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He Was the Original American in Paris

Cycling: U.S. riders are common in Tour de France today; 21 years ago, Boyer was the first.

July 23, 2002|BONNIE DeSIMONE | CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHATEAU-THIERRY, France — Now that so many American riders figure prominently in the Tour de France, it's easy to forget they were unheard of until the early 1980s.

Self-effacing Jonathan "Jock" Boyer broke the barrier with little fanfare in 1981. He was part of a winning Tour team that same year and completed five Tours, finishing as high as 12th in the overall standings.

Boyer rolled with the pack in what many consider cycling's golden era. His career spanned those of greats Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and Bernard Hinault, whom Boyer helped to the third of his five Tour victories.

The two continue to converse on the phone and exchange birthday and holiday cards every year.

"As a teammate he was golden," said Hinault, who works as a goodwill ambassador for the Tour.

"He was one of us. We didn't treat him any better or any worse because he was American. He spoke French fluently and he had already raced in France for some time, so that helped his integration into the team.

"I have nothing but good memories of him."

Boyer, 46, was born in Utah and grew up in Carmel. His middle name is Swift--as in Swift Premium--and his great-grandfather, Arthur Leonard, was president of the Chicago stockyards.

But Boyer's family wasn't particularly wealthy, and when he decided he wanted to plunge into European cycling at 17, he worked as a waiter to earn his passage.

He also took an immersion course in French, seven hours a day for nine weeks.

"I really was determined to get away from home and do my own thing," he said.

Boyer raced as an amateur in France from 1973 to 1977 before turning pro. His fellow riders were curious about his background, he said, but didn't treat him like a freak.

"The fact that I had a French name and had raced for French teams made them a little more accepting," Boyer said.

"I thought if I did well, I'd keep going. If not, I'd go home. I kept doing better."

Boyer's career almost ended when he contracted a virulent stomach bug at the 1978 world championships in Venezuela. He wasted to 125 pounds on a 6-foot frame and was forced to return to California to recuperate. He became a vegetarian in response.

"It took me two years to get that out of my system," Boyer said.

When he came back to cycling, it was in a big way--with the Renault-Gitane team led by Hinault. Boyer, then the U.S. pro champion, wore a stars-and-stripes jersey in the team's winning effort and finished 32nd overall. He was 23rd, 12th and 31st in three subsequent Tours with another French team.

Depleted by illness, he finished 98th in his swan song with the U.S.-based 7-11 squad in 1987. Boyer also rode in three Tours of Italy and placed fifth in the 1980 worlds.

His most vivid memories are of the camaraderie among riders.

"Nobody escapes suffering," Boyer said, using cycling's term for burning legs and lungs, "so it's a close-knit group."

Boyer, now runs a wholesale bike distribution business out of an old helicopter hangar in Marina, north of Monterey. He does not own a television, and follows the Tour on the Internet.

"I got tired of living over there," Boyer said of his 20 years as an expatriate. "But it was an amazing experience, and I cherish those years."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Stages

July 6--Prologue, Luxembourg, individual time trial, 4.34 miles (stage: Lance Armstrong, United States; overall: Armstrong)

July 7--Stage 1, Luxembourg to Luxembourg, 119.35 (Rubens Bertogliati, Switzerland; Bertogliati)

July 8--Stage 2, Luxembourg to Saarbruecken, Germany, 112.22 (Oscar Freire, Spain; Bertogliati)

July 9--Stage 3, Metz to Reims, France, 108.19 (Robbie McEwen, Australia; Erik Zabel, Germany)

July 10--Stage 4, Epernay to Chateau-Thierry, team time trial, 41.85 (Once; Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Spain)

July 11--Stage 5, Soissons to Rouen, 120.9 (Jaan Kirsipuu, Estonia; Gonzalez de Galdeano)

July 12--Stage 6, Forges-les-Eaux to Alencon, 123.69 (Zabel; Gonzalez de Galdeano)

July 13--Stage 7, Bagnoles-de-L'Orne to Avranches, 109.12 (Bradley McGee, Australia; Gonzalez de Galdeano)

July 14--Stage 8, Saint-Martin-de-Landelles to Plouay, 134.85 (Karsten Kroon, Netherlands; Gonzalez de Galdeano)

July 15--Stage 9, Lanester to Lorient, individual time trial, 32.24(Santiago Botero, Colombia; Gonzalez de Galdeano)

July 16--Rest day.

July 17--Stage 10, Bazas to Pau, 91.14 (Patric Halgand, France; Gonzalez de Galdeano)

July 18--Stage 11, Pau to La Mongie, 97.96 (Armstrong; Armstrong)

July 19--Stage 12, Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille, 123.69 (Armstrong; Armstrong)

July 20--Stage 13, Lavelanet to Beziers, 106.02 (David Millar, Britain; Armstrong)

July 21--Stage 14, Lodeve to Mont Ventoux, 137.02 (Richard Virenque, France; Armstrong)

July 22--Rest day.

Today--Stage 15, Vaison-la-Romaine to Les Deux-Alpes, 140.43

Wednesday--Stage 16, Les Deux-Alpes to La Plagne, 111.29

Thursday--Stage 17, Aime to Cluses, 88.04

Friday--Stage 18, Cluses to Bourg-en-Bresse, 109.43

Saturday--Stage 19, Regnie-Durette to Macon, individual time trial, 31

Sunday--Stage 20, Melun to Paris, Champs-Elysees, 89.28

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