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It’s impossible to tell the story of American cycling without Jim Ochowicz. An Olympian on the track in his twenties, he went on to become the founder of the pioneering 7-Eleven Cycling Team, which broke into the walled-off sport well-established in its traditions and ultimately paved the way for athletes from the U.S. and around the world to compete.
In his four decades at the management level of the sport, Jim has launched hundreds of careers, if not well into the thousands. His influence can be felt across that entire time period, and his stories could easily fill an entire season of a podcast, not just an episode. So in this episode, co-hosts Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt focus on the legendary 7-Eleven team and its surprisingly scrappy origins.
Originally developed in the early 1980s to focus on track cycling, the 7-Eleven team re-established America’s presence on the velodrome by the 1984 Olympics, where cycling athletes took home the first American medals in the sport in 60 years, nine total across the disciplines.
That stellar performance set the stage for the next move into the professional road cycling ranks, says Jim. The next year he took the team to Europe, assembling a bare-bones collection of sponsors, equipment and riders—just enough to compete. And some early results would lead to a fortuitous berth in that year’s Giro d’Italia—for which the team had to scramble to find more riders just to field a full team. “We were always a little bit behind the eight-ball because we didn’t know all the rules and we didn’t know how the game was exactly played yet,” says Jim. Despite that lack of knowledge, the team would snag two stage wins at its first grand tour, an incredible feat.
But even with some early results, Jim and the team had to fight for everything, whether it was securing more funds, more equipment or convincing race directors to let them compete. He provides a fascinating look into a sport that operates very differently from today, a sport where a race as big as the Tour de France would invite a team only two weeks out from the start.
As cycling has transitioned from its Eurocentric origins, where teams would be composed entirely of people from one nationality, to the truly international teams we know today, Jim has been there every step of the way.