Justin Henry, “Green Mountain Stage Race” September 3, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
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Modern Stage Racing in America ... 35 Years Later
Many times in our lives, we deliberately pause to savour the moment. There are also times that we struggle to chisel off the jagged edges of a memory so we can move ahead with some tidbit of mental health. Both were a part of my experiences at the Coors Classic, my first international stage race, back in 1980 and 1981. Both played a significant role in my cycling career.
Time, indeed, is a strange phenomenon. At 19 years of age having been in the sport for just two years and no prior competitive background, I remember soaking in all the visual details of the athletic giants standing on the Coors Classic podium. Oddly enough, my mind also shared thoughts of these cycling superheroes being replaced by others down the road knowing that this glory would fade. Deliberately, I tried to etch into my mind the athletes and the ambiance so as the years would pass, its importance wouldn't be overshadowed by the layering of years and life. I didn't want the significance of this moment to fade.
Once again, Colorado made its mark in the history book of "Modern Stage Racing in America" this August 2011. The US Pro Challenge retraced some of the Coors Classic routes and many of the players involved with the Red Zinger/Coors Classic reunited to recount the significance of those early days of stage racing in America. There's something to be said about being around people who share a common experience. It was good to go back to the cycling days of the '70's and '80's. But just for an evening, I'm NEVER giving up my clipless pedals and brake lever/gear shifters.
Here's a bit of history from a Reunion press release…
"On August 25 in Vail, Colorado, 300 former Red Zinger/Coors Classic athletes, staff, officials, volunteers, and even police and media will gather to reunite and celebrate the 18 years of bike racing that was shared by the event's two sponsors, Celestial Seasonings and the Adolph Coors Company. The Reunion dinner presentation, featuring video, storytelling, special awards and surprises, will be co-hosted by Phil Liggett and race owner/director Michael Aisner. "I invited Phil, not because he's a famous TV commentator, but because he was my first bike-racing mentor, when I was 28 years old and suddenly running a major event for a sport I knew little about," Aisner said. "In the UK Phil ran the Milk Race, one of the oldest and biggest amateur races ever, and I tapped his great sensibilities and knowledge as promptly as I could."
The Red Zinger/Coors Classic Reunion has attracted some of the great legends of cycling, many of whom credit the Classic with playing a significant role in their careers: Jacques Boyer, the first American to ride in the Tour de France and winner of the first Coors Classic; John Howard, who won two Red Zingers and then Ironman Hawaii and the Race Across America; Greg LeMond, three-time winner of the Tour de France and two-time winner of the Classic; Connie Carpenter, Olympic gold medalist who won more stages of the Classic than anyone except her husband Davis Phinney, who is also attending, and Wayne and Dale Stetina, with three wins between them, and many more.
Over its 13 year history, the Classic set not only a new bar for cycling but for sporting events in America. Over its span, racing grew from three days in the Boulder area to crossing multiple state-lines over 16 days, starting on the Big Island in Hawaii, through California, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado. A Kevin Costner Warner Bros movie was shot at the race as it's main theme, and over the years the Classic was carried on NBC, ESPN and live on CBS. In Denver, the Tonight Show was delayed five minutes for Coors Classic nightly updates. At least twenty-six offspring, affectionately called Race Babies, resulted from couples who met as a result of the Classic. The race was the first to close a national park to the public for a sporting event, and did the same at San Francisco iconic Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. It hosted an original Right Stuff astronaut, NBA legend, pop music and TV stars, actors, and even a US President who was an honorary stage starter in Vail. The Classic was the first bike race Robin Williams ever saw; he now has 60 bikes and has been a multi-time Tour de France spectator. At the time, the entire two plus weeks of racing operated on a budget of less than $1 million, racing over 2000 total miles of roadway for men and women each year."