BikeRaceInfo: Current and historical race results, plus interviews, bikes, travel, and cycling history

find us on Facebook follow us on twitter See our youtube channel Tour of Flanders: The Inside Story South Salem Cycleworks vintage parts Neugent Cycling Wheels Cycle Italia cycling tours Cycles BiKyle Schwab Cycles Advertise with us!

Search our site:
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Email Newsletter

David L. Stanley

Goodbye Paul Sherwen, and Thanks

Back to Commentary index page

David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 

I woke up Sunday morning, December 2 and scratched my dog behind the ears for a few minutes. I reached for my phone; my dad is 87 and I’m always a little nervous that I may have gotten “that call in the night.” No call, so I scrolled through my Twitter feed and saw the gut wrenching news – it was Paul Sherwen’s kids who received that call.

I’m 60, 25 months almost to the day younger than Paul. I started racing bikes with a passion in 1979. In 1979, Paul had already turned pro for Raphael Geminiani, raced in a Tour de France, and placed top-20 in a Monument, Milan-San Remo. By 1982, I was hooked, hopelessly and desperately, on “the sport of professional bicycle racing.” In 1982, Paul won stages in one-week stage races and podiumed in the Tour de Haut Var. No, it was not Paul’s racing, fine and gutty and courageous as it was, that made me gutted to read of his passing.

Paul Sherwen

Paul Sherwen

It is not possible to reach 60 without bumping up against death. I’ve battled cancer and two pulmonary emboli myself. My brother died of cancer. A great friend died of a pulmonary embolism. Another friend died of breast cancer. Another of a glioblastoma. What is it, then, about Sherwen’s death, a man I never met, that made me well up?

I couldn’t have realized when Scott Miller dragged me to Demonstration Hall in February, 1979, to watch a Madison race on Dale Hughes’s portable track, how deeply I’d be hooked on bike racing. We went back the next night. Scott, a formidable trackie, fitted me, a casual fitness rider who was a pretty good ski racer, to a borrowed track bike. He gave me a tip or two, and shoved me onto the boards. I rode the cote d’azur for a while. Spurred on by Miller’s shouts, I began to ride higher and higher on the boards until I could look down the 24 feet on the outside of the track.

I dove down the track, clueless. I was pulling Gs. It felt exactly like carving a GS turn at 30 mph on the mountains. My life was changed forever. Oh, yeah, I crashed about ten minutes later.

It was 1986 when we first saw glimpses of Paul at the Tour. He was still actively racing at the top levels, but he set aside his regular gig during the Tour to work with Phil Liggett. With Phil, he found his post-cycling home.

In those days, we’d catch a one hour weekly update every weekend; Phil trying to get all the names in the breakaways pronounced and Paul would gently and humorously set Phil straight on matters of tactics and “inside the peloton” info. I still have those shows in my basement on videocassette. Paul would tell us about the castles along the way, and which riders preferred an isotonic drink to regular water and why. You could hear the compassion in Paul’s voice as he spoke of riders “working like Trojans” as they tried to make the time cut in an Alpine stage.

Paul knew. In 1985, he rode six hours solo in the Alps in desperation after being dropped early on as a Hinault-led attack shattered the peloton. After 6 hours, he arrived to find he missed the time cut by 23 minutes. In appreciation of his grinta, the race jury let him continue. 1985 would be Paul’s last Tour.

While Paul celebrated the panache of those at the front, it was also his compassion for the journeymen that struck me as unique. Listen to any broadcast in any sport - we always hear of the men and women who star – they are the ones who capture our attention with their uber-human acts. Yet is the rank-and-file that humanize sport. Few among us have not thought that, given a slightly different set of circumstances, perhaps we could have been that blue-collar pro.

Like Paul.

In 1995, tragedy struck the Tour de France. On 18 July, Stage 15, as he descended the Col de Portet d’Aspet in the Pyrenees, Fabio Casartelli (Motorola) crashed, struck his head, and died. The next day’s stage was ridden as a tribute and the Motorola team rolled over the finish line en masse, ahead of the bunch. As they crossed the line, Paul said, as he choked back tears, “we will always remember, that terrible day, on the roads of the Tour de France.”

Gently, always gently.

With the death of Paul Sherwen, a piece of my youth is gone. I was in my twenties. I didn’t go “On the Road” with Jack Kerouac. “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong…” may have been true for CSNY, but not for me. Me and my mates, we loaded up the bikes and started chasing the rolling circus. When we came home late Sunday evenings in July, exhausted from a couple of 50-mile downtown city center crits, we’d pop open a beer or two, flop on the couch, and watch Phil and Paul tell us what had happened in Le Tour. Gently, wisely, and with humor. Always with humor.

Bless you, Paul Sherwen and thanks.

Back to Commentary index page