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Peter Nye
November 12, 1990
Alf Goullet, still spry at 99, was cycling's darling in the six-day races of the 1920s
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November 12, 1990

One Of The Bigger Wheels

Alf Goullet, still spry at 99, was cycling's darling in the six-day races of the 1920s

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Over the next several seasons, when Goullet wasn't racing, he continued to spend time in Newark. He became a U.S. citizen in 1916. When the U.S. went to war with Germany in 1917, Goullet enlisted in the Navy. He never left the country, however, and after the war had ended he was mustered out in time to train for the 1919 season.

By then American cycling was beginning its golden era. Sixes enjoyed a phenomenal following. The Garden included another six-day in its yearly program—the November race was moved to December and one in March was added. A six consisted of two-man teams, one of whose members had to be competing night and day while the other ate and slept. During each of the six days of the race, there were usually three sprint programs—one in the afternoon, one in the early evening and one late at night, after the theaters had let out—that offered additional money or prizes to the racers as well as extra points. Six-day fever, so contagious in New York and Boston, quickly spread to other cities, including Chicago, Toronto and San Francisco.

"Every six-day I ever was in was my last," Goullet says. "They were always so hard. Then after a rest of two or three days, I was all set for the next one. Forgetting the physical discomfort was a blessing."

Goullet was particularly impressive in the December 1921 six-day at the Garden. He was paired with Italy's Maurice Brocco against a top international field of 15 two-rider teams. On Saturday night, with the midnight finish five hours away, so many spectators filled the Garden that the city's fire marshal ordered a cordon of firemen around the building to prevent anyone from sneaking in.

The boisterous crowd of more than 15,000 was on its feet, cheering wildly. With the pressure on, teammates relieved one another with a mighty push to keep up the bicycle's speed. Several teams were in contention for the $50,000 purse—equal to some $375,000 today.

Goullet charged around the track to win 13 of 18 two-mile sprints in the last few hours. The New York Times reported, "Goullet won the race through the greatest exhibition of sustained speed ever known in history."

Goullet profited greatly from his ability to take two-hour naps and wake up refreshed. "Every time the bell rang to announce a sprint, I responded like a firehouse dalmatian," he recalls.

By 1925, Goullet had won about 400 races on three continents, set six world records and captured eight Garden six-days with six different partners. Then, at 34, he announced plans to retire after the Garden's December six-day and raise a family with his new wife, Jane. In recognition of his popularity, he was paid an appearance fee of $10,000.

Goullet retired in glory' and was selling life insurance when cycling went bust with the Depression. He attributes the downfall of American professional cycling to bad management. "Those in charge only took without putting anything back," Goullet says. He also lays some of the blame on the riders. "We were just looking out for ourselves. We didn't have the brains to get a headache."

During the Depression, the sport's center shifted from the U.S. to Europe, and from the track to the road. The outbreak of World War II ended the era that had drawn Goullet to the States. Like that of Zimmerman, Taylor, Walthour and Kramer, Goullet's fame began to fade.

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