PEZ Retro Talk: Shelley Verses Part 2
In part 1 of the Shelley Verses story, Ed Hood took us through Shelley’s break through on to the European Pro scene. In part 2 she returns to the US for a new life, but with many memories of star riders and top races: Francesco Moser’s massage, the Italian fans and who had the best legs.
PEZ: Saturn, back to the US – why?
I had broken up with Phil Anderson and my feelings were so hurt that I did not want to see him. So I turned down my contract to go back and work with Paul Koechli. Instead, I took a job with Team Saturn which was directed at that time by Warren Gibson. It was a pro team that was racing domestically in the United States and in Mexico. I told them I would not work any race where Phil was because I just did not want to see him. After that, for a while, I worked freelance with some other domestic teams. I helped Steve Hegg’s team, Successful Living, and Chris Carmichael’s CTS program. They were both 7-Eleven teammates of mine. I also worked with Greg LeMond – one of my teammates on Toshiba – when he took his first LeMond Cycling tour over to Europe in the late 90s. That was the last time I saw my European friends over there.
PEZ: And you worked with Lance Armstrong for a while, tell us about that.
One of my 7-Eleven teammates, Mark Gorski, was the director of the U.S. Postal Service team. He asked me to work with one of his riders who had recovered from cancer. I worked with Lance for a month or so. I massaged him three or four days a week while he was training in Santa Barbara with his fiancé, Kristin.
PEZ: What was your favorite race to work on and why?
Because I lived near the course, the Tour of Flanders was my favorite race. I was so connected to the roads and the cobbles and the race’s history. The climbs on those narrow roads are just insane! Two riders can barely ride side-by-side up those bergs. The type of rider who excels at the Tour of Flanders is one who has to dig so deep.
There is also no race like the Tour de France. It is the largest sporting event in the world. People would camp out for four days in one spot to watch the race go by. When we would drive up the Alps – people were chanting the names of riders to the soigneurs driving up the mountain. It was like the parting of the Red Sea, the fans moving to the side so our car could drive through.
If I could add a piece of the Giro d’Italia into the Tour de France, it’d be to add when the Italian fans chant, “Grinta! Grinta! Che Grinta!” The tifosi would yell this to a sprinter, for example, who would be in the front group of a climb. The translation for grinta really means grit. But the literal translation in what they are saying to that rider – someone like Guido Bontempo, a big sprinter back in my day – is that they are acknowledging that he is digging down deep inside of himself into his reserve. He is in a place where he normally would not be. They are acknowledging his strength and how strong he is. We don’t have an idiomatic expression like that in English. But the meaning is so much more powerful when it’s in Italian. When the passion of an Italian fan is yelling, “grinta.” I thought how nice it would have been to see more Italian fans crossing over to France to be a fan at the races there. I just love that word, “Grinta” it’s my favorite word!
PEZ: What’s the story about you rubbing Francesco Moser’s legs at the Giro d’Italia?
In 1985, I was working for 7-Eleven, who made their debut in pro cycling at the Giro d’Italia that year. I was the soigneur on the team who went to the hotel every day because female soigneurs were taboo on the European pro tour. The prologue in Verona was the only stage that I actually worked at the race itself. We were staying nearby the course and I was supposed to get the food and everything for the stages. So Mike Neel, our director sport, wanted me to go to the prologue because our hotel was right there. He thought that would be kind of safe.
I would set up and warm up the riders. The 7-Eleven guys were used to a really different kind of set-up before races in the United States. They were used to lawn chairs and umbrellas and the like. I didn’t have the lawn chairs, but I had camping stools and I stole an umbrella from a cafe for them. So I was all set up and ready on the pavé of the time trial course by the Coliseum. This would be the first time that the press and the teams and the riders in Europe saw me.
The riders were warming up on the cobblestones and Francesco Moser rode by on his time trial bike. He was wearing the pink jersey that he had won for winning the Giro the year before. The difference between Moser’s warm-up and all the other riders was that he had a bunch of guys – like mechanics and other helpers – running after him. They had wrenches and tools and even spray for his chain. Moser saw me and our guys on these little camping stools under the umbrella and he stopped and approached my little set-up. He sat down on one of the camping stools and I started yelling at him to “get out of here.” I was used to doing that because we were the real “hot shots” when we racing in the United States. Chris Carmichael and Davis Phinney started giving me the stink eye because they knew I didn’t know who this guy was. Moser started shaking his legs with that look like, “Can I get a warm-up?”
And here, I was like, “Get this guy out of here.” Get him and his crew out of here! Who is this guy? So Moser starts speaking Italian, and motioning to his legs to see if he can get a little shake out. Then Davis came over and told me, “You have to work on this guy’s legs – like now!” I told him, “If I get in trouble, it is on you.” So I got my start oil and started working on his legs… at least his entourage got a break. So that is the story behind that little photo.
PEZ: Who had the best legs?
You know, this is going to make a lot of my riders angry, but the guy everyone on 7-Eleven called “Gomer” – Eric Heiden – had the best legs! All four years I was with the team, the soigneurs would fight over who would massage him. He was a five-time Olympic gold medallist in speed skating before he was a pro cyclist. His left leg was more developed than his right because that was the inside leg that he skated on. His legs were supple and tonic for their mass. In fact, he was approached one time by a medical textbook company to photograph his legs for their perfect anatomy. His legs were “beyond the beyond!”
PEZ: Who was your favorite rider to work with and why?
I don’t know if I can answer that question impartially. We would have to write a book! I could tell you stories about so many riders. Speaking of my 7-Eleven riders, during our first Tour de France, I ran into problems with the foreign soigneurs on our team. They were angry at the weight of “the American’s” suitcases and duffle bags. They collectively decided that they did not want to catch “so-and-so’s” bag. The culprit bags were: Eric Heiden, Raul Alcalá and Bob Roll. I couldn’t figure out why, so I opened them up.
Heiden’s bags were packed with medical textbooks from Stanford. Alcalá and Roll’s had full-sized speakers that they hooked up to their Sony Discman. To solve the problem, I told the soigneurs that I would carry these three bags for the duration of the Tour. When Raul caught wind of the weight limitation issue, he approached me; “Shelley, what about my speakers?” he asked. I said, “Raul, your speakers are fine – music relaxes you.”
That is a microcosm of my career. One of my greatest mentors in cycling was 7-Eleven Sport Director Mike Neel. He taught me how to be calm around the riders and his experience with horses was the reason. “Keep the horses quiet in the stable,” was one of his favorite sayings. He was always teaching me to not let the day’s events have any effect on the riders. If I was lost in the Dolomites or involved in some kind of chaos, he taught me the art of remaining calm in the eye of the storm. That mindset helps me to this day with my clientele and it is very Buddhist.
PEZ: Do you miss being involved in the sport?
I do. I feel like I worked in the golden era of cycling. It was a privilege to have been part of 7-Eleven, to be with Greg LeMond, Phil Anderson, Jean-Francois Bernard, etc. Those were people on my team. They were directly in my life, not to mention the riders in my every day walk. It filled me up and became so much a part of me. I feel like I have a bunch of charms on a bracelet, but at times I feel I don’t have the bracelet any more. What I mean by that is I don’t see my teammates and colleagues on a regular basis. The rhythm of the circuit still lives inside of me. When I walk through a supermarket in the spring time, I often have anxiety because I feel I should be buying race food for Ghent-Wevelgem or Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
PEZ: What do you do now?
I have a massage and health coaching clientele here in Santa Barbara, California. Everything I learned on the pro tour, I apply to my everyday work. I am always assessing my client’s bodies the way I would assess a pro rider! I typically don’t massage my clients the way I would a pro. I usually turn down the volume! I’m never bored. My clientele is varied. I massage athletes, cancer patients and non-athletes alike. In my health coaching practice, I see athletes who want to improve their recovery rate. I see women in peri-menopause and people wanting to improve their health and wellness. I coach clients to the right doctors, help them with their supplements and explain the concept and importance of “train-race-recover.”
PEZ: Do you still follow the sport?
I do as best I can. I have difficulty remembering all the riders because I am not involved in the sport day-to-day. When I don’t know something or I want to get caught up on things, I call my friend Sean Weide, who works in cycling media relations. I have never felt that Motorola, U.S. Postal Service, Jonathan Vaughters’ teams or BMC Racing have ever felt like a big American team to me like 7-Eleven did, even though they had much more money! So I have never connected to the American riders the way I did to the 7-Eleven boys. Bobby Julich, Freddy Rodriguez, Jeff Evanshine, Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie – that group stands out for me. They were great as juniors. I have always wished there was a true blue U.S. team competing in Europe like 7-Eleven was in the 80s.
PEZ: If you could have just one day of your career to re-live, which one would it be?
That’s a nice question. My first thought would be re-live a day for the riders and not for myself. I would want to have Jean-Francois Bernard win the Tour de France he never won. Or to have Phil Anderson win the Tour of Flanders he never won. Then I realized the question is for me.
Ed, I have a meandering answer with a kicker finish!
I used to love going with the soigneurs during Milano-San Remo to eat pasta. We would all stop between the second and third feeds and have lunch together. All 22 teams eating together. It was great camaraderie. We were not battling against each other. All 44 soigneurs sat at one big table and shared a meal. Then I thought – no! I would want my day to be a stage in the Pyrenees, spent with myself and my Toshiba colleagues, Alain Bizet and Alain Reverdi. We would go to this little tiny mountain restaurant in someone’s house. Everything was homemade from things in their yard: the chicken, bread, salad, omelettes, herbs and wine. It was only us in their little house-restaurant in the mountains. Then I thought I would rather have it be a regular morning, walking to the start line just one last time.
Nowadays, riders are sequestered off in their big buses. Fans and journalists aren’t able to have access to them at the starts and the finish line the way it was for me. You can’t touch them or say hi to them. On the day that I would want to re-live, I would be walking to the start – like any other day – to get my Coca-Cola water bottles. All the riders would say hello to me and give me kisses: Sean Kelly, Laurent Fignon, Urs Zimmerman, Claudio Chiappucci, Pedro Delgado, Greg LeMond, Phil Anderson, Jean-Francois Bernard and Eddy Planckaert. Those boys, those riders, were kings to me. I would be walking through a hall of kings.
If you missed Part 1, read it HERE.
Many photos are from the archives and original owners difficult to find, but to all a big thank you.
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 1,100 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.