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If you could get past the name, the Tour de Trump, without losing your lunch, and if you could somehow divorce the sporting event from the excess baggage that went with it—the Trump Princess, the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, the chest-Trumping cameos of King Donald himself, whose ideas for improving the Tour de Trump included adding a few laps around the White House and continuing the race to Los Angeles via Detroit, Chicago and San Francisco—what you had was a pretty nice bicycle race.
Not exactly a "legendary race in its first year," as Donald J. Trump crowed to an interviewer last Saturday in Baltimore, after the ninth leg of this 10-stage, 825-mile road race, which started May 5 in Albany, N.Y., and ended on Sunday on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. But it was a safe, wonderfully organized, competitive event with a great future, if it doesn't get mucked up by a certain billionaire's vainglory.
The funny thing was the communities along the route that took this race to their hearts and gave the Tour its charm—the New Paltzes (N.Y.) and Front Royals (Va.) and Allen towns (Pa.)—were as un-Trumpian as Montgomery Ward. As the 114 cyclists raced through these and dozens of other unpretentious towns beneath unrelentingly overcast skies, wide-eyed schoolchildren greeted them with drawings and welcome signs. Elderly couples, some toting American flags, waited for them at the ends of their driveways. Farmers, caught in the traffic, stood beside pickups and waved as the cyclists and the support caravan passed.
The Europeans who had come to compete or to follow the race loved it. The first six stages of the Tour passed through the Catskills, the Poconos, Pennsylvania Dutch country and the Blue Ridge Mountains and had the feeling of a European road race—rolling hills, open countryside, winding roads. Many Tour-following Americans, numbed by a lifetime of interstate highway travel, saw their homeland as if for the first time. Bands played, and townspeople, happy that this colorful festival of sport had come their way, cheered from the first finisher to the last.
The whole thing would have been positively lovable had it been christened something a little less cheeky than 'Tour Day Trump," as public address announcer Jeff Roake kept pronouncing it. Tour of what? Trump's person? His bank account? His hat size? Forget that, the racers only had 10 days.
Not that Trump's name wasn't useful in putting all this together, as he so tactfully pointed out during a prerace press conference. When asked why he hadn't named the event—which was jointly sponsored by NBC Sports, Jefferson Pilot Teleproductions and the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino—the Tour of America, the modest Trump replied, "We could, if we wanted to have a less successful race. If we wanted to down-scale it."
Of course, he was right. Trump's association with the race not only guaranteed media coverage, but also proved a powerful attraction overseas. Two of the top three professional teams in Europe—PDM and Panasonic-Isostar, both based in the Netherlands—decided to skip the Tour of Spain, whose dates conflicted with the Tour de Trump's, to compete for the $250,000 in prize money (one-fifth of the Tour de France's purse, the richest in cycling). "One of the biggest reasons we came was that Trump was the sponsor," said PDM's team manager, Jan Gisbers. "With a man like him, we knew it would be good."
Peter Post, the manager for the Panasonic-Isostar team, echoed those sentiments, if in slightly less fluent English. "The name Trimp is goot in Europe," said Post. "Trimp's style is fantastic."
Which is another way of saying that Post never met a billionaire he didn't like. Whatever the attraction, the Tour de Trump lured an impressive first-year field, including the four most prominent American cyclists. Greg LeMond, the 1986 Tour de France winner, and Alexi Grewal, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, joined forces in the newly formed Coors Light team, which had delusions of unseating 7-Eleven as the top U.S.-based professional team. The 7-Eleven team was led by 1988 Tour of Italy winner Andy Hampsten and by Davis Phinney, who in 1986 became the first American to win a stage in the Tour de France.
In addition to the eight professional entries, there were 11 amateur teams, the most colorful being a six-man squad from Holland that was sponsored by Sauna Diana, an Amsterdam brothel. "The largest in Holland," explained one team member. "Beautiful girls."