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A TWO-DAY TORTURE ON WHEELS
Harold Peterson
October 04, 1965
The North American Bicycle Championship, a 190-mile grind over a monster course at high altitudes, tested the stamina and nerve of 16 hardy riders
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October 04, 1965

A Two-day Torture On Wheels

The North American Bicycle Championship, a 190-mile grind over a monster course at high altitudes, tested the stamina and nerve of 16 hardy riders

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Halasi and Dziak, slipping half a mile behind at Black Cloud Creek, shifted to the left to use a windbreak provided by tall pines. Meyer was next to feel the 10,300-foot altitude, and he, too, fell back. It was a pack of only seven that swung around Star Mountain and saw the road switchbacking straight up as far as anyone could see.

Oxygen tanks and new wheels at roadside marked the beginning of gravel, but only Dennis stopped to change. Pray and Marshall were away immediately; then came Crist 100 feet behind; Weedin and Wilson; and Kron. Rounding the second switchback, Marshall had moved 150 yards in front. At the third, amid evidence of recent snow, he was charging ahead as if on a motorcycle, and Pray could no longer see him. "If he beats Pray to the top by one minute he'll win," Bidwell yelled at Coronary Corner. Marshall sped by the summit two minutes ahead and two to 12 minutes sooner than the fastest estimates.

Pulling his brakes close to the rim with a special switch, Marshall dropped down washed-out hairpin turns at 30 to 35 miles an hour, rattling over rocks and veering to the outside edge. Suddenly Marshall's front tire blew out at the ghost town of Independence, and he was forced to limp along the rim. Bidwell, who was following, spun his jeep around and shredded rubber back up the pass, in search of a new wheel. But when he got back to Independence, Marshall was long gone. "With Pray within 200 yards, some guy in a VW bus gave Marshall a $79.75 bike with about seven pounds of air in the tire," said Bob Brougham of the Aspen Times later. "He hopped on, stuck down his legs and couldn't reach the pedals. Funniest look on his face. There he was, trying to lower the seat with a wrench as he rode." It was still a fast trip down. Bidwell, freewheeling down the mountain with the ignition off in order to shout into a transceiver that the racers were arriving early, had to skid around the curves at Lost Man Creek and Devil's Punch Bowl and Difficult in order to beat Marshall into Aspen.

Marshall did, in fact, spook across the finish before the whole crowd had gathered. Pray was only 48 seconds behind. Crist was third, and that was the final overall finish: Marshall, Pray and Crist, Marshall winning by 17 seconds out of nine hours, 25 minutes and 22 seconds in two days and 190 miles.

The other riders had harrowing tales to tell, most of all Bob Weedin. On and after Independence Pass, Weedin had broken a chain, lost a crane, lost his rear brake, flattened a tire, staved in a wheel, gotten a new wheel, suffered four more flats, walked down off the gravel with no help in sight, ridden on the flat tire, destroying another wheel. Altogether the riders had run through at least 34 tires, nine wheels, 12 chains, forks, headsets, sprockets, freewheels, cranks, brakes and pedals, one arm (Wilson's, sprained, not broken), three legs and innumerable feeder bottles. Most, however, surveyed the toll of $20 wheels and $200 bicycles in terms of the months of conversation it would provide. With commonly shared enthusiasm they agreed that the race should become one of the biggest and that John Marshall would be mighty useful at the Mexico City Olympics. But there were exceptions. "Bicycle racing is exciting enough without adding actual hazards to life," said Crist, albeit rather cheerfully. Not everybody joined in admiration of the classically mangled equipment. "Whose wheel was that with the spokes hanging in little shattered pieces from the rim?" someone asked Patrick Dennis. "Lots of guys'," Dennis replied, not too happily.

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