So just how fast has John Tomac been going at the U.S. National Cycling Championships this week? Well, fast enough to win a gold medal in team time trialing, and fast enough to win a bronze medal in Sunday's criterium, and fast enough to get a warning ticket on Monday from the Utah Highway Patrol.
Tomac might yet add another medal to his collection Thursday, when the road race winds up the 11 days of the '89 U. S. Nationals. He'll get that chance because Monday the UHP, after thinking it over, decided not to press charges against Tomac and his Celestial Seasonings teammates after they'd wandered onto a portion of highway that is off limits to anything without a motor on it.The Celestial Seasonings guys - who have been averaging around 30 miles an hour ever since they hit town last week and started putting the hammer to every other team - might have contended that they do have motors. Instead, they listened to what the troopers had to say, accepted their warning tickets - and stayed out of jail. It was the first time they'd been stopped all week. If only Team Crest or Team USA had red lights and a siren.
The part about them being who they were did not impress the highway patrol.
The highway that is off limits to bicycles is about a three-mile stretch from Kimball Junction to Silver Springs, where construction has been going on since roughly the end of the Korean War. Being from out of state, Tomac and his teammates were not aware of this. They had taken the road for one basic reason: It was the way back to Park City.
"That policeman who stopped us, he was pretty upset," said Tomac. "They said there was a sign, but we didn't see it. We were riding way over on the left."
Ah well, at least it didn't happen in a race. Celestial Seasonings is free to race another day, and see if, after dominating the time trial and criterium portions of the Nationals, they can do similar damage in the road race portion.
In that race - scheduled for Thursday in Deer Valley, where all vehicles with motors will be prohibited - all eyes will not only be on anyone wearing a Celestial Seasonings jersey, but in particular on Tomac. Coming into the '89 Nationals, he was one of the top individual favorites, and after Sunday's criterium, when he was a model teammate who blocked the pack for much of the race before moving to the front to finish with teammates Matt Newberry and Jim Copeland, the general thinking is that this is a racer with an extra set of gears.
For a couple of years now, he has given indications that he is America's best up-and-coming cyclist. Last year he was both the national mountain bike and road bike criterium champion. This year, besides the two medals he's won already this week at the Nationals, he served notice that he is certainly America's top amateur. In the Tour de Trump in May he was the top U.S. amateur, and 17th individual overall. And in England's prestigious Milk Race in June he was 15th individually, and the top U.S. finisher, amateur or professional.
It's all well and good with Tomac, who is yet to hit his 22nd birthday. It gives him an excuse to ride his bikes. He's really never met a bike he hasn't liked. He started racing BMX dirt bikes when he was 7. He's been on one frame or another most of his waking hours ever since.
He raced the BMX versions for 10 years, winning a national championship at 16 and turning pro at 17. He might have stayed a BMX pro except, after high school, he moved to Los Angeles to train and go to school and was introduced to mountain bikes. Within a year, he was winning championships on them, too.
It was only natural that the road bikes would come along next, and he would accumulate championships on the asphalt as well.
Tomac - who might otherwise get slightly cocky after conquering all these different kinds of bikes and different types of terrain - says he tries to keep it all in perspective by recognizing where he's been, which is to say on the seat of one kind of bike or another for the last 14 years.
"I don't think I have so much natural ability," he says. "It's just that I've been on a bike so long."
He hopes to stay on for a good long while to come. Next year, if the right contract comes along, he says he'll consider turning professional, and then aim for races at the top of the sport, such as the Tour de France.
But for now, there's one more national championship to try and conquer. On a Deer Valley road course where nobody's going to tell you to pull over, and even if they do you're not going to listen, put down John Tomac as one of the heavier favorites.