Monday, November 9, 2009

"BLAST FROM THE PAST!" 7-ELEVEN's Giro Debut 1985 Prologue, Verona Italy





photo: Bjarne Rostaing


My experience with the 7-ELEVEN team's debut at the 1985 Giro could well be a book in itself. I'm sure each and every rider, mechanic, fellow soigneur, as well as my directors, have their own memories embedded in their minds like myself of our first Grand Tour. Up to this point in my career, I had worked with the U.S. Cycling Federation, 7-ELEVEN amateur team, and the 1984 L.A. Games, and was told that my work as a soigneur would be reserved for domestic races as there was no such thing as a female soigneur in Europe; it was taboo.




After the Olympics, the 7-ELEVEN boys turned pro and ventured to Europe the following spring to race the classics without me, of course. Upon their return I heard all about "European soigneurs" and how they wished I was there with them. The next thing I knew, Mike Neel our director sportief, called me to make sure I had a passport and to inform me that " we were going to the Giro". Apparently, that included me.





Our nine man team consisted of Ron Kiefel, Eric Heiden, Davis Phinney, Chris Carmichael, Andy Hampsten, Jonathan Boyer, Bob Roll , Jeff Bradley, and Tom Schuler. Mike Neel was our director sportief and Eric Heiden was to be our second director/rider. Jim Ochwicz, "Och", was our manager. Hampsten turned pro in Pennsylvania just days before the Prologue by signing his PRO papers with Jack Simes; he was literally still jet lagged for the start! That year the World Cup Soccer was being held in Verona so it was mayhem. Our hotel was in the center of town...all you could hear was chanting. "OLE'! OLE'! OLE'!" There was so much fervor. My presence as the first female soigneur to work on the Pro-Tour is a story in itself. There were no such thing as female soigneurs in any Pro-Tour in history up til this point. Mike Neel collected my credential for me by bringing a passport photo to the sign in so I wouldn't have to be seen in person and put the team in jeopardy. They kept me stashed at the hotel, literally, until the team presentation, which was held in Verona's Colosseum where the prologue time trial was to be held . We were all in a state of shock. Our Italian sponsor, Hoonved an industrial washing machine company, were hovering around, as were others, excited at the prospect of something new; the American invasion, which made us more nervous.





The morning of the Prologue started at about 5 a.m. for the mechanics and soigneurs with preparation of the bikes, vehicles, etc. So early in the day, while the boys were out for a spin on the TT bikes, I headed off to the market alone to buy the race food for the following day's race stage and any "special requests". On my way to the market there was a crowd of people blocking the street; was somebody hurt? I couldn't drive through the crowd. I scurried out and grabbed my orange Mueller Med Kit from the back of the team car and rushed into the crowd asking "is anyone hurt?" I followed the crowd into an alcove to find some of them gazing up to a balcony and the others stroking the left breast of the statue of Juliette Capiletti! An older Italian man came up to me and said, " Diche buon giorno a Giulietta!" Say "Good morning to Juliette!" Jesus Christ! Verona! The home of Romeo and Juliette! Who knew?! Oh God ! The race food! Special requests: fruit tarts, cherries, figs! The prologue! My riders! I ran back to the car, kept beeping the horn and got out of town. I realized that the town folk were on their way back from Verona's market place and did this little ritual on their way home. My adventure at the little local super market shopping will be in the next post!




I made it back to the hotel where the energy was rising...I began unloading the three cart loads of supplies from my car into the team truck when I was approached by Wookie and Kid . "Wookie" and "Kinder" are nicknames for Ron Kiefel! Chris Carmichael is affectionately known as "Kid"! Kinder and Kid had been talking to the mechanics about their gears and had sauntered over to me. They casually asked me if we had chairs and an umbrella to sit under at our TT "set-up" like we did in the states. My response was "YES! Of course we do!" But I didn't have a f#*king umbrella! This wasn't the 7- ELEVEN van, stocked to the hilt in the USA... I'd have to steal one! As it was ,the boys might be complaining because I didn't have the lawn chairs they were used to, just tiny camping stools I found at the market. The American mechanics would never have allowed me to transport the lawn chairs from our vans. When Wookie and Kid walked away, my Belgian colleagues started muttering, how spoiled the American riders were. How dare they!! I gave them the stink-eye and started scanning the cafes across the street.




It was that 'sleepy European siesta time' and one cafe was closed. That was my target. I chose the Sprite umbrella because it best matched our jerseys. When the coast seemed clear, I busted my move, ran across the street, and tore the umbrella out of the cafe table. I stashed the umbrella in the mechanic's van that was going to the Prologue as my fellow soigneurs laughed, reminding me I need the cement base. Dripping in sweat, I bolted back and couldn't pick up the heavy bitch-bastard. I swore up, down and center for them to help me which they did in the name of team duty. A waiter from the cafe ran out and called me a "BANDITA!" I showed him my Giro d'italia credential, hanging from my neck, gave him some team water bottles, mussettes, hats and post cards and I promised to return the umbrella after the Prologue team time trial. He of course believed me after his schwag hit...and of course the umbrella disappeared for good.




At this point, everything became a blur. I set up my installation in the Colosseum's TT loop on the historic cobbles of Verona with the European cycling world staring at us like zoo animals... especially me. Between the camping stools, the Sprite umbrella and my only Italian response to everything being "Ciao, grazie", my boys were my sole focus. Team cars, photographers, journalists, and riders warming up on the course were yelling to me in Italian " Ciao American!", "Ciao bella bionda!", "Ciao bella figa!". There was a commotion in front of our set-up; a rider in a pink jersey being followed on foot by at least five mechanics in blue jump suits, approached me curiously on his "chariot" with his entourage and motions towards his legs as if he wants them warmed up too! I shoo him away as if he were paparazzi! Kid and Davis Phinney exclaim "Shelley, that's Francesco Moser! He wants a rub! Do it! He won the Giro last year! Francesco, sit down!" The next thing I know, this guy is sitting on one of our team stools and my guys are giving me the okay to "shake him out". I proceed, slightly out of my body, not realizing who he really is, but want to get back to my work. I feel a little like a side show act, but it's a little late for that now isn't it? This is only the beginning...

8 comments:

mickeyjprinz0 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David S said...

Great to see you're back writing and sharing on your blog. Davis broadcast your post on twitter so a bunch of folks will be reading it. Keep it going.

NICOLE STRASBURG said...

you're a rock star!

Jnet said...

Jesus Christ Shelley! So great to read your stories!

Kathleen Lisson, CSW said...

I love your posts on breaking the gender barrier in your Soigneur career. Please keep up the good work and share more stories.

JoJo said...

WOW! Now That's a BLAST FROM THE PAST For sure! Hey Stranger! Remember Me? We used to kinda be roomates! I'd Love to hear from you - look me up on Facebook!

Joanna Zacharellis-Nigh

Dave Campbell said...

Super Cool!!! You are a legend! I just watched the Italia Velo Sport coverage of the race as I had only read about and seen pictures of Ron and Andy's stage wins. Please share more, these adventures fueled the hearts and minds of so many of us who started riding in the 80s!

Steve Gaydos said...

Thank you for this post, please do more of them! I started riding in the '80s and following racing. I just read Geoff Drake's Team 7-Elevan, which for me was like reading a rock history book about an era that I lived through,when the music was being released. It's all so much more interesting when it is spiced with authentic bits and pieces being recalled by people like yourself. You make it so much more real!