Copyright © 1989, © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Did you know that before Donald Trump was buying presidential races, he was buying bicycle races? Here’s a 1989 article I wrote for Spy Magazine about the Tour de Trump, an extravaganza of cheating, demagoguery, and over-the-top hyperbole. Some things never change.
The complete article appears in a readable format after the too-small-to-read screencap of the original (below). But do take a look at the awesome Spy map, illustrated by John O’Leary. The text is keyed to it. The intro was written by Spy editor Jamie Malanowski.
Before we get started, here are some insider fun facts about the Tour (and things Spy wouldn’t print):
🚴 When Olympic gold medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov was assaulted, the only racer who stopped to help him was three-times Tour de France champion Greg LeMond.
🚴 The New York City stage almost didn’t happen. Gotham has a long and illustrious history of shaking down bike racing promoters, and Trump was no exception. His race organizer had to pony up a five-figure cash bribe to nail it down.
🚴 The finishers of Stage 1 were greeted by a mob of protesters with signs reading “Fight Trumpism” and “Eat the Rich.”
🚴 When Trump wanted to ride bitch to view the race from a support motorcycle, officials made him wear a helmet. Think his hair’s bad now? You should’ve seen it then.
🚴 Trump brought his yacht to the race. The $100 million Trump Princess was formerly Nabila, the yacht of Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. It had a disco and helipad. (When it was Largo’s Flying Saucer in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again, it had nuclear weapons.) When Khashoggi was arrested for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, Trump scored the tub at a fire sale for $29 million. In 1991 Trump sold it for $20 million to pay debts when his Taj Mahal casino went bankrupt.
Read about everything else that happened at the Tour de Trump below the following screencap. It’s a pretty solid preview of a President Trump Administration.
On Your Mark, Get Set, RUN AMOK!
Mapping the Tour de Trump’s Mishaps, Foul-Ups and Egregious Exaggerations
originally published in Spy Magazine, September 1989
Text Copyright © 1989, © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
The Tour de Trump: who can forget the fun we had? If we couldn’t join sports nuts who flew into Atlantic City to attend the showdown, then (after calling our bookies) we joined our friends in front of the TV for a festive, sure-to-be-annual Tour de Trump party….
Oops — sorry! We were thinking of the Super Bowl. Actually, the Tour de Trump was that curious event last May that, according to its namesake, was supposed to have cycling’s hottest stars and the world’s most lucrative prizes (at least three European races award more), and was generally sold as being the premier cycling race in America. Maybe it was. However, it was also certainly an over-hyped, under-scrutinized event, characterized by snafus, Wile E. Coyote shenanigans, critical errors and a remarkably casual approach to facts. Cycling expert SYDNEY SCHUSTER recaps the highlights.
TRUMP TOWER, MANHATTAN
Basketball analyst and entrepreneur Billy Packer, one of three partners attempting to launch an American bicycle race on the order of Le Tour de France, seeks the financial backing of Donald Trump. Before their meeting Packer thinks, If he asks me, “What’s the race’s name?” I’ll say, “Tour de Trump.” As Francophones know, this term actually describes a race where competitors travel around Trump’s body. Depending on which newspaper note-taker received Trump’s more accurate recollection, he replies either “You have to be kidding…. The idea’s so wild it’s going to work” or “Are you kidding? I will get killed in the media if I use that name…. You know, but it is a great shtick.”
THE PLAZA HOTEL, MANHATTAN
DECEMBER 6, 1988
This marks the third occasion on which Trump announces the race. At various times before the event, the promoters issue press releases that describe the Tour’s distance as 837 miles, 850 miles, 900 miles, 925 miles, 937 miles, 950 miles and 1,000 miles. The length is actually 782 miles. At the press conference. Trump unveils the obligatory commemorative LeRoy Neiman poster, showing a bareheaded cyclist crossing the finish line with arms upraised against a backdrop of the Atlantic City casinos. (In real life the cyclist, being helmetless, would have been disqualified.) Trump writes in the event’s official program that the Tour will feature the American debut of “the first Soviet professional team…a thrilling breakthrough in international sports history.” The Soviet team, Alfa Lum, does not show; they are racing in Spain. Trump, who has never seen a bike race in person, goes on to promise that the event will be “the most unique and spectacular event on the Eastern seaboard this year.” Unique, certainly.
MAY 5, 1989
(illustration 1) The prologue to the race is a two-mile individual time trial, in which each rider races alone against the clock and the best time wins, thus establishing a race leader. Governor Cuomo is supposed to fire the starting pistol but backs out. A Trump spokesman describes Trump’s reaction to the news: “Privately, he might be a bit angry, but publicly he didn’t flare up at all.” At the last moment Cuomo finds time in his overbooked schedule to appear.
The first stage of the Tour is a 110-mile race down to New Paltz, New York. Though Soviet amateur Viatcheslav Ekimov is the world’s fastest track racer, the pros are flummoxed when he soundly beats them on the open road. This is not because he surprises them with his ability but because he has broken a tacit rule of racing etiquette: Amateurs do not show up the pros. (2) Trump watches this leg of the race from the caravan of 100 or so support vehicles following the cyclists, his stretch limo standing out among a pack of bicycle-laden hatchbacks, vans and Jeeps.
THE PLAZA, MANHATTAN
(3) Trump wanted to start Stage Two of the Tour in front of Trump Tower, where, he had rhapsodized in the program notes, “more than 120 cyclists will explode onto Fifth Avenue.” Unfortunately, the city has regulations curtailing public gatherings on Fifth Avenue (and may well have an ordinance against exploding bicyclists), and the start is relocated to another Trump venue, the 59th Street side of The Plaza. The new location guarantees that the Tour de Trump will cross paths with the 25,000 recreational cyclists involved in the American Youth Hostels Five-Borough Bike Tour.
Though Trump promises that Mayor Koch will launch this leg, a 123-mile race from Manhattan to Allentown, Pennsylvania — “I just hope he doesn’t point the starting gun at me,” Trump says — Koch declines to make nice to his antagonist and stays home. [Trump had threatened Koch over his never-built Television City development; Koch called Trump “piggy, piggy, piggy” and “one of the great hucksters.“] In fact, the city denies the Tour a racing permit, effectively rendering the first 35 miles of this leg an escorted parade out of town. Meanwhile, little things go wrong: Clif Halsey, cycling expert for NBC (the network provides financial backing for the event as well as broadcasting it), fails to identify cycling superstar Andy Hampsten [two-time winner of Tour de Suisse, three-stage winner of Giro D’Italia, one stage win in Tour de France], and the racers discover that the hot-pink-and-black Tour de Trump race leader’s jersey bleeds profusely when washed (4).
BETWEEN GETTYSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, AND WINCHESTER, VIRGINIA
(5) The professional racers choose this stage of the race to send a subtle message to the precocious amateur, Ekimov. Fifteen or so racers surround him, grab hold of his jersey and jam a feed bag into his wheel, allowing 7-Eleven, Panasonic and PDM team members to speed away in front. Ekimov has to stop and remove the feed bag, which places him so far behind that it becomes impossible for him to win.
BETWEEN FRONT ROYAL AND CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA
(6) The amateurs retaliate. Inspired by the Soviet coach — who commands his men, “No pee-pee today!” — the amateurs burst past the professionals at the moment the pros slow down to relieve themselves. US national road champion Rishi Grewal establishes an extraordinary lead that lasts well over half the 107-mile race to Charlottesville. The pros eventually catch up, after which Grewal is “accidentally” hit by a support-crew Jeep. (7)
(8) As the pros and amateurs continue to battle extralegally, Trump chooses to watch the next stage of his Tour, a 51-mile circuit race, from the Trump Princess. Later that day in Atlantic City he brushes off the cycling press and spends his time showing the boat to bigwigs.
Pro races usually don’t end with time trials, but this one does. Because of the way time trials are held (racers go off at specified intervals), they offer Trump the picturesque vision of racer after godlike racer thundering past the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in prime time — indeed, he has it contractually stipulated that the race end this way. As befits an event run by amateurs and media hogs, the 24-mile time trial is marked by numberless incidents of hanky-panky. Racers illegally cut their times by riding in the slipstreams of their escort motorcycles. (9) Three riders converge head-on from three different directions at an intersection, meaning that at least two of them took shortcuts or wrong turns. Many riders go off course because of poorly placed markers and a lack of road marshals. One of the world’s foremost time trialists, Eric Vanderaerden, misses a well-marked turn, prompting speculations that either he was intentionally misdirected or he wasn’t exactly trying to win. Trump and his armed bodyguards commandeer official motorcycles to see the action better.
FINISH LINE, ATLANTIC CITY
After a race full of small disasters (a support van drives into a ditch, the chief motorcycle marshal totals an $11,500 BMW and a sportscaster on a motorcycle trashes an ESPN video camera), $93,150 is awarded to first-place finisher Dag-Otto Lauritzen and his 7-Eleven team, the same team that was featured earlier in the day in an elaborate three-and-a-half-minute NBC documentary — almost as if someone knew the results ahead of time.
The real winner, of course, is Trump. In return for his $750,000 sponsor fee, he has got an estimated $4.5 million worth of promotion for himself and his buildings on NBC and ESPN, reams of uncritical newspaper attention, and even some bonus publicity for his not-yet-completed Atlantic City Taj Mahal when a racer plunges into a barrier around the construction site (10).
Sports Illustrated ran a great article about the Tour de Trump, with lots of details about the racing. Read it here.
Copyright © 1989 & © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
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