Retro Rides – La Vuelta de Bisbee 1992
Bisbee was the first “real” bike race I had ever been to, and I instantly fell in love with the speed, color, and electricity that is the blood of the sport. Although the race had multiple stages (if I remember there was a Team Time Trial, Road Race, etc.), the reason to travel to Bisbee was the famous Criterium. The crowd was big, Brewery Gulch was rockin’, and School House Hill was lined with fans cheering the riders up the quad busting climb.
I’m unsure if LVDB was on the NRC in ‘92, but I do know I met my first Pro riders there. And not being bashful, gladly took some of the Coors Light Cycling Team’s bling. Looking back at the names now brings back a lot of memories from the era when cycling in the U.S. was starting to really catch on…
The Crit started in front of the Old Stock Exchange in Brewery Gulch and made a hard, steep left up Taylor Ave., just past the park. I have no idea what gears they used, but a mere mortal would have trouble even getting up this little bend, let alone at speed and in the middle of a group of riders. But this was just the little “sting” that would lead to Clawson Ave. and the climb past the school house. The climb isn’t long, maybe 100 meters or so, but it’s a killer, and especially so after a dozen laps of serious racing. You can see the hill as soon as you take the right turn onto Clawson, giving you a couple hundred meters to think about it. You could see riders zig-zagging switchback style to make it over. You could see some riders try stopping on the hill (unsuccessfully of course) leading to all kinds of excitement. But as always, you could really appreciate the “Big Boys” tapping out a steady beat and almost effortlessly gliding over the top, or even putting in an attack where others just wheezed and wobbled.
Once riders reached the top of the hill, it was a screaming descent all the way back to the gulch. This my friends, is why there is no more criterium! The almost 180 degree turn at the bottom of Clawson (right where the present race headquarters sits) and blast down Tombstone Canyon Road and Main St. made for some hair raising speeds and the associated risks involved. At the bottom of the descent was the hard left into Brewery Gulch and the finish line. Sometimes, it just wasn’t a pretty sight. Don’t know how fast you could get moving on this stretch, but if you don’t keep it upright, it’s gonna hurt. And it did….many times. Oddly, I think much to the delight of the crowd. But that’s why they came. The thrill of the speed and the inevitable pile-up. Of course, the finish line was sandwiched in-between two bars, St. Elmo’s and the Exchange. Massive quantities of alcoholic beverages were being consumed and the smell of reefer/weed/dope and anything else you could smoke was in the air. But hey, it’s Bisbee…..who cared. Lots of money went into the local economy, that is what mattered. And I would say a whole lot.
But, the safety issues led race director Albert Hopper to do away with the crit, and now the rumble of the Harley-Davidson leading the riders through the streets has fallen silent, much to the dismay of the local businesses. There has been pressure to bring the crit back, and with it the many fans (and their wallets). I don’t know if that will ever happen. Maybe it will just remain in our memories and that’s where it should stay. But if it does return, I’ll be there. Who would miss it. No “real” cycling fan I know!