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Aérogramme Day 09: Dag Otto Lauritzen

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Mr. Versatile

Every day he drives ahead of the Tour de France race route. Every now and then he stops his car, covered with an image of himself, announcing his own television show, and greets fans, many of whom know him by site. By all accounts Dag-Otto Lauritzen is doing pretty well, thank you.

As a professional from 1984 to 1994, Lauritzen was a respectable professional. But mostly the Norwegian, was a pioneer. Like many of the great British and Australian cyclists, Lauritzen honed his chops at the historic ACBB club in Paris, the amateur club that ushered in the first great wave of Anglo-Saxon cyclists into the professional ranks in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. And after winning the bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Lauritzen earned his first professional contract with the Peugeot team.

Words & images: James Startt
From: Vannes, France

A frequent training partner with Greg LeMond, Lauritzen was a versatile team rider capable of impressive performances of his own on occasion. Undoubtedly his moment of glory came in the 1987 Tour de France. Riding of his team leader, American Andy Hampsten, Lauritzen attacked Stage 14 in the Pyrenees, spending most of the day off the front and eventually storming to victory at Luz-Ardiden.

The victory, the first Tour victory by a Norwegian, made him a national hero and put cycling on the map in his home country. Since then, the Scandinavian country has consistently produced impressive champions like Thor Hushovd, Edvald Boasson-Hagen or more recently Alexander Kristoff. All owe something to Lauritzen.

“Winning a stage in the Tour definitely changed my life,” Lauritzen said during one of his mid-race stops. “That’s been with me ever since. You know I never thought I would be a professional cyclist. I didn’t follow the Tour de France. I only really got into cycling in 1980, after I had a bad accident. Cycling helped me regain my strength, but it opened me up to a new world.”

At the same time, the sport of cycling was opening up to a new world. Until then, the sport was largely based in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain. But the tide was changing as English, Americans and Australians streamed into the sport. After three years with the Peugeot team, he signed with 7-Eleven, the first American team to ride the Tour de France. And he fit right in. “I have great memories of those days,” say Lauritzen. “I liked riding with Andy Hampsten and there was a great atmosphere on 7-Eleven in those days was great! It was the new American team. And in many ways we were ahead of the times. We had our own cook. We had a camper. And we were good friends. In 1987 we won three stages in the Tour de France. I won my stage. Davis Phinney won the sprint stage to Bordeaux and Jeff Pierce won solo on the Champs-Elysées.”

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Looking back 7-Eleven was a pioneering team, a real precursor to the globalization that has transformed the sport in the decades that followed. But Lauritzen admits that, at the time, they felt more “like odd balls.”

Now you see that America is really on the map in cycling. Australia is there, and countries like South Africa are really coming up. Cycling is just getting so international.”

Today, Lauritzen splits his time between cycling coverage for TV2 Norway, and producing his own adventure series where he cycling, sails or climbs mountains around the world. But he says without hesitation, “I’ll keep coming back to the Tour as long as they will have me. My wife doesn’t like me being away every month of July, but I love it. The Tour is not work. It’s a lifestyle.”

Check in daily as Startt brings a different personality to Aérogramme.