the world understands now, of course, is that it had less to do with a chef and more to do with a pharmacist. Are we obsessed with doping? No, but 1990 was to bike racing what the 70’s were to Studio 54: A time of extreme experimentation.
Team Panasonic. How cool were they? This is a random domestique, but his jersey brings back a flood of memories. Paging Claude Criquielion!
Norway’s most-famous ex-fireman, Dag-Otto Lauritzen. What’s not to love about this photo? Dig the Wolber disc wheel. Dig the Floyd Landis-like ‘Praying Mantis’-like aerobar position. Dig the fact that later that year he’d get a World Championship Road Race title stolen from him in Japan due to a crash that totally wasn’t his fault.
I also visited the mid-race time trial later in week of that year’s race. It was in central PA somewhere — I forget the town exactly. But Steve Bauer crashed during the TT and sufficiently damaged his bike to require a bike swap. No aerobars on the back up bike, go figure. Bauer got through the finish line, then headed out of the cordoned off area to the middle of an intersection — one where traffic was moving. The poor lady at the red light probably would’ve called the cops if cell phones had been invented yet back then.
Another Scandanavian superstar of the Tour de Trump was Greg Lemond’s teammate Atle Kvasvoll. He was a fantastic climber, and if my memory serves me right he had a heck of a GC placing at the end of the Tour de Trump that year.
The man himself. Sporting his World Champion’s jersey with a not uncharacteristically Ullrich-like midriff (le Tour was still 3 months off!) And note that he, too, utilized a ‘Praying Mantis’-like aerobar position — angled upward, not flat in the manner of Dave Zabriskie.
More Lemond. Note the Regal saddle. Note the brass rivets on the Regal — silver was de rigeur in the late 90’s ’til the early 00’s, now brass is all they make again. I almost get weepy at these old shots of Lemond. Man oh man was he my boyhood hero. Why couldn’t have he aged more gracefully?
Sean Yates, 7-Eleven’s best-ever time trialist, and now a team director for Discovery. This is a shot from the Wilmington prologue — he’s near the top of a nasty cobbled climb, its name (I think…) is ‘Monkey Hill’, though that might in fact be the name of another hill from another race.
Alexi Grewal’s brother Rishi. He was quite an accomplished mountain bike racer, and like most successful mountain bikers felt an irresistible urge to dive into the deep end of road racing. While his helmet looks like a mess here and he’s doubtlessly in the need of a haircut, memory tells us that he did OK on the domestic road racing scene, though he never made any inroads to Europe.
Le petit lapin himself — the ‘little rabbit’ as Bernard Hinault nicknamed him — Andy Hampsten. A true American road racing hero. In 1990 he was barely removed from his epic victory at the Giro, but he was still a few years away from his final major triumph as a cyclist, his solo victory on the Alpe d’Huez stage of the Tour de France. At this point of his career he was still trying to figure out if he was a true Tour G.C. contender or not. He was pure class as a rider, and by all accounts he’s been pure class in retirement — growing olives in Tuscany and leading the occasional mellow tour for cyclists in the know. And rumor has it that he took the pros out on the Flagstaff climb in Boulder last fall and dropped every single one of them.
A pair of Greg Lemond’s Team Z teammates. Coolest jersey of the 90’s? It’s on the short list for sure. We don’t remember the names of these riders — Pascal Poisson maybe? Such is the life of a domestique: Nasty, brutish, short, and forgettable.
Dag-Otto toweling down. What’s Norwegian for ‘beefcake’? The money he could’ve made selling calendars of himself back then!
Nowadays we expect a lot from our carbon TT bikes — airfoil-shaped this, and teardrop-shaped that. But back in 1990 carbon road frames were nearly non-existent, and carbon TT frames were totally unheard of. This round-tubed TVT carbon TT bike for Team Z is as old school as Kool Moe Dee. Note the alloy lugs the tubes are bonded into, Vitus-style!
We saw Viatcheslav Ekimov warming up at the Tour of Georgia this year. He had the appearance of what we imagine the captain of an America’s Cup yacht must look like — old, weather-worn, and very rich. He was clearly very fit, but you could also discern from his lovingly coiffed shoulder-length hair that success hasn’t been bad to him. It was a long way from his fresh-faced, hungry appearance here in 1990, where he was probably only months removed from a dark life lived behind the Iron Curtain in Russia.