Bicycle racers are nuts. They risk their lives and abuse their bodies. On the one hand, they are treated like thoroughbreds: trained, rubbed down and pampered. On the other, they are pushed like tractor trailers: raced day after day until their wheels start smoking. This was all brought into focus on July 6 as some of the world's leading pro and amateur racers settled into the mountains and urban centers of Colorado—with a first ever side trip out of state, to Wyoming—for the Coors International Bicycle Classic.
The Coors, the format of which is a protracted torture known as stage racing, began with time trials for both men and women in Boulder. It ended 12 days later in Denver, where the women were breezing through a 60-minute criterium while the men were wheeling down from Cheyenne, Wyo. in a 114-mile road race. All told, the men suffered through 710 miles, many of them wheel-to-wheel at 60 miles an hour down mountains, while the women put in 307 miles, riding in the same rough-and-tumble style. In fact, one female rider, Mieke Havik of Volendam, Holland, had a victory in the Foothills Road Race Saturday taken away because in the final sprint officials spotted her trying to block Sue Novara-Reber of Flint, Mich. into a fence. Sniffed Havik after being dropped to second place, "She was on the wrong side."
Crashes are as much a part of bike racing as derailleurs. Thurlow Rogers of Van Nuys, Calif., one of the U.S.'s best in stage races, cracked a collarbone in a fall during the Grand Junction Criterium on the Classic's sixth day. And Connie Carpenter, who has owned the Coors, having won it in 1977, '81 and '82, was out of the race early when she fractured bones in her left wrist and elbow in a fall during the race's second stage, the Mall Criterium in Boulder. She was winning on the last lap when she went down. An even more spectacular wreck occurred Friday when Kim Lucas of Berkeley, Calif. flew over her handlebars and into a lane of oncoming traffic as she careened down a steep hill in the Morgul-Bismarck stage. Lucas suffered a fractured wrist, but was lucky to have stopped bouncing short of an oncoming truck.
Pedaling through this misery, oxygen debt and occasional carnage to victory were Rebecca Twigg and Dale Stetina, two totally dissimilar champions. Twigg is an amateur, a fresh-faced kid of 20 who's the defending world pursuit champion and hottest thing in U.S. cycling (SI, June 13). By winning the Coors, she erased any doubt that she can perform in the hills as well as on the tracks.
Stetina is a 27-year-old pro rider, of the cycling Stetinas, an Indianapolis family that lives, breathes and peddles the virtues of spoked living. Both of his brothers, Wayne, 29, and Joel, 22, race, and their father, Roy, brought the boys up to look for the finish line.
On Sunday, when Dale came from 4:55 behind with a fantastic push in the Cheyenne-Denver road race, leaving Colombia's Luis Herrera in his wake, Roy claimed a measure of the credit. "It was my massages," he said. "Before the Coors started two weeks ago, Dale was so tight that he could hardly move."
Roy may have been right. On Sunday, well kneaded and oiled, Dale stole the race from Herrera, a mighty mite of 120 pounds, who had worn the race leader's jersey since the second day. Ten miles into the final stage, Stetina and 17 other riders made a break that left Herrera mired in the chase group. Thus isolated, the Colombian was blocked and harried by other riders, as well as a cross wind. He dragged in 37th behind the winner of that stage, Ron Kiefel of Denver, and finished third overall.
But cycling isn't all winning and losing. The sport is great fun, exhilarating at times, and spectators lined the route of the race, cheering and drinking their share of suds. Here are a couple of the main characters from the show:
•Alexi Grewal—His parents are from India, but the Grewals now live in Aspen, where Alexi's father, Jasjit, owns a bike shop. Alexi, 22, is occasionally referred to as cycling's John McEnroe. He wears sunglasses during races, barks at officials and support crews if they bug him, and occasionally drifts into a funk. At times he can blow everyone else off the road. On Day 4 Grewal got a burr under his saddle in the Golden-to-Vail Pass Mountain Road Race and lit out after Herrera and his pacer and teammate, Israel Corredor, pulling the pack along in a superhuman effort over the last 12 miles. At the finish, he stormed away in disgust, telling the other riders, "You owe me one." Last Friday he won the 92-mile Morgul-Bismarck, riding up to the finish waving his arms like a presidential nominee. Then he stopped, put his bike on his shoulder, carried it over the line, dropped it and collapsed with leg cramps. Throughout, Grewal was bothered with exercise-induced asthma and allergies; with good lungs, he might be awesome.
•Davis Phinney—He's known as the Cash Register because he's a terrific sprinter who collects many of the piddling cash awards—ranging from $50 to $500—given to lap winners in criteriums. Phinney won four of the Coors's five criteriums, including the Vail Village on his 24th birthday, and might have won the fifth but for a fall shortly before the finish in Denver's Washington Park. His most remarkable victory came in the North Boulder Park Criterium. About halfway into the race Phinney, a Boulder resident, local hero and Carpenter's fiancé, slid to the ground, banging up his right wrist and bruising his side. He jumped back on the bike, and though his rear wheel was wobbling and he was in such pain that he was close to fainting, he won with a courageous sprint at the finish that had Carpenter waving her cast wildly. Afterward, Phinney could barely remember a thing.
With Carpenter, an 11-time national champion, out of the women's division, Twigg had this Coors to herself, because Carpenter's loss affected her teammates. "Connie's tough as nails. When we lost her we just couldn't believe it," said Novara-Reber of the SRC Raleigh team. "Normally, she gives us strength. We were just a mess afterwards."
Twigg's competition thus came from a surprising source, Maria Canins of Italy, a former skier who has been racing only since June of last year. Canins is 34 and has a 5-year-old daughter, but through the mountains she did well, inching ahead of Twigg. Then, in Vail for the race's fourth and fifth stages, Twigg took a commanding lead. "I don't think Maria can catch me now," said Twigg. "Her best events are over."
Canins tapped out in the Morgul-Bismarck, foolishly chasing Twigg's teammate, Havik, who was on a breakaway. The Italian expended huge amounts of energy and had nothing left for the finish, while Twigg sprinted to second place, just a wheel behind Sweden's Marianne Berglund. Sandra Schumacher, a 16-year-old West German, was third.
"It's all over," said Novara-Reber. "No one can catch Rebecca now," and no one did. Her final margin of victory was 2:23 over Canins.
Meanwhile, Herrera was doing his thing. At only 22, he's renowned on two counts: The French wanted him to ride in this year's Tour de France, and José Patrocinio Jimenez, a veteran Colombian who won the '82 Coors, has never beaten him. When Herrera and teammate Corredor broke for the lead in the Boulder Mountain Road Race on Day 2 the other riders had been expecting the move, but were still helpless to do anything about it. "All you can do is say goodby," said Phinney.
Herrera was content to let Phinney dominate the criteriums, in which he could pick up only dibs and dabs on the clock. In stage racing, the overall winner is decided by cumulative time, and Herrera was building up huge leads in the mountains. The other riders were forming coalitions in the longer races, conspiring to block him, but Herrera seemed too good as he chased down all their breakaways. At the 10-mile point of the final 114-mile Cheyenne-Denver stage, the race seemed over. No one was even thinking of Stetina, the '79 Coors winner, who had "retired" from cycling last year, but this season he decided on a comeback. When he had turned professional back in '81 it was not for money, but for love. "It was my way of promoting the sport," he explains. His real job is working for a senior citizens center, where he teaches his father's specialty, deep-muscle massage.
Stetina promoted the devil out of the sport—and looked like a real pro—when he joined the final breakaway. While groups of harriers frustrated Herrera, Grewal, serving as pacer, pulled Stetina ahead. They are teammates on the Aspen DC-DS team, and when it was all over Grewal said, "I ride for Dale. The pack probably slowed Herrera two and a half minutes. They sowed confusion."
By the final overall standings, Stetina had sprinted to the front, finishing with an accumulated time of 26:32:39. Doug Shapiro of Dix Hills, N.J. was second, 1:20 behind, and Herrera was 2:09 minutes off the pace.
Oh yes, Phinney also was out there trying Sunday, the final day, wrist and thigh heavily bandaged. Much of the rest of his body looked like hamburger, and he had wrapped foam rubber on his right handlebar. "I'm going to finish this race," he said. And he did, thereby proving once again that bicycle racers are nuts—with guts.