In 1986, a young photo assistant named Kevin Hatt and his friend Sukeun Chun decided to drive from New York City to Colorado. Their mission: to see the first ever World Championship Road Race held in the US.
Kevin and Sukeun were not only racers, but students of all things Euro Pro. Chun managed City Cycles, a downtown Manhattan bike shop at the epicenter of bike racing in NYC. Chun was also a DJ, and the shop attracted all manner of cool characters, including Keith Haring, who famously created the artwork that became the shop’s logo.
In those days before the Internet, Kevin and his photographer friends would bring back the latest cycling jerseys, magazines and newspapers from Europe while on assignment, so the lure of seeing their heroes in person on US soil was too great to resist. The duo packed up a Volkswagen and headed west. Kevin–of course–brought a camera, and the never-before-seen images from that week will be part of a photo exhibition in the Rapha Cycle Club NYC in December.
Our NYC Cycle Club Manager Mike Spriggs sat down with Kevin over a few beers at CCNYC to get the details of the trip.
MS: Tell me how this trip came about.
KH: My best friend, Sukeun, was an adventurer. He would always just say, “let’s do this,” to some thing or another. There had been a World Championship road race in Montreal in 1974, but apart from that the European pros just didn’t come to North America. We didn’t want to miss the chance. Our only access to this level of racing was from watching World Cycling Productions VHS tapes, or buying La Gazzetta or L’Equipe at a newsstand that had European publications.
Sukeun was able to get his sister’s VW Rabbit. The trip took 3 days, and was somewhat challenging (partly because the car broke down a lot). We did have the foresight to bring a Bridgestone folding bike, which on one occasion I had to ride to a nearby Sears to buy tools to work on the car.
MS: When you arrived in Colorado Springs, what was the scene like?
KH: Well, this is the crazy part. When we got there, the first thing we thought was, “let’s check out the course.” Without really knowing where we were going, we ended up on the course, which wasn’t marked or anything. We noticed a few riders up ahead, and as we got closer we realized it was Bernard Hinault out training with a group of guys. He was very relaxed, wearing his Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses and looking as cool as he does. One of the pictures in the show was captured at that very moment. We had a sunroof in the Rabbit, and I immediately popped my head through and grabbed a few pictures. I couldn’t believe it.
MS: Did you go specifically to take photos, or to watch the race, or both?
KH: I was a photo assistant and photographer at the time, so I always had a camera with me. I went to see the event first. I was never a sports photographer, but cycling was my thing. So I always took pictures around cycling anyway, but I was a fan at this for sure.
I have to admit, I was a nervous being around all these riders. I didn’t have any credentials at all, and not a lot of film. I was shooting and running basically. Now that I look back, I think that I should have just shot like crazy. I was so close to these guys, I kept waiting to get kicked out of some “restricted area” but it never happened. I remember not seeing a lot of other photographers either. In some of the shots in the show, I was in the tent with the riders before the race. I guess they just assumed I was supposed to be there.
MS: What was the highlight of the event for you?
KH: The race is a bit of a blur. The highlight of the week might have been eating breakfast in a Denny’s next to Team Colombia. They were all there, Herrera and gang, sitting in their kits eating eggs and pancakes, and we were thinking to ourselves, “These guys are going to go out and do the World Road Race in an hour and they are eating the same breakfast as we are. This is crazy.”
That and the vivid memory of not only seeing Hinault out on the road when we arrived, but then seeing him later as he got back to the hotel. We jumped out of the car, and we witnessed him getting off his bike and handing it to his mechanic to be washed and serviced. It was one of those things you never forget, seeing a cycling hero doing all the things I had only read about but never seen. Even just watching a mechanic clean a bike was amazing to us.
MS: What was the course like? Did you guys ride at all while you where there?
KH: I remember one big climb, but besides that, it didn’t really make a huge impression. LeMond has gone on record saying it was “too easy” and that it was more about tactics than strength. Moreno Argentin was the winner, and he looked really strong.
I only rode that folding bike to Sears. I guess that doesn’t count!
MS: Do you plan on shooting the upcoming World Championships in Richmond, VA?
KH: If given the opportunity, yes!
Kevin Hatt is a photographer based in New York City. You can see his work here. His show WORLDS ’86 will be on display at the Rapha Cycle Club NYC, opening on December 9th. The photographs in the exhibition capture a unique moment in US cycling–as the sport was beginning to take off–and are all the more special in that very few images from that race have been seen.
City Cycles closed in 1988. Sukeun Chun is now the owner of Veloworx in Santa Monica, CA.
Photographer Kevin Hatt (right) with friend Sukeun Chun (middle).