By Rupert Guinness in Bordeaux
Bordeaux. Vintage wine. Vintage cycling. Vintage memories. They all came flooding back in the Tour de France press center Thursday after stage 17 — but not in that order.
In fact, while the vintage wine was a close second, the memories were first to return as we arrived and unpacked our laptops, as we have been doing for near-on three weeks now.
Driving alongside the Garonne River, it was easy to recall the fond memories of American Davis Phinney, the man, the rider and his hallmark Tour stage win at Bordeaux in the 1987 Tour. It is easy to remember how he blasted away Dutchman Jean-Paul Van Poppel (Superconfex) and Britain’s Malcolm Elliott (ANC-Halfords) in the bunch gallop.
It is like it happened just this afternoon. How Phinney, then riding for the pioneering 7-Eleven team, negotiated the tight finishing to a stage that began at Limoges. How he seemingly capitalized on his criterium racing skills around that last bend and then, with his chest thrust forward and arms aloft, gave 7-Eleven a much-needed boost to Paris.
I’ve seen Davis suffer on the bike too. His high-speed crash into the back of a stopped team car in the 1989 Liège-Bastogne-Liège classic was horrific. Davis was rushed to the hospital where his lacerated face became a patchwork of stitches, bruising and swelling. I recall the next day wondering how and if I could contact him to check on his status, but I was beaten to it by Davis himself. He came into the Brussels office where I worked — much to the shock of our receptionists — asking if I wanted to step out for a bite of lunch!
While we ate, Davis spoke of his need to get back on the bike. You could see in his bloodied and bruised eyes the lust he had. He spoke deeply of his need to race again, to feel the adrenaline rush come flooding back and ultimately get back to his winning best. So positive was he, I swear that his ghastly wounds were healing before my very eyes. In time, I cautiously thought. In time. But in no time was how Davis it worked out. He was soon back on the saddle, and in a few weeks up he won a stage in a bunch sprint at the Tour de Romandie.
But Davis is more than a champion racer. One of the first to help me in Europe when I moved there in 1987 for the first of nine seasons, he is a champion person. As were so many in the 7-Eleven team, many of whom carried that same spirit on their becoming members of the Motorola team. When today it is so much harder to gain access to riders, Davis’s openness and congeniality — as it was with his teammates — remain rock solid for me as a part of the foundation of my love of European cycling, its people, and culture.
Today, when I think of Davis, I think not just of the bike racer, but of a friend. If there is one regret, it is that I don’t see him often. The last time was in late 1999 when he visited Australia to commentate the women’s World Cup and Tour de Snowy stage race for television. I recalled how we hugged, spoke of the good times, laughed and hugged each other again before wishing each other well and then going our separate ways. I recall how, sadly, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease soon after his return home to the United States. I often think of Davis though, and hope that he is doing well — if not better.
Friendship is a bond and privilege. And I believe it can stand the separation of distance and time. Me in Australia. He in the U.S. — or as has been the case for most of this year, in Italy where he and wife Connie Carpenter Phinney are running training camps for those who love the bike.
Maybe, Davis, you are reading this now. If so mate, I hope you have good memories, too. As I look out across the Garonne and then back to the cobblestone quay that runs alongside, it is still as if it were yesterday — the sight of you blasting them away to win your second Tour stage in two years.
As I said. Bordeaux equates to vintage wine, vintage cycling, and vintage memories. Well, being in the capital of wine, the city did supply a glass or two of Médoc for the press.
So, here’s to you Davis!