Inside Cycling with John Wilcockson: Alexi Grewal is deadly serious about comeback
While current American pros are already looking forward to contesting the inaugural Quiznos Pro Challenge in Colorado next summer, none of them expects that an ex-pro and Hall-of-Famer who just turned 50 might be joining them on the start line. The ex-pro is 1984 Olympic Road Champion Alexi Grewal, and he is deadly serious about his comeback.
“The first objective of what I see as a three-year commitment to racing is to ride Quiznos and be the only person to compete in all three of its incarnations, Red Zinger, Coors Classic and Quiznos Pro Challenge,” Grewal told VeloNews on Friday.
“I am early in the specific training process,” he added. “Generally, I am thin and strong with a moderate base, but it has all been in hiking boots on a mountain bike. Today was the first day on a road bike, and I had to beg borrow and steal to get the archaic Trek I got. I’ll be using hiking boots and flat pedals for a few more days, then the real stuff.”
Grewal’s interest in coming back to competitive cycling more than 17 years after he last raced stems from the work he has been doing for a hometown group in Loveland bidding for a stage finish and start at next year’s Quiznos event. The former Coors Light, 7-Eleven and Panasonic team rider said he has scouted a possible “queen stage” from Loveland to Boulder that would include the infamous Fall River Pass, a switchback Jeep road to 11,796 feet elevation in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Loveland group was meeting with race organizer Medalist Sports on Friday to discuss the city’s bid.
Grewal retired in 1993 after a lengthy career that included a stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir, numerous stage wins at the Coors Classic, three wins at the Bob Cook Memorial Mount Evans Hill Climb and an infamous ride at the 1986 Tour de France — when he was ejected by his team after spitting at a motorcycle-mounted CBS cameraman who came too close to him after he was dropped on the Marie-Blanque climb in the Pyrénées.
Two weeks ago, Grewal took part in Wheat Ridge Cyclery’s Crooked Roubaix, his first competitive event since his retirement. Despite riding a mountain bike, flat pedals and hiking boots, Grewal finished the 90-mile gran fondo-style high-altitude event on dirt and paved roads in the leading group, crossing the line in fourth place out of a field of some 125 starters.
Now a skilled carpenter, Grewal began training for his return with a daily 30-mile roundtrip ride to his job in Masonville, pulling a trailer containing his timber-framing tools. This weekend, he is participating, along with Lance Armstrong, in the Roche Constructors 50-mile Wapiyapi Classic charity event in Aspen.
At 6 feet and 156 pounds, Grewal is not much different from his first pro racing career. Now back on a road bike, he plans to train intensely over the next two months, with a view to joining a pro team that will compete in the Quiznos Challenge.
“One of my first thoughts,” Grewal said, “was to form an ‘old man’s’ team for Quiznos with Ned Overend and Raúl Alcála.” A more likely prospect, should the 50-year-old Grewal prove himself competitive, is a spot on a North American continental team. He intends to race early-season stage races like the Tour of Cuba, Venezuela’s Vuelta a Tachira and the Tour of Chile to prepare himself for his possible appearance at the Quiznos Challenge.
Knowing that he is attempting something that’s not been done before by a cyclist his age, the Coloradan concluded, “The punch line for this crazy thing is, Alexi Grewal, back among the wheels. But funny thing is, I have never looked forward to anything more.”
Editor’s note: VeloNews editor at large John Wilcockson has reported the Tour de France for more than forty years, written for publications including Outside, Men’s Journal, and The Times of London, and is a former editor of VeloNews. He is the author of a dozen books, including 23 Days in July, one of ESPN’s “Top 10 Sports Books of the Year.” He lives in Boulder, Colorado.