Davis Phinney and Ron Kiefel recall 7-Eleven team’s wild ride in Milan-San Remo


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Davis Finney (7 Eleven) at the 1988 Giro d'Italia.
Davis Finney (7 Eleven) at the 1988 Giro d’Italia.

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Ron Kiefel (7 Eleven) at the start of the 1988 Milan-San Remo race considers the Italian race his favorite classic race.
Ron Kiefel (7 Eleven) at the start of the 1988 Milan-San Remo race considers the Italian race his favorite classic race.

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Theun Van Vliet, teammate of the winner Henny Kuiper, passed Silvano Ricco for second place at the 1985 Milan-San Remo race.
Theun Van Vliet, teammate of the winner Henny Kuiper, passed Silvano Ricco for second place at the 1985 Milan-San Remo race.

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Dutchman Henny Kuiper wins the 1985 Milan-San Remo race.
Dutchman Henny Kuiper wins the 1985 Milan-San Remo race.

This article about the adventures of two Americans in the 1985 Milan-San Remo race was first published by Cyclingnews in 2010.

Twenty-five years ago, the American 7-Eleven team traveled to Europe in early 1985 to begin the team’s first block of racing in its debut pro season, and they were to study the ups and downs of racing in the European peloton. hard way.

The team started their European campaign at the Etoile de Bessèges, then competed in competitions such as the now defunct Tour Méditerranéen, Trofeo Laigueglia in February, then Milan-Turin And Tyrrhenian-Adriatic in the beginning of March.

There was another race that stood between the American team’s first foray into the continent and the return to the United States: Milan-San Remo, the upstart team’s first true classic, which took place on March 16, 1985.

“It’s been such a tough spring for us since we were a first-year professional team,” Finney said. Cycling news. “It was really a fight for survival in every sense. You were supposed to get into the race, and then you fight all day for position and respect, and then you get to the hotel and you’re hungry, cold and hungry. .

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“Every day you wake up and the weather is getting worse. This was long before the teams had buses and laundry equipment, we still wash our clothes in the sink many times and then your clothes never dry, and there are more and more of them. grey. And your mood is also more and more gray.

However, the team did not have their own mentors, as Belgian professional Noel Dejonqueré, who played for Spanish team Teka, visited the team at their hotel the night before Milan-San Remo. Dejonkhere had finished Milan-San Remo in eighth place each of the previous two years, and Finney remembered the sage advice the seasoned Belgian had given American laymen.

“He said, ‘You have to eat a LOT, it’s a long, long day and you don’t want to run out of energy.’ And after 160 km you have to be ahead before the road narrows for the climb. Passo del Turchino,” said Finney.

Finney took this advice as the truth and dutifully stuffed the pockets of his panini jersey for food, so much so that his raincoat barely slipped over his torso to protect the peloton from the rain as he left the Duomo in Milan.

As the race progressed through the opening kilometers, Finney devoured paninos every 10km like clockwork, feeding his body for over seven hours in the saddle to face the 25-year-old neo-pro. However, much to Finney’s shock, an Irish professional took issue with the American’s eating habits.

“After about 60 km, Sean Kelly stops next to me while I stuff my face. My belly is so full that my knees are pressed into it as I pedal. Kelly says, “What are you doing? You are eating”. like a pig! So you’ll never finish.”

“I was just dumbfounded as I sat there with a mouthful of food that I immediately spit out. I threw away all my paninis because Sean Kelly said I ate like a pig.”

After getting rid of the food, Finney continued the race as the peloton raced forward to its first crucial junction at the foot of the Passo del Turchino. Mindful of Dejonkheer’s second piece of advice on how to be on the front line, and simultaneously questioning his wisdom as Kelly had apparently debunked the Belgian’s first insider knowledge, Finney nonetheless fought his way to the front as if he were about to challenge battlefield. sprint.

But then there was trouble.

“When we entered the town before the start of Turchino, I was in the far right corner, in the second row, and we were just flying. A sharp left turn, and the pack spread a little bit where I was pushed off the road, I went off the road, hit this mesh fence separating the road from the sidewalk, and sprained my finger.

“Eric Hayden saw me, stopped, and I was just in despair. I told him, “Pull my finger,” but I was wearing these thick winter gloves and he couldn’t get a good grip. Some relief, but minutes passed, and I immediately remembered it. This is my first big race and I totally failed.”

At the Etoile de Bessèges, Finney nearly won the final stage and later finished fourth at Milano Torino. Just three days before Milan-San Remo, a jubilant Finney finished second to Eric Vanderarden in the Tirreno-Adriatico final. The day before, the American was pleased to learn that he was named the favorite of the Milan-San Remo dark horse. Gazetta dello Sport.

The now dejected Finney soon found himself riding alone and nearly the entire racing caravan passed him, giving Hayden the green light to pursue the field without him.

Stuck on the freeway

The Turchino Pass is an important part of the race.
The Turchino Pass is an important part of the race.

7-Eleven director Richard Dejonkhir, Noel’s brother, soon drove up to Finney in the team car and gave him a raincoat chock-full of extra clothing. Richard was also in a bad mood seeing one of his best riders out of action. The Belgian told Finney to pedal smoothly until the broom van pulled up, then sped away to join the racing column.

Finney’s first priority was to figure out how to transport his raincoat, which was supposed to be carried as hand luggage, without this bag dangling on his front wheel. Finney decided to wear it as a backpack, an awkward option that cut off circulation to his arms, but at least he could hold the bars with both hands as he climbed Passo del Turquino.

Finny soon finds himself with three companions, a Dane, a Spaniard, and a Belgian, all loaded down with their rain bags, all lacking humor as they make their way down the Turchino to find themselves driving along the coast with no sign of the broom wagon. They passed through an empty feeding area, with only broken pieces of abandoned water bottles and food bags indicating that the race was over, and they were estimated to be at least 30 minutes behind.

“Here I am at this big race, Milan-San Remo, with three other morons still riding with race numbers. I am dirty, wet, cold and hungry because I have no food, and we are still far from San Remo. We realized that we screwed up.

“A Danish guy, speaking in Viking style, said:” I have a flight at 8 pm from Monaco, I should be on it, and I’m leaving now. He just put in his biggest gear and took the Spaniard looked at the Belgian and at me and said ‘I’m going with him’ and jumped on the Dane’s wheel.

Realizing that it would take him and the Belgian at least two hours of hard driving to reach the finish line, Finney convinced his fellow fallback that their only hope was to veer off course onto the nearest freeway and hitchhike to San Remo.

“I was delirious and definitely out of my mind,” Finney said. “This was long before cell phones, long before radio, and we didn’t have a way to contact anyone at the finish line.

“We veered off course, we drove up this hill to the freeway, but we were stopped at a toll booth. The guy at the toll booth looked at us like two aliens had just landed from Mars. His dialect was simply impenetrable. pretty good pidgin italian but all i could do was show him our numbers and try to explain how we got lost. He just looked at us, “My God, who are you?”

Failing to get onto the freeway, Finney and the Belgian continued to stick their thumbs out and unsuccessfully asked every car that pulled up to the toll booth, “San Remo?”

“Of course, no one has ever seen such a sight before, two professionals snap it at the toll booth and it gets later and later,” Finney said.

As the hours passed, the couple became more and more dejected as they began to see the team’s cars speeding down the freeway back to Milan, including a 7-Eleven car, when suddenly the phone rang in the toll booth.

“Fortunately, the toll booth operator had what it took to understand our situation and called the police in Sanremo,” Finney said. “The police somehow found Richard Dejonkheer in the 7-Eleven team car and Richard called the toll booth to say he was coming.”

Eventually the 7-Eleven team director picked up Finney and the Belgian at the toll booth, took them to their hotel, and told them about the race.

Kiefel’s Wild Ride

36-year-old Henny Kuiper single-handedly took the win with a time of 7:36:34 over the 294 km course. Eight seconds later, Kuiper’s teammate Theun Van Vliet overtook Italy’s Silvano Ricco for second place. The trio attacked with 12 km to go, Kuiper fell into the Poggio and then made contact again with two kilometers to go. The Dutchman immediately attacked the pair, and reached the finish line alone. Eric Vanderarden of Belgium won the group sprint in fourth place, 11 seconds behind Kuiper out of a group of 64 riders.

Ron Kiefel of 7-Eleven cleared Poggio ahead of the group of pursuers and finished with a good result at the same time as Eric Vanderarden. Kiefel was the only 7-Eleven driver to split the race and finish in the lead of the race.

While Finney was performing in France and Italy until Milan-San Remo, which led to his dark horse status, Kiefel was also in good shape. The month before, Kiefel took the team’s first European win at the one-day Trofeo Laigueglia, beating reigning Italian champion Vittorio Algieri by two seconds.

Kiefel also placed second in the Tour Méditerranéen that ended at Mont Faron and, along with…


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