A ribbon of road unwinds before you. You hear the rustle of the quaking aspens that line the Alpine Loop. You’re miles from home, legs pumping, hands on the handlebars, nose to the wind. Life is good.
This is just a typical day for Marty Jemison, a professional cyclist — although “professional” is a bit of an understatement when you consider he rode professionally in the Euro- pean peloton for seven years and is one of 50 Americans to have completed the world’s greatest race, the Tour de France, twice. In 1999, he won the U.S. road race championship, earning the coveted national champion’s jersey.
That’s not all. Marty also helped Lance Armstrong win his post-cancer races. “I had some of the greatest experiences in my life helping him win races: the Tour de Luxembourg and a stage race in Germany,” he says. “We were teammates for three years, but I have mixed feelings about it. He has a strong presence as a human being, and he chose to do a lot of things that we did not agree on.”
The chance to work with Lance didn’t happen overnight. Marty started riding as a kid along the Wasatch Front. “The biking bug hit me hard,” he says. “I took it very seriously.” In just three years, he became the top amateur and in 1990, after he finished college, he moved to France to compete. “I thought I’d spend one or two seasons abroad and then hang up the bike and embark on a real career,” he says. “I was dead set to race better, to ride better, to have better focus than those who surrounded me. I meticulously kept track of my training.”
The discipline paid off when he turned pro in 1994. “I had a perfect decade. I was euphoric, I was on top of the world,” he says, noting that he raced as an amateur in Europe, for the U.S. national team and part-time for a Canadian team. “I took care of myself, and it worked out.” The math alone is impressive. Marty rode more than 20,000 miles every one of those years. He raced more than 900 days in Europe and more than 400 days in the U.S. “I was racing 95 days a year. No serious injuries or illnesses kept me from training,” he says. “I was very lucky.”
Luck may have had something to do with it, but so did his determination and passion. “During my last year as an amateur, I was in the top 10 a total of 52 times and won 11 of those races,” he says. “So, one out of every two races I was in the top 10. I was very competitive and enjoying every minute of it.”
Part of that success was due to Marty’s decision to train in his hometown. Although most of his colleagues trained in Boulder, Colorado, he chose to stay in the mountains of Park City.
“I had some pressure from the cycling community and my teammates on the U.S. national team,” he says. “It was easy to go to Boulder because there was a contingent of pros living there.” But because he grew up on the Wasatch Front and did a lot of training in Park City, Summit County and beyond, he wasn’t sold. “As far as training was concerned, I thought altitude was important as well as the great terrain that Summit County had to offer,” he explains. “As a pro, I was doing big mileage and Park City has big rides if you climb into adjacent valleys. It also has short rides through Heber, Coalville, Salt Lake and Ogden, so the area was ideal.”
Marty was so convinced, he bought land in Park City in 1994 and started building his home, which he calls Towerhouse, a four-story, 2,000-square-foot home that sits at 8,000 feet. “I was living at altitude for six months a year,” he says. “It gives you a competitive edge. Back then, there was virtually no traffic in Summit County. I was either training solo or riding with strong amateur locals.”
After a thrilling decade of racing, Marty retired on a high note in 2001. But he hasn’t hung up his bike yet. In 2003, he started Marty Jemison Cycling Tours, a company that takes folks on multi-day cycling tours throughout Europe.
Over the years, Park City has become known as a world-class road and mountain bike destination, thanks in part to Marty’s success on two wheels.
“When I look back, it was absolutely phenomenal,” he says.