In 1983, the Rainbow Cycling Club was a very well run team both in training/races and financially. Mike Kolin pretty much ran the show. He was very good at securing rich sponsorships such as $10,000 cash from Schwinn, 10 free Shimano Dura-Ace gruppos, free RacerMate rainers and Protec helmets. Princely amounts back then.
While Mike ran the track program, Ken Altman, aka Commander Ken, coached the road program. Both had dominating personalities. Mike ran a tight ship for training at the track. Tuesday and Thursday nights were dominated by his program and other teams had to fit their training in around his. It was a highly organized program that changed along with the time of year. He was a firm believer in perfecting a round pedal technique with heels down so that your foot was parallel to the ground. Mike had an unbelievable spin and demonstrated this time and again in match sprints using an 84 inch gear, beating riders with 93+ inch gears.
Everyone was encouraged to have a dedicated fixed gear bike for the road. In the off season, fixed gear bikes were the norm. In addition to the mid week training on the track, Saturdays in October saw us meet in the parking lot at the base of Mt. Si. From there we did a brisk walk or run up to the top. A good time up Mt. Si was 39 minutes to the Haystack. Commander Ken could make it up about 40 minutes. Mortals such as myself would do the trek up in 44 minutes. November saw us transition into the infamous and incredibly hard Woodinville Hill Workout. These workouts didn’t involve bicycles but instead were a montage of aerobic and anaerobic drills. One exercise was to find a partner and take turns carrying them up the hill piggy back style. I was more than delighted one Saturday to have Rebecca Twigg as my partner. These workouts were seriously hard and would leave most anyone including myself bed ridden for the rest of the day. Not so for Commander Ken however. He would add on 50-90 miles of riding to this day. While most racers would wither riding 400-500 miles per week, Ken thrived on it. In 1985 he rode something like 465 miles at a 24 hour enduro on the outskirts of Enumclaw. Also right around that time he was second in the Tour of Willamette, quite a feat for a 41 year old racing against Cat 2’s half his age.
It might have been 1986 when he ran a one-on-one development program with Steve Smith, the hugely talented budding junior of the time. Instead of living at home in Seattle, Steve lived with Commander Ken and Connie (his wife) in Issaquah. This was essentially like a military academy. Steve would go on to reap the benefits from all this training by doing very well on the national level. This all came at a cost however as a couple of years later Steve had a melt down in the sport, never to race again. Steve was the quintessential gentleman racer who won races cleanly and quietly. He always seemed surprised that he was talked about in the same breath as Mike McCarthy, another junior phenomena at the time. I really looked up to him.
In addition to Todd Gallaher and Steve Smith, there were a few other very talented junior riders during these years. There was Christopher Castle, Bill Howard, Erik Stuhaug, George Gibbs and Phil Vorhees to name just some. Aside from Todd, Christopher probably had the most talent as he could ride quite well with the Cat. 2’s. I remember Chris breaking away with Tom Broznowski (a top pro in the country) during a road race and ended up winning as Tom sat up before the finish line. That had to be a big boost to his confidence. Will Fernyhough and I took Bill Howard to his first race at Kingston. He won which had an uphill finish. Bill and Todd had somewhat similar childhoods as they both had to weather through broken households. Bicycle racing was a great boon to them.
I remember some notable women racing around this time too. At the top of the list would have to be Rebecca Twigg, a rider who started off with Rainbow but then moved on to national and international fame. She would race with the local Cat.2’s and do pretty well. Her world record for the pursuit stood for a long time. There was the heartbreaking loss to Connie Carpenter in the ‘84 Olympics when she looked back just short of the finish line only to see Carpenter nip her for the gold. Lesson learned to her and anyone else. On the track side of things, there was Renee Duprel. A pure sprinter with her only other rival at the time being Connie Young. I remember Connie purposely crashing Renee out at the 89 Natz because Renee was beating her. Being the sweet person that she was, she didn’t protest the incident and Connie went on to win. She went on to achieve national titles and competed quite well internationally. Becky Brindle was a great all around rider and won numerous state championships. And then there was my own wife Nancy. Bless her soul, she couldn’t ride a mass start race to save her life but when it came to TT’s, she was fast. State masters TT queen 3 years in a row.
1985 was a break out year for me both on the track and the road. This third year of racing saw me upgrade to Cat. 2 on the track and the road. Ann Custin was the new district rep for Washington and took her job seriously. It was customary for someone to move up a category with 3-top 3 finishes. She however insisted that one of those results should be a win. I had 6 top 3 finishes in Cat. 3, but never the win. At a 72 mile RR on the 9 mile Ravensdale course that year, I managed to come in 2nd behind Chandler. This was a mixed Cat 2/3 race so being the top finishing Cat 3, this sufficed as my win and therefore my move into Cat 2. Also this year, I was mostly instrumental in putting on 6 races. There were two TTs in March and then 4 RRs (all on the Ravensdale course) that were designed to be a lead up to the State RR. It was a huge headache mainly because I couldn’t get volunteers to work the race. Forever I have had respect for anyone who puts on races...
I was a bit overwhelmed by the caliber of racing I had landed into. Steve Poulter, Bob Wade, Kevin Fiske, Pete Banko, Bill Turina, and Chandler were some of the top riders in the area at the time. And then, of course, there were the Canadians who would have their way with the Washingtonians. Alex Steida (the first N American to wear the yellow jersey), Bruce Spicer, Neil Davies, Brent Mudry, Brian Walton, Gervais Rioux and Paul Tetamante were but a few of the greats from north of the border.
Barclay Kruse was the owner of the Bicycle Racer who did a lot to promote races at the time. The Lowenbrau Classic was his centerpiece that ran for 2 years in Redmond. This was an NRC race that attracted Cat.1s from around the country. Cat 1s back then were usually on the national team or close to it. Thurlow Rogers (The Turbo) won this event, twice I think, often being way off the front in a solo break. I raced this as a Cat. 3 in 1985 (before I upgraded), only to be dropped like so many other locals.
Also around 1985 there was the Wheat Thins Criterium, an NRC race held in the Denny Regrade of downtown Seattle. The best criterium riders in the country were here including Tom Broznowski (a locally based pro riding for Wheaties/Schwinn), Jeff Peirce, Ron Kiefel, and the winningest U.S. rider (even to this day) Davis Phinney. Our son, Davis, is named after Davis Phinney. That race was phenomenally fast with most local riders being tailed off the back, me being one of them.
At the end of 1987, the year that the stock market crashed, the Rainbow Cycling Club suffered a terminal melt down. With Mike Kolin gone back to Detroit to work for Ford (I always admired the fact that he had a 1969 Boss 302 Mustang), for a while the club governed itself in a pretty reasonable fashion. Eventually though, struggles over power and money resulted in most riders leaving the team to start a brand new team, the Avanti Racing Team. This was primarily headed up by myself but had a lot of help from Dan Norton, my wife Nancy and George Gibbs Sr. One of the central ideas of this team was that no matter who you were, there was equal opportunity for sponsorship, no special deals for elite riders. Kelly Davies designed the jersey which to this day still looks fresh and contemporary. I occasionally see riders wearing them 20+ years later. The styling was a bit like the Gitane jersey that the late Laurent Fignon wore. I raced with this team until 1990. The Avanti Racing Team morphed into the Ti Cycles Racing Team and still exists today as the Blue Rooster Team. Team member Tim Kuhn along with being a fine track rider and really good time trialist did a lot of work with the newsletter each month. I still have monthly newsletters dating back to 1988.
Aside from heading up the formation of this new team, I took on the role of Commander Ken but with a softer touch. The Woodinville Hill Workouts continued along with weekend rides that started from Leschi on Saturdays and Marymoor on Sundays. The Saturday ride saw a lot of fixed gear bikes while the Sunday ride used a regular road bike. As the racing season neared, our Sunday rides in Snoqualmie Valley and the environs got progressively harder and longer with 5-10 mile super hard sections interspersed. There was no such thing as PowerTaps, etc. to measure our efforts. The most technology introduced was heart rate monitors and speedometers. The basic training principles revolved around hard days and easy days. I really emphasized the idea of hard days to be really hard. I joked that I raced with PMS (Pain Management System). It was all just seat of the pants in learning to go as hard as one could. For the most part, everyone saw the value in the training schemes I had. These training rides were well attended, typically with 25-35 riders, sometimes more. I can still remember much of the liquid bovine fecal matter we rode through in passing the various dairy farms during those cold wet winter rides. As a side note, I always laugh when I remember Pete Pitcher (a great rider with Puget Sound Cycling Club) riding off the road in one of these winter rides. He was about 3 feet below the road level stuck in a ditch hip deep in water and mud, still holding onto his handlebars and laughing hysterically.
Along with the formation of this new team in 1988, I took on a new approach to racing which was to ride more aggressively at the front of the pack instead of my old tactic of following the race to the last 200 meters and then sprinting. This change in tactic reaped big rewards for me, especially at the track. In 1989, my new found ability to attack and counter attack found me in the optimal position in the last lap of the Redmond Derby (then held at Anderson Park), a race I so dearly wanted to win. Coming through the last corner I was perfectly positioned behind Paul Tetamante who was just flying. My confidence in being able to outsprint him was erased in a moment when my rear tire blew like a shotgun blast. I left lots of skin behind as I skated along the pavement. Thank goodness for Silvaden. The next week was elite track nationals at Marymoor. I was the top qualifier in the state for the 40km points race and so here I was doing the national points race covered in bandages. I didn’t do very well. Frankie Andreu won.
The Ore-Ida Women’s Stage Race in Idaho was probably the biggest women’s race in the country at the time. It attracted international riders as well as a group of local women. During my absence from the racing scene in the 90’s that race morphed into the HP Classic.
From 1983 until 1990, there were a lot of technological improvements in bicycles and related gear. The first Lycra shorts came around in 1984 and by 1985, most everyone had sidelined their wool shorts for Lycra. Keep in mind though that chamois technology did not follow through with the Lycra. Chamois consisted of nothing more than a piece of leather or artificial material, no padding. Sometimes I would stick on Mini-Pads to get a bit of cushion and relief. I still sport scars today “down there”. By 1985, Shimano had come up with indexed (SIS) shifting which meant that one didn’t have to goof around with the shifter to center the chain on a gear. Reach down, click, and you had the gear instantly. I was at the head of the line for these two great innovations. Clipless pedals started to be used but were problematic in releasing at the wrong time. I stuck with my toe straps through 1990. Clipless pedals were not allowed at the track. Disc wheels, and “Funny bikes” became popular around ‘86 and ’87. Clip-on bars became popular after Greg Lemond’s big win over Fignon in the 89 TDF. Even back in 1985, Rainbow bought 4 Mavic Comet disc rear wheels for select team members to use for TTs. This was a really big deal then.
The one piece of technology that existed back then and is pretty scarce today is that of the silk cased tubular tire. To this day I have never ridden on a finer feeling tire than ones such as Clement Criterium Seta Extra for the road or some of the numbered Clements for the track such as #2 and #9 that I used. Soft supple ride, very low rolling resistance and a unique wonderful singing noise as they rolled. Pretty much everyone raced on tubular tires then as clincher tires were much heavier than the ones of today.
The nicest bikes of the time were typically but not limited to Italian. Guerciotti, Rossin, De Rosa, Pogliaghi and Cinelli were some of them. I seem to remember prices for a Guerciotti road frame being about $550, a chunk of change at that time. Cinelli frames were only for the nsanely rich. Vitus had a lugged aluminum bike that a moderate number of racers had. Some were problematic though with the lugs coming undone. One of course can’t forget some very fine locally made frames such as Erickson (Galen Erickson, son of Glenn, races as a Cat 1 today), Davidson and Rodriquez. The Schwinn Paramount was often seen in races. The Allsop beam bike made somewhere up near Marysville made its debut. For myself, I bought a Rossin in 1985 from NW Cycle on Capitol Hill. This was the shop that Mike Kolin and Denise DeLaRosa owned. Their marriage fizzled, Mike went back to Detroit as previously noted and the shop continued on for only a few more years. My Guerciotti track bike was bought used from Bryce Given who had retired from bicycle racing and took up tennis. I changed out the stem and handlebars for the bright chrome steel Cinelli. I had to learn the bike all over again as it was much stiffer. Even so, that bike would have a pretty serious sine wave going through it during a full on sprint. It took some technique to make that cancel out. For winning the seasons points at the track in 1989, I won a custom frame from Davidson, I elected for a road frame called the Stiletto. That name would prove to have an ironic twist 18 years later when I encountered a stiletto shoe on the road. I still have these three bikes today.
In 1989, I went north of the border for a March training race at Pitt Meadows. It was a relatively short race of 55-60 miles. Early on I initiated a break that took 3 riders with me. A couple of laps later I could see a small group of riders coming up with only 1 rider at the front. They ventually caught us. This 4 rider group included Alex Steida. Now with a group of 8, all but 2 shared the work at the front. With the final few hundred meters coming up, I was keying off of Alex as I didn’t know the other riders. He came flying by me, I latched on and in the last 50 meters or so I came around him and wound up 2nd with Alex being 3rd. I was dumfounded. The guy who won didn’t do a lick of work during the race. Later on in talking to him I was practically apologizing for having finished in front of him. He was very gracious. I could only figure that maybe he had done some huge training ride the day before and was probably tired for that day's race. In any event though, it was a big boost for my confidence and was a prelude to my best year for racing a bike.
With smaller fields of riders than today, the most notable difference was in masters racing. For weekend races, there was just one 35+ category. For state championships however, age groups were broken out in 5 year increments just like in nationals today. For state championship events there was only the RR and TT. In 1989 the first state championship criterium was introduced. Glenn Bunselmeyer was the first state champion in that event for the 30-34 age group. I remember Mike Burdo being quite disappointed at having sprinted to the wrong finish line sitting up too early which handed me the win in 35-39. This took place at Seward Park, a relatively new venue for racing that was inspired by the Christopher Columbus criterium held in the first week of October (a national event).
There was one time when I was so glad to have come in second instead of first. This was at the state road championships in Spokane in 1990. Coming into the last 800 meters in the masters race Bill Turina, the Sleepy Tiger as I sometimes called him, lit it up. I was right on his wheel and thought that this was the perfect lead out. At about 150 to go I made my move to come around him but couldn’t. I was amazed that he could hold a sprint that long. In talking to him after thee race I learned that his father had passed away just days before and that the win was for him. I was so glad that I didn’t get by him.
Toward the end of the 1990 season, I had become a very marked rider at the track. I had won a lot of races, won the seasons points twice and state points race twice and with that other teams and riders had me squarely in their cross hairs. Riders were coming out to race to make me lose rather than for themselves to do well. This became so ridiculous on the final night of racing that August that it became physical. Bryan Smith was crashed out breaking his collarbone. The dangerous maneuver that led to his crash was intended for me. The instigator of that crash also went down. A lap or two later I saw him yelling from track side at others riders to go after me. Spectators were scratching their heads wondering what in the world was going on. I remember Phil who had been an official for several years by then being perplexed. Racing was not fun anymore. With a sour taste in my mouth, I left the sport not knowing if I would ever race again. To this day, even with the bittersweet end to my 8 years of racing, I have a lot of great memories to look back on. All the hard work, cold wet winter rides et al, it was definitely worth it.
In closing out Part II, I would like to add that any of these writings are not intended to be a comprehensive view of what happened back then but rather a bunch of snap shots or glimpses. Many, many names were left out which could only be included if I decided to write a book (not at all likely). Stayed tuned though as the FUN in bicycle racing comes back for me starting in 1999 (Part III).