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Postal bike team heads for France

Bike-riding carriers will join the U.S. Postal Service's cycling team Saturday for the group's Tour de France send-off.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- A festive send-off for the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, bound for the Tour de France, takes place downtown Saturday morning.

Team member Kenny Labbe is scheduled to lead bicyclists from the Open Air Post Office at 76 Fourth St. N in a parade lap around Williams Park. The St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and the post office's bike-riding letter carriers will participate.

But any cyclist is welcome to join, Postal Service spokesman Gary Sawtelle said.

The event starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Open Air station.

St. Petersburg was chosen for the send-off because it is one of five cities where carriers use bikes to deliver mail, and the only one east of the Mississippi. Sawtelle said the other bike-riding cities are in Arizona: Phoenix, Mesa, Tucson and Sun City.

The Postal Service team, led by Lance Armstrong, won the team title at last year's Tour de France, considered international cycling's most prestigious event. Armstrong has won the individual title two years in a row, although his most important victory was conquering testicular cancer after he was diagnosed as having it in 1996.

St. Petersburg's bicycling carriers date back decades, Sawtelle said, "at least to the 1940s."

They boasted a drill team that appeared on national television. "They were kind of like the equivalent of the Cypress Gardens water ski team," Sawtelle said.

A special guest Saturday will be former drill team member Edwin "Uncle Ed" Marshick, who is now 90 years old, Sawtelle said. Marshick still lives in St. Petersburg.

Labbe, who won the Iowa City Old Capitol Criterium earlier this month, will speak and sign autographs. On display will be an oversized yellow jersey -- symbolic of the jersey Tour de France leaders wear -- signed by postal workers from around the nation.

"Overall, it's just a real big send-off," said Danny Staffenberg, St. Petersburg Bicycle Club board member.

This year's tour is July 7-29. It is conducted in "stages," or separate races, each day. The winners have the fastest accumulated overall time.

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