By Karen Kefauver
February 14, 2014
Link to Sentinel Article
George Koenig, 78, puts in the miles on his road bike week after week, dutifully sticking to his routine and enjoying it at a fairly relaxing pace, unlike the days when he was pushing himself to the max, training for the Olympics. While he enjoys watching the Winter Games in Sochi, he prefers pedaling with friends on scenic south Santa Cruz County roads.
Interviewing Koenig, a Pleasure Point resident and architect, gave me a bicycling morale boost after being out of the saddle since November due to a lingering cold. Koenig is modest about his athletic accomplishments and “doesn’t want to be center stage,” said his wife of 30 years, Diane Koenig. “I think he should be celebrated, but he just likes to be low-key,” she said.
Two years shy of 80, Koenig insists he has no excuse not to ride. He’s proud of the past but doesn’t dwell on results. Here’s what Koenig had to say in our recent phone conversation about cycling, Silicon Valley and being part of the USA Road Cycling Team at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
Q Tell me about your current cycling habits.
A “I ride twice a week with my friend Richard Buckminster, usually on Cox Road in Aptos. We do about 25 miles, at an elderly pace.”
Q What do you mean by an elderly pace?
A “My friend Paul Schraub said you can work out until you are 65, but after that, it’s all over. (Laughing). Being retired, I can ride in the middle of the day, at the nicest time.”
Q What’s your background?
A “I earned a living as an architect. I grew up in Palo Alto, went to Stanford, was drafted into the Army and moved to Santa Cruz in 1977. I have a son here and three grandkids.” (Koenig was the architect for the Kelly’s French Bakery Westside remodel, among other projects).
Q Are you healthy and fit?
A “I am pretty healthy and not too fit. I’m not riding far enough to get really fit. You have to ride over 100 miles a week to really start to improve, like 40 to 60 miles three times a week. “
Q What bike do you ride?
A “I have a Calfee Tetra Pro, made of carbon fiber and it’s about 15 years old.” (Craig Calfee of Calfee Designs is an internationally acclaimed bicycle frame builder headquartered in Santa Cruz County.)
Q Any other bikes?
A “I had a steel frame Rock Lobster by Paul Sadoff (another Santa Cruz County bicycle frame builder) but now my grandson has it. All of my bikes are green because I was one of the founders of (the cycling team) Tedali Alpini, and our color was green.
Q What is Tedali Alpini?
A “It means ‘Pedalers of the Alps,’ and it’s a group that I started. Our cyclists were some of the first cyclists on the Peninsula in San Jose, Belmont and Santa Cruz County. Our focus was on enjoying the ride and less on training and sprinting.”
Q What inspired you to start bicycling?
A “I grew up during World War II. We all rode bikes; they were incredibly important to get around. I got back into it when I was a Stanford student riding a funny old French racing bike with four speeds. It was quite a delight to ride.”
Q How did you transition to bike racing?
A I hatched a plan in 1955 for a big, long trip. I toured Europe on a bicycle with a friend from Stanford. We got to Rome, saw some bicycles in a store and each bought one and shipped it to the U.S. They were top-of-the-line, Lazzaretti steel bikes. When I got back and started riding it around, it was absolutely the only bicycle that looked like that anywhere around in 1955. On a road in Woodside, I met (racer) Richard Bronson and learned that there were actually people racing.
Q What took your cycling training to the next level?
A “Ricky (Bronson) and I returned to Europe in 1956 and rode more than 1,000 miles, from the coast of France across France to Switzerland and over the Alps and down into Pau Valley and into Milan, Italy.
Q How did the Olympics come into the picture?
A After training and racing in Italy, I came in fourth at the Olympic Trials for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic cycling road racing team. They took the top three to the Games. I was in the U.S. Army in 1960 and I was 24 when I made the USA Olympic road racing team for the Summer Games in Rome in 1960.
Q What was that experience like?
A “It was disappointing that I didn’t get to ride in the Olympic race. There were six of us guys on the Olympic road team and four got to ride. Of course, I had worked very hard to get there. I was ecstatic to have made the team. I felt very good about it. In that sense, it was an ambition that was fulfilled.”
Q You grew up in Palo Alto, what do you think of all the cyclists in Silicon Valley now?
A “I’ve always liked bikes and I am glad that I discovered how wonderful they are. Now bicycles are cult items that you can buy for $15,000. Where I came from, the kids don’t want yachts or airplanes as their toys, they want bicycles. They are young and want to go out and go hard. But I was the first guy out there beating myself up and I am glad I got to ride with many very accomplished riders in the area.”
Cycling columnist Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com)
is a freelance writer who is based in Santa Cruz. Also view her stories on the Sentinel’s Out and About blog at www.santacruzsentinelcom/blogs.