In late February of 1996, I was invited to come to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. This was the year of the Atlanta Olympics, and I was in the running—barely, but in the running nevertheless—for one of the two mountain-bike team spots. Of course the mountain bikers, and the men's Under-23 development team, did not rate highly within USA Cycling's hierarchy, so we were exiled to a motel in Alpine, about 30 miles northeast of the training center.
Parked in the motel's lot, along with a half-dozen or so border-patrol vehicles, was a 1979 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van. Other than it being old and pretty rare, the Westfalia wouldn't have been cause for much notice—had it not been for the fact that one of the U-23 team riders, a guy named Greg Randolph, seemed to be living in it. Later that year, the free-spirited Randolph represented the United States in the Olympics, as a member of the road team built around Lance Armstrong.
Randolph's rise to the upper echelon of American cycling was fairly meteoric. Though he admits to having pored over the pages of Winning magazine back when he was in the seventh or eighth grade, it was a chance meeting with some bike riders at a party during his freshman year at the University of Idaho that pointed him toward cycling. He'd previously had his sights set on joining the rugby team.
They talked him into joining them on a group ride. Needless to say, he liked it. Both in the pages of Winning and out on the road, it was the gritty and adversarial nature of the sport that really spoke to him. He says he would often, "come home with frozen feet and fingers, eat, like, 20 pieces of pizza and pass out."
Randolph went to the U.S. National Time-Trial Championship with a normal road bike and a cobbled together "disc" wheel. He won, and attracted the attention of national-team coach Roy Knickman.
"He was like, 'Oh man, I want you to be on the national team,' which to me was a dream because I had been, you know, living on prize money, just drifting around, racing."
Randolph is quick to point out that he got a lot of help from people along the way to the national team. With national team support, however, he'd be able to concentrate purely on racing when competing nationally and internationally, and not on food, travel and lodging.
Though he had good legs on the day of the Olympic Road Race, Randolph had been brought onto the squad to be a team rider—to support Lance Armstrong. He sacrificed himself for the captain, who came up well short of a medal.
He signed on with Motorola as a stagiaire, an intern, and headed off to Europe to race against the best in the world. He quickly learned that some sinister stuff was happening in the pro ranks—stuff he wanted no part of.
"I think that was probably at the height of the sort of out-in-the-open sense of bravado about the doping that was going on," Randolph says. "It wasn't for me."
While at the Olympics, then GT team manager Doug Martin joked that if Randolph ever wanted to cross the aisle and come race mountain bikes, GT would make a spot for him. Martin didn't quite believe it when the "next big thing" road racer took him up on the offer.
From 1997 through 2000, "Chopper" flew the colors of GT. In 2001, he rode for Tomac. That was his last year as a full-time pro. "I wasn't focused," he says.
He moved to Western Colorado for a couple of years, and worked for a backcountry hut system and did a bit of construction, while he tried to figure out what to do with his life. He guided a bit, hunted, fished, rode his bike purely for fun and entered a few stress-free races.
"Ironically, I didn't really learn how to race mountain bikes until I was almost done…I think I tried too hard."
After a couple years of soul searching and hoping for a reason to move back home to Idaho, Chopper moved to Sun Valley in 2003 to work for Smith Optics as its bicycle marketing manager. About three years after that, Bike's then editor Ron Ige asked Chopper if he'd be willing to write a regular piece for the magazine. Chopper didn't need much convincing, and after a bit of brainstorming, the two settled on an advice column: "Ask Chopper" was born.
For about four years, "Ask Chopper" offered a bit of real-life mountain-bike advice, but almost always did so with a bit of a forked tongue. For Chopper, it was a chance to remind people that mountain biking isn't about heart-rate monitors, leg shaving and weighing parts.
"People get so caught up in everything other than the real experience," he says.
But at some point in 2011, Chopper sent an email to Bike headquarters that simply read, "Guys, it's not happening this month." And the "Ask Chopper" column was officially retired. Unfortunately for fans of the column, Strava had yet to become a phenomenon. "If we would've had Strava, that column would've gone for a whole 'nother year."
Not too long before "Ask Chopper" rode off into the sunset, Greg Randolph left his job at Smith to go to work for a Sun Valley-based destination marketing organization called Visit Sun Valley.
It's a fitting workplace for a guy who considers where he lives to be "the best place on earth." And if you're wondering…yes, he's still riding—and he's still plenty fast.