Wednesday, November 16, 2011

7-Eleven isn't just about convienence

When you hear the word 7-Eleven what comes to your mind?  For many it's slurpies and big gulps.  For me it's one of the biggest shifts in U.S. cycling.  This past weekend I got the pleasure to work at the Saris Gala (largest fundraiser for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation) and meet the 1986 7-Eleven team (including my hero Raul Alcala). 

Eric Heiden racing around the Madison capitol in 1982
What makes the 7-Eleven team so special?  It was the first American team to race in the Tour de France in 1986...'nuf said.  The team was pulled together by Jim Ochowicz in 1981 who had spent years managing the U.S. national speed-skating team.*  Jim accomplished an amazing feat by landing sponsorship with 7-Eleven and Schwinn.  The team actually consisted of not only bike racers but also well known speed skaters like Eric Heiden (who is from Madison, Wisconsin).

In 1982 Schwinn dropped out but a women's team was added.  Although I was only 7 years old I remember being so excited about this.  Seeing women race on a pro level meant so much to me since I was just entering the road racing world.  One of the women that signed on, Rebecca Twigg, helped shape my world and I wrote about her in a previous post.  Davis Phinney (now married to Connie Carpenter and the father of Taylor Phinney), Ron Kiefel and Alex Stieda also were recruited.  Shortly after this team was formed, they were featured in the movie American Flyers.

Andy Hampsten
In 1985 the team went from amateur standings to professional and with the addition of Chris Carmichael, Tom Schuler and Alexi Grewal they won an Olympic bronze.  That same year, the team was invited to the Giro d'Italia (one of the classic European races) and Andy Hampsten was signed on with a 30-day contract.  Hampsten and Kiefel both won stages that year in the Giro and became the first Americans to ever win a stage in a Grand Tour.

1986 proved to be the biggest year for the team.  They were invited to the Tour de France and performed extremely well as a team with the additions of Raul Alcala, Jeff Pierce and Bob Roll.  In the following decade, the 7-Eleven team went through several sponsorship changes yet continued to be a major force to reckon with in the racing world.  They finally disbanded in 1996 yet many of the racers continued to be successful on different teams.

Although the names of Lance Armstrong and Greg Lemond are thrown around frequently as the best U.S. racers, I can't help but think of all the other workhorses out there that completely changed the face of American racing.  These guys deserve so much more recognition than they will ever get!

*Speed skating and road racing went hand in hand for many years.  People didn't train inside very much during the winter back in the 80's.  They opted to speed skate for their cross training instead.

Me with Raul Alcala (one of my heroes).  Raul won the Mexican Time Trial championships last year...when he was 46 years old!

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