This is an old story. I’ve told the story on countless bike rides over the years, but I’ve never written it down. So, 28 years after the fact, here it is, to the best of my recollection. And fortunately, this was not lost to the ages. My father was there with the camera, and got some pictures. So I actually have a record of this experience.
It was May 28th, 1978. I was 18 and just graduated out of Junior racing and into Category 2. There were three big races over Memorial Day Weekend, culminating in the Tour of Somerville. This particular story concerns the Sunday race, which was the Tour of Nutley in Nutley, New Jersey. I’ve always wished that my greatest bike racing memory could have been attached to a place with a less-goofy name, but such is life.
The race was 100km around a course in downtown Nutley. It was about 60 laps. There were probably 200 riders in the field, and it was nothing particularly out of the ordinary for me at the time. There were riders from all the big teams at the time, including most of the U.S. National Team and a few riders from Europe. We started out and I just rode in the pack.
Somewhere along the way a breakaway got started and they got quite far ahead of the pack. I didn’t think much about it, since I had no (well, not many) aspirations of greatness at the time. But at about 20 laps to go, I found myself at the front of the pack. We were going along at racing speed, which was probably about 25-28mph, but I was just sort of loafing. I saw a guy in a red jersey take off from the front. I was just watching him go, figuring that he wouldn’t get far by himself. But then I saw John Quinn, who was the guy who ran my racing club, standing on the side of the road. He saw me at the front and yelled, “Go after him!” So I did. I jumped up and got on his wheel. He pulled me around for two laps before he even let me take a turn pulling. I took a quick look back and I couldn’t see the pack. When I pulled through he said something to me like, “No! Bigger gear!” So I dropped into a big gear and took a pull.
We traded off pulling for a couple of laps before I looked back and saw two other guys coming up to join us. I thought this was a Good Thing, since I didn’t think I’d last in a two-man breakaway. With four, I thought we’d have a good chance of making it to the finish without being caught. When they joined us, we settled into a pace line and life was good.
I hadn’t thought much about who these guys were, but the announcer started telling the crowd about us when we passed the starting line. It turned out that the guy who started the breakaway was Tom Doughty, who was on the National Team. The two other guys who joined us were Kent Bostick and Rick Baldwin. This was where I started to get scared. I used to get pumped up for races by reading race reports from Velo News, and so I knew that Rick had finished 8th in the 1977 National Road Championship, and I remembered reading how the National Team coach was “drooling over the raw power of big-boned Kent Bostick”. Suddenly I was feeling like I was a bit out of my element. I was a just-graduated-from-juniors kid. Yikes.
After a few laps, we got within sight of the front breakaway. But we didn’t quite catch them. To my credit, I was not the first to fade. It was either Kent or Rick who first started to lose it. But we were all getting tired. All of us except for Tom, the National Team guy. He finally got tired of pulling us and just left to join the front group. By this time there were only about five laps to go. I was still holding out hope that we could make it to the finish, but it was not to be. I ended up riding by myself, trying desperately to stay away from the pack. But at one lap to go, just as I passed the finish line, the pack blew by me like a train. I could barely turn the pedals by that time. So I just wobbled over to the side of the road and fell over on the grass.
Some people from my club picked me up and carried me over to a wall and sort of propped me up there. They gave me something to drink. I was a bit delerious at that point, but I still knew that I’d done something that everyone considered to be amazing. So even though I felt half-dead, it was fun.
So this was my greatest single day of bike riding ever. It was great fun. It was my greatest triumph and greatest defeat all at the same time. And I wish I could have had more like it. I had other days of triumph, but this was the only time where I could truly say that I’d given it all.