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Book celebrates cycling team, founder's greatness on a bike seat
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Photo: Aaron Facemire
Jeff Bradley poses at his shop, the Trek Bicycle Store in Davenport. He was one of the original members of the ground-breaking 7-Eleven cycling team that won nine medals at the 1984 Olympics and became the first American team to compete in the Tour de France.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Aaron Facemire
Jeff Bradley rides along the Duck Creek bike path.
DAVENPORT -- A book celebrating the formation of Jeff Bradley's ground-breaking 7-Eleven cycling team 30 years ago reminds the Davenport West grad of his past greatness on a bike seat -- and more.

"It's amazing to look back,'' said Mr. Bradley, 50, an 11-time national cycling champion. "When I get a chance to reflect like this, I just feel really blessed.''

Released last fall, author Geoff Drake's book, "Team 7-Eleven: How an Unsung Band of American Cyclists Took on the World and Won,'' features Mr. Bradley and the six other original members of the first U.S. squad ever to compete in the Tour de France.

"That was unheard of at the time,'' Mr. Bradley said. "Now there are three fully-funded American-based teams. (Former teammate Jim) Ochowicz is still out there, and we not only compete, now we win. That was Jim's vision.

"At first we got together for the 1984 Olympics, and then after we realized some of our goals there, it was like, 'What's next?' But Jim knew what he wanted to do.''

Mr. Ochowicz made that dream happen with the money of sponsor 7-Eleven behind him and the name recognition of U.S. speed skater and Olympic gold medalist Eric Heiden as the team's co-founder.

"They were sponsoring the Velodrome at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and so the thought was to get an American team ready for the home showcase,'' said Mr. Bradley, a gold medalist at the 1983 Pan-Am Games. "And, of course, we did get there and did get on the podium.''

Americans won nine cycling medals that Olympics, and Team 7-Eleven was featured in the 1984 movie, "American Flyers,'' starring Kevin Costner.

But Mr. Bradley's bunch really hit the big time when team members Ron Kiefel and Andy Hampsten stunningly won stage races during an invitation to ride in the 1985 Giro d'Italia. That led to the Americans turning pro and getting invited to the Tour de France, and the team's subsuquent successes led to a U.S. explosion in the sport.

Yet when the call first came to join the team, Mr. Bradley was hesitant.

"I already had a pretty good thing going, racing for a team out of Ames,'' Mr. Bradley said. "We were sponsored, so we got free travel and equipment. So I really had to think about it. (Team 7-Eleven) was an upstart, but Jim and Eric had a clear vision of what they wanted to do. And with the guys they were getting, I could see they were going to get there.

"That first year we won a ton of races. We had this fancy van that was all painted up, with bike racks on it. It was an exciting time when we pulled into a town. We turned a lot of heads.''

The adventure was the perfect fit for Mr. Bradley, who was on the 1980 U.S. speed-skating team with Mr. Heiden but failed to qualify for the Olympics as one of the top three Americans.

"I was 19 and just out of high school. So this was my 'college,''' Mr. Bradley said. "I was a full-time bicycle racer at the time. My last three years of high school I wasn't around much, either. My goal was to become an Olympic cyclist and speed skater. So I was busy. I wasn't home much. I was living out of a suitcase.

"In my (speed-skating) event, the distance, I was only fifth or sixth best in the country, so I was still a ways away from realizing that dream. But on a bike, my goals were starting to become a reality. In '79, I won bronze at the Junior Time Trials. So I was hanging with the best Americans and competing with the best in the world.''

Not that anyone noticed back home.

"Cycling at the time was foreign to a lot of people,'' Mr. Bradley said. "My best friends in school were like, 'What kind of sport is that?' There was only baseball, basketball and football. Of course, it's completely different today.''

Team 7-Eleven changed that.

Mr. Bradley retired in 1987, just before America's greatest successes came on cycling's biggest stage, the Tour de France.

"Physically, I probably had another 10 to 12 years left. But mentally, it was time,'' Mr. Bradley said. "It started to become a job rather than an adventure. When you start measuring yourself by the bottom line, it becomes a real frustrating sport because there's only one winner and a lot of losers.

"Growing up, I'd win 10, 12, 15 races a year. By '87, when we had 20 guys and a lot of legitimate contenders, I was in more of a support role, and it was tough for me to handle that. It took away my fire. And that's hard to compete like that on the pro level.''

That's when Mr. Bradley joined some partners in the Davenport cycling store, On Two Wheels. He eventually took over the business and four years ago transitioned it into the Trek Bicycle Store, selling cutting-edge equipment for the nation's top brand.

These days Mr. Bradley also works with several promising young local riders on the American Equity Cycling Team. He's also contemplating retirement and recently purchased a cabin in the cycling hotbed of Cable, Wis.

"There's a lot of programs there where I can work with kids,'' Mr. Bradley said. "They also have great mountain biking and cross-country skiing. There's a lot to do there.''

Remembering the dream

Who: Jeff Bradley, 11-time national cycling champion and an original member of Team 7-Eleven, the first U.S. squad ever to compete in the Tour de France

Quote: "That first year we won a ton of races. We had this fancy van that was all painted up, with bike racks on it. It was an exciting time when we pulled into a town. We turned a lot of heads.''

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