Omar Hernandez won a stage at the Vuelta a España in 1987, and wore the leader's jersey at that same race for ten days in 1989. After he retired, his life descended into a world of severe drug and alcohol abuse, along with numerous violent encounters which often brought him close to getting killed. By his own account, Hernandez was involved in at least three shoot-outs where others tried their hardest to kill him. Eventually, he grew tired of this life, got himself clean, and became a preacher in order to help others with addiction. But before all this, Hernandez rode for the humble and little-known Pierce team in Colombia.
Pick a watch, any watch
The Pierce team was one of the smaller outfits in the Colombian peloton for much of the 1970s and 80s. Sponsored by a watch company that would later sell bikes under the same name, the team helped many of Colombia's most promising riders as they were starting out. When speaking with Colombian riders who raced during Pierce's time, the team comes up often, and always for the same reason. To me, it's one of those unusual but somehow oddly endearing stories that make cycling what it is.
Put simply, Pierce's directors and staffers would pay riders from other teams for favors with watches from their sponsor. But it's the way that these exchanges happened that often make retired cyclists laugh uncontrollably as they remember the details. According to several accounts, the exchanges occurred in the following matter:
Pierce's directors would negotiate with other teams within the race caravan. Perhaps they needed a stage win that day, maybe they wanted help chasing down a breakaway, or they needed help with their leader as he went over a climb. If the other team's director agreed, and a deal was struck.
Once the deal was agreed upon, it was time to pay the riders who would be helping Pierce with their objectives for the day. This meant that one by one, the riders involved in the deal would go back to the caravan, where Pierce's mechanics and directors would be wearing numerous Pierce watches on their left arms, as they rode on team motorcycles. The riders would go back into the caravan, and ride along the Pierce motorcycle, as they picked which watch they would be taking as payment. If Pierce needed help from several teams, staffers would be forced to wear so many watches, that their entire arm (up to their armpit) would be covered in the sponsor's finest timepieces.
Some riders were incredibly picky, and would ride along the motorcycle for long periods of time, not only looking at the watches, but then trying several on before settling on one they liked. One rider who told me about such an incident actually mimicked a teammate who was notoriously indecisive when picking watches. Another person I talked to, who was Pierce's mechanic, pointed out that the director tried to hold on to Pierce as a sponsor for as long as he could, because he knew he'd never find another company whose goods would be so portable, and so well liked by other riders.
He certainly had a point. Telling a rider to go back to the caravan to pick a watch from a Pierce mechanic was probably more appealing than having someone from Agritubel tell you to go back and pick out which cow milking enclosure you wanted. Similarly, I can't imagine many riders wanting to do work for a team like Predictor-Lotto, when all that would be in it for them would be lottery tickets and pregnancy tests. Unless, off course, the rider in question was Tom Boonen, who could readily put both to use.
A while back, I mentioned that before a race in Medellin, Colombia, I saw riders changing the brand of their bike by simply buying new stickers from an entrepreneurial young man who walked around the parking lot offering his wares. Well, as it turns out, Colombia is not the only place where such a pleasantly cavalier attitude regarding branding and corporate identity is common. The proof below was sent to me by Ruben, a reader of the blog who lives in Bali (Indonesia).
The "h" is silent.