You don?t see many mountain bikers in the section of the San Gabriel Mountains I was riding–especially in the peak of deer hunting season. This particular ride begins with a low-gear, 13-mile ascent to 5000 feet. An hour and a half had passed since my riding buddy Katrin and I had left my Trooper in the city of Monrovia–a palm-tree city, terraced into the base of the escarpment. We were huffing and puffing our way through the clouds in that dreamy state of mind caused by oxygen deprivation and muscle soreness when Tinker Juarez blew by, decked out in his Volvo/Cannondale regalia.
Hey! Tinker shouted softly and locked up the brakes. I thought I was going to run into someone I knew up here.
It was about a month after the Sydney Olympics, and I remembered that I had written a scathing editorial about our selection process and that I had been less than kind to him about his chances of placing well. Now, face to face with one of this country’s few mountain bike legends, I felt some embarrassment. Regardless of his spotty finishes of late, how many mountain bikers in this country can measure up to Tinkers cycling talent, or even aspire to match his friendly, harmless personality.
After greetings and introductions, I sincerely apologized for any ill will that my article had caused him. He smiled it off, explaining that he learned during his career, not to let the press affect him. Tinker looked taller and more powerful than I remembered. He talked freely about his poor performance in Sydney, and how the selection process and mandatory training period at the Olympic Center in Colorado Springs threw a monkey wrench into his preparation plans for the games. In typical Tinker fashion, he never pointed a finger at anyone. It was enlightening to hear about the Games from a two-time competitor.
Tinker showed no indication that he was in retirement mode. He was in the final negotiating stages to renew his Volvo/Cannondale ride, and was planning to restructure his off-season training to focus on winning the U.S national series next season. He was sure that he was strong enough to crank out some more competitive years on the XC circuit, but realistic enough to back out of World Cup competition.
Its pretty crazy at that level of competition, Were his exact words on that particular subject.
Tinker mentioned that he promised himself to fulfill three goals if he qualified for the Sydney Olympics. The first one was to reacquaint himself with his son–now 15 years old. He explained that his son had never bonded with him, and that previous meetings, besides being uncomfortable, were few and far between. Tinker made good on his promise and reported that the two spent a few weeks together riding motorcycles, fishing and exploring the south Sierra Mountains. He was as animated as I have ever seen him while he was describing the experience.
The weather was closing in, so we were forced to part company. Tinker coasted down the double track with a wave of the hand. Katrin and I returned to our climbing. On the way we passed a group of hunters. They looked very manly in their camouflage jumpsuits, carrying rifles.
I wondered if it was easier to qualify for the Olympics than it would be to reestablish a relationship with your son after ten years? Today, I thought out loud, the real man in these mountains is somewhere down there in the clouds, riding a Cannondale.