In August of 1978 I was 15 years old. My family had moved to the Northwestern suburbs of Chicago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I left behind a supportive racing community in Pittsburgh and was struggling to find a replacement community in Chicago. Soon after arriving in the Chicago area I learned of a big race scheduled to take place on the streets of downtown Chicago and Grant Park on September 4th. My age placed me in the Intermediate Boys age group. At the time the United States Cycling Federation (U.S.C.F.) governed all racing in the U.S. This was amateur racing. All racing in the U.S. was amateur at the time. The age group you raced in was based on your age as of January 1st of the current year. Since I was 14 years old on that date I raced the entire year as an Intermediate Boy, ages 12-14. The Boul-Mich did not offer a race for my age group. In a case like this a person was allowed to move up in age groups. I was allowed to race in the Junior Men’s race. Junior men’s was for riders age 15-17 as of January 1st. Intermediate Boys and Junior Mens had restricted gears. Even though I was racing with the Juniors I had to use Intermediate Boys gearing. That was limited to a gear no larger than 89 gear inches.
My dad took a few pictures of the day. The picture above is at the start line. I am in the 2nd row middle wearing the red and white jersey and “hairnet” helmet. This race drew a huge field of big names. On the left of this picture is Jeff Bradley in the Kretschmer Wheat Germ jersey. He is a future 7-11 team member. He is the current U.S.C.F. Junior Men’s National Road Champion in this picture. I’m not sure why he’s not wearing the National Champion’s jersey. Back in July he had nipped Greg LeMond at the line to win the National Championship Race in Milwaukee, WI. Greg had been the defending National Champion and would win again the next year. I was in Milwaukee and got to see the Junior Mens race. Also in this race is future Giro d’Italia winner Andy Hampsten. He was lined up on the first row just out of this picture on the right.
The race started out fast. I was hanging on quite nicely. I had finished 13th in the final sprint in the Intermediate Boys National Championship Road Race back in July. So I had the speed to hang with the big boys. I ran into a small problem on this course. The roads were rough in down town Chicago. The potholed streets were causing me to drop my chain. I dropped it twice on the first lap. Both times I was able to reach down and put it back on and then chase back on to the back of the pack. What was causing my chain to come off so easily? Well, back then the five speed free-wheel was the available gear set-up. In 1978 the 6-speed freewheel was just around the corner. Imagine six gears on one hub? When setting up my bike with the restricted 89 gear inch sized gearing I noticed there was a lot of gear overlap on the traditional 10-speed set-up. I did something really radical for the time. I eliminated one of the front chain rings and ran my bike as a 5-speed. That’s right!! I was running a 1x drivetrain way back in 1978. The problem was a lack of any type of chain keeper on the front to keep my chains from dropping off the chain ring. Unbelievably I had not had a single issue with dropping a chain the entire season. Not until this race.
On lap 2 I lost the chain again. It was getting harder chasing back on. The pace at the front was high. I ended up eventually having to drop out of the race. The chain continued to come off and I was getting cooked having to constantly chase back on. It was very upsetting not finishing this race. Although I wouldn’t have finished high up in the race, I knew I had the speed to race with the Juniors. I was bummed.
After my disappointing race we stuck around to watch the main event. The Senior Men’s race. It featured a field of top racers in the U.S. I can’t remember all the names but I know Dale and Wayne Stetina were there. It was a thrill to watch them race. Dale was the reigning Senior Men’s National Road Champion and Wayne was a previous National Champion. They were very dominate on the national racing scene in that time period. And they were mega-stars to me. It was a thrill to watch them race in person. I had watched Dale win the National Championship title back in July in Milwaukee. It wasn’t my first time seeing them race.
I only raced from 1977 to 1980. That short time and all the experiences I had during my racing years really shaped much of who I am today. I lost the desire to train and race over the years since. I never had the competitive fire or genetic make-up needed to go much higher in the sport, but I’m grateful for the experience. To this day I love the sport of bicycle racing even with all its problems and issues. It’s a beautiful sport when it’s pure.