As the Richmond World Championships draw near, memories are bound to reflect back on Colorado Springs circa 1986, the last time the UCI brought its most important one-day races to the US. For Bob Roll, who was representing the US that day in support of Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, one memory stands out among the rest.
"That was hard," Roll said when asked about the race. "It was a miserable day weather-wise. All of the Euros were there. We had done the Coors Classic, Tour of Colorado, beforehand to get ready for it. Ron Kiefel rode well. Greg had just won the Tour de France and it was a pretty acrimonious battle with Bernard Hinault."
LeMond, who had won the rainbow jersey three years earlier, was coming off his first Tour de France win, having beaten Hinault after three weeks of intra-team fighting. Cycling in the US was benefiting from LeMond's success, but for most Europeans the American cyclists were still a novelty.
Roll's 7-Eleven trade team was the first American-based program to compete in the Tour de France that July, and the team had done its utmost to earn respect. Canadian Alex Stieda was the first North American to wear yellow for a stage, and sprinter Davis Phinney backed up Stieda's accomplishment with a stage win of his own.
LeMond, riding for the French La Vie Claire team, went on to win the Tour de France that year, then followed it with a second place to Hinault at the 17-day Coors Classic in Colorado. He went into Worlds as the pre-race favourite, but Roll said the effort in France – or more accurately, the psychological toll from LeMond's battle with his mentor Hinault – cost him a chance to win a World Championship at home.
"Greg was the pre-race favourite, but I think he was still recovering emotionally from what should have been a great experience and a fantastic celebration," Roll said. "It was was tough on Greg, so it took him awhile to recuperate from that. A lot of things happened to him. He had the worst luck it seemed like."
Jeff Pierce of the USA leads the field during the 1986 World Cycling Championships (Getty Images Sport).
LeMond finished seventh in Colorado Springs, while Moreno Argentin of Italy survived from the breakaway to beat Charly Mottet of France in a two-up sprint. Italian Giuseppe Saronni took the bunch kick for the final medal just a few seconds later.
Roll said he believes the US Worlds teams of his era had better squads than the one they fielded in 1986, pointing to the previous year, exactly 30 years ago, as a prime example. During the 1985 Worlds in Giavera del Montello, Italy, LeMond earned a silver medal after Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk shocked the favourites with a late-race move that he stuck to the line.
The US riders were all riding well that day, Roll said, and they helped LeMond make the final selection along with Argentin. Stephen Roche attacked on the final climb and gapped the other leaders, but LeMond worked to bring Roche back with Zoetemelk tucked in on his wheel. The group came back together as several non-decisive moves went up the road and then succumbed to the chase.
When Zoetemelk shook free with just over a mile to go, however, tactics behind led to a disorganised chase, and he held off the the bunch to win his first rainbow jersey at 38 years old. LeMond won the sprint for second ahead of Argentin.
Competition aspects aside, Roll said, the Richmond Worlds could be a boon for US cycling. A Washington Post report from the 1986 race estimated there were 10,000 to 15,000 spectators on the Airforce Academy campus, but spectators in Richmond will swell well beyond that. Organisers are hoping for nearly half a million people to attend throughout the week. Live TV and internet coverage will increase the event's reach even more.
"I'm really looking forward to having the race back in the States for the first time in nearly 30 years," Roll said. "Worlds, there's just nothing like it. It's the best one-day race in cycling. It should be spectacular racing and all the best guys in the world will be there gunning to win.
"The time trial, the women, the juniors, the U23s, it's just absolutely fantastic. So it's great to be in the States, and hopefully that will help the appreciation grow. Lots of people in the States ride now. It's just a question of getting them to appreciate racing and do more racing."
Charly Mottet, Rolf Goelz and Moreno Argentin during the 1986 World Cycling Championships (Getty Images Sport).
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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