Donald Trump, a talking tube of bronzer, is a man of leisure and failed investments. Right around the end of the 1980s, he expanded with a truly catastrophic series of investments which led him to declare his first of four corporate bankruptcies in 1991. There was Trump Airlines, Trump: The Game, and the Taj Mahal hotel and casino in Atlantic City. But less remembered is his sponsored bike race, which stands as one of the stranger episodes of American cycling history.
It was branded the Tour de Trump, a simultaneous ode to the biggest bike race in the world and the titular mortadella critter. As to why he didn’t name it after the region the race would run through, Trump said, “we could, if we wanted to have a less successful race. If we wanted to downscale it.”
Trump had big plans, of course. “This is an event that can be tremendous in the future, and it can really, very much rival the Tour de France,” he told NBC.
Veteran college basketball announcer Billy Packer helped convince Trump to sponsor the race, which he did to the tune of $750,000. The race began as a 10-stage jaunt down the East Coast from Albany to Atlantic City, and there were reportedly plans of expanding it to a cross-country tour if things went right.
The first edition drew an impressive crop of riders. Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten, the only Americans to win the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia respectively, showed up. European teams like Lotto, Panasonic, PDM, and the Soviet national team showed up. The field boasted Tour de France winners, men who’d won Paris-Roubaix, and a pretty convincing crop of secondary stars, like Dag Otto Lauritzen, who eventually won after Eric Vanderaerden got lost in Atlantic City during Stage 10.
The prize money was legit enough to make teams notice, and its spot in the calendar between the Giro and the Tour was a smart bit of timing. American crowds were reportedly small and confused, but bike racing wasn’t an East Coast sport at the time. The biggest races in the United States were in Colorado and California. The Tour de Trump was attempting to start up a new tradition, as well as bring in money and attention for Trump himself.
Cycling is an incredibly tradition-bound sport, and wedging yourself into that landscape is virtually impossible unless you, like Qatar and Dubai, have a vast reserve of money to pay everyone off to come to your far-flung event. The Tour de Trump, at least in its early iterations, had the potential to really be something. The East Coast isn’t that far from cycling’s core area, and the money, briefly, was there.
Alas, Trump’s sponsorship only lasted one more year until his funds got tight and he pulled out. The 1990 race was similar in course and stature. Mexican cycling legend Raúl Alcalá took the race after he won both time trials, and the usual mix of feisty American amateurs and Europeans tuning up for the Tour colored the race.
The DuPont Corporation took over sponsorship from Trump after he left, and they continued the tradition of giving the race a wacky name, rechristening it the Tour DuPont. DuPont had similar ambitions to Trump, and they eventually moved the race’s UCI classification up to 2.1, which made it the highest ranked race outside of Europe.
It never did become the American Tour de France. That’s probably impossible unless all the money for cycling dries up in Europe (unlikely, but it is trending dangerously). Lance Armstrong, however, won the race twice, and it continued to attract an impressive field. The race lasted until 1996, when DuPont pulled its sponsorship. This pullout came only months after the police captured John du Pont, who murdered Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.
The organizers were determined to follow through on Trump’s original plan, saying, “we’re going to continue to be America’s premier stage race. But we’re going to start a new race with a new major player.” They never did.
Trump mocked John Kerry for cycling earlier this year, and he seems to have forgotten all about his once “tremendous” bike race, which sounds about right.
Photo via Getty