What's Cool In Road Cycling

Episode 9: Goodbye Garrett

When the sun came up in Tucson, all of us expected a difficult stage on the windy, dusty, sun baked roads that wind like serpents through the desert. The morning was cold, at least by Tucson standards, with a few clouds bending and metamorphosing their way across the sky in silent observation of us. It was a beautiful scene, with Mount Lemon standing like a giant monument over it all, the fresh smell of blooming trees, the sound of laughing cyclists, and coffee being drunk by the gallon. I could definitely see why people opted to live here, but the thought of someone dying never crossed my mind.

I never knew Garrett Lemire, but this is probably a pretty fair assessment of his last morning; and I think he could only have been smiling, amongst his friends and the quiet serenity that surrounded us. I was.

For those of you unaware of what happened to Garrett, he died last Saturday (March 15, 2003) during the final laps of the second stage of the Tucson Bicycle Classic. It was no one’s fault, just one of those situations, where a bunch of chaotic circumstances led to one horrific event. Coming down the main descent on the final lap of the Cat. 2 race one of the riders had a flat, which instigated a crash and caused a bubble in the field that left some riders on the ground and Garrett and another rider in the left lane. It just so happens that the crash happened at the precise moment that a 71-year-old woman, driving a car the other direction, ended up meeting Garrett head on; it was a freak set of circumstances that could have been influenced only by the implementation of a closed road, but remains no one’s fault, other than fate itself. For Garrett Lemire, his young life was over at twenty-two, but he died doing what he loved best, and from what I have heard from his friends he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

There was a lot of discussion as to whether the Tucson Bicycle Classic would go on for the third and final stage, and as the promoters and Garrett’s family decided for it to continue many riders had already made up their minds. The following morning literally every cyclist in the race showed up for a tribute to Garrett. A moment of silence, followed by a tribute lap and then the final stage (cut short one lap for Garrett).

The air was thick and the riders were silent as we made our parade around the 5.5 mile course. The only sound was the sound of rubber on the road and chains gliding over cogs. There were cyclists standing beside the road with helmets over their hearts as we rode by, but silence all around.

As we made our way back to the start/finish line for the start of our race, I looked up, took a deep breath and followed the first attack. Somehow I was convinced that Garrett was looking down wishing that he was there, but glad that we were racing. After all, Garrett Lemire lived and died doing what he loved best, racing his bike. And I don’t think he would have had it any other way.

Rusty Beall rides for the Div. 3 Team Health Net, based in Oakland CA. Check out their website at www.mosportsgroup.com

Learn more about Rusty in our About Us section.

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