"The Olympics suddenly made bicycle racing popular and understandable in this country," says Dave Chauner, the race director in Philadelphia. "Before that, people thought it was only for crazy Frenchmen who didn't mind falling off their bikes in the Alps. I compare cycling now to where distance running was in this country in 1969. When Frank Shorter won at the '72 Olympics, all of a sudden marathon running was not just something for barefooted Ethiopians."
The course in Philadelphia was designed to favor the U.S. riders, who tend to prefer flat terrain, and except for the Manayunk ascent, it did. Nine of the first 11 finishers were Yanks. "We want our Americans to be competitive," said Chauner. "I wouldn't want them to be outshone."
Regrettably, the two best-known American riders, Grewal and 1983 world champion Greg LeMond, weren't in Philly. Hepatitis knocked Grewal out of the race, and LeMond, who remains one of the top two or three cyclists on the international circuit, didn't want to risk an injury a week before the start of the Tour de France. In fact, Paul Sherwen of Great Britain was the only rider in Philly who was expected to compete in the prestigious Tour. "The people coming to our race don't know who the top names in the sport are anyway," said Chauner.
Nevertheless, Chauner's heart must have fairly leaped when he saw Heiden's well-known kisser coming down the straight on the final sprint. Heiden was lying third in the five-man lead group coming off the last turn, his legs pumping so hard that his thighs looked as if they were breathing. In the bunting along the course he had set a triggering point for himself. "I decided to go at the Swedish flag [100 yards from the finish]," he said. "The guys in front of me moved to the right, and left just enough of a gap for me to slide through."
If Heiden had looked to his right as he flashed into first place, he would have been able to see The Thinker studying him from his perch in front of the Rodin Museum. The old boy never moved but Heiden finally did.