Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
Davis Phinney took over the post-race media conference after winning the yellow jersey at the 1986 Redlands Bicycle Classic.
Phinney was a cycling rock star.
He’d just ridden a handful of days, pushed over the line by runner-up Raul Alcala, an Olympic bronze medalist for his native Mexico a couple years earlier. Phinney also held off future teammate Jeff Pierce in that Memorial Day weekend event.
Interviews centered around, naturally, of Phinney’s Tour de France success. Wasn’t that big news?
Wouldn’t Redlands like to connect with a guy that was in cycling’s greatest race?
After all, he would eventually become the first-ever American to win a stage at that European-dominated event. Americans, at that point, had rarely competed in that event.
Team 7-Eleven had raced across the pond in the globe’s most important cycling race. Until Greg LeMond came along, the Americans weren’t successful at any level in Europe.
In Redlands, Phinney was trying to be kind, but he knew why he was there. Phinney’s presence, along with his pre-eminent 7-Eleven cycling team, had been whisked to Redlands in order to help try and send the one-year-old event to the next level of popularity.
There were enough questions about European racing. Mostly mine. I was thinking globally, not locally.
“Let’s stop talking about the Tour de France,” said Phinney, in a manner of taking over the post-event media conversation, “and talk about the Tour of Redlands.”
Fair enough. We’re on U.S. soil. On hand for those moments were handfuls of Redlands race organizers, no doubt delighted over their guest’s manners in trying to highlight their race.
Team 7-Eleven’s presence might have been paramount in keeping Redlands afloat. Eighteen years into the next century, it’s still pertinent and relevant in the cycling world.
In 1997, that team was inducted into the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame. That original 7-Eleven squad had sent two teams to Redlands for that 1986 Memorial Day weekend trek.
Team manager Jim Ochowicz, a Hall of Famer in his own right, had organized a remarkable collection of mainly U.S. riders.
Racing in Redlands that weekend was Tom Schuler and Bob Roll, Ron Kiefel and Doug Shapiro, plus Alex Stieda, Roy Knickman, Chris Carmichael, not to mention Phinney and Alcala.
It was a showcase for Redlands, its area fans, perhaps, not yet connected to cycling.
Don’t forget Eric Heiden, the Olympic speed skater who captured multiple medals at the 1980 Lake Placid (N.Y.) Games while also qualifying as an alternate for Team USA’s cycling squad later that summer.
And don’t overlook another Hall of Famer. Knickman, who rode for La Vie Claire and Toshiba-Look alongside the famous teams that included LeMond, Andy Hampsten and Frenchman Bernard Hinault.
We’re told the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame, which has limited hours in a Northern California city of Davis – just outside Sacramento – isn’t all that impressive. That it exists is, in itself, a major bow to the sport.
Team 7-Eleven’s presence in Redlands that year, I was told, came after plenty of negotiation – with Ochowicz, I believe – to help lift Redlands’ race to prominence. It was hard to bring his team west when most of the most important competition and events were in Europe.
Perhaps spurred on by his Redlands success, Phinney won the third stage that summer at the Tour de France, copping the 12th stage a year later.
Phinney, meanwhile, was accorded a high honor in Redlands when organizers proclaimed “Legendary” status on him at a ceremony in 2012.
It was a Hall of Fame moment, a Redlands Connection and a huge chapter for the Redlands Classic.