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Maynard Hershon now lives in Tuscon, Arizona. It's a Real Cycling Town, he says, and one resident rider has a lot to do with that.
I moved to Tucson last October, having decided that a guy like me should live in a real cycling town. I tell you what: Tucson is a cycling town.
I've gotten used to the way people ride here. Often, when I travel, I'm amazed by the way they ride elsewhere. We're pretty doggoned law-abiding here, we Tucson cyclists, pretty courteous. Other places, riders have other ways.
When I talk about Tucson cyclists, I don't mean UofA students who ride back and forth to class, or black-socks, MS-150 club riders. I mean racers, performance riders, people who might read VeloNews. Men and women without Camelbacks.
Tucson riders don't blow through lights and stop signs, not nearly like riders from any of a dozen towns I could name. We don't flip off drivers - well, not often. We don't act as if we're somehow exempt from highway laws and the rules of common courtesy - just because we're so totally cool.
No way are we angels. We have the same impulses as riders in other places, where they do blow through stoplights, where they couldn't possibly care less about other road users. Why are our road manners better? Here's one big reason:
Gord Fraser lives here.
He's lived here more than a decade (from Ottawa, Canada). He's a big Tucson booster. He's friendly and helpful to everyone Well, not if you're trying to break into the Mercury train in the last miles of a race. Maybe not THEN.
Gord makes his living racing for the Mercury Professional Cycling Team. He's a road sprinter. That means he can ride a 100-mile hilly road race and still have energy left to jet to the finish line faster than nearly anyone else. For that critical two or 300 meters, he's a rocket ship.
Gord, should you meet him out on the road and ride with him a while, will not tell you any of this. You'll see his team bike and team clothing, but you will not hear him tell race stories or even talk much about himself.
Later on, when you mention to a buddy that you rode with "some guy named Gord today," that's when you'll find out who he is.
You don't sense that he's aware of it, but Gord is the "patron" of Tucson cycling, the unacknowledged leader. Guys respect him. Some of that respect comes from what he's accomplished; After all, this last few years he's been as successful as any pro in the world.
But other guys have done stuff, won big races here and in Europe, and they're not role models the way Gord is. No, it's not so much what he's done. It's how he IS, I think, that sets the tone here.
Because he's been racing for lots of seasons, and each of those seasons was long, from February until well into fall, Gord takes the long view. He has a certain perspective, a calmness about racing and training.
He knows that a training ride is a training ride, not the First Union Pro Championships. He knows there's no prize for getting out of town 30 seconds faster than yesterday, and no reason to upset the locals in their cars.
He doesn't TELL you any of this, mind you. He only does his ride in that calm, self-possessed way he has. Others watch him: His class and (this is the word I want) serenity set the example. The ride takes on a calm, serene aspect. I love it.
A little calmness is welcome here. Bike/car relations COULD be awful in Tucson. I believe there are three-quarters of a million people; There seem to be about two million cars, each with an impatient driver. But we don't have as much trouble as we might.
It isn't that we're all cowering on the shoulder, making nice, waving and smiling at cell-phoning soccer moms in huge SUVs. Nope. I think we're lucky; We picked the right hero.
We bike riders, like other sports fans, want to identify with some star or other, to look and act like that person. We wouldn't like some of the idols we picked if we got to know them. Here, luckily, we picked Gord Fraser.
Lucky for us in Tucson, his personal style is as fine as his finish. If you're a Tucsonan, you probably already know that. If you're not, why not come visit next winter. January and February are best. Bring your bike.
Meet the guys down on University Avenue near the Coffee Plantation, Cafˇ Paraiso and Starbucks. Lotta riders, eh? That's Gord over there in the Mercury outfit, on the Mercury Fuji. Roll out on a Tucson ride. Bet you like it.
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