Interview: Canada has a long history of top road riders and the most successful could be Steve Bauer. From Olympic Silver to World’s Bronze, close to winning Paris-Roubaix and that World’s finish in Ronse, plus being a most dependable domestique, Steve was the complete package. Ed Hood managed to grab the now CCC Team directeur sportif for a word.
Canadian Steve Bauer has provided us with two of recent cycling history’s most recognisable and memorable images; there’s the infamous clash with home favourite Claude Criquielion at the finish of the pro Worlds in Ronse, Belgium in 1988 which cost both men the rainbow jersey to the benefit of young Italian, Maurizio Fondriest; and then there’s the 1990 photo finish on the Roubaix velodrome with another Belgian, Eddy Planckaert – the closest in the race’s history with the Belgian winning by millimetres.
In a pro career which lasted a dozen years Bauer rode alongside and against some of the cycling’s greatest ever riders – Lemond, Hinault, Kelly, Hampsten. . .
He won Olympic silver in LA in ’84, turned pro and took bronze at the Barcelona Worlds. He then rode for three seasons for charismatic French entrepreneur Bernard Tapie’s teams, La Vie Claire and Toshiba, then two years with Swiss coaching wizard, Paul Koechli before spending six years with Jim Ochowitz’s 7-eleven and Motorola teams before one last season with Saturn. He won stages in and led the Tour de France twice, won the Championship of Zurich, narrowly missed out on winning Paris-Roubaix and should really have stepped onto at least one, if not two more pro Worlds podiums.
Steve recently gave freely of his time to talk to PEZ about those two events and a lot more besides:
PEZ: You were originally a team pursuiter, Steve?
Steve Bauer: There weren’t so many road races in Canada then so I used to ride team pursuit and points mostly. It was Fred Mengoni who told me I should train more like a road guy so I hooked up with Phil Anderson and Greg Lemond and it was they who showed me how to train – they knew the score. Success on the road came quite quickly after that; in 1984 I put the hours in and transitioned into a rider with endurance – prior to that I simply hadn’t trained enough.
PEZ: Folks say that nine times out of 10 you would have beaten Alexi Grewal in a sprint but he was first over the line and Olympic Champion in LA ‘84.
Yeah, I’d say that too! Alexi attacked through the feed zone on the last lap and when I caught him it was on the steepest part of the one real climb in the circuit and he was suffering so he sat on – didn’t take one pull. With the benefit of hindsight I should have sat up and made him come through but there were two Norwegian guys chasing [Morten Saether and Bauer’s future pro team mate Dag Otto Lauritzen, ed.] and I believed that even though he was sitting on, I could still beat him. But later I heard that Alexi had been working on his sprint coming into the race – but you can’t go back. . .
PEZ: Famously, we’ve heard that the Barcelona Worlds were only your second pro race – what was the first?
It was with Greg Lemond and Doug Shapiro in Dortmund, a circuit race, we chucked the bikes into Greg’s Mercedes and hammered across to Germany from Belgium, rode the race then hammered back.
PEZ: Bronze in the pro Worlds behind Criquielion – that was some result, on the podium on what was a very tough circuit with the best guys in the world present.
As I said, I’d been training with Greg and Phil and those guys knew what they were about – but on top of that it was a very warm day and I was acclimatised to that with the time I spent in the Coors Classic and in LA; it suited me but I don’t think it suited a lot of the European guys.
PEZ: ‘Mengoni’ was the name on your shorts in Barcelona?
Fred Mengoni was an Italian/American who was very successful in real estate – he loved cycling and helped me and guys like Greg Lemond. He was a friend, mentor and supporter; I remember on one occasion he and I flew over to Italy so I could ride just one race – the GP Liberazione in Rome.
PEZ: A contract with La Vie Claire – a big deal but big egos?
It was fantastic, yes to be on the same team as Greg and Bernard Hinault. Ego-wise everything was good in ’85 but began to turn nasty in ’86 when Bernard pushed Greg to the limit in the Tour; albeit the way he looked at it was that no one ‘gifted’ you a Tour de France – you had to fight for it. But Greg was aggrieved because our coach, Paul Koechli had actually told Greg to ‘back off’ in ’85 when Greg had it within him to win.
PEZ: What was ‘big boss’ Tapie like, did you see much of him?
Yes, he’d appear periodically at races – his was an interesting personality, charismatic and inspirational.
PEZ: You won the Tour TTT with Greg and Bernard – that must have been a tough one?
Yeah, that was a hard day out! And it was a long one, 73 kilometres, you had to gauge the effort perfectly; but we had good leadership from Greg and Bernard, they knew the importance of pace judgement. But I was always good in TTT’s – at Motorola I was always one of the strongest, it’s always a nervous event but I enjoyed them.
PEZ: You left Tapie’s team after three seasons to go with Paul Koechli’s Weinmann-La Suisse team.
There were changes taking place, Jean Francois Bernard was the new talent in Toshiba and the team was now; ‘all for Jeff’ – as they called him. Bernard wanted Koechli out; I was Paul’s guy so I went with him when he started the new team; it was a good financial offer and I had the opportunity of leadership – it worked out for me with 1988 perhaps my best year.
PEZ: I believe Paul Koechli was an interesting character?
He was a scientist, a brilliant man with a great understanding of the intricacies of the sport – every detail. But you had to take the time to listen to him and enjoy that – some guys, like Greg just figured you should go out and be strongest! Paul would analyse your programme, look at all the data; he was a man you could trust, he had integrity, there was no wrong doing. I feel fortunate to have worked with a man like that.
PEZ: Did the wearing the maillot jaune change your life?
Yeah, it changes things for you but you have to figure out how to get it – I learned in my first Tours that it has to be early and you have to take risks. What’s ideal is if there’s a split stage with a TTT in the afternoon; in the morning no one will chase the breakaway because they’re all thinking about the TTT. And if the favourites run into a bit of trouble that helps too.
PEZ: Ronse ’88?
I could talk for an hour on that one! What the video of events doesn’t show is that the wind is coming from the left, that’s why I moved right. ‘Criq’ [the late Claude Criquielion, Belgian former World Champion who came down in the sprint with Bauer – trying to go between the Canadian and the crowd he hit the barriers and came down, ed.] said that he reckoned he was going to win by four or five lengths – so why did he try to take the short way? The legal side [Criquielion sued Bauer for damages through every level of the Belgian Legal System, ed.] of that dragged on for five years before I was finally exonerated – that took a lot of me. But you know there was another Worlds which I think were for me – Chambery 1989, I’d just won the Championship of Zurich and had good form but flatted at the top of the last climb.
PEZ: You liked working with Paul Koechli but left to join Jim Ochowitz at 7-eleven?
It was a good opportunity, Jim made me a good offer and I was very familiar with all the guys; Jim, Davis Phinney, Ron Kiefel, Andy Hampsten – it was a nice team and I said to myself; ‘best do it.’ But of course it was bitter/sweet to leave Paul’s team.
PEZ: Roubaix 1990?
You have to keep your eyes open in a sprint and I think I did that but it was a situation where my track experience worked for and against me – I used the banking to dive inside Van Hooydonck but whilst that Roubaix Velodrome is a big track the finish lines comes up quicker than you expect; neither of us did a bike throw – it was just a blur. I think I rode a perfect race but it just wasn’t my day.
PEZ: And that famous bike you rode in Paris-Roubaix?
The idea for that came from Richard Dejoncheere, the brother of our sport director and ex-pro Noel. It was powerful and efficient but it wasn’t versatile or agile enough and the acceleration wasn’t good – but it rode like a Cadillac on the cobbles! It made me realise that road bikes are the shape they are for a reason; you can get more power down or be more comfortable with other configurations but the ‘double diamond’ shape meets all needs.
PEZ: You finished your career with Saturn in the US.
I was in the autumn of my career and Jim would have kept me for another year – and I had an offer to DS from Mark Gorski at US Postal. But it was time to move on and I wanted to close at the ’96 Olympics – albeit I rode and won my final race in London, Ontario. Saturn was a good experience, I won stages for them in Germany but whilst it’s never easy to win a pro race, stepping down from the races I had been riding to a lower level meant it wasn’t as hard to win.
PEZ: The Spidertech team experience; five years you invested only for the sponsor to pull out?
It’s a hard life building a pro team; we raised a lot of dollars – but team sponsorship involves big numbers. Josee Larocque and I invested five years in the team – I’m very proud of what we did – and then Spidertech pulled out unexpectedly at the eleventh hour going against what they had promised. If they had given us time to transition then it may have been different; we had good sponsors in place – Shimano, Argon 18, Pearl Izumi, Oakley. . .
It didn’t help that it was at the same time as it came out that Lance hadn’t been doing things exactly like he’d said he had. . .
All the riders on the team were placed with other squads and Spidertech paid their salaries – they felt they owed that. It was a great product but I don’t think they marketed it properly; they saw it as a medical product but it was actually a consumer product. Albeit I think the team did a good marketing job for them and Josee and I can be proud that we helped riders like Guillaume Boivin, Antoine Duchesne, Hugo Houle and Svein Tuft become the riders that they did.
PEZ: How are Steve Bauer Bike Tours doing?
My role with CCC means that I’m not so involved as I was back in the day but Josee Larocque keeps it going – when Lance was dominating the Tour it was a good time, you didn’t need to convince folks to go to France to watch!
PEZ: And you’re still with CCC, BMC as was?
Yeah – and we’ve had a good start to the year with Paddy Bevin, Down Under – such a shame he crashed – and GVA in Valenciana. I do ‘ViP services,’ a little directing and admin. stuff; but I’ll be doing a little more DS-ing this year – I’ll be assistant DS at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne for example.
You can’t focus on any one bike race, it’s all split second decisions in bike racing. I’m proud of what we did with Spidertech; I feel we helped moulded Canadian road cycling but it did leave a void when it fell apart all those years of effort. But like I said we played our part in the career of some good bike riders.
# And they’re still talking about that ’88 Worlds sprint in the bars of Ronse to this day. #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.