As triathlon’s Big Four push toward 40 and ease into retirement, the sport’s sponsors are searching for new life. They might want to scout a few out-of-the-way cemeteries.
That’s where the new breed of triathlete sleeps. Unless Jim Morrison is buried there, cemeteries are always quiet and, best of all, they’re dirt cheap.
Chuck Veylupek was the first to discover the restful quality of graveyards and live to tell about it. A beginner in the sport, Veylupek has no major sponsors and no clout with race promoters who provide triathletes such as Scott Tinley, Scott Molina, Dave Allen and Dave Scott with air fare and motel accommodations.
Veylupek instead relies on paltry prize purses, a 1980 Datsun 200SX that rattles and rolls when the speedometer pushes past 60 and an ability to get more out of a penny than Jack Clark gets out of his Nordstrom card.
Chuckie V--as Veylupek prefers to be called--lives out of his car as he spends the summer traveling from race to race. His keen sense of frugality dictates that he slumber at roadside rest stops. But such facilities aren’t always accommodating.
“The car is packed with all my cycling gear, my clothing--you know, all my triathlon equipment. Basically my life,” Veylupek explained. “I live out of the thing, and you’re not supposed to sleep outside of your car at road stops. So I’ve had highway patrolmen roust me from my sleep telling me to move on. I just tell them, ‘Look I can’t sleep inside that, it’s too crowded.’ But they just say get on the road and go then. So I drive down the road and find that cemetery.”
The first time Veylupek slept beside the dead was outside a small town in western Pennsylvania earlier this summer. He was en route to a Hartford, Conn., competition.
“It was the only quiet spot I could find,” Veylupek explained. “The roadside stop that I drove by and was checking out was too crowded, too busy, too noisy. So I went down the road a couple miles and there was a cemetery. I just pulled off the road and threw my sleeping bag down on the grass. To tell you the truth, I was just hoping I would wake up, but, really, I hadn’t slept that good in a long time.”
Veylupek is in San Diego for today’s Bud Light Triathlon, which began this morning at 6:45 on the shores of Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. Because his car broke down, Veylupek hitched a ride with Steve Eisenhaur and Rick Sutton from the marketing firm of Galeforce Sports.
Projecting Veylupek as a future star in the sport, Galeforce has enlisted the Sacramento native as a client. One of their first moves in polishing his image in San Diego was to check him into a hotel.
Eisenhaur and Sutton are not the only two to spot potential in Veylupek. Local race promoters are billing him as the favorite to win today, and The Big Four are watching him chip away at their image of invincibility. Veylupek currently sits in third place in the Coke Grand Prix series, which awards points to the top finishers of each triathlon, then distributes a $200,000 purse at the end of the season.
With only the San Diego and Las Vegas races left on the schedule, Veylupek has a good chance of pulling into first place.
If he could manage to do so, not only would he earn $30,000, he would undoubtedly gain major sponsors. If that happens, don’t expect vitamin manufacturers to adorn Veylupek’s jersey.
Fast-food chains are more likely. Carbo-loading for this 23-year old consists of a quick trip around the drive-thru.
“I pound a lot of quarter-pounders with cheese,” Veylupek said. “I don’t eat all the burgers McDonald’s has, but I’ve got them working nights and overtime just getting enough burgers out for Chuck. Beside McDonald’s, I’m a Taco Bell fan all the way. I’ll tell you, it’s heaven. If I make 1,000 bucks a race, I figure that’s 2,000 tacos. So that’s my currency.
“I would rather eat good, but my wallet says eat what’s affordable.”
Veylupek calls triathlon a step down from his previous endeavor--cycling. He rode as an amateur, but was good enough to compete with the U.S. national team and gain the backing of several corporations.
Two years ago Veylupek was with the national team in Europe competing in the Peace Race. That’s when he learned just how naive he was to believe he could compete in what in Europe is a major professional sport.
“These European racers were kicking my butt,” Veylupek remembered of the Peace Race which charted a triangular course from Warsaw to Berlin to Prague. “At first I figured, well, they’re used to it, they’re used to the lousy weather, the terrible food, the horrible conditions. ‘They’re just tough,’ is what I thought.
“But then I started to see a lot of drugs--during the races themselves. I saw guys using caffeine suppositories that look similar to tampons that they’d put right up their rear. That’s the fastest way for something to get into the bloodstream. So about an hour to go in these races, these guys would start putting their fingers down their shorts, do their thing, and the next thing you knew, the pace increased from 30 m.p.h. to nearly 40 m.p.h.”
“At first I didn’t know what was going on. I thought the guy had hemorrhoids and was rubbing something on his butt. I figured, ‘Hey, I can deal with that. I know how my butt feels riding over these damn cobblestones.’ So I was kind of oblivious to all of it. But when they threw their dispensers out onto the road, and when I saw needles into the arm, it gave me an idea of what was really going on.”
The scene continued to repeat itself throughout the race’s 15 days.
“One of them almost knocked me off the road,” Veylupek said. “I thought, ‘This is crazy. I’m going to crash because this guy is riding with his finger up his butt.’ ”
Veylupek did not crash, but at that point he realized there were limits to what he would do to remain in the sport. Still wanting to compete, Veylupek turned to triathlons.
During his long days on the road this summer, Veylupek reminisced about the days when road trips were something to do with friends.
“I used to get together with four or five of my buddies, we’d all jump in a car and go race,” Veylupek said of his cycling days. “We would have to win money so we could eat. If one of us won money, he’d pay for gas, and if the other four didn’t, oh boy, well they better win next week.
“I miss that quite a bit; going in, raising hell and tearing apart hotel rooms. Going out at night cow-tipping or whatever.
“Being alone, you can’t quite get away with all of that. But on the other hand, with all those people, you could never sleep in a cemetery.”