Bill Lynch: Coors International and ‘Lumpy’ Williams – remember two classics
While watching the Tour de France this July, I noted that there were only four American riders competing. Only one, TeJay Van Garderen, was given any chance to place near the top.
It reminded me of when the greatest American cyclist of all time, Greg LeMond, came to Sonoma and competed in the Coors Classic International Bicycle Race, one leg of which started in Sonoma and finished in Sacramento.
The Coors bicycle race started a stage in Sonoma for four years from 1985 through 1988. LeMond won the Coors Classic in 1985, the first of several years he raced here. Of course, he also won the Tour de France in 1986, 1989 and 1990.
When he won in 1986, he became the first non-European professional cyclist to win the Tour de France. His success in France and the Coors Classic in the USA were catalysts for the surge in enthusiasm for cycling in the United States.
The whole idea of bringing the world’s greatest professional bicycle racers to Sonoma started in early 1985 when a group of Sonomans, led by Dave Viviani, formed Friends of Cycling United in Sonoma (F.O.C.U.S). This local group lobbied not only for local support, but aggressively courted the organizers of the Coors stage race to include Sonoma in its plans.
They were successful. The Sonoma-to-Sacramento stage was set to start from the Plaza on Monday, Aug. 5. The route took the riders down Napa Street over to Arnold Drive up to Glen Ellen, then out Dunbar Road, across Highway 12 and up Trinity Road and eventually to Napa Valley and on to Sacramento.
Teams from all over the world, including the Soviet Union, East Germany, West Germany, France, Ireland, Columbia and the Netherlands arrived a few days early and many cyclists attended a huge American Town Picnic in the Plaza on the Thursday afternoon before the race, allowing many locals to meet and greet the athletes.
The Index-Tribune noted that while this new Coors event was an extraordinary happening for our little town, Sonoma Valley was no stranger to bicycle racing.
The pages of the newspaper dating back more than 100 years show that bicycle racing was the most important and popular sport in our community in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with competitions being held between local and out-of-town teams.
The revival of interest in bicycle racing here was largely due to the efforts of the local F.O.C.U.S group, the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau and Sonoma City officials who supported it.
Coors stopped sponsoring the race after 1988, but for four years our valley was in the middle of the American cycling scene.
As a side note: One of Sonoma Valley’s greatest bicycle racing fans and a major force in getting the Coors stage here was the late David “Lumpy” Williams, who, among other things was the executive director of the local Boys and Girls Club. He was also a stage planner for the Coors races. After Coors shut down, Lumpy had the dubious honor of being hired by the fledgling “Tour de Trump” as its venue planner and left Sonoma for a few years until that Trump project failed.
Lumpy was also Sonoma Valley’s own very special Santa Claus who passed away in October of 2012 at the age of 61.
Not a Tour de France nor a Christmas goes by that I don’t remember him and smile.