The American cycling community came together Saturday night to celebrate all that is good in their world with the induction of four new members of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame.
In a festive atmosphere at UC Davis’ Freeborn Hall, more than 300 well-wishers gathered as the Class of 2012 included mountain bike maven Susan DeMattei, road-racing veteran Rob Parsons, Olympic sprint medalist Erin Hartwell and mountain cycling pioneer and innovator Tom Ritchey.
Friends or family introduced the honored guests with video vignettes profiling each class member’s climb to cycling prominence. The clips were aired before each inductee spoke.
Santa Cruz resident Parsons, 67, is the winner of five straight Nevada City Classics in the early 1960s and earned a silver medal as a member of the 1963 Pan American Games U.S. road team.
Parsons, who retired after competing in the 1968 Olympics, continued his cycling love affair as a coach and goodwill ambassador for the sport.
He told the crowd about saving all his money from a paper route as a youth, buying an Italian bike and terrorizing older riders, earning the title The Crank Breaker.
Hartwell, who flew in from his home in Trinidad, owes his career in international velodromes to a track and field injury in high school. While rehabbing, the jovial sprinter explained, he “started to get real good on the stationary bike. One thing led to another …” and before the cycling world knew it The Kilo (as he was called) was tearing up ovals around the globe.
He medaled six times in world championships and Olympic Games during his 15-year stand as one of the planet’s top riders. Hartwell owns a conditioning and coaching business to Trexlertown, Pa.
“I’m at the stage of my life where I can do without racing, but I can’t do without riding,” Hartwell said, adding, like the rest of his class, “how much I am honored by this.”
DeMattei of Gunnison, Colo., was introduced by her husband and fellow competitor David Weins.
“He’s my best medal ever,” DeMattei quipped — this coming from the first U.S. woman ever to medal in the Olympics (a bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games).
DeMattei, who competed in many World Cup races, won the 1994 silver when the worlds championships came to her back door in Vail, Colo.
She said she couldn’t figure out how she got involved in cycling since “I was a lazy teen. I played no sports in high school…”
But as a nursing student at Chico State, she started riding: “I had no aspirations. I am just lucky it happened.”
Introduced as “the Hewlett-Packard of cycling” by his friend and fellow Hall of Famer George Mount, mountain biking pioneer and humanitarian Tom Ritchey made the roll call thanks to his many patented designs that gave birth to off-road racing.
A racer from his teen years, the owner of Ritchey Designs of San Carlos started reworking bike frames in his garage at age 15.
“I don’t have anything but from the heart prepared,” the handlebar-mustachioed Ritchey said as he thanked his mom for “allowing me to take over the family garage.” He went on to thanks his kids and friends for all their support and said the bicycle is a “freedom tool for me. … I love the simplicity of the bicycle.”
Ritchey was the founder of Project Rwanda which, over the years, provided transportation bikes for coffee growers and helped create a Rwandan cycling team.
In a somber moment, Hall of Fame President Anthony Costello recognized the recent doping controversies in road racing, a period in cycling history that may have changed the game.
“It’s been said that doping scandals … will decimate the sport; that there are no more heroes to be found or trusted,” Costello, a Davis resident, told the throng. “It’s been suggested that the whole peloton has been doping; that every team is crooked; that riders have had no choice but to play by the crooked rules.”
While saying the sport and the Hall of Fame have taken big hits from the banning of stars like seven-time Tour de France “winner” Lance Armstrong, Costello continued: “However difficult (times are), we see this as a big opportunity, a chance to right wrongs that plague the sport and to start again.
“We look for those who give more than they take (for induction); people who leave a sport better than they found it. Tonight, we’re honored and humbled to induct such individuals.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.