"Bike Shop Tales" returns with a story that I think is timely, given that it is late July and all.........
If you work in a bicycle shop in July in Iowa, you know all too well what it is like before the last week in July comes around. RAGBRAI, (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), is an all consuming topic of conversation amongst cyclists here and the shop rats get mighty tired of hearing about it after awhile. Sure, it puts money in our pockets. I get that. I don't mean to come off as an ungrateful elitist, but when a shop rat constantly hears about "the tough ride that RAGBRAI is", or how it is a "monumental achievement", in terms of the way people speak about it, it grates the nerves a bit when we are looking over our shoulders at the annual coverage of Le Tour.
Here you have an event that tests the mettle of the most road hardened athletes on bicycles in the world. And RAGBRAI is tough? No. No way. Period.
Interestingly, it has come to light in recent years that both events have had plenty of doping incidents! So, I guess there is some commonality there. Still, it is easily seen by cycling aficionados that RAGBRAI is a mere ride in the park compared to the Tour. And the chatter about RAGBRAI by the naive is something that is hard to tolerate in light of all this.
So, to get away from all of that RAGBRAI madness, we used to leave work, head to the local pub, and catch replays of the latest Tour stages on the T.V. That was a new thing then, it used to be before that you had to wait for a week for Velo News to send you a Tour update. Maybe The Wide World of Sports would have some weekend recaps. Maybe. The late night update was cool, and on cable T.V. and it was free at the pub. The only thing was, they never turned the sound up. Oh well! Something was better than nothing back then.
Of course, this was during Indurain's reign as the Tour Champ. It was 1995, he was in yellow.....again! Could anyone step up and challenge the Spaniard? Well, there was this impish Italian fellow that came in third the year before. Marco Pantani, Il Elefantino as he was called then, and which was a nic-name he hated, was in the race again, despite a horrible crash that left his leg shattered earlier in the year. He he was, racing up Alpe d'Huez, crushing Indurain's group, and on his way to setting a record for the climb. Here was this little mouse of a man with the distinctive ears, beating the Champ.
I really got into it. I was cheering Pantani on. Rest assured that I was seen as some sort of raving lunatic at the time. I mean, who ever heard of the Tour de France? Yeah, yeah.......Greg LeMond, blah, blah, blah. Nobody saw the Wide World of Sports the day he won the Tour in 1989. Too bad too. LeMond was a victim of the "Pre-Information Age". Had he had the luxury of a Twitter account and his own website publishing mega-corporation, (read: Trek), he too would have been known Nationwide. But no, I am sorry. In 1995 nobody in the bar I was in knew about him, or his three Tour titles.
As far as anyone was concerned on that hot July evening, I was retarded. Maybe consumed too many libations, or maybe I was just weird for all they knew. Even my bike shop cronies thought I was a bit too excited. I didn't care, I was all in for Pantani. He was crushing the tall, dark Spaniard on a mountain top finish steeped in cycling lore. And he won!
I was ecstatic.
That was back when the Tour was believable, and as I said, even though we ended up seeing the veil lifted later, at that time it was almost magical. It was pretty cool, actually. I guess those were the days............
Next week: More from the vaults of "Bike Shop Tales"