Commentary: Honoring the Coors Classic
This past weekend, former racers, staff, sponsors, and TV producers of the Coors International Bicycle Classic, congregated in Boulder for events to honor the race’s history. The weekend included the unveiling of a permanent monument in North Boulder Park to honor its legacy. More than four decades after the race’s 1975 inception (then called the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic), and more than three decades after its demise, the importance of this race to American cycling cannot be overstated. It was the first bike race to draw Europe’s biggest cycling stars to the USA since the halcyon prewar days of six-day track racing in Madison Square Garden.
North Boulder Park was the traditional setting for the final stage of the Coors and Red Zinger Classics, and the new memorial is a sculpture made from three standing flagstones, set on cobblestones, and surrounded by a small bicycle pump track for children. The westernmost standing stone features a steel cutout of Davis “Cash Register” Phinney (so dubbed for his collecting of hundreds of cash primes), still the winningest American bike racer of all time, in his signature arms-upraised victory pose. Another stone has a plaque detailing the race’s legacy, and the third stone has a plaque describing the traditional final stage in North Boulder Park on one side, and a list of donors whose contributions made the sculpture possible on its other side.
Emceeing the event were the race’s director, Michael Aisner, and Todd Gogulski, a Coors Classic competitor now known for his race announcing. Among those in attendance were Mo Siegel and John Hay, cofounders of Celestial Seasonings tea company; they started the race and named it for their signature tea, Red Zinger. Siegel sold the race to Aisner for a dollar after the first five editions, so that the latter could have Coors fund it and allow it to grow much bigger, due to the beer manufacturer’s deeper pockets. “The biggest prize purse in the country before our race was $1,000,” Siegel explained, “So when we offered $10,000 to both the women and the men’s winners, the best bike racers in America came.”
Live television coverage for an American audience of bike racing was born at this race under the direction of David Michaels, now of of NBC Sports. At the sculpture dedication, Michaels described how, when he saw the race after Aisner invited him to put it on TV, that he had no idea how to even begin filming fast-moving bicycles. He figured out camera numbers and angles, creating incredible coverage, much of it live, permanently burned into the minds of American cycling fans of the day; it is available as a set of DVDs.
Eventually, MIchaels took his knowledge to the Tour de France, and secured exclusive coverage of it for NBC; Michaels has been awarded four Emmys for his coverage of the Tour. He sheepishly admitted that he still oversees NBC’s coverage of that event, 40 years after having started with the Red Zinger Classic.
Aisner spoke at length of the hard work and dedication of the race staff, many of whom were in attendance. As the race grew, its logistics became enormous, placing tremendous demands on the staff. In its later editions, the Coors Classic held stages in Hawaii, California, Nevada, and Colorado over the course of two weeks. Former race staffers Susan Eastman and Anne Stetina described how the race hinged on the efforts of every staff member; if anyone didn’t do their job, the race would have fallen apart.
On Sunday, June 9, Don Hobbs, the former logistics director of the Red Zinger and Coors Classics led a number of former racers, staff, and sponsors of the event on a bike ride on a bluebird Colorado day. The route went first to the Boulder Theater, where retired racer Doug Shapiro, who was along on the day’s ride, had freelanced his way to victory in 1985 through downtown traffic in the Boulder Mountain Road Race stage. Shapiro had arrived solo at the north end of Boulder far ahead of the lead peloton and far in advance of the preordained race schedule, only to discover that the course marshals were not in place and the roads to the finish in the center of Boulder were open to cars.
As a Boulder resident, Shapiro knew how to get to the finish line at the Boulder Theater and wove through stopped trucks unloading there, yelling out his arrival to astonished onlookers. The ride also passed Aisner’s former house, which served as the race office for many years.
Every current American cyclist owes a great debt of gratitude to the 14 editions of the Red Zinger/Coors Classic, which ran from 1975 to 1988. Without it, bike racing in America, and the racers that it engenders, would be at a lower state of development. It’s impossible to fully calculate the impact that this race has had on American cycling. Women’s cycling in particular has arguably never reached as high a zenith anywhere as it did in these races, when the women’s champions were feted equally with the men, and enjoyed the same enormous crowds of spectators whose numbers remain unmatched in American races before or since.
The race ended after its 14th edition, when Aisner miscalculated following the 1988 race that other sponsors would gladly take over paying for the race when Coors rejected further expansion of the race budget. Aisner instead discovered that no big company would touch an event that was emblazoned into the minds of its devotees under the name of its former sponsor; just as had happened with Red Zinger, people would call it “the Coors Classic” for years before they started calling it by a new sponsor’s name.
When this huge, two-week stage race fizzled out, the week-long Tour de Trump became the country’s largest race upon its launch in 1989. This is when women’s international cycling took a big dive, as the Tour de Trump did not include a women’s event. The Coors Classic had been the biggest women’s cycling race in the world, and in my opinion, it has never been matched.
A humorous aside mentioned by Aisner in his monologue is that Donald Trump told him, when Aisner was in New York working with him on planning the first Tour de Trump, that the race “would be bigger than the Tour de France and would last longer—more than 100 years.” After two editions, the Tour de Trump became the Tour DuPont (which also did not include a women’s event).
Having been lured here in 1981 to race the Coors Classic, the event heavily influenced my choice to live in Boulder and have a business here (building bicycles and writing about them). I also believe that VeloNews, VeloPress, and many of countless other bicycle-related businesses are located in Boulder thanks to the Zinger/Coors Classic. I was happy to be able to once again thank Michael Aisner for that at some of the weekend’s events. It’s nice to now have a permanent sculpture here to recall this seminal event.
Lennard Zinn, our longtime technical writer, joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a custom frame builder (www.zinncycles.com) and purveyor of non-custom huge bikes (bikeclydesdale.com), a former U.S. national team rider, co-author of “The Haywire Heart,” and author of many bicycle books including “DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”
He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College. Readers can send brief technical questions to Ask LZ