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The life cycle doesn't get old for this racer

Maybe someday he will get it out of his system. Maybe he'll put the spandex in mothballs and break out the suit and tie and oxfords.

Then again, if Bob Hackworth can start cycling after many competitors have turned to less demanding pursuits, and he can compete against the best as the oldest pro on the Tour of America, who's to say when he'll stop scratching this bug?

Like the Tour DuPont, the Tour of America is a prestigious cycling event. DuPont is an invitational "stage race" with one winner at the end. The Tour of America is a seven-race series, which begins in Atlanta in May and ends in Minneapolis in September. Both attract the world's top individual and team cyclists.

Hackworth, born and raised in Dunedin and now a part-time resident of Saddlebrook, admittedly is not one of them. Oh, he's okay _ sometimes even competitive. "All I have is a real urge to be an athlete," he said, "to make things happen for myself and not just wonder about them. I don't want to wake up at 43 or 50, whenever, and say to myself, "If I'd tried this when I was younger '

"

He just turned 38 and is the Old Man of the Tour. Technically, there's one older pro racer in the United States. Mac Martin of Aspinwall, Pa., is a few months Hackworth's senior, but he got licensed only because he wanted to enter a Tour of America stop close to home in Pittsburgh.

"This "oldest' business, that's just a hook," Hackworth said. "It sounds good but it's no big thing. I'm not out here just to be the oldest guy."

At Dunedin High School, at the University of Florida and for a while afterward, Hackworth was a cross-country runner. A bicycle was transportation or a training tool, not much else.

He met Gwynne Glover at a UF fraternity party. They married right out of college. Hackworth was an entrepreneur, starting his own marketing firm, getting involved (naturally) with running events. Gwynne was a writer (trade journals, short fiction, some freelance newspaper stories).

Then Coors landed in his lap. The brewery sponsored a cycling race, a forerunner of the Tour DuPont. He lined up additional sponsors for races. He and his wife wrote and published official programs and assembled expositions to showcase cycling products.

What Hackworth didn't do was ride. "I'd become a corporate guy," he said. "I'd quit running, gotten 30-40 pounds heavier."

Then Coors pulled out. Suddenly, three-quarters of the business was gone. Replacing it was something that had been percolating just below his conscious. "I wanted to be an athlete again," he said. "I was 34 and for some reason the bug hadn't quite died in me yet. Now I had all this time, and some familiarity mentally and physically with cycling."

He and Gwynne were secure enough for him to drop everything and hop on a bike. He worked his way through the amateur categories, from novice to Olympic-caliber, then turned pro. "If I finished last in every race, so what?" he said. "I was participating."

At the pro level there are two classes: (a) the Greg LeMonds, Lance Armstrongs and Davis Phinneys of the world (among the best and most heavily sponsored cyclists) and (b) everyone else.

Hackworth has yet to win, to even come close to winning a Tour of America event. Still, of 93-million people riding bicycles in the United States, about 200 are professionals. And Hackworth is one of them.

"It's me or the bike'

"I know some guys (on the cycling circuit) whose wives tell them, "It's me or the bike,' and they choose the bike and there goes the marriage," Hackworth said. "But Gwynne's been very supportive."

The reason it works, she said, is because they encourage each other to lead separate lives. "We have a lot of time together when we're together, then we have some time apart where we can do what we want. I write and I can get a lot done when he's not around."

Most of the year, when they are together, he trains 400-500 miles (about 30 hours) a week on the bicycle _ "That's my "office' " _ then leaves for weekend races. Several times a year he is gone for three, four even five weeks straight.

"Life on the road can get pretty hard," Gwynne said. "Sometimes it's even harder if I'm with him. Then he's got two people to worry about instead of one. It works out better that he's traveling alone."

Cycling can mean racing for a piece of a $100,000 purse one weekend, a piece of a $2,000 purse the next. Hackworth drives _ and often sleeps in _ a Volkswagen camper. "It's not that bad," he said. "But unless you're a LeMond, an Armstrong, you're not going to get rich doing this.

"For 99 percent of us, it's barely a living _ $20,000, maybe $30,000 a year. You've got to love cycling to be out here suffering for the glory of it. But that's okay. Nobody put a gun to my head to do this."

They recently packed up the villa in Saddlebrook and moved to Boulder, Colo. They split the year between the two cities. There's no cycling close to Florida now, and it's too hot to train here.

Chips and dips

For his first few years as a cyclist, Bob and Gwynne Hackworth lived off his savings and her writing. They might still be at it if he hadn't nearly started a house fire trying to bake a tortilla.

"When you ride as much as I do, you're constantly eating or hungry," he said. "I love chips and salsa, but they're not good for you _ all fried and a lot of oil.

"So I was in Casper (Wyo.), the guest of a host family putting me up and I tried to bake a tortilla chip in their toaster. It got stuck and set the toaster on fire. The whole kitchen nearly went up."

That began Hackworth's search for a baked tortilla chip. He found it buried on the bottom shelf at a supermarket. Guiltless Gourmet. It didn't take long for his entrepreneurial mind to figure the Texas-based company might be as interested in him as he was in its chips and dips.

"And because I'm such a good marketer, they said "no' about 20 times. It was a hard sell." His van and jersey are traveling billboards. His burden is further eased by cycling-product companies who provide bikes, clothing and the like.

Still, that's nothing compared with the millions that Motorola, Duck Head and other companies spend to sponsor the 12-man teams that dominate pro tours.

Hackworth isn't in their league. Those elite cyclists are invited to join teams based on ability and potential. Armstrong, at 21, is a rising star.

"Nobody wants to take a chance on an old guy," Hackworth said. "Old, relatively speaking."

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