Cathy and Stu and Dr. Dan helped preserve my sanity the last couple of years I lived in Brooklyn before moving to Italy. As I began to feel more and more like the City and I were no longer on speaking terms, my friendship with these three riders really made a difference in my quality of life. Besides their invaluable friendship, they also offered me the chance to get out of Brooklyn and ride.
Dan was one of the few riders from Prospect Park in Brooklyn who would accompany me on my forays into New York State as well as New Jersey. Frequently we would ride out of the City both Saturday and Sunday doing huge rides, usually over 100 miles each day. Besides being an expert rider who knew all the finer points of cycling, Dan was a great story teller and could spin out a tale and make it last for hours and hours. In a word, he was the perfect companion on long rides. I knew I was learning without having to talk about it. Cycling, for all its obvious traits, is actually a sport full of subtleties and I could tell that Dan knew most of them. On those long gallops over hill and dale I was soaking up not only Dan’s adventurous stories, of which there were many, I was also watching and observing. Though Dan had raced at a high level he had no need to show his strength by making me suffer or doing all those annoying things that experienced, stronger riders can do to novices. He brought me along gradually and before another season rolled around, I was almost matching him pedal stroke for pedal stroke. He wasn’t having to tow me around as much, I was able to contribute to the work load too. On one memorable ride up to Bear Mountain, well over 100 miles round trip, I ran out of energy dramatically. I can still remember how Dan nursed me back to NYC, alternating long stories with stints on the front pulling me along, literally for hours. These long rides developed a special friendship between us, our adventurous jaunts out of New York City became a tradition and we kept on doing them right up till the weeks before I moved to Italy in 1992. Though we’ve stayed in touch, via snail mail before internet, we have as yet been unable to meet up here in Italy. There has always been the plan to meet here and ride before we are all too old but so far it hasn’t quite happened.
Dan Harris with his Titanium Merlin
Cathy and Stu owned an old farm house in the Catskill mountains and it wasn’t long before I was invited up to ride with them there. Once, ever the glutton for long rides, I left the City on my Masi traveling by train to the outer reaches of Westchester County and then by bike the rest of the way. Once at their home in the Catskills we would spend every day riding one long climb after another, trying but never succeeding to stay with Cathy who was a climbing wonder. The joke was that Stu and I would take turns burying ourselves to remain with her for at least a portion of a climb just to see whether or not she was actually breathing hard. Though she never really raced, she possessed a true talent, especially on climbs and was equally fast going down hill. She could hang with the toughest category ones and two riders in Prospect Park on training rides, driving them to distraction as they were unable to shake this woman who was then in her late 30′s.
Their son Devon went on to become a cycling talent in his own right, being a member of the national team on both the road and track. He graduated from Stanford where he studied on a full cycling scholarship. Cathy, Stu and Dev have all been here to Tuscany to visit and Dev even made a repeat trip on his own just a few years ago. I impressed myself by being able to hang with him on a 90 km ride in the hills. In all honesty I have to add that he hadn’t trained in months and was on a borrowed bike.
Of all the friends I left behind in Brooklyn these are the people I missed the most. On those rare occasions when we’re together it’s as though a week hadn’t passed since the last time we’d been laughing and riding together.
The Four Musketeers: Cathy, Stu, Dan & me circa 1996
Eddie Albert and I actually became closer after I was in Italy than we had been when I was in Brooklyn. He came to Europe with his wife Brenda in 1995 and after spending a week following the Tour de France with Brenda, put her on a plane home and met me in the French Alps for a road race. I had come up from Italy with a group of guys I raced and trained with to compete in the “Louison Bobet” Gran Fondo. I remember that as being one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever spent on a bike. We climbed the Galibier twice, once from each side, as well as the Col d’Izoard and the Lauteret. It was, as they say, an epic day and while I wasn’t able to stay with Eddie for very long during the race, we had a great time driving back to Italy together and then riding on the roads around Perugia where I was then living. Since then he’s been to Italy numerous times and we always manage to hook up, we’ve ridden the Eroica together three times and though he says he won’t do it again, I think he will.
Since I’ve moved to Italy Eddie has become one of North America’s premiere antique bike experts and collectors. In a small way I like to think I had something to do with that. He owned an old Masi that when I saw it, was reduced to a rusting hulk after years of service on his indoor trainer. He saw my Masi during a trip to Tuscany that had been restored by Joe Bell and was inspired to do something with his Masi and that got him started. The photo of him with Irio Tommasini was in fact taken during a trip to the factory while on a bike tour with me in 2006. Irio is pouring over a stack of glossy photos of Eddie’s impressive collection that he’d brought with him. If I hadn’t pulled Eddie out of there the two of them would still be there to this day, talking about period bikes and racers. Like Eddie, Irio has a bottomless passion for old bikes and can spend hours if not days talking about them and their finer points.
I also must mention another endeavor that Eddie and I were involved in together. Long before internet we would write each other and many of those letters were about races, racers and the whole bike scene in Europe in general. Once I got my first computer, in 1997, that type of correspondence increased ten-fold. Eddie found some investors and launched the idea of creating an internet site devoted to races and cyclists with me as the main correspondent. That site, called oddly enough “Cycle Gossip” lasted for four seasons and was an early competitor of CyclingNews. We were even the first internet site to have same day photos of the top races thanks to an Italian photographer named Emanuele Sirotti who’s byline you can still see on racing oriented sites. That time was a lot of fun, I wrote so much I almost managed to teach myself the art of the written word. Eddie, bless his heart, was the editor and was forever chasing after me to make a deadline or simply post something. I would be stretched to my limits, usually guiding a bike tour and trying to find an internet caffe after the day’s ride where I could get on a computer with internet access in order to post a story. Those years brought me even deeper into this magical world cycling and for a spell I was on the inside, the side of the crowd barriers all of us want to be on. Without Eddie that wouldn’t have happened.
True to his endless passion for races, as I write this he and Brenda are in Belgium where they’ve been for the past seven days, enjoying ‘Holy Week’ as it’s called up there. He’ll have followed both the Tour of Flanders last Sunday and now, Paris-Roubaix. For sure he’s brought a bike with him and is out there on the cobbles, probably participating in local group rides.