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VN Archives: Kiefel’s breakthrough Italian win from 1985

The famous 7-Eleven team's debut European season got off to a hot start in 1985 when Ron Kiefel stunned the Italian champion at Trofeo Laigueglia.

The last half century has produced countless amazing moments in pro cycling, and VeloNews has been there for almost all of them. This year we celebrate our 48th birthday. With 48 years worth of archives, we want to present some of the more memorable VeloNews covers, feature stories, and interviews from our past. Our hope is these curated snippets will help motivate you to pursue your passion for the sport you love.

It’s been 34 years since American Ron Kiefel and his upstart 7-Eleven team stunned the Europeans at the Italian one-day race Trofeo Laigueglia. Kiefel’s victory on February 20, 1985 earned him an important distinction: He became the first American to win a major Italian semi-classic race.

Here is an excerpt from the story by Marilee Attley from the March 8, 1985 edition of VeloNews, then known as Velo-news:

Ron Kiefel became the first American professional ever to win an Italian semi-classic with a victory in the 160km Trofeo Laigueglia Feb. 20. He edged out Italian national road champion Vittorio Algeri for the win.

The Italian had broken away from the field of 200 on the last lap, according to Keifel’s 7-Eleven team manager Jim Ochowicz. Kiefel was the only one who could bridge the gap. The two stayed away until the finish when Kiefel took the sprint, Ochowicz said.

Kiefel’s win was just the latest in a series of stellar European performances by the new U.S. professionals.

7-Eleven team manager Jim Ochowicz said he wasn’t surprised by the team’s success, “although I think it came a little quicker than we had anticipated. These guys are good bike riders. They know how to work as a team. They’ve been working as a team for four years now.

“We took a bit of a gamble on this trip and on the boys turning professional,” Ochowicz said. “But it’s part of the growth
of cycling and that’s been our standpoint from Day 1. In order for the sport to grow there have to be new incentives and new
programs. What this is doing is showing that we can be competitive in Europe.

“We’re letting the Europeans know that, hey, there’s a sport in America, there are companies in America that are supporting
the sport. It’s legit4ruzing American cycling completely.”

Davis Phinney said the Americans had been well received. “I think we’re fairly well respected,” he told The Boulder Daily
Camera. “In everybody’s minds they’re wondering what the Americans can do. As long as we do well it will be challenging.”

Ochowicz said, “The Europeans were impressed by the fact that we came over there and that we were professional in every way. They were impressed with the idea that an American company would come to Europe and race. We were extremely well received by all the competitors and team directors and even more so by the media. They were ecstatic that an American team was finally in Europe.”

Twenty-five years later, we published a story in the April 2010 issue of VeloNews and heard more from Kiefel about that memorable day of racing.

Here is what he told John Wilcockson in 2010:

“I didn’t get the book that showed that after the two laps you take this left turn and do this little side-road climb around the town and then come back to the main road,” Kiefel recalled.

“So we had done the two laps, come down to the coast and I was setting myself up thinking, ‘Okay, the sprint is up over this little hill through the tunnel and there’s the finish.’ Then, all of a sudden, we took this left tum. And there’s these guys attacking — boom, boom — and there are little steep hills in there, down and up. I had no idea this stuff was coming. We finally came back to the main road and I recognized where we were, and there’s one of Saronni’s teammates, a skinny Italian guy, at the front, trying to pull up his leader. And I’m looking at him and thinking, ‘You’re pulling? This is stupid.’ So I just attacked on a little hill.

“I got to the top and saw a rider up ahead. It was Vittorio Algeri, who was the Italian champion at the time. I tried to sprint by him, but he saw me coming. So he got on my wheel, and we worked together a little bit because we knew the field was right there.

“And then we got to the bottom of the hill 400 meters to the finish and I was just full-on tactic mode. I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t have to pull anymore.’ And I didn’t. I just stopped pulling. And he knew how big this race was, and he was the. Italian champion; he had everything to gain and I had nothing to lose.

“I just played that card and with 200 meters to go I just lit it up — and I was a good fast sprinter — but he didn’t know me from Adam. I just went blowing by him, and the field came roaring down and he just hung on for second.

“There’s that great picture of me — kind of crooked, sideways with these big white knee patches on my knees – and that was my first pro victory. It wasn’t an elegant looking photo but tactically it was a good race.

“If I’d known about all that hard stuff at the end I would have worried and stressed and I may have missed that opportunity, but I was just in the race and just went for it. That was my forte. I was good at the short, steep hills, with that quick acceleration at the end. I had that good sense of timing and ability on the hills.”