Thursday, October 11, 2007

The PROfessor

In 1992, I had the opportunity to meet Laurent Fignon when he and the Gatorade/Bianchi team visited for a local road race. I was working in my father's shop at the time, and through some local connections, we became the ship-to location and HQ for the Gatorade/Bianchi team.

The race was scheduled for Saturday and on Thursday the team machines poured into the shop, fresh from Europe and still warm from the gentle hands of Customs. The shop's sales floor was dotted with tasty treats from the PRO peloton as the Gatorade/Bianchi team mechanics arrived. The mechanics carried with them their traditional travel tool case, filled with the hand tools of their profession, all neatly packaged for the relentless travel of the PRO season.

I will never forget the days the PROs came to town. We worked side-by-side with the mechanics to prepare the machines and the equipment for the team: we housed the team travel bags and some of the riders’ team gear and, as the bikes were prepared, they were rolled out of the shop and into the sales area to await their owners. At 10 AM, Fignon and his teammates arrived at the shop, and despite the summer temps, they arrived dressed in tights and long sleeve jerseys and sandals. Each carried their cycling shoes in small travel shoe bags. By 11 AM, the team mounted their machines and rolled out for a spin with a few of the shop's select customers in tow. The ride headed north, following the route we knew as the "Executive Route" (named this because it abutted the side roads and was less conducive to the fisticuffs rides of the weekend and better-suited for idle chat and a gentlemen's pace). A water bottle and a banana into the ride, we neared the turnaround point. Fignon and his team rolled to a stop behind my father, who was leading the guests when one of the local riders coasted into the back of Fignon's bike, throwing himself onto the ground in a whirlwind of apologies and embarrassment.

When my father tells this story, his expressions and body language mimic the Frenchman's response to accurately capture the moment. As he describes it, Fignon casually looks over his shoulder at the fallen rider and, with a look of dismay, simply shrugs his shoulders and with complete PROness rolls off leaving the dejected rider laying on the pavement.

Once the dusty, but uninjured, rider caught up with the group, he rode alongside my father and began to weave an apology. My father looks over and replies, "You just crashed into "The Professor." Don't talk to me, I don't know you."

The ride back to the shop was less eventful: there were no more crashes and no international incidents.

Following the ride, the PROs and the team mechanics were eager to dig into some American culture and began to shop the Pearl Izumi inventory. It was surreal. The PROs bought so much Pearl clothing filling their backpacks with the Pearl Izumi Dot Glove and the Thermal Lobster Claw while the mechanics bought the two remaining neon orange full-suspension Trek 9000s we had in stock. We could barely give those bikes away but the mechanics were delighted when we offered them some industry courtesy selling them the bikes at wholesale. The pinnacle was sitting down to lunch together, the team mechanics, the PROs, Fignon, our shop cat Tullio, and the shop employees to toss back some McD’s at the request of our guests.

Sharing a Big Mac with Fignon is certainly on my personal short list of great cycling moments.

19 comments:

blue squirrel said...

i knew it, i knew it was PRO to eat hamburgers, great story, i hope you don't run out of them any time soon. ok, back to my frites and mayonnaise.

bikesgonewild said...

...see...a little panache, a soupcon of distain & we're off, down the road...him, oh, m'sier, s'il vous plait...if he is on le terre, then p'haps 'e 'as found 'is place, n'est pas...

...yer dad ever let him back in the shop again ???...
...another good story...

chiefhiawatha said...

what race was it? I remember seeing photos ofFignon racing in chicago, in the rain, in a dreary crit near the lakefront. Am I crazy or did that actually happen?

Lastly, it's "fisticuffs".

Anonymous said...

Great story!

pompier said...

awesome story freddy, did this race happen in Chicago? nothing like pearl izumi and micky D's to take back to europe!

Diablo Scott said...

Hey - look what I found in the Serotta forums - the same story!

KKevin03-28-2005, 08:11 PM
This was quite a few years ago but Laurent Fignon was in town for a race in Chicago. A few of the foreign teams that were participating, including Gatorade (Fignon's team at the time) brought their bikes to be assembled at my LBS because they didnt bring any mechanics with them. When Fignon and several others came to the shop to pick up the bikes and train a few local riders joined them on their ride. Part way through their ride one of the local riders slammed right into the back of Fignon and hit the tarmac. Im told all Fignon did was look back and keep riding. Thankfully that rider was not a member of my club.

velomonkey said...

I just found your site and I have to say I love it!!!!! I too worked in a shop from 1991 to 1996 all while going to under grad and grad school and know all too well some of your references. I also recall the Gatorade team coming to the US for the Tour of DuPont - Hincapie won a sprint stage at age 17 and was then relegated to last place. My freind has a pick of LeMond and Lance trying to chase on and Lance is in the Skittles uniform with a Motorola bike. These were the best times.

The orange dual suspension Trek you spoke of - was such a hunk of junk. Keep up the great work!!!!!

Anonymous said...

How long have you been sitting on that story and how many more gems like this grace the pages of BKW?

Thank you so much!

josh said...

great story rf....another one for the vault

mowens said...

Fignon - the last GT rider with real panache. What are the chances of a modern GT winner being on the podium at Roubaix?
-Mike

Radio Freddy said...

Blue - some blame Fignon's Tour loss on his pony tail. Let it be known, it was the lack of the Mac that did it.

bikes - yeah, he was a close friend of my father's. That added to the humor of denying he knew him.

Chief - Thanks for the heads up on fisticuffs. Check this out: Fignon

Diablo - Funny huh? I think the post came from a guy who worked at the shop at the same time.

Velomonkey - Those were the days; without question.

Anon - dig into the archives, I am sure you'll find something of interest. Stay tuned, I have been in touch with a friend who worked for 7-11, Motorola, Cofidis and then Mapei. I assure you, his stories will be worth coming back for.

Curly said...

I don't care what people say... Larry Finnegan is one of my favs... nice story

Il Bruce said...

I remember seeing Bugno warming up for the Tour Du Pont finale in DC that year.

We were walking to RFK and passed Gianni as he was being questioned by some locals as to why ther were no African Americans in the race. Bugno seemed bemused by the encounter.

Bolder said...

classic.

thanks for sharing.

Ron George said...

the onslaught of the prescription lenses didn't attract him very much, its a classic look he has..

i heard he's got this racing institute going in france, or italy, not sure.. pretty cool if i could join :)

Ari said...

I almost got fired for missing the sacred "Saturday" at the shop I worked. My friends and I spent a morning of rain waiting to see "the professor" I went ther with a Tour de France edition of Winning magazine and was able to get an autograph of Fignon. I truly thought I got a signature from God. He was so Pro, so arrogant. He looked up at the skies in disgust. The citizens and all the non pro categories raced in the rained and continously crashed on the broad white painted pedestrian crossings. When Fignon rolled off the skies openend and the sun came out.
Fignon= Uber Pro.
Ari

Anonymous said...

Hey Radio,
The way I remember it, those guys bought everything they could get their hands on that was labeled "Pearl Izumi". It seems to me we were surprised about the frames on the Bianchi's, they were tig welded steel frames, as I remember. Just a working mans bike, who has to travel a lot. I still have the picture of Fignons top tube. White bar tape, totally pro. Thank you for memory,
Tacissimo

chris d said...

That goes a long way toward explaining why I crave a slider after a race.

Junior Bike Racer said...

I'm the guy who picked up the Gatorade team and dropped them off at that quaint little northshore bike shop. At the time I was working as a Sales Rep for Trek. Later that weekend I was drving the lead vehicle around Buckinham Fountain. Christian Van de Velde's dad was working on the event as a promoter. A great weekend for cycling in Chicago. Please check out my son's blog at www.juniorbikeracer.blogspot.com