While the Tour may be the premier event in bicycle racing, it should be noted that the core of the sport and the heart of its future, lies squarely within the public. Within those of us who have been fortunate enough to find our passion on two wheels, whether our own or those of the professionals who push the limits of athletic performance for our entertainment. The racers at the Tour represent the pinnacle of performance on the bike but the foundation is built on the masses that move at a far slower speed.
Although I have grown somewhat skeptical of her judgment recently, perhaps Whitney Houston said it best when she famously claimed, "The children are our future." And judging from the size of the Junior fields at most local bike races, the future of cycling in the U.S. is going to be just fine, if not spectacular.
A quick look at the typically huge Masters fields is also an indication of where the interest is currently and will continue being generated. There are a lot of kids out there racing bikes but in yet another example of life's cyclical nature, we owe it all to the old guys.
SCENE: As nearly 60 kids lined up at the start of this past Sunday's local race, the winner of the recently completed Pro/1/2 Colorado State Criterium Championship readied himself for the podium. This alone is not worthy of mentioning, but the fact that the winner of perhaps the most competitive State Championship in the country was 51 years old is as symbolic of the beauty of the sport as anything I could have scripted out of my own imagination.
For those of you who may not know, Alan McCormack is a TRUE cyclist by every definition of the word and potentially the best possible role model for all of the kids that watched him beat out guys half his age last Sunday. Having started racing as a junior in Ireland (his Father was an accomplished racer) and competing in everything from the Olympics to the Giro d'Italia to the Coors Classic, The Leprechaun has been doing it longer and better than anyone I can think of. I cannot do justice to McCormack's career in this format but take my word on it, the guy is as legit as it gets. I hope to write more about him soon.
Okay, I'll start a little bit now: For Reference, McCormack is one of the coolest guys ever. Mad tattoos, dyed hair - the dude is a rock star. Watching him casually move through the P/1/2 fields in Colorado is similar to watching a concert pianist or any other Master. At this point, there is a grace and composure to his racing style that is almost artistic. But beating a field of REALLY good racers in a field sprint at 51 takes more than brains. Make no mistake, the man can still fly.
The connection between McCormack's victory and the sizable Junior field may not have been obvious to everyone in attendance but it was not lost on this cyclist. Factoring in the local races and the staggering amount of recreational riders on the road, I am confident that the sport remains healthy on the domestic front, despite the on-going issues surrounding the professional ranks in Europe.
It was truly a privilege to witness the full spectrum of age and ability in cycling this past weekend. Despite Triki Beltran's positive EPO test and the apparent dissolution of the Pro Tour, appreciation for the bicycle seems to be growing on our side of the pond and I can't help but be optimistic about the future of this beautiful sport.
With inspiring role models like The Leprechaun leading the way for all the youngsters (not to mention us semi-old guys) out there, how could we possibly fail?