With Americans winning 10 of the last 21 editions of the Tour de France, it’s hard to believe that 1986 marked the first year an American team participated in cycling’s greatest race. Coincidently, 1986 also marked the first overall win by an American; Greg LeMond rode for the highly successful La Vie Claire team composed mostly of French riders including five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault.
In fact, at that time, American riders had only been making an impact on the European pro peloton for a handful of years – largely due to LeMond.
When Team 7-Eleven toed the line at the start of the 1986 Tour, its impact was a total unknown and many fans and teams questioned their invitation. Just as was the case this year, back in 1986, the Tour organizers personally selected every team for the race. The International Cycling Union (UCI) was just a sanctioning organization and had virtually no input into the decision on who should race. Team Director Jim Ochowicz had several meetings with the Tour bosses and the crafty “Och” somehow convinced the organization that his boys could ride.
But just getting to the starting line proved difficult for team. Early that spring, President Ronald Reagan launched a pre-emptive air strike against Libya hoping to cripple a potential nuclear threat. Fearing reprisals if they came to the continent, Team 7-Eleven canceled their entire European spring racing campaign including the distinction of being the first American team to ride the Vuelta a España, which was held in April back then.
The team had to look for the most difficult races in the States, and even those events failed to produce adequate preparation for the 100+ mile day-after-day efforts demanded by the Tour. So, the men in green, red and white hatched a plan to ride 25 – 30 miles to their US races and then ride back the same distance, thereby adding 50 – 60 miles/day to their efforts.
Click here to read more about the ground-breaking Team 7-Eleven.