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Faces in the Crowd: Steve Tilford

Still Smokin’

If you’ve ever visited long time pro cyclist Steve Tilford’s popular eponymous blog, www.stevetilford.com, you know of his outspoken opinions on the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in cycling. A story from the early days of mountain biking reveals that not all “enhancers” come in syringes or capsules, though.

It was 1984 at the second-ever NORBA National Championships in Eldora, Colo. Tilford was defending champion, having won the inaugural 1983 NORBA Nationals in Santa Barbara, Calif. on a frameset built by his long-time friend, bike mechanic and builder Kent Eriksen, re-badged as a Raleigh for his then-trade team sponsor.

“I’d had a fitful night’s sleep in [Raleigh teammate] Roy Knickman’s van,” said the 53-yr. old Tilford. “Kent was there as our mechanic but was also racing too. He pulled away from us on the first climb, but I was struggling and had a terrible start. I finally got to the top of the climb and there was this dude off to the side of the trail smoking a joint. ”

“I thought, ‘Jesus, I’ve got to at least beat this guy’”.

Tilford recovered from this debacle in the Rockies to eventually become Masters Mountain Bike World Champion in 1998, again riding one of Eriksen’s bikes. He’s had a 39-year run as a top-level cyclist, starting in 1975 as a junior. He’s entering his 5th decade of winning races on the road, in mountain biking and in cyclocross.

Photo: Jayne Liu

Steve Tilford (L) and Kent Eriksen
Photo: Jayne Liu

 

Tilford was sporting a shoulder sling in Denver after tearing several tendons and muscles in a fall during Cyclocross Nationals in Madison, Wisc. back in January. He took 1st place in the Men’s 50-55 race anyway. Battered but not beaten, Tilford went on to win the Masters 50-55 World Cyclocross Championships in Louisville, Ky. three weeks later.

A couple of years ago, after turning 50, TilfordĀ had his VO2 max tested , and he scored a world-class 84 ml/kg/min. He still takes the start line – and places well – in Pro/Am races with riders half his age.

Despite his shoulder injury, Tilford keeps upbeat about the virtues of cycling. “Cycling doesn’t tear you up like many other sports, and because of this the effects of aging aren’t as dramatic. There’s still a lot of incentive for me to race, and I still feel the excitement.”