SI Vault
Alexander Wolff
May 21, 1990
An amateur led the Tour de Whozit until Raul Alcala played his trump
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May 21, 1990

Lesson From A Pro

An amateur led the Tour de Whozit until Raul Alcala played his trump

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PDM hoped to find an opportunity early, ideally on the first climb of the day, up Platte Cove Road. The ascent is called Devil's Kitchen, after the local topography, which suggests the inside of a cauldron. Last year's race traversed the same hill, and seven riders found it so steep that they dismounted and walked their bicycles to the top. If a rookie rider were ever going to be vulnerable, it would be here on a hellacious climb, with the pressure of the lead on his shoulders, and under attack from PDM, the most powerful pro team in the world. "This was our last real chance," said PDM's directeur sportif adjoint, Jonathan Boyer, later. "We were either going to do it or die."

A crowd three- and four-deep lined the roadside all the way to the top, many of them remembering last year's Devil's Kitchen climb, when runoff rainwater caused wheels to spin, and the sheer grade set the clutches of the race officials' motorcycles to grinding. At the foot of the hill, Alcala and Bobrik were together toward the rear of the pack. "I saw that he was suffering," Alcala would say. "That's when I attacked to the front."

Other PDM riders said they could hear Bobrik breathing heavily. "How could they hear my breathing if they were huffing and puffing themselves?" Bobrik said later, sensibly enough.

Yet by the time Alcala had reached the summit, Bobrik was 40 seconds back. Here the hammer went down, and down the backside of the mountain went Alcala. Someone later asked Bobrik if he had seen Alcala float away from him on the ascent and if he had tried to keep up. "I just tried to get to the top," he replied.

Nineteen other riders representing six teams joined Alcala's joyride. "They knew," said Boyer, "that if they made the break stick, it was a new race." However, none of them stood to benefit as much as Alcala. He turned his exhilaration into energy over the next 60 miles of mostly descending grade and stretched his advantage over Bobrik by more than a minute every 10 miles. As soon as Alcala left Devil's Kitchen, the angels took over.

There was nothing Bobrik could do. Cyclists in dire circumstances sometimes can cut a deal for help with other teams, but so many different teams were already safely in the front group that U.S.S.R. directeur sportif Alexander Kuznetsov was unable to recruit mercenaries to hunt down the front-runners. Even Ekimov, a former Leningrad club teammate of Bobrik's who had been an ally through much of the race, couldn't be persuaded to drop back and allow Bobrik to ride in his slipstream. All he could offer was sympathy: Ekimov had had the nerve to win a stage as an amateur in last year's Tour, and some pros reportedly rewarded him by jamming a feed bag into his wheel.

No one was going to catch Alcala's breakaway on this day. It was motoring along so quickly that when 7-Eleven's Steve Bauer dropped out of it—partly because of a case of bronchitis—he couldn't face the prospect of pedaling home in the 30-minute no-man's-land between the two groups. So he sat down in a roadside lawn chair and, taking in the picturesque Hudson Valley, waited for the straggling peloton to catch up to him.

Alcala rolled past the Stage 12 finish line at Albany's Washington Park more than half an hour ahead of Bobrik. The next day, the promenade to the finish in Boston's Copley Square was perfunctory, as Alcala took the race by 43 seconds over Kvalsvoll. "PDM was like the cat," said 7-Eleven rider Davis Phinney. "The Russians were like mice, romping in front of them all week long. But the Russians killed themselves too many days in a row. I wish, in a way, Bobrik could have held on. He had so much heart. But PDM had the strength, they had the experience and they had the team. They had it wired."

Soon enough Bobrik will be a pro, perhaps he will be as prosperous as Ekimov, who signed a $500,000 contract with Panasonic, the richest deal ever for a first-year pro. Then he will be able to join the rest of the peloton in complaining about how grueling this Tour was. Last year, when 7-Eleven's Dag Otto Lauritzen took the lead on Day 2 and kept it all the way, riders griped that the course was too easy. This year, that was the thought furthest from anyone's mind. Three days of double stages of racing and all the early morning wake-up calls to catch auto transfers to new starting points had taken their toll. The climbs were steep and unpredictable, and they came rapidly. No wonder 46 of the 133 riders who started the race failed to finish.

One who did finish was LeMond, but he hardly did so robustly, muddling in at 78th, 1:40:26 behind Alcala. For four weeks during the European spring season LeMond didn't compete at all, and bouts with food poisoning and a virus raised doubts about his participation in this race. In New Paltz, he straggled in as the announcer finished handing out the day's awards. "I'm in the survivalist category now," he said.

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