The anti-Armstrong: Sharon cyclist set the pace
Learning to ride a bike is akin to learning how to walk. Once you find your balance, the world opens up in a big way.
In 1982, Lon Haldeman of Sharon set the competitive bicycle world on its ear and made his first step to becoming a legend among ultra-marathon racers, riding from the Santa Monica, Calif., pier to New York City's Empire State Building in 9 days and 20 hours.
"I was a pioneer in what I was doing," Haldeman said.
Riding in what was first called the Great American Bike Race, Haldeman crossed the finish line ahead of John Howard, Michael Shermer and race founder John Marino. The foursome were dubbed the "original racers."
The coast-to-coast ultra-marathon grew into the world-renowned Race Across America (RAAM). Reto Schoch of Switzerland was the 2012 RAAM winner, covering 2,989.5 miles from Oceanside, Cal., to Annapolis, Md., in 8 days, 6 hours and 29 minutes.
In his racing heyday, Haldeman's training ritual started with a 400-mile training run from Sharon to St. Louis in 20 hours and built to a goal of 900 miles in three days with a five-hour sleep break in between 300-mile rides.
Haldeman and Pete Penseyres made a sub-eight-day transcontinental tandem bike crossing in 1987, completing the ride from Huntington Beach, Calif., to Atlantic City, N.J., in a record 7 days, 14 hours and 55 minutes. The record still stands.
Haldeman won RAAM again in 1983 and finished second in '84 and '86. Overall, Haldeman, 55, competitively bicycled across America 14 times among his 50 transcontinental rides through the 1990s without suffering an injury.
Don't confuse the RAAM with the Tour de France. The Tour de France is about 2,300 miles, features a different route each year, and runs over about three weeks because it is divided into shorter daily stages.
And don't confuse Haldeman with the former seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his Tour titles for using performance-enhancing drugs.
"I didn't want to take Tylenol," Haldeman said. "We were against anything that gave the perception we were taking stimulants. We didn't drink Coke. We didn't want to take any type of stimulant that messed up sleep breaks."
Armstrong turned bike racing into a world media event, and his reward was millions of dollars from commercial sponsors and fame unheard of for a bicycle racer.
Just as Armstrong took bicycle racing into the stratosphere, however, he brought it crashing back to Earth with his calculated doping scheme.
"In some ways, Armstrong brought sports cycling into the forefront," Haldeman said. "But now he has set it back 50 years. People think all cyclists are drug addicts."
Haldeman stands firm that not all competitive cyclists are doping, but it's hard to change the perception.
"It kind of lumped everybody together with Lance Armstrong," Haldeman said. "But does it mean because Tiger Woods cheated on his wife, all professional golfers cheat on their wives?"
Haldeman built a solid reputation among those who raced bikes unheard-of distances.
"We were folk heroes," Haldeman said. "We were the first to climb Mount Everest."
Haldeman and his wife, Susan Notorangelo, who rode tandem across the US with Haldeman, had sponsors but did not bank a great deal of money.
"We had sponsor for $100,000, but I still had to pay for my events," Haldeman said. "Susan and I had to live on the road in a van. It was neat, but we didn't make any money."
Haldeman stopped competitive racing in the '90s and started a bike tour company, Pactours, with Nortorangelo.
"I did a race with my wife on a tandem (bike), and I got sick in Oklahoma," Haldeman said. "I didn't finish the race, and it was a reality check. I was 35.
"Physically, you can race over longer distances," Haldeman said. "People in their 30s will do well, but the mental part is all consuming."
Haldeman tailors his Pactours from 175-mile-a-day adventures to trips to Peru to deliver school supplies to leisure rides around Geneva Lake.
"We made enough of a niche market for a touring business," Haldeman said. "We did OK."
Ken Veloskey is a sports writer for The Gazette.