To the delight of the New York City metropolitan racing scene, Italian cycling legend Francesco Moser jumped into the opening race of the Lucarelli Castaldi Series in Brooklyn's Prospect Park this weekend. What follows is an account by Jules Roazen, courtesy NYVelocity.com.
"Yes, that is Francesco Moser."
That's how my conversation began with Charlie Issendorf, organizer of the Prospect Park Race series, began.
Just two days prior my wife had taken me to Lunetta, a local Brooklyn restaurant for my birthday; Francesco Moser and his son Carlo were in attendance there promoting their winery, Cantine Moser. Over a delicious meal the guests chatted with the gregarious (and multi-lingual) living legend and his son. Stories were told by the elder Moser in Italian, Spanish and French throughout the evening. As the wine flowed the local amateur racers began their campaign to get "the Sheriff" to attend Saturday's first race of the spring series in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. "He loves everything related to ciclismo," said Marco Moser. "Perhaps he will come to watch."
"Watch?" we joked. "He is welcome to race!"
The former Giro d'Italia champion demurred, citing the need for a bicycle he was familiar with, papers for racing, proper shoes, pedals, his age, jet lag and other excuses well known to racers of all ages and accomplishments. We persisted in good humor, hoping to at least secure his presence on the starting line.
Imagine my surprise on Thursday morning to get a call from Marco Moser. "Il signore would like to come to the race." After a bit of clarification with my broken Italian the reality made itself known: "Il Signore," "lo sceriffo," three-time Paris-Roubaix winner, former World Champion, et cetera, was asking to line up with the local park amateurs and pin on a number.
Local racer Victor Ratto arranged for a bike and clothing while any worries about proper racing "papers" for Mr. Moser were quickly put to rest by Steve Johnson, the president of USA Cycling. "We [would be] honored to have him compete," he wrote, "and Signore Moser [may] compete in the category of his choosing."
As I drove him from his midtown hotel across the Manhattan bridge, Mr. Moser gazed at the predawn Brooklyn Bride and declared, "It is still night!" But the speed and ease with which he changed into his racing gear indicated he was no stranger to early morning races in strange surroundings.
His field left promptly at 6:15 amid cheers of enthusiasm from an unusually large crowd of spectators and despite his limited training for the event – just four rides this calendar year – The Sheriff sat easily in the top ten of the local Pro/1/2/3 event, often leading the pack up the hill with ease before sitting up to avoid the sprint. "The sprint can be dangerous," he explained, "if you don't have the fitness."
Moments after finishing, Moser was surrounded by fans seeking autographs on everything from vintage jerseys to photographs. Ever gracious, he signed autographs and posed for pictures patiently with a warm smile before retreating to a local coffee shop to share stories of today's race and others past. I am certain stories of the day Francesco Moser raced in Brooklyn's Prospect Park Series opener will be told in that coffee shop for years to come.