I’m gonna bet that if you were to ask any young grom cyclist today who the first North American was to wear the yellow jersey (malliot jaune) in the Tour de France and the answer will likely point to Texas. No, it was not Lance.
Ask any “Boomer” and they might know so much about Tour de France history to say three-time TdF winner Greg LeMond. But they too would be wrong.
This edition of TBT is the perfect example of why we do it…this my friends is one of the greatest Tour stories ever told. It was one day in 1986 when the planets all aligned for a single afternoon to help make a piece of cycling history that was never repeated. Just who was the first North American to wear that coveted jersey?
The correct answer lies in the name of Alex Stieda a friendly Canadian who did the deed in his first and only July effort. Adding to Stieda’s guaranteed legacy in the TdF history books, on that first stage of the Tour, he actually held five of six possible leader’s jerseys. Sound ludicrous? How about the fact that he both won and lost the yellow jersey on the same day! Again, all adding up to one of the greatest Tour de France stories ever told.
So, read on to hear the tale is Stieda’s own words.
MY DAY IN YELLOW
“This was the first time that the 7-Eleven team competed in the Tour de France. They had raced in the Giro the year previous and that’s what gained the team a special invite for Le Tour. The race started with a 4k prologue and since I was really a crit rider I figured if I really nailed the course I might get a good place in the overall standings. So I pre-rode the course and practiced my lines in the corners. I ended up with the fastest time and held on to the position for a while. But by the end of the stage I ended up around 15th overall.
“Back then it was all so primitive compared to today…there were no rollers to warm-up on or team buses to rest in or really anything. Actually, my warm-up consisted of riding over the Eifel Tower to take some tourist shots of my bike and the tower.
BUT THAT FIRST STAGE
“So the thing that made the first stage unique was that it was made up of two races; there was an 80k road race followed by a 60k team time-trial. For me the road race was not much different from doing a criterium and there were five sprint point on the course awarding points. Since I never took feeds in a crit, I knew I wouldn’t need pockets for food – so I showed up in a skinsuit. All my teammates laughed and were ribbing because me because they all wanted to fit in and then here I go and show-up in a skinsuit! And of course to be aero I wore my cycling cap on backwards!
“About 20k in I got away by kinda riding up on the side of the road like I was go for a nature break. When I looked back and couldn’t see anyone, I knew they couldn’t see me so I just hit it. I got away for awhile until the chalkboard guy came up and let the peloton know that there was guy who was four minutes up. I was good for it because that how I always raced – you have to find a way to win.
“Eventually I did get caught, but I collected all the points bonuses along the way. I will never forget when Phil Anderson ride by and told me that I was in the lead on time. The fact that I was leading was as big a deal to me as the fact that Phil Anderson spoke to me – Phil Anderson!!
“At the finish I was awarded five of six possible jerseys (two of which are no longer awarded); yellow, white (youngest), red (intermediate sprints), polka-dot. and the combo jersey. You know it was a lot more primitive back then, the podium was just on the back of a flatbed truck. I was in a daze through it all really. I mean, there had been no grand scheme to get it done – the whole team and I were just living in the moment.
AND NOW FOR RACE TWO
“After the first race we had a few hours to rest so we all went back to the dorm room where we were staying, had some food in the cafeteria and laid out on these cots.
“We never got to pre-ride the time-trial course and since were the last ranked team and I was the last # of our squad, I was the first rider off. Remember, back then we had a ten man team so it was pretty difficult to stay organized. Pretty deep into the course there was one really sharp turn that had a traffic median on the exit which left only two line choices; either you nail it and cut to the inside or you go wide and avoid the median. Eric Heiden was a big rider and not a crit guy so he had trouble making the turn, nailed the median and crashed. We had to wait for him to get a new front wheel.
“Next as we were riding along there was a really fierce sidewind and for some reason Alexi Grewal was at the front and riding on the wrong side of the road. We were yelling at him to move but he never heard us. Finally Doug Shapiro threw his water bottle at him and it hit him square in the back. As you know, Alexi was kind of a firey guy so there were are with 20k to go and the whole tram is arguing in the cross-wind. Crazy huh?
“By that time I was spent and kept getting dropped. Jeff Pierce and Chris Carmichael stayed back and ride with me as a three man team and we just made it in before the time cut. And just like that my time in the yellow jersey was over.
IN THE END
“The one thing that I’ll always remember was when some Dutch rider rode past me on a later day when I was really struggling to stay on and he said, “Alex, you were in yellow, you’ll remember this race for the rest of your life, but you have to finish.” Those words stuck with me as I was suffering like never before, but allowed me to conserve my energy and finish on the Champs – that was the most amazing experience.
The really cool thing was that on the following day’s stage Davis Phinney got away with the break and ended up winning the stage so the team still earned a lot of respect from the Europeans. ”
Today Alex Stieda is still Justas much as cyclist as ever and makes a point to come down to California each spring to participate in the Belgian Waffle ride. For more info on Alex, head to: Alex Stieda Cycling.
Top Photo: John Pierce