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Remembering Paul Sherwen

Posted by johnnieraz on December 2, 2018 at 7:25 PM

By John Rezell

     I just heard of the passing of Paul Sherwen. So sad. He was a class act.

     My primary interactions with him were back when he was the Media guy for Motorola as Lance Armstrong rose to prominence. He always managed to get me time with Lance, and was surprised when Lance would give me access other writers weren't privy to.

     My favorite Paul Sherwen story comes from the 1995 CoreStates race in Philadelphia, when Norm Alvis escaped from a late breakaway that included Lance to win. Lance disappeared immediately following the race, headed for the Holiday Inn. While every other reporter went to the press conference, I grabbed Norm right as he crossed the line for his quotes, then bolted for the hotel. I knew the true story of the race sat with Lance, and I wanted to get the scoop.

     Here is an excerpt from my book, "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong."

     RIP Paul

BEGIN EXCERPT

     Without question, the real story of the race would come from Lance. He held all the cards for the past six weeks, and held them again in Philly. It reminded me much too much of my first encounter with him in Altoona. As strong as he was, there was little doubt in my mind that Lance controlled this race. If he wasn’t going to win, he would certainly decide who would. So I ran back to the hotel, which is about a 15-minute walk from the finish area. I found Paul Sherwen in the lobby and asked if I could get the chance to talk to Lance. Paul looked stunned that I was at the hotel. He asked me, "Isn’t there a press conference going on right now?" I said, yep, it’s probably still going. "And you’re here?" This is where the story is, I said.

      He disappeared up the elevator and left me in the lobby, with all the autograph-seeking freds. We all stood there waiting. And waiting. And waiting. The autograph-seeking freds asked my advice on where to corner some unsuspecting Motorola riders, so, hey, I told them. I'd hang around the van if I were you. They disappear ... then reappear ... then disappear ... as time slows to a crawl.

      Paul comes down after 15 minutes and assures me that Lance said he will come down before jetting out of town. I believe him because, frankly, when he says it's impossible to get 30 seconds with Lance he's right, so in this case I'm confident the opposite will be true. I’m writing some of my story in my head. As time drags on I start to scribble some notes. Nearly everyone who is anyone has passed me by not once, but usually twice, en route to their rooms for luggage and then out the door heading to the airport. The only riders who haven’t come past are ones still at the press conference or drug testing.

       Paul, the quirky Brit he is, seems to be having a glorious time passing by every five minutes to see whether or not I will endure. I inform him I always get my man, just like the Texas Rangers. He tells me it's the bloody Canadian Mounties who say that. God save the Queen! Who am I to argue? For the 15th time he says Lance will be down soon. For the 15th time I inform him I'll get a cot and sleep here if I have to. Eventually I looked at my watch. I've waited an hour and 45 minutes for Lance, even though I have to write stories for six different newspapers. I know the only way out of the building is through this lobby, from the elevator. I have to take a leak something fierce, but I’m not backing down. It doesn't bother me to wait. In fact, it’s exhilarating. This, I tell myself over and over, is what separates me from everyone else. It's worth it.

      Lance eventually comes down the elevator, and we retire to the hotel pub. He sits down, orders a beer, and answers my questions, even the ones that offend him a little. He's Lance and I'm Raz, and he's just doing his job and I'm just doing mine. Lance tells me about his attack.

      "Certainly I felt strong on the climb," Lance said. "I got a nice gap, but with that distance to go, that's hard. I had four guys behind me with no teammate to neutralize them. I was doomed."

      He didn’t have a teammate because Steve Bauer crashed just at the base of Manayunk. The plan was to have Bauer bridge up to Lance. Still, Lance felt strong and wondered if he could pull it off all by himself. He held on for 11 miles, with the city of Philadelphia totally behind him. He saw the gap coming down, and eventually sat up — the cycling equivalent of throwing in the towel on that move.

       "I knew it was over," Lance said. "I was pretty tired at that point. I could have chased Norm, but then I would have just given the other guys a free ride, and frankly, I would prefer that Norm win the jersey.

      "It's hard because we made the race. We did all the work, we did all the chasing and I felt we deserved to win the race. But that's bike racing. That's the nature of the sport."

       Those are the quotes I used in my stories, which pretty much filled in the details of the moves that made the race. Including, specifically, the most revealing quote when Lance said he would prefer that Norm win the jersey.

      When Lance said that, he saw my glare that I'd been holding up my sleeve since Chann McRae won his national title in Altoona. Lance looked at me and started getting pissed right away. He knew where this was headed. So, I said, you let him win?

      "I wouldn't exactly say that," Lance said, rather snippy. "I wasn't alone, the other guys could have chased."

       You would have probably chased them down, too, right?

       "Hell yeah," he barked, not wasting a heartbeat, "because they didn't deserve it. Norm did."

       Just like Chann did? I asked.

       He stopped short. Then, he just laughed, calmed down and took a swig of his beer. He looked at me with that sparkle of respect in his eyes. We kinda looked around and realized most eyes in the bar were on us. They were watching, but keeping a respectable distance. No autograph requests. He let his look linger, then spoke up.

      "Why in the hell did you wait two hours for me to come down here?" he asked. "Why in the hell did you come over here in the first place? Why weren't you at the press conference? That was still going on when you got here."

       So, I said, you knew exactly when I got here, and you've been just testing me?

       He smiled.

       "You'd have waited another two hours if you had to, wouldn't you?" he asked.

       I nodded.

        "I don't understand you at all," he said, shaking his head again.

Listen, I said, I'm writing a story about the race. You can call me crazy if you want, but in my estimation, that race was decided the moment Norm attacked and you decided to let him go. Just like you did for Chann in Altoona. It's not quite as obvious as pulling over in the final stretch at Pittsburgh a few weeks back to let Andrea win, but it's still the same. There was only one man in that race today who had the sole power to determine who wears that jersey for the next year, and that was you. I wanted to hear your side of the story. The folks I'm writing for back in Austin want to know your side of the story. Anyone who reads an account of this race deserves to know the real story, and the only ones who will know the real story are the ones who read my story.

       Again, he just looked at me with his quizzical eyes, lost in utter disbelief, attempting to understand my perspective, but having more than a bit of trouble with it.

     END EXCERPT

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