A Red Zinger/Coors Classic reunion Aug. 25 in Vail, Colo., will mark the 35th anniversary of the start of the modern stage racing era in the United States.
Held in conjunction with the inaugural edition of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge – which marks the return of stage racing to Colorado – more than 300 former Red Zinger/Coors Classic staff, officials, volunteers, racers, police and media members are expected to gather to celebrate 18 years of bike racing that was shared by the event’s two sponsors: Celestial Seasonings and the Adolph Coors Company (now MillerCoors.)
A reunion dinner presentation featuring video, story telling, special awards and several surprises, highlights a weekend of activities that will include two events in Golden, Colo.: a Friday night screening of the movie, “American Flyers” and a pre-race pancake breakfast on Sunday.
Race owner/director Michael Aisner and professional cycling announcer Phil Liggett will co-host the dinner.
“I invited Phil, not because he’s a famous TV commentator, but because he was my first bike-racing mentor,” Aisner said. “I was 28 years old and suddenly running a major event for a sport I knew little about. In Great Britain, Phil ran the Milk Race, one of the oldest and biggest amateur races ever. So I tapped his great sensibilities and knowledge as promptly as I could.”
The reunion has attracted some of the great legends of cycling, many of whom credit the Classic with playing a significant role in their careers. Seven previous Classic winners will attend. Among the notables expected to attend are:
- Jacques Boyer, the first American to ride in the Tour de France and the winner of the first Coors Classic;
- John Howard, winner of two Red Zingers and the 1981 Ironman world championship, as well as one of the original competitors in the “Great American Bike Race” (now the “Race Across America”);
- Greg LeMond, three-time winner of the Tour de France and two-time winner of the Coors Classic;
- Connie Carpenter, 1984 Olympic gold medalist who won more stages of the Classic than anyone except her husband, Davis Phinney, who will also be attending;
- Wayne and Dale Stetina, with three overall Coors Classic wins between them;
- Beth Heiden, stage winner and Olympian;
- Jeannie Longo, three-time race winner and multi-time Olympian (and still racing at age 52).
Adding to the roll-call of luminaries will be the race’s founders, Mo Siegel and John Hay. In 1975, the pair created the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic, setting in motion a succession of stage races across America leading up to this month’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge. As the first major stage race in Colorado since the last edition of the Coors Classic 23 years ago, the seven-day event will feature Tour de France winner Cadel Evans of the BMC Racing Team. Peter Coors, who took the baton from Siegel in 1980 to continue the run for another eight years as the fourth largest race in the world – and the biggest for women – will also attend.
The reunion dinner’s host venue, Vail, was chosen because of its decade-long relationship with the Classic series as a stage host. In a nod to the Classic, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will use the same time trial course.
“The head of the local organizing committee back then was Ceil Folz, whom I have remained in touch with over the years,” Aisner said. “As current head of the Vail Valley Foundation, she’s responsible for attracting world class events to Vail, so it made sense to approach them to host the reunion during the third stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. There is no question that although our race was in marquee venues like San Francisco, Sacramento, Reno, Hawaii, Tahoe, and Aspen, we had a great long-standing relationship with Vail. Not only did we draw record crowds and tax revenues for the international resort, but a high-energy downtown course had everything and was exemplarily well-organized.”
During its 13-year history, the Classic grew from three days in the Boulder, Colo., area to a race crossing multiple state lines over 16 days – once starting on the Big Island in Hawaii, traveling through California, into Nevada, onto Wyoming and finishing in Colorado. Sales of race and sponsor-branded merchandise topped $1 million and $1.5 million in its last two years, respectively, with $100,000 sold in Japan alone. “American Flyers,” a Warner Bros. movie starring Kevin Costner, was shot at the race and astronauts, actors, music icons and even a U.S. President (who was an honorary stage starter in Vail) graced the race that was broadcast on NBC, ESPN and live on CBS. In Denver, “The Tonight Show” was delayed five minutes for Coors Classic nightly updates. Also noteworthy is the more than two dozen offspring, affectionately known as “Race Babies,” which resulted from couples who met at the Classic. But possibly the most impressive feat? The more than two-week, 2,000-mile race for both men and women operated on a budget of less than $1 million.
Reservations for the dinner Thursday, Aug. 25, are limited solely to race-associated attendees. Friday’s movie screening and Sunday’s pancake feed are open to the public. For more information, or to make a qualified reservation for Thursday night’s dinner, go to www.tingtangwallawallabingbang.com.