Canada’s Great­est Tour


Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Matthew Pioro

30 years ago, Steve Bauer made cy­cling his­tory No other Cana­dian has sur­passed the ac­com­plish­ments of the St. Catharines, Ont., na­tive

In a way, the first yellow jersey that Steve Bauer won at the 1988 Tour de France was set up two years prior. In 1986, fel­low Cana­dian Alex Stieda broke away dur­ing the first part of a split stage. Be­cause of the time bonuses Stieda had gained, he be­came the first North Amer­i­can to wear yellow. He had gone so hard on Stage 1a that on Stage 1b, a team time trial, both he and his 7-Eleven team strug­gled and he lost yellow. “Alex, he was proud he started that first stage in a skin­suit. He just went for it from the gun,” Bauer re­mem­bered with a laugh. Bauer him­self was in that pelo­ton rid­ing for La Vie Claire with Greg Le­mond and Bernard Hin­ault. In 1988, Bauer was on a new squad, Wein­mann - La Suisse. “The stage was sim­i­lar with a team time trial in the af­ter­noon. No team would ever take full con­trol of the early stage to save their en­ergy for the team time trial. It gives an ad­van­tage to the break­away, which Alex used. I was look­ing for a sim­i­lar op­por­tu­nity in 1988.”

Bauer and I spoke at the Gru­petto Café in Dun­das, Ont., sur­rounded by cy­cling mem­o­ra­bilia, some of it Bauer’s. It wasn’t too long ago, dur­ing one of Bauer’s seem­ingly rare stays in South­ern On­tario. The St. Catharines, Ont., na­tive spends months at a time in Europe work­ing as di­rec­tor of vip ser­vices for bmc Rac­ing Team. The events we dis­cussed, which had hap­pened al­most 30 years ago, he re­mem­bered sur­pris­ingly well.

“That stage was a bit bro­ken,” he said of the morn­ing race. “There was a union protest along the way, so the stage got stopped. The weather was crap. No­body was re­ally com­mit­ted to the race. It was bizarre: not many at­tacks. It was

al­most like the pelo­ton was rolling to­ward the fin­ish. I de­cided, at about 7 km from the fin­ish, to at­tack and open up the race. I got a bit of a draft from the ve­hi­cles in front – mo­tor­cy­cles and of­fi­cial cars. It gave me a good gap on the field. The pelo­ton didn’t re­ally com­mit un­til it was too late. I man­aged to hold of the pelo­ton and win that stage and get the yellow jersey. It was a bit of luck, a bit of ini­tia­tive and some solid fit­ness that car­ried me to that first Tour de France stage win.”

Be­fore the French Grand Tour, Bauer’s year had gone well. In April, he was eighth at Paris-roubaix. In early June, he won a moun­tain stage in the Tour de Suisse. “It fin­ished on a de­scent,” Bauer was quick to add. He was sec­ond over­all in that 10-day event. Next was the peren­nial TDF tune-up race, the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. Bauer won the 93.2-km Stage 1b. Be­fore head­ing to la Grande Boucle, the 29-year-old Bauer was likely in the best con­di­tion of his ca­reer.

He was on a new team in ’88, Wein­mann - La Suisse. It, how­ever, had fa­mil­iar rid­ers and staff. Paul Köchli, who

“When you are close to the lead, the key is look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties”

had worked with Bauer on La Vie Claire, started the squad. The group that went to the Tour in­cluded Niki Rüt­ti­mann, a strong Suisse climber, who was also from Bauer’s pre­vi­ous team. Jean-claude Le­clercq was good in the moun­tains, too. Michael Wil­son from Aus­tralia brought his skills as a solid do­mes­tique and time tri­al­list. “We had a re­ally good bal­ance of tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als, maybe not one stand­out that peo­ple could say was a Tour de France win­ner. But col­lec­tively, we proved we were a re­ally solid group of pro­fes­sional bike rac­ers who could chal­lenge the race,” Bauer said.

Favourites who lined up at the Tour that year in­cluded two-time win­ner Lau­rent Fignon and U.S. rider Andy Hamp­sten, who had won the Giro d’italia less than a month be­fore. Third-place TDF fin­isher Jean-françois Bernard car­ried French hopes with him. Pe­dro Del­gado had rid­den against Stephen Roche in ’87 and lost out to Roche by 40 sec­onds. The first Ir­ish rider to win the Tour didn’t re­turn in 1988 be­cause of chronic knee prob­lems, but Del­gado was back. Bauer’s for­mer team­mate Greg Le­mond missed the Tour in ’88 as he still wasn’t in top shape fol­low­ing his hunt­ing ac­ci­dent the year be­fore.

“Go­ing into the race, I wasn’t re­ally think­ing about who I’d have to beat to do well,” Bauer said. “I think I was more fo­cused on the team and how we could ride to the best of our abil­i­ties.” Bauer felt that that out­look al­lowed him to achieve one of the best per­for­mances of his ca­reer.

Af­ter Bauer won yellow, Wein­mann - La Suisse had to ride the team time trial later that day. He fig­ures the pres­ence of the jersey in­spired the squad to ride harder than they might have other­wise. They couldn’t beat the pow­er­house Pana­sonic team, whose ride put Teun van Vliet at the lead of the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Still, Wein­mann - La Suisse was sec­ond, 24 sec­onds be­hind Pana­sonic. While Bauer had fallen to ninth over­all, the team’s work had set the foun­da­tion for the Cana­dian’s re­turn to yellow.

Bauer had to be shrewd dur­ing that first week of the Tour. “When you are close to the lead, the key is look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Bauer said. “You can’t re­ally force it, un­less you strong-arm the race on a stage that is par­tic­u­larly suited to you. For ex­am­ple, now in the Tour, it would be a moun­tain­top stage for a climber. It seems ob­vi­ous there. But in the first week of the Tour, it’s not ob­vi­ous. There’s rolling ter­rain with dif­fer­ent types of fin­ishes. You can­not lose time. And you look for those spots, like maybe a break­away, that could get you that jersey back.”

On Stage 6, a 52-km in­di­vid­ual time trial, Bauer put in an im­pres­sive ride, which got him within one sec­ond of the new leader, Jelle Ni­j­dam of Su­per­con­fex. The next day, Bauer slipped a bit in the GC to nine sec­onds back. Of Stage 8, he re­mem­bered a short climb be­fore the fin­ish­ing city of Nancy, then a de­scent ahead of the fi­nal sprint. About 10 km from the fin­ish, Bauer at­tacked. He pushed the pace. Ni­j­dam got dropped from the main group. In the sprint, Rolf Gölz took the stage, but it was Bauer who pulled on the yellow jersey once again.

Next, Wein­mann - La Suisse had to de­fend its lead. Bauer had more work to do both on and off the bike. “When you’re lead­ing the Tour de France, there are other de­mands: anti-dop­ing, me­dia, at­ten­tion from the fans,” Bauer said. “There’s more en­ergy that you need to ex­pend than if you weren’t in the jersey. I think the added pres­sure did not nec­es­sar­ily af­fect my per­for­mance.” Although the mail­lot jaune can bring ex­tra work for a rider, it can also boost his abil­i­ties. The psy­cho­log­i­cal term for this phe­nom­e­non is the au­di­ence ef­fect. With peo­ple watch­ing, with the re­spon­si­bil­ity to lead the team and de­fend the jersey, an ath­lete digs deeper and per­forms bet­ter than ever be­fore. The yellow jersey gave Bauer a boost, a boost that far sur­passed the ex­tra du­ties that af­fected the race leader.

Af­ter Nancy, the stages started to fea­ture more and more climb­ing, which wasn’t Bauer’s strength. Stage 11 from Be­sançon to Morzine in­cluded Pas de Mor­gins, Col du Cor­bier and high tem­per­a­tures. “I love the heat,” said the rider from the great white north. “Every­body else was crack­ing.” Fignon fin­ished 19 min­utes off of the stage win­ner Fabio Parra. The French rider’s Tour was ru­ined. Bernard had a bad day, too. Both Sean Kelly and

Robert Mil­lar lost a lot of time. Bauer rode well and fin­ished with the favourites, 23 sec­onds be­hind Parra.

The Cana­dian started the next day, which would fin­ish on Alpe d’huez, in yellow. He would face the Col de la Madeleine and Col du Glan­don be­fore the iconic climb. For Bauer, the fi­nal kilo­me­tres be­fore the sum­mit of Glan­don were the tough­est, tougher than even d’huez. A large group of top rid­ers where ahead, in­clud­ing Hamp­sten and his team­mate Raúl Al­calá. Colom­bians Fabio Parra and Luis “Lu­cho” Her­rera, and Charly Mot­tet and Peter Win­nen. Far­ther ahead, Steven Rooks and Pe­dro Del­gado were driv­ing for Alpe d’huez. Af­ter pass­ing the sum­mit of Glan­don, Bauer blasted down to­ward the group at speeds he doesn’t think he’s matched since. “When you have the yellow jersey, you have to do what you have to do,” he said. Rid­ing solo, he caught up with the Hamp­sten group.

Once they hit Alpe d’huez, the ini­tial steep in­clines af­fected Bauer. He fell off from much of the group. He then rode his own pace. His team di­rec­tor, Köchli, kept giv­ing him the times. Bauer knew he was still close to the jersey. He passed a shat­tered Hamp­sten and kept rid­ing. Rooks took the stage, while Del­gado rode into the lead. Bauer fin­ished sev­enth, 2:34 be­hind Rooks and 25 sec­onds off of the yellow jersey. “It’s prob­a­bly the best moun­tain stage I did in my ca­reer. I think the jersey helped as well as be­ing in top shape,” he said.

“The yellow jersey gave Bauer a boost, a boost that far sur­passed the ex­tra du­ties that af­fected the race leader.”

Af­ter d’huez, Bauer fo­cused on a podium spot. He was third over­all af­ter Stages 13 and 14. He then kept fourth all the way to Paris. He had yellow for five stages and a stage win, the first for a Cana­dian. In 1990, he’d get the yellow jersey for nine stages. His fourth place fin­ish in ’88, how­ever, still stands as the best re­sult for a Cana­dian at le Grande Boucle. So many cy­cling per­for­mances from that time, un­for­tu­nately, come with as­ter­isks. Ques­tions about Del­ga­dos’ per­for­mance were raised be­fore he had even fin­ished the 1988 Tour. Probenecid, a drug that can be used to flush the residue of steroids from the kid­neys, was found in Del­ga­dos’ urine. At the time, the drug was banned by the ioc, but it was still about a month away from be­ing on the uci’s list. Lucky for Del­gado, it was the uci’s list that took prece­dence. He raced on to win the ’88 Tour. In late 1999, the runner-up in 1988, Rooks, ad­mit­ted in a tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary that he had taken testos­terone and am­phet­a­mines through­out his ca­reer. Bauer doesn’t seem to dwell on these in­jus­tices. He seems to bear them with the same sto­icism that got him through the nine Tours de France he com­pleted through­out his ca­reer.

When I asked him about the ef­fect of his fourth place in ’88, he joked a bit about how there was no so­cial me­dia to bring the news to Canada quickly. But, he added that the me­dia cov­er­age at the time did in­spire peo­ple to take up cy­cling or fol­low the sport. He’d heard that first-hand from many rid­ers through­out the years. I think the ef­fect grew as Bauer con­tin­ued to race be­yond ’88. In 2015, at the in­duc­tion cer­e­mony for the Cana­dian Cy­cling Hall of Fame, Lori-ann Muen­zer, Ali­son Sy­dor and Curt Har­nett all cited Bauer as an in­flu­ence. Rid­ers too young to have seen Bauer race in the ’80s, such as As­tana’s Hugo Houle and Mil­ton, Ont., track rider Michael Fo­ley, have ben­e­fited from Bauer’s experience and cy­cling wis­dom gained abroad. Even the cy­cling-themed Gru­petto Café in which Bauer and I spoke, about 80 km away from where the cy­clist grew up, likely owes part of its ex­is­tence to Bauer’s ac­com­plish­ments. The in­flu­ence of Bauer’s 1988 Tour on those younger ath­letes and the café may not be di­rect, but they do take from the glow of five days in yellow that hap­pened 30 years ago.

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