We're into Time Traveller 05: The Tech. Granted there are lots of areas of tech in cycling, this week we're focussing on the bike, and one brand in particular that I've had an affinity with since stopping racing. Here's the story of Factor, and my relationship with them. This is the third of five journals about bikes, and in particular, Factor.
Rob Gitelis was born half a century ago, he is American, he lived with his father in Miami. These facts are critical because where and when they lived positioned them next door to the Carmichael brothers. The brothers, in what must have been a very eccentric hobby back in 1980’s Miami, were road cyclists, racers no less, who were so serious about it they’d travel back and forth to Europe to race. Chris Carmichael went on to become Lance Armstrong’s coach, but that’s another story.
Don Johnson, Miami, early 1980's*
Rob became fascinated by these two older boys and their weird hobby, so much so he got his own road bike after out-growing his Dad's Raleigh (a 55cm Benotto that he never grew into). He would search for magazines and books, something akin to hunting for rocking horse shit back then. Like so many of the Anglo early adopters it was the loner aspect that he loved the most - it had been the same for me back in Hong Kong in the 1990’s.
He clearly wasn’t too shabby as he found himself at the Olympic Training Center when he was 15, and went to Europe to race for the first time when he was 17, during this time he graduated High School a year early, which also says something about him, especially as he went straight to university to study and graduate with a degree in chemical engineering.
USA Olympic Training Center
During his time at university he returned to the Olympic Training Center a couple more times, but didn’t mesh with the system, due mainly to the fact that the coach, Eddy B, would refer to him as the 'Little Jewish Boy'. He decided he’d have to do it on his own and after completing university he set off for Italy to try his hand at becoming a professional bike racer.
His first team mate was Maurizio Fondriest, they were both young amateurs. Coincidentally Maurizio Fondriest was one of my idols as a young cyclist growing up in Hong Kong, and then my first team mate as a professional with Cofidis. In the words of Rob, ‘Maurizio won everything and overshadowed me, yeah, he fucked it all for me that first year.’ Maurizio went on to win the Professional worlds the following year.
Maurizio Fondriest, fucking it up for Rob, again...
He did end up turning pro in 1989, for an Italian team called RHINOFIORI based in Bassano del Grappa, north east Italy. He remained pro till 1996, the final three years with the super team ONCE, around which time he realised he’d reached as far as he’d get and stepped down a level for a year and did some random races around the world, the last of which was the 1997 Tour of Taiwan, which he won. The team liaison, Cheng Shen Kai, was hyping up the local press telling them Rob was going to live in Taiwan and marry a Taiwanese girl… Well, he was right, on to Episode Four.
*Rob did not supply photographs, so I took it upon myself to recreate his life through my mind's eye.