When Sean Kelly walked through BWI Airport yesterday, no one's head turned. No one rushed up and asked for his autograph. No one even looked twice.
Maybe he should have flashed his American Express card.
For Kelly was the No. 1 cyclist in the world from 1986 to 1990. The lack of recognition was a fact that didn't seem to bother Kelly, who was arriving with 70 other world-class competitors for the Tour Du Pont.But then, Sean Kelly has mixed feelings about being here, anyway.
All things considered, he'd rather be home in Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland, resting up for the Tour de France.
"This is the third time they're having this race and it is the first time it has been on my schedule," he said of the 1,100-mile race that formerly was called the Tour de Trump. "But it really wasn't on my schedule this year either. I am here, only because of this injury."
The injury is a broken collarbone, which he sustained last March in the Paris-Nice Tour, when a group of riders fell in front of him and he had nowhere to go but over them. He is here, he admits frankly, to get in shape for the Tour de France.
"I'm hoping to make this a good race," he said, "but because my form is not good at the moment, I do not expect to win."
Unless, he hedged, "I get off to a very good start over the first five or six days."
Currently Kelly is ranked sixth in the world, despite not competing in five weeks. PDM, the team he is riding for, is No. 1 in the world standings and very interested in defending last year's title, won for it by Raul Alcala, who is not returning to defend his title.
"I have heard about this race from my teammates," said Kelly, 34. "They say it is very well organized and that the riders are very well treated. Last year, in truth, the team came here with the attitude that they would use the race as a prep for the Tour de France. They didn't come thinking about winning it. But the routes were very testing and when they had the chance to go for the win, they found themselves fighting for it.
"Those circumstances could happen again."
The Tour Du Pont begins with the Prologue over a 3.1-mile course in Wilmington, Del., Thursday at 5 p.m. It then kicks off in earnest in Stage 1 Friday, with a 106-mile road race, before heading toward Columbia Saturday on a 130-mile ride through Maryland's heartland. From there it is on to Virginia and the Alleghany Mountains, before heading for Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains and then the finish back in Wilmington, Sunday, May 19.
Kelly is intent on getting his form back during these next 11 days. He is a man who has won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege twice, the Paris-Roubaix, the Ghent Wevelgem. He has won the Tour of Spain, the two Tours of Switzerland, seven Paris-Nice Tours, as well as three Tours of Ireland. Only the Tour de France has managed to escape his grasp.
With his collarbone on the mend, he is ready to put himself through whatever the Tour Du Pont has to offer. As he mentioned he doesn't expect it to be easy.
"The sport is grueling, yes. But I like it," he said. "And -- let me explain. If when you are young you are successful, you find you want to try to be good or great. If you are great, you earn good money. If I said that wasn't an important part of it, I'd be lying. I have done quite well in my career.
"But until last year, when I broke this same collarbone, I had never been injured. I had never before been unable to race. And now that it has happened twice, I'm beginning to wonder if it is a sign of age, if I'm nearing the end of my career.
"But what I have found is that while being injured, I have come to realize just how much I love what I do . . . I find I am keen to compete, that I do not want to go out of the sport, to be stopped from competing like that. I'd like to finish my career my way."
Which means riding in the Tour Du Pont, in hopes of being ready for the Tour de France.