Cycling world remembers Steve Tilford as 'voice of truth'

Free spirited, fierce competitor mourned across the globe

Cycling fans and racers around the world are mourning the death of 57-year-old multi-discipline champion Steve Tilford. The American was killed in a traffic crash in the early hours of April 5, 2017 in eastern Utah. Tilford leaves behind his partner Trudi Rebsamen, a soigneur with the BMC Racing Team.

Tilford's friend Vincent Davis, who was traveling with Tilford on Wednesday, is collecting stories that will be posted on Tilford's blog page stevetilford.com. You can send them to stories@stevetilford.com.

Bicycling Magazine's Bill Strickland wrote an extensive feature on Tilford almost 20 years ago, describing his career: "Tilford has extraordinary talent on a bike. He's a four-time national cyclo-cross champion. He once held the U.S. hour record. He rode alongside that great generation of American road pros that included Davis Phinney, Ron Keifel, Mike Engleman. Greg LeMond personally picked him to ride domestique at the world championships one year. Andy Hampsten relied on him for support in stage races. In '96 he finished second in the U.S. Olympic mountain bike trials.

"Parts of his riding ability are as good as anyone in the world. For instance, side by side he dismounts, runs with his bike and remounts faster than Thomas Frischknecht. He's the fastest tight-corner rider in mountain biking — a skill that's given him a string of victories in the Fat Boy Criterium stages of Cactus Cup races."

Paul Willerton, former road and mountain bike pro, remembered Tilford in a heartfelt Facebook note:

"Steve Tilford passed away on the morning of April 5th, 2017. I learned of his passing from my friend and former teammate, Mike Bohannon. Mike and I had recently discussed trauma resulting from serious head injuries. We cited particular blog posts of Steve Tilford to learn more about the subject. Tilford wrote regularly on stevetilford.com about the challenges he faced following a head injury from falling off his bike. In recent years Steve compiled what was, in my opinion, the best blog of any bike racer active or retired. Retirement was not something Steve was interested in. I think it was a term he associated with an ending, and that was not how he lived his life.

"I first saw Steve Tilford in the early 1980's. His tall, lanky form carried more muscle, especially in his arms and shoulders, than was visible at first glance. Back then, races like the Wheat Thins criterium series were heavily contested. The purses were so large riders could travel from practically anywhere in the world and still make good profits if they placed. Tilford was all over the front of the field. Constantly in the top five or six, he could remain in positions most riders couldn't get to or hold for very long. Of course, it took a lot more than physicality to do what Tilford was doing. He had serious skills. His bike handling, particularly on pavement, was nothing short of superb. Chattering, sliding tires and bodily contact with other riders never bothered him. He could persevere. God, could he persevere. Tenacity, though, may have been his number one ingredient.

"Still a kid, I photographed him with a borrowed 35mm Minolta as he went on to win the National Cyclocross Championship in Santa Cruz, California. I walked to parts of the course where no one else was standing. Steve's intensity became evident to me, that day. He didn't simply gain the front and dispatch his opponents. On those remote sections of the course, I could hear the difference. It was sensory. The sound of his breathing. The stress of his tires clawing against the earth as he arced them through corners. He kept pushing harder. He didn't just want to win. He was searching everywhere for the edge of the envelope. I always wanted to show him the photos that I took, that day. I'll never get that chance.

"I feel fortunate to have had a lot of experiences with Steve, on and off the bike. Traveling, having coffee, talking. He was an interesting person. Extremely smart and thoughtful. He must have known before he was 10 that he would venture beyond Kansas. Cycling made him worldly. We got to look back and laugh at moments we shared. We talked about the Cactus Cup mountain bike stage race. They held a night time criterium in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. It was a miss and out on a really short, twisty course. It was an event for riders with road skills to lash out at the dirt stars. In other words, ideal for Tilford. One year as the field whittled down, Steve and I collided at least 10 times, both ending up on the ground. Another year, I had placed third in the morning time trial behind Bart Brentjens and Cadel Evans. Three seconds from the leaders jersey, the night criterium and it's time bonus was my chance to take the overall lead. The group got down to Evans, Brentjens, Tilford, myself and a couple others. Again, another skirmish with Tilford vying for the lead position in the group took me out of the race. Steve and I would laugh at those memories because, goddamn they were fun. They were so damn fun. There were so many other things to talk about, though. Steve could look back and remember specific things while staying really engaged in the present. It was such a nice quality.

"I think it's extremely important to observe something else about Steve Tilford, especially now that he's no longer with us: his stance on doping in cycling. More importantly, his willingness to speak out against it, including the actions and words of specific individuals who either supported it or did nothing to stop it. This is what made Steve such a mature, independent free spirit in the world of cycling. He documented how badly doping fragmented and distorted careers and the sport we loved. How those who used drugs to win were doing nothing more than stealing. They stole experiences and memories from those who were, very simply, actually deserving of them. Doping distorted reality. Steve was never afraid to call out riders who paraded around living off ill-gotten gains. The robber barons of cycling who stole not only money, but as Steve so eloquently put, memories that should have been. To Steve, stealing memories was the lowest of the low. Way worse than stealing money. Today, those robber baron cyclists may have the money, but they hold fake, parasite ridden memories that don't survive time.

"There is so much to learn from the life of Steve Tilford. I hope that younger generations who want to be bike racers will take the time to pore over the content Steve created. If they pay attention, it could help them earn the keys to a successful career and a life worth living. Develop independent thinking uninfluenced by the "get something for nothing" mind set. Steve was a man's man. There's no two ways about this. The sport of bike racing should properly elevate the life of Steve Tilford. Strength on a bike is fleeting. Precious few riders have ever had core values strong enough to stand in the open and clearly define the difference between wrong and right. Steve Tilford had that strength in spades. That is legacy. For cycling, it is eternal."

Jim Ochowicz, General Manager of BMC Racing remembered Tilford and expressed his support for Rebsamen in a press release.

"Steve Tilford was a part of cycling for as long as I can remember. As a competitor he was a phenomenal rider and an active cyclist his entire life. In more recent times he also became almost an analyst in the sport of cycling and gave his own personal perspective of what the sport was about, what we all do for a living. It was always interesting to read his pieces. What I know of Steve is that he was always very upbeat and happy and I think that's a result of him being a bike rider. That's what he started doing at a young age and loved to do his whole life."

"We're very sad to see Steve gone and we only wish the best for Steve's partner Trudi and their family and friends. Our friend Trudi has been part of this organization for many years and we'll be here to support her at this tough time."

Jeremy Powers, three-time US Cyclo-cross champion, recalled Tilford's spirit in a Facebook post:

"Too soon for Steve Tilford to pass away, a person I always enjoyed catching up with when we ran into each other at events. Last time we spoke was in Iowa, at the cyclo-cross World Cup. I was still in my racing kit having just finished off a cruddy week of World Cup racing after my early season crash on my ribs & coming up way short of expectation, he basically said to me: don't worry, I've had plenty of falls, bruised ribs, you've got more to give and you'll be back in no time, do not worry about it! And coming from Steve, I just remember the positivity & smile he put on my face that day. As I'm sure he did for many others along the way. Ride in peace brother! My thoughts are with all of his family and friends."

Kenny Bellau, a fellow competitor, also remembered Tilford on Facebook:

"A voice of truth in the world has been silenced. RIP Steve Tilford. He not only accomplished things what any racer would dream of, he continued to do them well into his fifties. While some people shamelessly rushed out to get their picture with famous dopers and cheats, Steve was a person that I was proud to just be in his presence. Steve Tilford always spoke the truth even at the cost of his own sponsorship and career. He stood off to the side screaming, "Why are you making these people famous? They are cheating!" This made him revered among the true fans of the sport. It cost him throughout his life because he spoke up, but he had tons of fans. His harsh honesty, written in his famous blog made him more famous off the bike than he was on.

"Steve did it. He did what you would hope people would do. He stood up to your bully when everyone else was cheering for the other side. He was the vulgar voice of reason and shame. His words were so respected because they came from first hand experience in dealing with those bullies. Steve was no arm chair quarterback. He identified the cheaters, sometimes with real proof, sometimes simply with the proof of guys producing super-human numbers. "He was stuck in the Cat 2s for what... 3 years? Then one day he wins stages in the Pro Tour? Give me a f@#*ing break." Classic Tilford.

"Cycling is just a game. Just like any other game. In the big scheme of things it's not really important. But Steve's words reminded us that if you don't take the little things with honesty and integrity, then can your opinion be trusted with anything? "You're still wearing that yellow bracelet? are you f****** serious?" If you're okay standing by watching someone cheat other people out of their career, then you're probably okay watching people do even more heinous things. When will you speak up?

"I raced with Steve dozens of times and I hated each and every one of them. He raced hard, beyond his limits. If you were next to him, you wouldn't last there very long. But I'm as proud to have known him, the racer, the champion, the spokesman, as anyone. You should be more like Steve.

"Well after his retirement from the pros, Steve continued to challenge himself in extreme segments of the sport. From ultra-long dirt races to the regional or national Pro Criteriums, you could find Steve there fighting it out, winning a few bucks and writing about it the next day, who was good and what is going wrong in our sport. Steve was a real hero of mine. I will surely miss him."

 

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