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Tour de France cyclist (no, not him) enjoys more leisurely Tour de Corn

Marianne Martin relished every “junk mile” of the opening day of her very first RAGBRAI.

To explain: Martin, 55, of Boulder, Colo., was a racing cyclist 30 years ago who never set out on her bike without a specific training goal in mind — build power for hill-climbing, boost her speed, work on her endurance, etc. Any ride without a clear purpose was mere accumulation of junk miles.

Yet there she was Sunday in the thick of the world’s ultimate gaudy celebration of bicycle junk mileage and gratuitous pit stops — loving every minute of it.

Martin happens to be the other Tour de France champ riding the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa this year — albeit beneath the radar and without the autograph-signing fanfare of Lance Armstrong. (If there are yet more Tour winners lurking among this pork-chomping horde, let me know.) Martin won the inaugural women’s Tour de France in 1984.

Her father, who had been opposed to her racing career in favor of more traditional, steady employment, surprised his daughter by showing up in Paris to witness the victory.

She was prodded to climb back on a bike this week by her friend and fellow former racer, Jacque Myers of Monroe, Ia.

The two first met in 1984 — probably during a cycling event in Colorado Springs or Spokane, Wash.

They reconnected two years ago during a reunion of Coors Classic racers in which Martin had been the one to coax Myers to attend.

Martin made her first visit to Iowa in March, when Myers, 49, continued lobbying her friend in earnest that they should share their first RAGBRAI.

Martin remained on the bubble until Wednesday but ultimately booked a flight to Omaha.

She decided she might be in good enough shape for RAGBRAI — despite a stiff, aching lower back — after a recent 10-hour hike in Colorado didn’t kill her. And then after witnessing the feeding frenzy Sunday in a couple of pass-through towns, she realized that being in shape was far from a RAGBRAI prerequisite.

Today, Martin is a photographer by trade. Myers, meanwhile, for 22 years has run a hair salon out of her family farmhouse.

Martin pedaled a 30-year-old yellow Vigore that wasn’t the same bike she rode in the Tour de France — that was stolen — but was manufactured from the same specs.

This duo certainly didn’t need a coach to manage Sunday’s modest hills. But they did need a guide to RAGBRAI culture. So Doug Broderson, riding his ninth RAGBRAI this year, served as their stereo-blasting guru.

It was Broderson’s sister, an Iowa Heart Center employee, and brother-in-law, an engineer for John Deere, who met on RAGBRAI and gave rise to Team Deere Heart.

This Deere Heart offshoot’s team nickname is M&M — “Martin & Myers” or “Moonshine in the Morning,” depending on whom you ask. The membership from the Prairie City-Monroe area is rounded out by Myers’ kids, Zach, 24, and Paige, 21, as well as Zach’s two roommates, Chad Harper and Clayton “Skunch” Bunch.

Myers’ husband, Tim, is the support driver because “God gave me a little more sense than to ride a bicycle.”

RAGBRAI mania is one thing. But why race in the first place?

“It might’ve had to do with cute boys,” Martin confessed.

“And then it becomes an obsession,” Myers added.

The racing, not the boys, she clarified, as her team erupted in laughter.

Martin devoted six years of her life to racing. She grew up a runner and might never have transitioned to a bike if not for a back injury around age 20.

Myers raced from age 8 to 20 — the era before biking shorts were cool. Her most cherished race was a 1981 win in which she defeated future Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter.

These two sacrificed proms and other rites of youth to their obsession — races every weekend from March or April to September or October.

“And then you really have to adjust to real life,” Martin said.

And not the sort of readjustment cushioned by millions of dollars in endorsement deals.

These women retired from racing just as the doping culture seemed to emerge on the way toward becoming an epidemic.

I can verify that the only doping Saturday night at M&M’s campsite next to the hissing traffic of the interstate was of the Doritos and Miller High Life variety.

But seriously, Myers fumes at Armstrong not as much for doping as for his denials.

Her brother, Jeff Bradley, owns a bike shop in Davenport and is friends with Greg LeMond — one of the fellow racers who incurred Armstrong’s wrath in the doping fallout.

But the point this week for these two long-retired adrenaline junkies, Martin and Myers, is the meandering RAGBRAI road ahead.

Martin waxed poetic Sunday about gazing on the rolling cornfields, blue sky decorated with puffy clouds and bucolic farmsteads in the distance.

As I struggled to keep up with the duo as they flew downhill outside of Neola, they pulled up alongside each other and slapped a rolling high five.

It kind of reminded them of what it feels like to go fast, they said in the next town.

Junk miles never felt so good.

1 Response on “Tour de France cyclist (no, not him) enjoys more leisurely Tour de Corn

John Fisher - Des Moines

July 22, 2013 at 8:39 am

I love the stories about ordinary people on RAGBRAI and this is a good one. But no matter what story I read Lance Armstrong always seems to get a mention! Why? There are people way more interesting than this autograph seeking, self centered doper in denial bicyclist. He actually thinks this is a “race” and I even hear hour much time it took him to reach Harlan yesterday. I know there are a lot of fans of his out6 there this week but I am NOT one of them. I hope I don’t run into him.
I do enjoy your articles though. Keep them coming.

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