TOUR DE FRANCE: THERE’S A CONNECTION TO REDLANDS

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

It’s a connection that defies imagination.

In the 2005 Tour de France (TDF) alone, a string of cyclists had Redlands Classic ties.

Floyd Landis and Francisco Mancebo, Cadel Evans and Santiago Botero, plus David Zabriskie – cycling stars who had long lifted themselves into the cycling spotlight. Landis, an eventual winner who had the title stripped for doping, and Evans were eventual champs.

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Two-time Redlands Bicycle Classic champion Francisco Mancebo, has a string of top 10 Tour de France finishes (photo by Wikipedia).

Mancebo was a top 10 finisher a handful of times.

Botero, who later admitted to doping, was good in the TDF mountains.

Zabriskie, a time trial stage winner, was also relegated for doping.

This could be the missing piece that Redlands area fans are missing: The Tour de France (TDF). It’s the crown jewel of cycling. Besmirched a bit by the noted drug scandals, notably 7-time champion Lance Armstrong, plenty of other cyclists have clean enough backgrounds.

It’s not hard to keep track of the scandalous cyclists.

All evil-doing has largely gone ignored, at least officially, by RBC. The focus is on the roads. To anyone’s knowledge, no cyclist has ever failed drug tests at Redlands.

Even back in the earliest days of the Redlands Classic, Team 7-Eleven’s Jacque Boyer was the first U.S. cyclist who showed up in the fabled Tour de France.

Phinney’s 1986 Redlands Classic victory was only a prelude to a great career. The 7-Eleven cyclist became the first American to win a stage at the TDF.

That doesn’t even begin to cover the connections between TDF and RBC.

U.S. Postal Service cyclist Jonathan Vaughters, the 1998 Redlands champion, was a former U.S. national time trials champion. When he won that deadly mountainous climb to snowy Oak Glen in 1998, he sat in a team car musing over his future in Europe.

“This time in a couple of months,” said Vaughters, “I’m really hoping I can be one of Lance Armstrong’s lieutenants in the mountains of Europe.”

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Jonathan Vaughters won at Redlands, hoping to land a spot with the U.S. Postal Service squad in Europe where he would be a lieutenant in the Lance Armstrong quest to win more races, including the Tour de France (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

A lieutenant’s role is simple: To keep a team’s race leader fresh for the finish of each stage.

He was trying to pay his dues at places like Redlands.

Christian Vande Velde, who capped U.S. Postal’s 4-year streak of winning at Redlands, won in 1999 by 39 seconds. Nine years later, he took fourth in the Tour de France, trailing winner Carlos Sastre by 3:05.

Vande Velde was seventh one year later. In 2011, he was a lieutenant to Tom Danielson – third, RBC 2003 – in a top 10 finish.

Evgeniy Berzin, the 1989 RBC champion, has won a stage at the TDF.

Dmitri Zhadanov, the 1990 RBC champion, rode in four TDF peletons.

The Poland pair: Tomas Brozyna and Dariusz Baranowski raced for world-renowned U.S. Postal, Armstrong’s team.

Baranowski, 1995 RBC champion, was a 5-time Tour de France starter with a 12th place finish in 1998.

Brozyna was 22nd at the Tour de France in 2003, winning RBC in 1996.

Botero, for Rock Racing, was Tour de France’s fifth best climber in 2005.

At the 2008 RBC, the Colombian rolled to a 54-second win over Chris Baldwin.

Zabriskie, runner-up to 4-time RBC champion Chris Horner in 2000, is a 7-time TDF starter, even capturing a stage in 2011. Like Armstrong, Landis and others, some of Zabriskie’s results have been stricken from the records.

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Chris Horner, the only four-time winner of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, took off for the European jewels of cycling, including the Tour de France where he was a top 10 finisher (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Speaking of Horner: Just after winning his fourth Redlands tour, he pronounced himself unlikely to ever get a shot at a berth in the TDF. Eventually, he got seven shots at the fabled Tour de France. He took ninth in 2010.

Then there’s Mancebo, one of Spain’s all-time greats.

Amid a flurry of top career finishes – Tour of California, Redlands champion, plus a string of European successes – the cyclist known as “Paco” on the peleton has a string of top 10 Tour de France finishes.

Ninth in 2000, seventh in 2001, 10th in 2003, sixth in 2004, his best ride in the French classic was a brilliant fourth place finish in 2005. It could actually be viewed as a second place finish since Armstrong, the winner, along with third place Jan Ullrich, were both eliminated from official results for testing PED positive.

That was evidence some clean cyclists remained on the peleton.

It was in 1998 that Australian 20-year-old Cadel Evans showed up at Redlands. It took the all-out efforts of the mighty U.S. Postal Service squad to keep Evans out of the yellow jersey.

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Cadel Evans showed up at the 1998 Redlands Bicycle Classic almost at the last minute, but wound up coming up just 20 seconds short to place second that year. Thirteen years later, the Australian cyclist won the 2011 Tour de France (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Vaughters, aided by another future Tour de France combatant Tyler Hamilton, barely edged Evans in the chase to Oak Glen. Evans chased Vaughters the remainder of Redlands, losing by just 20 seconds.

In 2011, Evans, a two-time Tour de France runner-up, capped his career by winning the Tour de France. He retired a few years later.

NEXT WEEK: Name the woman and, chances are, she’s raced at Redlands.

CYCLING HALL OF FAMER DAVIS PHINNEY HELPED LAUNCH REDLANDS CLASSIC

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.

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Until Greg LeMond came along to win the Tour de France in 1988, there may have been no bigger USA cyclist than Davis Phinney, who won the Redlands Bicycle Classic while wearing Team 7-Eleven colors in 1986. (Photo by Wikipidia Commons.)

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.

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Eric Heiden, a 1980 U.S. Olympian in both speed skating and an alternate in the Summer Olympics as a cyclist, was part of Team 7-Eleven’s appearance at the 1986 Redlands Bicycle Classic. His presence brought extra prominence to the growing event. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

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.