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"Jock just didn't like to come in second," says Hopkins, who gave Boyer his first two racing bicycles. Hopkins saw talent in Boyer, and something more. "What impressed me was the way he hit those corkscrew turns down mountains," Hopkins says. "He was absolutely fearless, and he always had a rather cool manner. He has that still. It annoys some people. They think it's snobbery, or egotism, but he just wasn't much of a smiling guy. Not unfriendly, but he had that sort of confident manner. He's intelligent, he's got tremendous determination and he's willing to suffer."
George Farrier, an ex-Marine, could not be more different from the mild-mannered, speculative Hopkins. Farrier, who believes in the single-minded pursuit of excellence, has made himself a millionaire by means of a regional fast-food chain. His house stands atop a small mountain in Carmel, with a 72-foot mast for his ham radio transmitter, which Boyer helped install, anchored in concrete. Around 1968 Farrier was drawn into Carmel's cycling fraternity, and he became a bike enthusiast.
Josie Boyer has suggested that Farrier may be a sort of father figure to her son, and certainly he taught Jock how to get on in the world. His picture of Boyer at 14 is of an unformed but obsessed kid, interested only in bike racing. "He was a worker, though. You couldn't find anything too hard for him," says Farrier. "I'd give him something ridiculous to do, like cleaning all the spiders out of a barn. He'd spend all afternoon at it and come out covered with cobwebs, laughing."
Remo d'Agliano is another of Boyer's mentors. From him Boyer got an appreciation of the fine points of cycling that comes only with experience. Today the Italian-born d'Agliano is the proprietor of a Carmel restaurant, but back in the '50s he qualified at age 16 to ride "first category" in Europe against mature riders four and five years older. He raced for the Athletic Club of Boulogne-Billancourt (ACBB), which was, and is, the most powerful and prestigious French amateur club. D'Agliano lasted four years. In his best year he had an astonishing number of victories (56) but was burned out at 20 by the merciless Continental race schedule. Local talent doesn't often impress him, but Boyer did.
Says d'Agliano, "Two friends of mine, Sam Hopkins and George Farrier, said there was this skinny young boy who was already riding very well, and if I wanted to have a look? The only way to see was to go up Los Laureles. At that time I was going up that hill pretty good. I couldn't keep up with him. A year later he climbs that hill in 10 minutes, which nobody has ever been able to match. From that day, I start working with him—and he didn't need too much work. He was one of those natural-gift persons. He did everything well. Not a strong sprint, but no matter, he is for the long distances and the mountains, for the stage racing."
Position on the bike, pedal motion, cadence, reflexes, choice of gears, cornering and handling techniques were all there, says d'Agliano, and Boyer hadn't yet raced a bicycle. Character, too. Europeans talk a lot about character. The sport can be so miserable and demanding that without strength at the center, a rider gets bent out of shape. The hypnotic effect of constant racing destroys perspective, alters a rider's sense of his real condition, eats away at his composure and makes him suggestible. He may ask too little of himself or too much, forcing himself past thresholds at the wrong time, ultimately destroying his career, as happened to d'Agliano.
The Boyer boys started racing in 1971, in the talent-rich northern California district of the U.S. Cycling Federation, which also produced LeMond, Neel and Mount. The Boyers won their first two junior races, deliberately coming across the line together. In 1972 Jock won the NorCal junior championship and sneaked into a few senior races, winning the first against Pan Am gold medalist Ron Skarin. "There was this little kid I never heard of, and he beat me!" was Skarin's flabbergasted reaction.
Boyer kept on beating people, and in 1973 he was sent to the Junior European Championships in Munich. The U.S. road team didn't do much, but Boyer managed a neat spin-off. D'Agliano and a friend arranged for him to spend the following five months racing with a small club in southern France. Characteristically, Boyer prepared himself off the bike as well as on, taking an intensive course in French. He was also fairly sensational on the bike. Pierre Barrière, directeur sportif of the club, wrote d'Agliano of Boyer: "...For a minute, in his first race, I saw Anquetil." This was praise indeed, Jacques Anquetil being a five-time Tour de France winner and the greatest French rider ever. And because Barrière had raced in Anquetil's équipe, he knew how Anquetil rode—smart and smooth. Nobody ever looked better on a bicycle.
Boyer returned to the U.S. to earn some money, waiting on tables and doing odd jobs for Farrier. In 1974, at 18, he went back to France, making a seamless transition from easy junior racing in the provinces to big-time pre-professional senior competition for ACBB, d'Agliano's old club, under directeur sportif Paul Wiegant.
By 1975 his successes had marked him as a considerable talent, and the sporting press liked him—he stood out from the pack with a silky front-running style. He was living in the ACBB racing headquarters at the time, in what Farrier describes as a closet. "Not a small room, a closet. Just room for a bed."