CYCLING: Recalling the Coors Classic in the ’80s |

CYCLING: Recalling the Coors Classic in the ’80s

Colorado’s Tejay van Garderen sprints out of the starter gate to begin his time trial up Vail Pass during Stage 5 of the USA Pro Challenge Aug. 23. Van Garderen took first place in the stage, and ended up being the overall winner of the 2013 Pro Challenge race.
Dominique Taylor / |

It’s the end of August and the USA Pro Challenge bicycle race just ended with a huge crowd of spectators in Denver. It reminds me of the mid to late ’80s when I used to watch the Coors Classic bike race. It was the biggest bike race in North America. It started out as the Red Zinger stage race in 1975 sponsored by the Celestial Seasonings Tea Company and as it grew larger, Coors Beer took over as the title sponsor. The race had its last edition in 1988.

My first year of watching the race was 1982 when it came to Grand Junction for the first time. My best friend, Jack, and I had the unique experience of watching the race over the Colorado National Monument from four different vantage points. We started by riding our bikes up the east climb to a spot a little above the tunnel where we could look down on the lower part of the climb until they entered the tunnel. Then we ran 100 feet over to the road where they passed right next to us, what a view!

We then tried to ride our bikes back down the road so that we could see the finish, but a park ranger wouldn’t let us. So we asked him if it was OK to ride down the Serpent’s Trail. He said that it was, so we did. Back then no one knew about mountain bikes and apparently riding the trails was not illegal. IT IS NOW! And they will give you a very large fine. When we got to the bottom, we watched from the Devil’s Kitchen parking area as the riders started to climb for the second time. Then we rode back into town to watch the finish. I don’t remember who won the men’s race, but Connie Carpenter beat Jeannie Longo in the women’s race. What a fun day.

The next year I started working at The Happy Biker and don’t remember watching the race over the Monument. There were several years where there was also a twilight criterium in downtown Grand Junction that was fun to watch. In 1985, I got a car so we could travel to see some of the other stages. We spent an interesting night trying to camp in Boulder.

In 1987, I was asked to be a mechanic for a women’s team that included my old boss’ wife from The Happy Biker. I decided to take some vacation time and do it. It was fun to do, but I wouldn’t want to do it for a living. Each night was spent cleaning and adjusting bikes until midnight so they were ready to go for the next day. After the race we would travel to the next city and get ready to do it all again. We didn’t have an RV or anything fancy, just a van loaded with all our stuff. In Estes Park that year, there was a big wreck on the first lap of the circuit race that kept us up late. We built wheels and replaced at least one fork on a bike to get ready for the next day’s race in North Boulder Park.

The last year of the Coors Classic was 1988 and I was mechanic-ing again for the same group of women. My motto that year was “done by dinner” and since I was better prepared and knew what I was doing it worked out. Davis Phinney won the men’s race that year.

Now fast forward to 2013, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is in its third year. Even though Grand Junction has yet to be a stage start or stop, it’s good that racing is back in Colorado. Peter Sagan (Team Cannondale), who won four stages this year, reminds me of years past — with great teamwork and exciting sprint finishes, just like we had in the ’80s.

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