As we approach the center of this holiday season (consumerism madness) I felt it would be appropriate to share a story about giving and self sacrifice. Damon only shared bits and pieces of this story while on long bike rides however, I think I gathered enough ingredients from him (and Jim Gentes) to bake up a tale that is not only true but could be a learning opportunity for us all.
In 2002 Damon landed a gig on the Saturn Cycling Team. From the outside he probably appeared as an overnight sensation to some folks however, that could not be any further from the truth. He already had a US Cyclo Cross title to his name (Tim Johnson might claim that, but we know the truth) and had been racing since he was 13 years old with Mike Pig. He even represented the US at the World Professional Road Race Championships - the last year you could race without a lid.
Damon was born to race courses like Philly (US Pro). It was here that he could use his smarts and climbing ability to make the crucial splits that quite often were simply due to attrition. He had the ability to always ride in the "sweet spot" it did not matter who was at the front, Damon always had a spot there. Folks had to earn that spot but if you had to ask how to get there you would never figure it out.
The 2002 version of the US Professional Road Race in Philly opened just like any other year with attack after attack after attack on the Manayunk Wall (most famous climb in US cycling). Teams would simply send out their goons to split the field every lap. Philly is a course where the strongest will always win. Team tactics will play a role, however, the sustained efforts and the 156 mile course offer no hiding.
Damon maneuvered himself into a very select group (11 riders) late in the race but more importantly he had his Canadian teammate Eric Wohlberg with him who had a world class sprint. It was looking good for those guys and at this point the name of the game was to get Eric to the line. I could only imagine what was being said over the radios. Remember that the first American to cross the line is the US Pro, needless to say at this point Saturn was looking for the win and the US Jersey.
On the last lap the attacks were going off from the likes of Hincapie, Vogels, Pate, and McRae and Damon found himself in a precarious situation - Wohlberg was coming off the back on the Manayunk wall. Without hesitation Damon dropped back to Wohlberg knowing that he just needed that little something extra and slung him over the top Dave Reid style (hand on butt and literally pushed him up and over the top of the Manayunk Wall).
The first time I heard this story it gave me goose bumps to think that he had the legs to do that but when Jim Gentes filled me in on the rest of the story and told me that when Damon dropped back to find Wohlberg the US Postal vehicle was at the front of the caravan and Johan Bruyneel and his crew witnesst the whole thing take place making it even that much sweeter. I don't need to tell you folks who Damon signed with later that year (US Postal Service). I love to hear stories where the good guys chalk up a 'W'. Damon was 6th that year and Wohlberg never recovered enough to unleash his sprint and was 17th.
For the record:
My brother-in-law (Josh Coleman) is the quintessential 'good guy' and I bet he has a half a dozen stories of self sacrifice when he played in the Rose Bowl for Fresno State.
Kluck on the Wall
And then there were 11