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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: ‘Breaking Away’: When Kmart West Virginia Classic Was Part of Cycling’s Triple Crown

Posted by kinchendavid on July 16, 2006

Hinton, WV — It was in 1993 or 1994 — long before he became a Tour de France legend — that I saw Lance Armstrong right here in River City.

Yes, Lance Armstrong, born in 1971 in Plano, TX, was a top contender in the Kmart West Virginia Classic, now a fond but distant memory. Emulating European races, the event literally toured West Virginia, including Beckley and Hinton.

Armstrong, winner of the Tour de France seven times (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005), won American cycle racing’s Triple Crown in 1993, his first year as a professional. According to Wikipedia: ”Armstrong had a strong year in 1993, winning cycling’s “Triple Crown”—the Thrift Drug Classic, the Kmart West Virginia Classic, and the CoreStates Race (the U.S. Professional Championship).

That same year, he came in second at the Tour DuPont. He started off well in his first-ever Tour de France, a 21-stage race that is widely considered cycling’s most prestigious event. Though he won the eighth stage of the race, he later fell to 62nd place and eventually pulled out.”

As I write this, I’m watching Stage 10 of the 2006 Tour de France in the Pyrenees of southwestern France. The terrain could be in West Virginia, with a foggy stretch that reminded me of a trip (on a Yamaha motorcycle) from Snowshoe to Cass on WV’s own Route 66 – and was in the sorely missed Kmart West Virginia Classic.

I’ve never been able to find out what happened to this very important race. Maybe, like so many other things and people, it moved out of the Mountain State in search of richer, greener pastures. Quite possibly Wal-Mart is the villain, forcing competitor Kmart to cut back sponsorship.

The Tour de Georgia —more info at http://www.tourdegeorgia.com — began in 2003 and has become, according to its web site, the “top” cycling event in North America. It’s sponsored by Ford and brings great publicity to the automaker. As an avid fan of cycle racing, herewith I’m starting a one-man campaign to bring road racing back to West Virginia. I welcome feedback from HNN readers. Maybe John Raese, U.S. Senatorial candidate and CEO of Greer Industries in Morgantown could sponsor this race. When I interviewed him in June, he came across as a positive capitalist – his word – interested in doing the best for his home state. A Tour de West Virginia – how about a Greer Industries West Virginia Classic – would pump more tourist money into our state and show off the magnificent scenery with which we’re blessed. It would put a positive spin on a state that is either under the radar or belittled – a la the Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt episode. And it would be great publicity for Greer Industries and associated sponsors for each stage.

What about the “Breaking Away” reference in the headline? It refers to a 1979 movie starring Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley (a native of Parkersburg, WV) and a stellar cast. Directed by Peter Yates from an Oscar-winning screenplay by Steve Tesich, “Breaking Away” tells the story of four teens in Bloomington, Ind. One of the group, played winningly by Dennis Christopher, brings his love of cycle racing to his reluctant buddies and they overcome odds to win in the end.

It’s a four-star flick, one of my all-time favorite movies, worth looking up and watching, and it – and the success of the Tour de Georgia – could possibly inspire a sponsor to bring back road racing to West Virginia.

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4 Responses to “PARALLEL UNIVERSE: ‘Breaking Away’: When Kmart West Virginia Classic Was Part of Cycling’s Triple Crown”

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  4. I have video footage of the 1994 cycling race in Wheeling,WV. I didn’t even know Lance Armstrong was in it – I may have footage of him too. My organization hosted a viewing party that Governor Caperton attended and in addition to my planning duties, I was also responsible for getting some very shaky video. I just watched it again after many years and I found your page after a search to see if Kmart still hosted the race.

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