Win True follows Scott Mercier’s trajectory from a kid in Telluride, Colorado, to the 1992 US Olympic Team, through his years as a professional cyclist for Saturn and US Postal Service, and his decision to leave the sport rather than participate in doping. Win True is his story of moral courage in the face of doping in professional cycling. We often hear about the consequences of making poor decisions, but Scott’s story also highlights the consequences of doing the right thing. An inspiring antidote to “win at all costs,” Win True shows that doing things the right way matters. How you win matters. Whether in sport, business, school, or relationships, Scott’s life proves there is always a choice.
We pick up this excerpt from Scott Mercier’s new book, “Win True: How you win matters, on and off the bike” at the end of the 1996 Rapport Tour in South Africa. Racing for the Saturn Professional Cycling Team, Scott held a tenuous lead going into the final two stages:
The Germans may have kept isolating me, but they couldn’t get rid of me. The day I knew I was going to win the race was after one of the intermediate time bonus sprints. The sprint was after a long climb, and once again I was on my own. There were probably eight to ten riders in this group, including three or four Germans, and Michael Rich, the Rapport Tour Champion from 1994 and my main rival. He was a decent sprinter and we were separated by only about 40 seconds for the overall lead. It was one of those rare moments where everything aligned, and I could see things happen before they actually did. I knew the Germans would lead Rich out for the sprint and that one of his teammates would try to create a gap between us.
The Russians and the Kazakhs were actually pretty gracious in these sprints. They were not trying to mess with our fight for the overall win. Rich had two teammates keeping the speed high as we got close to the sprint line, and the German Jens Voigt was on his wheel. That left me in fifth position. I knew Voigt was going to try to gap me off. He had Rich right in front of him and I just knew he was going to open up a gap to try to take me out of the sprint. It was at about 500 meters to go when Voigt started to drift off Rich’s wheel to open the gap.
We were flying at probably 35 miles an hour. As soon as I saw the gap open to a wheel length, I went by Voigt and knocked him out of the way. Now I was on Rich’s wheel, exactly where I needed to be. His last guy pulled off and the sprint started at about 200 meters to go. I went with all I had and waxed him to win the sprint. Instead of losing time in the sprint, I actually took a second out of him. They could do everything they wanted – they had four teammates. Voigt was trying to gap me off, but I was not going to lose.
I’ve got to hand it to Rich and the rest of the Germans. They fought all the way to Cape Town and kept attacking the entire way. On the last climb, Rich kept attacking and attacking, but I was able to cover his moves and with 10 kilometers to go, he sat up and shook my hand. The race finished below Table Mountain on the waterfront of Cape Town. It was a beautiful setting and a massive relief. After twelve days of racing and nearly 1,500 kilometers, I had won. And
won by just 9 seconds.
In any stage race, there is a lot of down time. Sometimes on the longer days the race will go along at a leisurely pace – almost like a touring pace. As Americans in South Africa, we were an anomaly, and we befriended many of the South African competitors. I clearly remember South African rider Jacques Louis Van Wyk telling me in his heavy Afrikaner accent: “Wait till we get to Cape Town, man. Beautiful Afrikaner women in Cape Town!”
Prior to the final stage in Cape Town, my teammate Steve Bauer had told me to pack a bag because we were going out to celebrate what was sure to be my first big win. I was wary that the celebration could be premature. “I only have a 9-second lead.” I cautioned. I had reason to be worried. During the 1995 Sun Tour, the biggest race in Australia, I’d lost on the last day after having led the entire race. It was horrible. I was in tears.
“Don’t worry about it. You’re gonna win this thing,” Steve assured me.
He was right. Riding into Cape Town was one of the more rewarding days of my professional life.
After the podium celebration, Steve and I had dinner and a few drinks by ourselves and then joined the team and the rest of the racers at the post-race party. I was in a good mood, had good reason to celebrate, and had consumed way too many drinks. The party was filled with bike racers, but there were very few women in sight. I complained to Jacques Louis: “What the hell? Where are all the beautiful Afrikaner women you promised?”
He smiled. “I know one!” The next thing I knew a beautiful petite blonde with a welcoming smile was standing in front of me.
“What are you drinking?” I asked her.
She answered, “Castle Lager,” which is the South African equivalent of a Budweiser.
“Good. Get two.” I replied.
This beautiful woman walked away without saying a word, retrieved two beers, pressed one in my hand and then disappeared. I’m sure she was thinking, What an asshole.
After that, I chased her for quite some time throughout the night and finally learned her name – Mandie – and convinced her to dance with me.
As she was leaving, I asked for her phone number. The next day I called and some guy answered the phone. It was my biggest South African rival, Andrew McClain.
Apparently Mandie hadn’t wanted to give me her real phone number, so she gave me the first number that came to mind. She probably didn’t think I’d call anyway. Andrew raced for Mandie’s dad’s team. My call to Andrew’s phone interrupted a team meeting. The entire team was discussing tactics for the upcoming stage race, The Giro del Capo, and how they could beat me and the rest of the Saturn team.
Mandie said the room went completely silent when Andrew answered his phone, turned to her, and said: “It’s Scott Mercier. He wants to talk to you.”
Our first date was at a nice restaurant on the waterfront. We took a sunset ferry around the harbor. I worked up the courage to hold her in my arms. I will never forget that night. We spent hours talking and getting to know each other, falling in love.
Racing, though, was still my first love.
The Giro del Capo was a five-day stage race around Cape Town. Andrew won the opening time trial for Mandie’s dad’s team, Deo Gloria, and I placed second for Saturn. Stage Two was a road race on rolling terrain. Andrew’s team consisted of mostly young, inexperienced riders, many of whom had not even finished the Rapport Tour. The stage started fast with lots of attacks. Andrew directed his team to chase them all down. We decided to get in on the attacks as well and Mike McCarthy attacked hard. Mike quickly got a decent gap.
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By having his team chase down all early attacks, Andrew’s strategy was for Deo Gloria to take control of the race immediately, but his young riders didn’t have the legs to see it through. They’d burned all their matches a tenth of the way into the race.
Andrew chased Mike himself. He was able to bring Mike back within a few kilometers, but I noticed that as the chase went on Andrew’s arms started flapping – a telltale sign of exhaustion. I was sitting right on Andrew’s wheel. By the time he caught Mike, Andrew’s arms were flapping like duck wings and I knew he was at his limit.
The stage was short, but there were still around 60 kilometers left to race. When we caught Mike, I decided I would attack. I instantly got a good gap and looked back to see what was happening in the race. A lone Russian rider was trying to bridge up, so I waited for him to catch me. I figured that two riders had a better chance of making it to the finish and I knew the Russians would not chase their own teammate. They also did not have a rider who had finished
within a minute of me in the time trial, so I knew he wasn’t a threat for the overall. We put our heads down and rode at a hard, steady tempo and we built a steady gap. We finished with a lead of nearly 2 minutes on the peloton.
The last stage started in predawn darkness at 6 a.m., which was an unusual early-morning start for a professional race. We didn’t know it – we were in our own little cocoon as professional cyclists – but this day also included the Cape Argus, a fun race and the largest one-day, timed cycling event in the world. All the pros were entered in the stage race for the Giro del Capo, but unbeknownst to us, we also were the kickoff to this huge, amateur cycling event. It was like the New York Marathon, only on bicycles. We didn’t realize that this last stage was also its own significant event, and not just part of overall tour standings.
With about 15 kilometers left in the race, Steve and I spotted a German rider up the road, identifiable only by his team kit. I didn’t know who he was or if he was in contention for the overall. He was several minutes up the road and we could barely see him on the climb.
“What’s going on with that guy?” I asked Steve Bauer.
“I’ll find out,” and Steve rode back to the race manager’s car.
“He’s no threat,” Rene assured. “He’s out of contention.”
While Steve was in the back of the field, having gone to the team car, I decided to attack. My impatience with this ill-timed attack caused Steve to get blown out the back.
As we were coming into the finish, on the last descent with about three miles to go, a Volkswagen bug veered onto the course. I was in the lead and in the apex of a hard-banked corner, probably going 40 mph, racing full speed. Somehow, I was able to break my line, whip back and forth, and not crash. It was the luckiest thing in the world. By that point I knew I was going to win the overall, and I crossed the line in third place to seal the deal.
On our last night in South Africa, Mandie and I went out for drinks and dancing. However, it turned out Mandie was dating a guy named Hannes. He was the only one of us with a rental car, so Steve, Mandie, Hannes, and I all went out together in his car. Every single time we went somewhere, Steve jumped in the passenger seat first. Mandie and I were left to sit together in the backseat. We went from bar to bar, from club to club, and she always had to get in the back. Steve wasn’t being an asshole because he wanted to be in the front seat. He specifically sat in the front to force Mandie to sit in the back with me. He never said anything, but I know that was why. This poor guy, Hannes. After Steve and I started getting hammered, we began calling him “Heinous.” Then we dropped the H and called him “Anus” all night long.
“Anus, you want another drink?”
“Anus, we’re ready to leave.”
“Anus, thanks for the ride!’
The guy had the worst weekend ever because he had this jackass American calling him Anus, this Canadian monopolizing the front seat, and his girlfriend relegated to the backseat with the jackass. To top it off, he flew home the next morning to Johannesburg and found out his classic convertible Mercedes had been stolen. I don’t know if I’m real proud of my behavior that weekend, but I’m still married to that petite blond Afrikaner.
So that was Steve Bauer – an awesome dude. Not only would I not have won the Rapport Tour if not for him, I wouldn’t be married to my wife, either. I think things happen for a reason. I met my wife for a reason, and we met because of her brother. He was nineteen and into cycling, and this was two years before Mandie and I met in South Africa. His name was Marius, which now is our son’s name.
August 8, 1994, Marius had gone on a solo training ride in Pretoria. He wasn’t wearing a hard- shell helmet. He was wearing one of those helmets called a hairnet, which is leather and foam. As he was leaving the city he was struck by a truck. He wasn’t going fast and the truck wasn’t going fast, but Marius fell and hit his head on the sidewalk curb. His brain started swelling.
Marius was rushed by ambulance to a private neurosurgical hospital, but he didn’t have ID on him and lost consciousness in the ambulance. The hospital would not admit him because they weren’t sure he could pay the bill. He lay in the ER for eight hours until he could be transported to a government hospital, where he waited another five hours until a physician was available to relieve the pressure on his brain. By that time it was too late and he was brain dead. It was devastating to the family, to have lost their son and brother so senselessly. The initial hospital was so motivated by profit they let a young man die. So much for the Hippocratic oath.
To deal with his grief, Mandie’s dad, Sticks, sponsored a team of his son’s friends called Deo Gloria (Glory to God). Sticks had a timber transporting business with hundreds of employees. His company harvested timber for paper mills and mines. Deo Gloria Cycling became one of the top teams in South Africa, with mostly young, aspiring riders. The veteran Andrew McClain was hired to get results and mentor the young riders. Mandie worked human resources for her dad and helped out with logistics for the team.
Mandie and I are together because of cycling. It has caused us both so much pain, but it also brings us so much joy, and it still brings us together today. We take date rides together where we can get away from work, kids, and the stress of daily life. It’s become our therapy and has helped strengthen our bond.
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