Donald Trump and cycling … there’s actually a connection.
A couple of them.
Including the Tour de Trump race in 1989 and 1990 and then, while running for president in 2016, his use of cycling to mock John Kerry after a crash and broken leg: “… and then goes into a bicycle race at 72 years old, and falls and breaks his leg. I won’t be doing that. And I promise I will never be in a bicycle race. That I can tell you.”
Kerry wasn’t racing … he was out for a ride. And crashed. I think this is an example of how when something gets into Trump’s brain, it stays stuck in there forever. And, to him cycling will forever be linked to the Tour de Trump, which was an actual, professional race. That was somewhat successful, and did give a bit of a boost to the sport of cycling.
“I would like to make this the equivalent of the Tour de France,” Trump said before the first of the two Tours de Trump.
Here’s the story…
Remember former CBS basketball announcer Billy Packer? Well, he decided to organize a cycling race, modeled after the Tour de France, right here in the states. “I thought: Hell, Jersey’s got some mountains, and I had business investments in Atlantic City, so I know that the casinos would possibly be a sponsor,” Packer stated in a Politico story. He planned to call it the Tour de Jersey.
Then he met with Trump, who agreed to be the sponsor, and to call it the Tour de Trump. It seems the name was Packer’s idea, but I’ll bet it was easy to convince Trump.
“You wouldn’t be here doing this interview [if it had a different name],” Trump told an interviewer before the first race “A lot of the racers came actually because of the name, the name has been a plus …”
The first Tour de Trump started in Albany, New York on May 5, 1989. The race had 10 stages, was a total of 837 miles, and concluded with a final-day time trial that ended in front of the Trump Hotel and Casino on the Atlantic City boardwalk.
According to Politico: “It traversed five Eastern states and featured 114 riders from 15 countries, including Greg LeMond. There were eight professional teams and 11 amateur teams, including Sauna Diana, a Dutch squad sponsored by a brothel. In tiny town and major cities, people just had to step out their front door to witness the unusual spectacle of bicycles whizzing by. The race had become America’s premier cycling event.”
There were also protesters along the route. Protesting Trump, not the cyclists. They held up signs, including ones that read: Fight Trumpism, Trump = Lord Of The Flies, Eat the Rich.
The first Tour de Trump was won by Dag Otto Lauritzen, a Dutch rider on the American 7-Eleven team. But, since this was the Tour de Trump, there was some controversy. Eric Vanderaerden, a Belgian rider, was set to take the lead on the final time trial, but, following a motorbike, he took a wrong turn close to the finish and lost a lot of time and the chance for the win and $50,000 winner’s prize.
The second – and final – Tour de Trump was won by Raul Alcala, a Mexican rider on the PDM-Concorde team.
According to E.M. Swift in a Sports Illustrated story, the Tour de Trump was a success, sort of: “If you could get past the name, the Tour de Trump, without losing your lunch, and if you could somehow divorce the sporting event from the excess baggage that went with it— the Trump Princess, the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, the chest-Trumping cameos of King Donald himself, whose ideas for improving the Tour de Trump included adding a few laps around the White House and continuing the race to Los Angeles via Detroit, Chicago and San Francisco — what you had was a pretty nice bicycle race.”
After the second race, beset by financial setbacks, Trump pulled out, and the race eventually morphed into the Tour DuPont and continued through 1996. Lance Armstrong won the final two races.
According to Cycling Weekly: “Trump’s initial decision to sponsor the race was opportunistic, pouncing on the demise of the Coors Classic to create what would be America’s biggest bike race. No surprise then that there was no sentimentality when he decided to withdraw sponsorship, concentrating his efforts on reversing the fortunes of a number of his casinos which were in severe financial trouble.”
OK, there you go … All you cyclists out there can decide on your own if Trump is pro-cycling or anti-cycling.And what if anything that means.
One more thing: I covered the actual Tour de France back in the 1980s for the Philadelphia Inquirer and interviewed Davis Phinney who won a few stages at the Tour de Trump the following year. Here’s my story about it.