What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Interviews: Robin Morton

There are cycling legends that everyone knows — Armstrong, Merckx, Anquetil. And then there are the groundbreakers who have worked behind the scenes to advance the sport and make it as popular as it is today. People like Robin Morton. Morton, who lives near Philadelphia, was the first woman in the history of the sport to manage a men’s professional team. She was also director of the first American professional team to compete in the Giro d’Italia.

Reported By Matt Purdue

She has directed teams and run races all over the U.S. and Europe, including the USPRO events in Philly, the Tour of Georgia and the San Francisco Grand Prix. Today she runs her own events business, G4, managed by four women.

How did you get into pro cycling?

Robin: My husband, Glenn, raced as a Cat. 2/3 on the East Coast, and we’d go to all the events. He raced for the PBC/Hill Cycle team out of Chestnut Hill, Penn., a shop run by Jerry Casale. Glenn and I became friends with Jerry, and I got more involved with sponsorship and working with them. In 1982, I met John Eustice, who used to work in Jerry’s shop.

John had just come back from racing in Europe for a number of years. He was on a pro team there with Jonathan Boyer and David Mayer Oakes. But he was tired of the grind so he came home. His dream was to put an American pro team together, and we started working together.

Then John had a horrific accident on a training ride and was in the hospital. It fell on me to keep the team going. I was working for an architect at the time, so I had to make a choice to work full-time or do this, so I quit my job. So in 1983 we had a small, domestic pro team called 7Up-Gios. John won the USPRO title that year in Baltimore; he was the national champion.

[Editor’s note: Jerry Casale now works for Pennsylvania-based Pro Cycling Tour, which stages races such as the Commerce Bank Philadelphia International Championship and the upcoming Tour of Pennsylvania U25 race. John Eustice now directs the Univest Grand Prix, a UCI race in Pennsylvania, among other events.]

And then you assembled the first American team to ride in the Giro. How did you make that leap?

Robin: John had a lot of contacts over there. There were really no American pro teams at that time; 7-Eleven was still an amateur team.

We went to the big bike show in Milan and found Gianni Motta, the ex-Giro winner. He was just starting to export bikes to the U.S. He saw a great opportunity. He found a second sponsor, so the team was called Gianni Motta-Linea MD.

Just getting to the Giro was an ordeal. We had a team of primarily Americans and did a number of races before the Giro. We had a lot of difficulties with sponsorship and money, all the problems you face when you have a small team. I went from the biggest race I’d ever worked being the Tour of Texas to getting thrown into the Giro. But all the Americans finished the 1984 Giro.

The next year we were sponsored by Xerox and Benotto, and we did the Vuelta, the Dauphine and also raced in the U.S.

Who were some of the riders people would remember?

Robin: Mike Carter; Frank Scioscia, who went on to direct the Shaklee team; Karl Maxon. For years he held the record for the longest solo breakaway in the Giro. That year he finished 13th in the time trial with no special equipment; that was the year Moser had broken the hour record, so it was very hard. Maxon rode it without disk wheels or anything.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do?

Robin: We had a lot of good top-10 and top-20 finishes, but it was really a grind on them and me. I was very inexperienced. I look back on it now and say, “What was I thinking?”

Why was it so hard?

Robin: We didn’t have a lot of money. Most of us didn’t speak Italian. The system was very different then, because the riders and personnel didn’t mix. Gianni Motta and the staff would expect me to be with them, and of course they were all men. I could not really hang out with the American riders.

The race organizers had never had a woman in the race caravan. They had to vote whether or not I could ride in the car in the Giro and also in the Dauphine. They voted yes, but I’m not sure what I would have done if they had voted no; I wasn’t going to go home. At that point, it was quite a big deal.

It’s shocking to hear that happening in the 1980s. Were you outraged?

Robin: Not really. It was a weird thing for the men, too. They had never had to deal with a woman in their midst. There were no women soignuers in Europe and women’s racing wasn’t big. I was with an American pro team, so we were already freaks. We were not prepared and had a lot less money. We looked like Martians to them. We didn’t go over there with the kind of polish the 7-Eleven team had when they went over.

Have there been any female team managers since then?

Robin: I believe there was a woman in the mid 1990s who co-managed, with her husband, a domestic men’s pro team for two seasons. I cannot think of anyone else.

And here we are two decades later and no other women directing the peloton. Is there room for a woman at the top of this sport?

Robin: I certainly see a woman in the position of general manager for a team, but the directeur sportif, I am not so sure. It is not a question of capability but one of acceptance.

So getting back to racing in Europe, you must have stayed in some dive hotels.

Robin: The places we stayed in Italy were fine, and in Italy you always eat well. But we had some tough times in 1985 at the Vuelta. We didn’t have a patron like Motta there, so they didn’t afford us the same kind of benefits we got in Italy.

We stayed at one place that had a very nice restaurant so the riders could eat well. But the hotel itself, a hotel like that in the U.S. would have been condemned. It was out in the middle of nowhere, and there was no hot water. I was the only one with a tub and hot water, so I let all the riders use my tub. The first thing I wanted to do was get in the tub, but the riders came first. Finally I got my turn and there was no hot water.

So John Eustice and our photographer went to the kitchen and came back with a green plastic tub filled with boiling hot water. So I added a little cold water and got in. I looked down and there was all this hamburger floating in the water.

And in 1986 you had a more international group?

Robin: We had an Italian-American team in 1986 through 1988 sponsored by Pepsi-Fanini. John was based in Italy, and I ran the team in the U.S. when they would come over here to race. We also had a kick-ass junior team. Jonas Carney raced for us.

Who were other riders you directed that people would remember?

Robin: Roberto Gaggioli, Mario Cipollini’s brother, who got second in the CoreStates race. Rolf Sorenson, Gregor Brown. In 1989, I managed Eurocar with Andrea Tafi and Gaggioli.

The Europeans were riding at a much higher level then. Were you able to bring European quality to the American riders?

Robin: I think we were able to do that with Gaggioli. I also learned a lot from John Eustice about how things work in the pro ranks. Roberto was very diligent and had very specific training methods. Kim Ericson was a Danish rider who raced with us, and he brought his training methods and discipline and tactics and taught a lot to our riders.

By the early 1990s, you got out of team management and went to managing events, right?

Robin: I had been to so many events and was so familiar with the system. I knew Jerry Casale and Dave Chauner, and I went to work for them at Sports & Company. I knew about courses and what it took to make a good course. But Jerry and Dave taught me the ropes on the event side.

Was it hard to leave team management?

Robin: It would have been if it had been easier to find sponsors. The only teams making any money were 7-Eleven and Schwinn-Wheaties, and then Coors. All the other teams were just eeking out enough to cover expenses. So when they offered me the job, I was already tired of the sponsorship search; I was ready to move.

And now you have your own company. How did you make the move?

Robin: Yes. Threshold lost the sponsor of the San Francisco race and Wachovia did not renew. We went through some internal changes and I left amicably. I formed my own company, G4, with Alice Armstrong, Joan Hanscom and Kristen Reiss—four women. Our company has a wider scope. We don’t just focus on races: we also do charity events, runs, corporate events and things like that.

Robin and the G4 ladies with Pat McQuaid.

So you never raced? You never turned a pedal in anger?

Robin: I never turned a pedal, period. I used to tell John Eustice I always wanted a team bike if we had a tiny little climber on the team. So someone would go to all this effort to set up this bike for me, and it would sit in the garage.

But you had a tremendous impact on the sport behind the scenes. Does it make a difference that you never raced?

Robin: For whatever reason, I had an affinity for bike racing from the beginning–and I’m not an athletic person. I think I had a good eye for racers. It was like a duck to water. Here I am 20-some years later.

What do you think of the future of the sport here in the U.S.? It seems that the pro scene in Europe is just so poisonous right now.

Robin: Things work cyclically. I’ve been in the sport for a long time. We’ve seen the Coors Classic go away, the Tour du Pont go away, San Francisco, Motorola, 7-Eleven. But there is always a rebound. I don’t think things are so bad: the cyclocross scene is booming. There are a lot of pro road teams now: BMC, Toyota, Slipstream. All in all, the state of cycling in the U.S. is good.

What about races like the SF Grand Prix. I’d like to see really strong one-day classics.

Robin: I agree. Georgia was the first big new stage race in a number of years, and that attracted a lot of competitors. But we don’t have enough one-day races. It’s one way or another. You either have a plethora of circuit races, like we had with the big, urban circuit races like San Francisco, or you have stage races. Now there are very few big one-day races. We need to find a happy medium.

Having a laugh with Bobby Julich at Trenton.

And now you’re working on a new UCI race in the U.S.?

Robin: We’ve been hired by Arlington Sports to handle the logistics for the Crystal City Air Force Cycling Classic on May 4, 2008, near D.C. It includes a charity ride, which features a metric century in the morning that is on the same closed, 11-mile circuit as the UCI pro race that follows. Then amateur crits in the afternoon. The intent is for the event to become an institution down there like the Marine Corps Marathon. We’ll have continental and U.S. pro teams racing.

You were in Europe long enough to know how accepted doping has been over there. Where do you think this issue is going?

Robin: The anti-doping issue has been completely mishandled between WADA, the UCI, ASO and the other organizations. Everyone has their own agenda in mind. And who has suffered? The riders. They have been made to look like criminals and made to suffer for something that has been sort of sanctioned by everyone for so long.

Sure some of the riders are stupid. How can some of them possibly continue to do this? But on the other hand, it’s been completely mismanaged. Take Bjarne Riis’ yellow jersey back? Those kinds of public gestures are ridiculous. Let’s forget about what people did in the past, because so many riders and managers were involved. Let’s move forward with a viable solution and stop putting so much pressure on the riders. The schedule is grueling. We tell the riders if they are caught they will have to give back their salary, but on the other hand we tell them “Win, win, win. You did not win yesterday, so we are not going to renew your contract.”

You are doing logistics for the U.S. Grand Prix of Cyclocross (USGP) now. How did you get involved in cyclocross?

Robin: Bruce Fina, who started Pedros, contacted me. They had sponsored teams of mine and we saw each other at Philly and other events over the years. He created and owns the USGP, and asked us to work with him to raise the level of these events and add things like hospitality and VIP functions that you don’t normally find in cyclocross. We started last year. It’s been a learning process, but it’s been great.

Louisville was new this year and had great participation. Papa John’s sponsored it and they sponsor a dedicated CX course down there. We also created the new Mercer Cup in New Jersey, and the finale is in the Portland area December 1-2.

For more information on g4 Productions check out their site at g4events.com

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