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That was the end of Boyer's season. Indeed, there was every reason to believe it was the end of his career. The word was out—Boyer was cooked at 22. Boyer wasn't cooked, but it took 3,000 to 4,000 million units of penicillin a day for two weeks to knock out the infection, and perhaps it helped that that December he met an attractive brunette named Elizabeth Underwood at a Carmel party. A Texas girl who had worked in advertising in New York, Underwood liked sports and had been the Texas state collegiate women's fencing champion. She also had an independent, feisty streak of her own. She liked to travel, she liked to drive fast. They were married last October.
In July '79 Boyer went into the nine-stage Red Zinger race in Colorado. He was the favorite and the racing went according to plan, with Boyer taking an early lead and holding it despite uneven team support. Then, on Stage 4, something happened that would never have occurred in a European race. Boyer was assessed a five-minute penalty for crossing the center line. If not totally without precedent in the sport, a penalty of that magnitude was certainly remarkable by world standards—10 seconds can be decisive in a race, and a penalty of half a minute can cause the withdrawal of whole teams. Five minutes toppled Boyer to sixth place. He succeeded in taking back all but 40-odd seconds from the eventual winner, Dale Stetina, and was breathing down his neck at the end. "Boyer obviously won the race," said one rider. "Five minutes is ridiculous." Particularly since Boyer says it wasn't even he who crossed the line.
Totally fed up, Boyer decided his plan for the remainder of '79 and '80 should be to forget bike racing and work out of Switzerland as the European representative for Grab On, manufacturers of a handlebar pad. But when he arrived in Europe he was asked to ride for the Puch team, and he did. Back into racing, Boyer rode the Tour of Switzerland early in 1980 to find out if he could still handle long, hard stages with the Tour de France contenders. On the big mountain stage he got his answer, smoking by past and future Tour winners van Impe and Joop Zoetemelk. Farrier was present at this deeply gratifying moment. "He went out the first day O.K.," says Farrier. "Second day, sick on the hill. But that never stopped him. Boy, he started coming on, coming on. Then he crashed, a bad crash, end over end, all skinned up. Both knees, both arms. Didn't stop him. Then I meet him at Spiez [a stage finish] when they came in. He was right up in the sprint there. He was picking up, picking up all the time. And he crashed again that day—trolley tracks. Then at the next-to-last stage, which came over Klausen Pass, I was standing on top. It was snowing off and on. They had to go 165 miles that day. Three first-category climbs—mountains. I'm looking over the snow and here comes Becchia, the man that ultimately won, a couple of chaps after him, and here comes Boyer, next over Klausen after a day like that!"
Then Boyer returned to the U.S. to train for the Coors, formerly the Red Zinger, and won a number of American races. But after the Tour of Switzerland, he had really been looking toward the '80 Worlds and a chance to reestablish himself in Europe on his own terms. Along the way the Coors was the only U.S. race that could help in his preparation. Boyer, Neel and Canada's Ron Hayman led a five-man team, and on the long road stages Boyer was a lesson in something: indifference, disdain, contempt or dumb arrogance, depending on whom you talked to. He went to the front for long periods, stretching the field out to a thin red-faced line of suffering wheelsuckers. Then he blew up on the Morgul-Bismark stage, and Colombia's Antonio Londoño took a lead of more than four minutes.
The final North Boulder Park criterium amounted to this: either Londoño would crash or Boyer would have to make up three laps on him, which had never before been done to a race leader on this .69-mile course. Colombians are vulnerable on the flats, though, and what followed was a technical demonstration in the art of short-course racing that will be long remembered in Coors country. Boyer and several teammates were away by the first turn, and closed in on the pack on Lap 19. They lapped the field and drove on through like an express train, going for the second lap. What you saw was what you had been seeing all week—la souplesse, Boyer's long body down flat to the tubes, rolling a big gear with deceptive ease, and lapping Londoño for the third and decisive time right in front of the grandstand, to an amazed hush followed by an endless ovation.
Elizabeth Boyer will tell you that the secret of her husband's success is that he works harder than other Americans, that he sacrifices more and that his ascetic streak is suited to the sport. She has it right. But also behind Boyer's success, behind the success of any world-class rider, is the capacity to endure, ignore and, if possible, to use a certain kind of pain. The mysteries of dominance and submission aren't purely physical, and Boyer's bottomless cool is only partly a gift. A master of the mental aspect of competition, he has explored ways to maximize his capacity for concentration and control: yoga, meditation, something called mind psibiotics. Since 1978, religion. Almost no one feels that Boyer has an absolute physical edge. What he does have, almost always, is an inner cohesiveness. Boyer's souplesse is more than physical. He reads situations and reacts creatively where others are distracted and make mistakes. Stress and perception seem to interact positively. He knows how to target a just-possible goal and get to it.
"Anything can happen, you know," he says. "For the whole middle of the Worlds race, I didn't think I was going to be able to finish—people were dropping out very early, good riders. But anything can happen. You just have to be there for it to happen."
From June 25 to July 19 in the Tour de France, Boyer will be there. We will see what happens.