In the hour following the conclusion of the women’s individual road race, the men lined up to begin the 118.2 mile race that would determine the best individual road cyclists in the men’s division. There were 135 participants from 43 nations racing 12 laps around the closed circuit course in Mission Viejo. The morning of the women’s race had warmed into a classic SoCal summer day and temperatures were soaring. An hour earlier, Connie Carpenter-Phinney had accepted the gold, and soon her husband of less than a year, Davis Phinney, would be expected to have an excellent chance at winning the men’s race – he had a reputation of being the best open field sprinter of his peer group.
As the riders took off at 1:00 pm, it would promise to be an eventful race. At the top of the first climb, a string of riders broke away from the pack. This would be the first instance of a breakaway in the competition. Holding together for the first fifty miles, the break started to splinter as some of the stronger rider’s kept the pace high, driving away some of the contenders from the front. A breakaway of seven riders formed on the ninth lap – three Americans, two Norwegians, a Colombian and a Canadian. The Americans included Davis Phinney, Alexi Grewal, and Thurlow Rogers (BELOW).
1984 Olympics Men’s Cycling Road Race showing Thurlow Rogers, Alexi Grewal (front), and three international competitors taking musette bags during race slide
As the seven took on the final lap, Alexi Grewal led a breakaway alone gaining around 20 seconds on the breakaway. This was a surprising move given that Grewal’s teammate Phinney was prime to win. Grewal had gold on the brain. The Canadian rider Steve Bauer caught him on the Vista Del Lago climb, which was the highest and steepest on the course at 920’ with a 12.6% grade. The two of them exchanged the lead struggling up the hill; they only had 4 miles left to go. Though Phinney was considered the best sprinter on the US team, the course was very hilly, leading him to miss the winning break.
Bauer and Grewal rode the last 10 km consistently, looking back a few times to check on the peloton. With 200 meters left, Bauer jumped for the finish but started his launch too early. Grewal, riding lower gear than Bauer, sprinted around him and won the race by a wheel’s length. Though Bauer was said to be the better cyclist, it seemed that Grewal’s desire for the win was what pushed him over the edge. His time was 4:59:57. It was the first instance in history that a man from the US won a gold medal in Olympic cycling.
A few years later it would come out that Grewal was blood doping, along with a third of the American cycling team. At the time it was not formally declared “illegal” and was a standard of practice for many teams, globally. Despite the tainted success, Grewal is still the only American to ever win the Olympic men’s road race. His Olympic gold seemed to kick off a series of wins for American cycling that would bring the sport into the national spotlight through the 80’s and 90’s.
Photos courtesy of the Mission Viejo Heritage Committee Center