This beautiful Memorial Day Weekend took me back to the days of leather hairnets, wool jersies, leather cycling shoes with toe clips, and classic road bicycles at races on the Eastern Seaboard. Now you might not know it, but Pittsburgh has produced some very good competitive road cyclists. Guys like the Chew brothers, Dan and Tom, who along with Mac Martin, Matt Eaton, Bob Gottlieb and Jay Wolkoff blazed a trail for todays cycling stars in the burg. Back in the day, these guys used to compete at the Wednesday Night Races at the Highland Park Zoo parking lot. These highly competitive races were training criteriums for a lot of the local superstars as well as the ham and egger, weekend warriors like my friends George, Art, Frank and me. Many times the Sheriff( Gary Bywaters- USA Cycling Official extrordinaire) would line up the ” A” racers and the “B” racers together and off we would go contesting a tight criterium on one of the city’s classic racing venues. Even the Sheriff did ACA time trials back in those days.
Guys like my buddies from North Park were treated to seeing the “A” guys come blazing by us and give us tips along the way during the race. It was not uncommon to hear Matt Eaton, the National Road Champion at the time, come up beside me and tell me to move up or try to hang on his wheel to move up a few places so that I would be in a more competitive position to contest a sprint. He didn’t have to do that, but he believed in sharing his knowledge with us. Mac Martin, who was a US Team guy who did not get to go to the Moscow Olympics because of the Carter boycott, would go on road training rides with us and tell us tales of racing in the Tour de L’Avegnier in France or racing in Mexico with the Soviets. Mac used to tell us that the KGB could always be spotted in their black suits and wingtip shoes in the 100+ degree heat. He had great stories and made all of us feel like we were part of something special racing and riding with the ACA in Pittsburgh.
Every Memorial Day weekend for years, we would really be treated when we went east to contest road and criterium races in our 3-4 Division, and then get cleaned up to watch the 1-2 races with our guys contesting. We really got to see how good Mac, Matt, and the boys really were lining up against national competition of which they were stars in their own right. Matt raced for the prestigious G.S.Mengoni team from NYC, and Mac was a long time member of the New Jersey Bicycle Club of national fame. Many of our guys landed spots on big national teams and it was really something to see them race at the Tour of Somerville and win. Our guys from Pittsburgh! But we really got to see how good they were when they raced out of town and were part of the big national road racing picture. Art, Frank, George and I would eat it up when we would see these guys at the end of the race with the media all around them and congratulate them because we were on their inner circle of friends from home. But these guys were stars in their own right and when we returned from a weekend of racing and watching we had a newfound respect for how good our guys and gals really were. Sophie Eaton, Matt’s sister, won Somerville several times and that race, held on Memorial Day still to this day, was the biggest and most prestigious criterium race in the country.
Our little band of weekend racers got really juiced when we went to the east coast as we were fueled by the performance of our Pittsburgh Superstars. We would get into our 3-4 races with our game faces on just like the good guys and in our Walter Mitty way, imagined ourselves contesting the Tour of Somerville when really we were contesting the local 3-4 race of the Tour of Montclair. The east coast 3-4 racers were very competitive and with all of the races and events of the Memorial Day weekend around us, we all raced with a little more pizazz because of the atmosphere during those weekends. There was nothing like the road trip starting with watching the Friday night track races at Trexlertown, racing in our own category races and then witnessing classic road races like the Tour of Nutley,Allentown, and Somerville. On many occasions, my friend Eric from Vermont came down to race for the Stowe Shimano Cycling Club. Eric was a Cat 2 and lined up against Mengoni and 7-11, the two most noted teams of the time. Pretty good for a hard working Vermonter who raced on weekends and was not a professonal. One year he lined up with Eric Heiden who raced for 7-11 at the time and when the race was over, we discovered that we were staying right next to them in our hotel. The nice thing about road racers is that they like to share their passion with the weekend warriors who are their fans. Heiden invited us over to their room to watch some TV show and share some pizza with us. The multiple gold medalist speed skater from the Lake Placid Olympics was sharing some post race comraderie with the ham and eggers from Pittsburgh. We were amazed. What a weekend to spend with world class athletes in a most unusual venue of cycling history- Somerville, New Jersey.
Those rides home in our caravan of vagabonds seemed to go so quickly because of all of the stories that were retold over and over on the way home. ” Hey- how about Heiden’s thighs? Yikes.” Hey Art and Frank, how did you guys move up like that with all of that traffic?” ” Hey George- what did you think about those guys from New Jersey?” ” How about Rebecca Twigg at the track races? What a hottie and wow can she ride fast!” The rest of the summer at the Wednesday night races were always filled with conversations of the Memorial Day weekend and when we ventured out to some other 3-4 out of town races, we felt that we somehow had some sort of an advantage because of our club and the national class racers who took the time to work with us and enjoy our company.
Those days are long gone now and on those quiet road rides that I do on my way from my house to Sewickley and back, I think about the ACA and the good old days. Sometimes I get fueled up and work really hard on the way home imagining those days at the Zoo, New Jersey and the old road races in Sharon,Pa with the finish over the railroad tracks. Lots of crash and burn memories there. But all good. I come into my garage with a smile on my face as I get back to reality and change to cut the grass. Leather hairnets, wool jersies, Italian road shoes with cleats and toe clips on the pedals. Those were the days my friend- we thought they’d never end. Thanks for reading.