Early Life and Amateur Track Cycling Career
Steve Bauer was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, but grew up in the small community of Fenwick in the Niagara region. He played many sports growing up, including baseball, soccer, basketball and gymnastics. Like many other young Canadians, Bauer wanted to be a hockey player. But as he later told The Globe and Mail, “at 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, he knew he wasn’t big enough to be a hockey pro, so he concentrated on his education.”
Bauer regularly rode his bicycle to sports practice and to meet friends. However, he had never really considered cycling as a sport until the summer of 1975, when his mother suggested that he join the St. Catharines Cycling Club. She had read profiles of Canadian cyclists Gordon Singleton and Karen Strong in the local newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard, and thought her son might enjoy the sport. Bauer’s interest in competitive cycling increased after watching the 1976 Olympic Summer Games, which took place in Montreal.
In 1977, Bauer became a member of the Canadian national track cycling team. That year he competed, first in the junior track world championships in Vienna, Austria, and then at the senior track world cycling championships in San Cristobal, Venezuela. In 1978, he competed at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, where he finished fourth in the team pursuit. He won two gold medals at the Canadian track championships that year — one in the madison (paired with Jocelyn Lovell) and another in the 4000m team pursuit. He also finished second in the omnium, behind Lovell, and second in the 4000m individual pursuit, behind Quebec rider Louis Garneau. Over the next few years, he won six more gold medals at the national track championships (in the madison, team pursuit, points race and omnium), as well as two more silver medals in the 4000m individual pursuit (finishing behind Alex Stieda in 1981 and 1982).
Olympic Medallist and Amateur Road Cycling Career
From 1981 to 1984, Bauer rode with the GS Mengoni team, where he was mentored by founder Fred Mengoni. Mengoni was, an Italian-American businessman and cycling enthusiast who supported the careers of talented North American cyclists like Greg LeMond, and later, George Hincapie. During this period, Mengoni encouraged Bauer to train like a professional, logging more miles on the road. His training paid off with three gold medals in the individual road race at the Canadian national championships (1981, 1982 and 1983). He also won a silver medal in the individual road race at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.
In 1984, Bauer competed at the Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, where he won silver in the individual road race. It was a historic race for several reasons. Cycling had long been considered a European sport, but for the first time ever, both the gold and silver medals were won by North American riders. Bauer narrowly lost the gold medal to American rider Alexi Grewal, who took the lead in the last 50m of a 190.2km, five-hour race. American Les Earnest, a board member of the US Cycling Federation and chef du route for the Games, believed that Bauer was going to win until almost the last moment:
On a sharp climb about halfway around [the last lap], Grewal broke to a lead of 20 m or so, but he was soon joined by Steve Bauer of Canada. The two then started pulling away from the other leaders. Having seen these two sprint against each other a number of times before, I was fairly certain that Alexi didn't stand a chance to win. Bauer had an amazing sprint that he used to consistently blow away all North American riders other than Davis Phinney. I was prepared to see Bauer win as they began their sprint up the final 200 m ascent to the finish, but suddenly Alexi looked as if he had rocket assistance — he jumped away and finished with a clear lead.
Bauer’s second-place finish was Canada’s first Olympic medal in road cycling. But losing the gold medal still hurt. “As soon as I realized that [Grewal] had beat me just before the line, it was a total agony of defeat, kind of depression, for a few minutes,” Bauer told Douglas Faulkner of The Globe and Mail. “Then I realized, ‘Hey, I can’t be too disappointed. I’ve got a silver medal here and that’s a reason to be happy.’”
DID YOU KNOW?
Steve Bauer won Canada’s first Olympic medal in road cycling at the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles. But it was not the country’s first Olympic medal in cycling. In 1908, the Canadian team of Frederick McCarthy, Walter Andrews, William Anderson and William Morton won a bronze medal in track cycling in the team pursuit at the Olympic Games in London. It was another 76 years before Canadian cyclists climbed the Olympic podium. Canada won two silver medals at the 1984 Games —Bauer in the road race and Curt Harnett on the track in the 1000m time trial.
Professional Career and Tour de France
Shortly after his medal-winning performance at the 1984 Olympic Games, Bauer became a professional cyclist. About one month later, he won bronze at the 1984 Professional Road World Championship in Spain. The following year, he participated in his first Tour de France as part of the La Vie Claire team. In both 1985 and 1986, he rode in support of team leaders Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond as they battled for the overall lead. (Hinault won the Tour in 1985 and Greg LeMond won in 1986.)
Bauer made history at the Tour de France in 1988, when he became the first Canadian to win a stage. Now riding with the Weinmann-La Suisse team, Bauer did well in the opening prologue. The following day, during Stage 1, he broke away from the peloton (main group) about 7km from the end of the course. It was enough to give him the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) as race leader, although he lost it later in the day after the team time trial. He attacked again on Stage 8, breaking away from the peloton and making up enough time to regain the yellow jersey as overall leader. Bauer kept the lead until Stage 12, which ended on Alpe d’Huez. Since he wasn’t the strongest climber in the group, he fell back from the lead and lost the yellow jersey.
The Canadian and international press were full of praise for Bauer’s performance. “Even though Steve Bauer no longer wears the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, the respect he’s gained in Europe has been enormous,” wrote Robert Zeller of The Globe and Mail on 15 July 1988.
While this has surprised many, it clearly vindicates the faith of his coach, Paul Koechli, who earlier this season said Bauer was one of the six best cyclists in the world. The French press scoffed at the time. “Bauer is good,” many journalists wrote, “but hardly better than half a dozen Frenchmen”… Bauer may have dropped to second place after yesterday’s tough mountain stage, but no one has worn the leader’s yellow jersey as long this year.… In the meantime, Bauer has become a hero. Even if he doesn’t recover the jersey, he’s been accepted as one of the best in the world.
Bauer wore the maillot jaune as race leader for five days in total during the 1988 Tour and eventually finished the race in fourth place overall — a Canadian record.
Two years later, as part of the 7-Eleven team, Bauer took an early lead at the Tour de France, keeping the yellow jersey for nine consecutive stages. In total, he participated in 11 Tours de France between 1985 and 1995 and wore the yellow jersey as race leader for 14 days.
Bauer won several significant races during his professional career, including the Grand Prix of Aix en Provence (1985), the Carlsberg Light Grand Prix of Cycling (1986, 1987), the Grand Prix d’Amériques (1988) and the Tour de L’Oise (1988). In 1996, he again competed in the Olympic Summer Games, after professional cyclists were declared eligible. Bauer finished 41st in the men’s individual road race, Canada’s highest finish in the event (in the women’s road race, Clara Hughes won the bronze medal). Bauer retired from professional cycling soon after the Games.
After retiring from professional cycling, Bauer cofounded Steve Bauer Bike Tours, which offers international bicycle tours and events. He also helped design the course of the 2003 UCI World Cycling Championships in Hamilton, Ontario. In 2007, Bauer cofounded Cycle Sport Management (CSM) with Josée Larocque. CSM built Canada’s first continental professional men’s road cycling team, R.A.C.E. Pro Continental (later renamed SpiderTech), which raced from 2008 to 2012. Bauer was coordinator and head coach for cycling at the Mattamy National Cycling Center in Milton, Ontario, for two years (2014–16). In 2016, he joined BMC Racing as Director of VIP Services.
Although Bauer retired from professional competition in 1996, he later returned to racing as an amateur. In 2013, he placed fourth in the Master C category (50+ years) at the Canadian road championships. He also competed at the Canadian track championships in the Master C category, placing first in the 500m time trial (2014), the 2000m individual pursuit (2014, 2015) and the 10km scratch race (2014), and second in the 10km points race (2014, 2015).
Bauer won Canada’s first Olympic medal in road cycling in 1984 and was the first Canadian to win a stage at the famed Tour de France. He also holds the record for the highest-placed finish (fourth) for a Canadian at the Tour. His international success inspired other Canadian riders, like Lori-Ann Muenzer, Alison Sydor and Curt Harnett, and helped cement the growing reputation of Canadian and American riders in what was long considered a European sport. His importance to Canadian cycling is reflected in his citation for the Meritorious Service Medal, which he received in 1994, prior to his retirement from professional competition:
Mr. Bauer’s silver medal performance at the 1984 Olympics brought Canada to the forefront of international cycling. He has remained in the top-ten of the World Standings, thanks to his cycling achievements in the World Cycling Championships and in the 1988 and 1990 Tour de France. An outstanding ambassador of sport, Steve Bauer has paved the way for Canada’s coming generations of cycling enthusiasts.
Honours and Awards
- Meritorious Service Medal (1994)
- Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2005)
- Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (2005)
- Canadian Cycling Hall of Fame (2015)