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.
You missed you’re calling, when I read your blog I feel like I’m there in the moment!
I thoroughly enjoy your blog!
Thanks Bill- I appreciate that you read it and enjoy. How about that picture with the leather hair net and the wool jersey? Wow were they hot. HAHA.
👍nice article ❤️
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Have a Great Day!
Thanks Dear- you are always a great supporter.
Thanks for the bringing back those great memories. I remember those days. I did not race out of town much but the zoo races are a special part of me and your right the people were special and I’m so glad I was a part of it. I have been riding for 40 years now and I think I enjoy it even more. What more can I ask for.
You are a big part of cycling around here Jim not only with your race participation but with your most excellent promotion skills. We all were a part of something very special with the ACA. Thanks for following Jim
I wasn’t gonna ride today but now you’ve got me pumped I may just go out and ride in the rain. I also sometimes think about how well we all used to ride and start to imagine doing it again. It was cool to have people like Matt and Mac and some of those “A” guys to mentor us. Thanks for this post. Those were the days.
Ho do you like that old picture with the ACA jersey and leather hair net? No one could climb like you though. Those were the days for sure.
Ha! Always remember the trip to Trexlertown and Somerville! Matt and Sophie… Rosie the sprinter, Nelson Vails on the track, all the Olympians… what fun that was!! We would go back and watch a few races when we were visiting George’s family too. Bike racing out there was like little league baseball here! Good times at the Zoo, too!
Those were the days Deb. Great memories of the Sagans in all of those adventures.
Takes me back… I never rode with a wool jersey or leather hairnet, but I remember those days and remember my passion, too. I particularly felt like the Walter Mitty reference. Those were good days!
Good days for sure John. Thanks for reading
What a soul for cycling. Days are so quick, yet not so far as they seem. Breaking Away came to mind, reading this post. All the best, it’s good to catch up on your happenings.
Thanks Mike. Nice to hear from you. I need to catch up with your blog as well. We are kindred spirits and I appreciate you reading.
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I just saw Mac Martin about 1 month ago skiing at Laurel Ridge Cross Country. Great to see him again.
I was in ACA in the mid-70’s and raced against Matt’s dad in “C” class. Looking back it was a thrill and a pleasure to have been in a “local” club with so many world class riders. Seeing the best, you learn a lot. I do remember Wayne and Dale Stetina showing up at ACA and not finishing well in the Zoo lot crit.
Lots of good people contested those races including Davis Phinney, and a host of other national team members who were friends with the Eatons, the Chews, and Mac Martin. Dave Eaton was a national champ in Britain and was sandbagging for sure in the C class.
He might have been sandbagging but it was my first year. I have done a few charity rides and one of my better finishes was 4th in a Cleveland ride on the marathon course. I rode a 49/17 Fuji Intermediate track bike in the late 80’s event. I did have a rear disk cover and was fully accessorized with a water bottle holder and front brake.
Stumbled across this post. Brought back good memories. I lived in Pittsburgh until late in 1978. I raced the ACA Zoo races in 1977 and 1978. In those days they were on Thursday nights. I started in the “C” races as a 13 year old in 1977. Quickly moved up to the “A” race. Trained my ass off to be able to compete with those guys. Racing the “A” race all summer in 1978 with the Chews, Matt Eaton, and Davis Phinney is still one of the highlights of my life. I learned so much from those guys.Davis was only 19 years old. Thanks to the high level of racing I was able to make it to the USCF National Championships in Milwaukee finishing 13th in the Intermediate Boys class. Wow, good times!
Doug. Glad I brought back some memories for you. Great times
Thank you for writing this article! My father, Leonard Argotti, raced in those days at the zoo parking lot. I was very young but remember being there. This brought back many memories for me. He had mentioned many of the riders / stories listed above.
I am a avid cyclist in NC and have raced in the amateurs down here. I even had a old wool ACA jersey. However, I did not realize it’s significance and it was given to good will. I wish I still had it. I am saving this article!
Thank you Brian. I am happy to report that the ACA Criteriums are alive and well. They are now on an oval near the site of the old races at the Zoo parking lot. Your dad and a lot of us have great memories there. Thanks for reading and writing this note. Good luck in your races. Keep the rubber side down.