Q&A: Michael Aisner

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Friday, March 17, 2006
By Michael


By Michael Franken

As part of a multi-post interview series, I am presenting a Question and Answer session with Michael Aisner. In you are unfamiliar with many of the accomplishments of this US Bicycling Hall of Famer, search for his name in any search engine, and enjoy the results.

So without any more procrastination, the Q&A with Michael Aisner.

The Coors Classic


1. Was this event (as the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic) your first taste of professional cycling?


It was AMATEUR cycling at the time. 1977 and I was asked by the President of Celestial Seasonings if I could help him with PR on his bike race, the Red Zinger. Later I bought the race for $1 from Mo and took it to Coors to sponsor and at that time I made it Pro-Am. It was the biggest such race in the world. I loved the idea that hot amateurs like this young LeMond got to race against real Euro pros and the UCI let me be an exception because we were in the USA where pro racing was miniscule. Nowhere in Eurpore were the Soviets in races against pros until the Coors. It was all armnchair quartback chat---can Soukho beat Hinault. Well here pro LeMond battled the Sovbviet monsters.....and won.

2. Did you ever expect the Coors Classic to grow as much as it did (from the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic)?


It was an evolution that was not predicable from the start because no one in America had done it before and Euro cycling was soooo alien to the American sports conciousness. So I just forged ahead recognizing its great qualities of fast, exciting, colorful, international, men/women and dangerous. I did know from the start that it could be a great TV sport and I started knocking on the network's doors almost immediately. We made a movie short that played in 35mm on the big screen in theatres around the west. Amaziungly effective promotion for Red Zinger using bike racing, and played great on the silver screen before JAWS and BREAKING AWAY.

3. Was it the best investment you've ever made (being that you purchased the event for $1 from Mo Siegel)? Was it hard in the beginning of the races when you were working as efficiently as possibe?


It was a pretty good business deal for me huh? The best I could have ever made. We had a small staff but it was supplemented by tea company staff all the way up to Mo. It was a very efficient little operation and we hammered it into what later became a 350 person road staff with 13 full-time employees and a $1 million merchandising operation.

4. How does it make you feel when you realize that your event was a key part in the careers of cyclists like Greg Lemond?


There were many sterling cycling careers started, marriages , businesses and long-term life changes that resulted from the race. Not just Americans either!! The list is long and I hear about even more occasionally. It is the most rewarding part of the whole experience. Even hearing from Bernard Hinault about it being his memorable last race of his career.

5. The Soviet Union team attended the 1981 race, one year after the US boycott the Moscow Olympics, how did the Americans react/welcome the team at the race?


They were hugely receptive. Now mind you the race was based in Boulder at the time, a highly educated and progressive community that voted 83% blue in the last election. We took the Russians and our racers into the University football stadium for July 4th fireworks with an Olympic-style flag-carrying entrance and the place went nuts when the Soviets were introduced. It was a sweet moment for me because we just did not know. I wanted wars between countries played out in sports and here for the first time the Russians came in the heart of the cold war...and to such acceptance. I think that's where humans really are--humans who want peaceful lives.

6. Think the race could ever be brought back?


It would be VERY expensive now and from a pure return-on-investment perspective, the dollars rival a Tiger Woods golf match or top three tennis players in a match. Colorado is one of the most perfect scenarios for racing in the world and I'd do anything to see it back and fully support someone running a great race here. When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Peter Coors wrote me a kind congrats and said frequently he is asked to bring the race back.

Bicycling Hall of Fame

1. How did it feel to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?


It was kinda weird because most everyone in there has competed. Here I was a race promoter but it was a great week and completely rewarding to be there with my friend Kay and a staff member who flew in from Oregon because he said the race meant so much to him. They were VERY organized there and the Hall is a wonderful time capsule for our great sport. I was extremely honored indeed.

2. Of all the cyclists in the Hall of Fame, who is most influential to you?


Each has it's own place. Mike Neal was a pathfinder as was Jock Boyer. LeMond was to us like Lance was to the Tour----hand-in-hand growing each other's images together. A great competitor he was. Connie Carpenter is high on the list and critical to the race's growth and our important stake in women's cycling. And of course there's Davis Phinney...my personal hero, friend and cohort in the race's growth. And the list goes on.....

Professional Cycling in the US

1. Since you started working in professional cycling, how has it been to see the explosion of American cycling?


I'm not sure it has been an explosion but I think Greg and then Lance have dramatically widened the influence of this sport--influence in the sense of gaining popularitry--people who actually say I WATCH BIKE RACING. The gains have been on TV but I am very encouraged by the recent Amgem California stage race which brought out crowds on the heals of years of great spectator success in Philly and San Francisco. Cycling WORKS!!! But I so believe we need to up the ante in the way it is presented. It's showtime in the zeroes and the sport must continue to grow exciting racers while becoming even MORE contemporary in its presentation. I'm afraid we are a bit unfresh.

2. What has your favorite race in the United States been?


Certainly Philly's configuration lent itself to interesting racing as in San Francisco. I love climbing. But I also liked the Dave Pelletier blitzy crit series and personally I think the Saturn one-day point-to-point here from Boulderv to Breckenridge over 14,000 feet of climbing in Colorado Len Pettyyjohn did was a perfect formula.

3. Is being a race announcer a dream job for you?


I love announcing because I think it has the entire weight of the promotion on it. I must call the race for sure but with that I am there to engage people and convert them into fans. There's too much shop-talk on PA's and even on TV sometimes. We need to invite more people in and talking UCI points and "protecting the jersey" without explanation doesn't help. I love an interaction with another announcer as a foil, where you can legitimately ask what people are thinking. For me it's great fun and a responsibility to raise energy levels and create fans I accept. And yes, it happens to be the best seat in the house.

4. Are you surprised with the amount of large tours in the US now, such as the Tour of California and Tour of Georgia? Think there will ever be a Tour of the United States? If not, why?


The United States has little to offer as a race course, unless it is RAAM -- the Race Across America. It's all about the courses. Everyday they must be captivating on TV and have fans there. Too much of the country does not warrant an event but certain regions sure do....like Colorado and certainly California.

Misc.

1. Has living in Coloado helped out your career in the cycling world?


It IS the cycling world's epicenter. This town of Boulder has had more top cyclists per capta than anywhere, and runners and tri/bi athletes. The Coors has largely been credited with starting that. They are building a monument in North Boulder Park as a testament. Good!! By Mo's design, the race and Colorado and me all coincided here, so yes.

2. You've traveled many places around the world for fun...What has been your favorite location?


I love Iceland at the top of the list. My total eclipse chasing passion has taken me to many great adventures in Hungary, Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Zimbabwe....and cycling has taken me to Britain, Malaysia, Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Russia many times. I love to travel.


3. Finally, who is your pick for the 2006 TdF now that Lance is gone?


Lance.


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Comments:
Did the Soviets show up with those goofy helmets like those portrayed in "American Flyers"? :-)
 
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