As promised, here is a story dating back to summer of 1986. Our family relocated to Rochester, NY for reasons I might explain later.. I was 15 years old, and showing more interest than ever in bicycling. Trouble is, I was a young kid in a new city with few friends and no connections in the cycling scene.
Late one Thursday afternoon, I was riding my stolen TREK touring bike (which was really a touring bike, and a few sizes too small for me), from Penfield into Brighton on route 441, where it meets East Avenue. As I approached the corner, four super-fit elite bike racers, all wearing the same team kit (GELATO FRESCO!), whizzed through the intersection in front of me. I remember how they appeared to be connected at the hip, riding two abreast in perfect unison. Like an image out of a cycling magazine... I was awestruck by the sight of them. I wanted to BE one of them. I decided then and there that this would be so, inevitably. When I snapped out of this trance, I immediately turned the corner in pursuit of the four Gelatos. With my tongue hanging out, lungs burning and legs scorched from the lactic acid, I managed to catch up to them within a couple of miles... and to meet Steve Paulini, Scott Hollenbeck, Kieran Dunne and Albert Ranieri.
"Hi! Can I ride with you guys? Where are you headed?" I blurted with a mouthful of phlegm..
These monotone words, delivered to me with an arrogance which I believed to be completely justified, changed me forever: "Training race.. every Thursday... this week it's in Victor.. follow us there."
That I did, and for the first time in my short life, I had the chance to join a club and race regularly with a great group of people, known as the Genesee Valley Cycling Club (GVCC). Needless to say, I was blown out the back of these training races about 6 or 8 weeks in a row, completely demoralized and spent, before I gained enough form to eventually finish with the main field, and later, to become a contender for the win. I did the 'A' races from day one, punishing myself mercilessly to become a better bicyclist. A couple of years later, I was an officer of the GVCC, and in the following year, at the tender age of 18, I was elected as it's president (by default because no one else wanted it).. It was during that same year that I found myself racing at an elite level, on the same racing team with two of the four original Gelatos, Scott and Kieran, who I met by chance and followed to my first race only 3 years earlier.. I have a team photo which I'll post one day..
I raced a few times with Steve Paulini, but didn't have much exposure to Albert, the undisputed leader of the old Gelato team. He was known to be a fierce competitor, with a distinguished list of results earned competing in regional and national events.. A google search did not yield any results from 20 years ago, but I believe that Albert was a podium finisher in a junior national road race during the early to mid 1980s.. Having only heard of his legendary ability, it was a treat for me to race with him for the first time in 1990, at the UB Classic Criterium (a real bloodbath of an event, known for being dangerous and filled with crashes) I loved this race, having placed well there the previous two years (4th in 1988, 3rd in 1989) The year 1990 was different though- I was on an elite amateur team, as a category two contender, and this was not an 18 and under event like the previous years. This was the big boy's race.
Our team had not less than five or six of us at the start line, and so was Albert. I made it my mission to mark him closely and not let anything develop into a breakaway. It ws fortunate that I kept a little bit of distance between us, I would later realize.. Early in the 25 lap event, which wound it's way around the bumpy, sinuous roads of the University of Buffalo campus, a prime lap was announced, the bell was rung announcing a prize fore the first to cross the finish line of the following lap. Finding myself in a favorable position in the final corner, I had thoughts of surprising everyone with a sprint to the line to claim the prize.. But he who hesitates, is lost.. because Albert was aleady out of the saddle, opening a gap on all of us about 150 meters from the finish. The rest of us gave chase, but the result was sealed.. until Albert, the perennial favorite at this event for years, hit the deck at full speed, just 20 meters from the line, and skidded in a mangled heap to the curb.. The race was neutralized until his bloody and broken body could be cleared from the course..
In the end, I take credit for sprinting to a 7th place finish at the 1990 UB Classic, better than any of my more seasoned, more experienced team mates. And several years later, during a time when I had hung my bike up so that I could get my life and career in order, I was stunned when I read the first developments of this news..
And to borrow Paul Harvey's famous line, now you know the rest of the story..
Thanks for reading.