I was drained upon returning from Alaska, and just wanted to return to putter around the ranch for awhile. I met up with Phyllis briefly at the Klein Bicycle Factory shortly after the end of the American Summits Tour. I heard through the grapevine she had cancer, and wanted to know if the rumor was true. It was.
“But the doctors caught it in time,” assured Phyllis. “Don’t worry, Kevin. I’m not going anywhere.” I made her promise just the same.
Since Charlie’s death two years before, Phyllis had become my confidant and friend. I trusted her judgment and advice when it came to marketing and promotional ideas concerning me and the tours. Losing her was not an option.
The Tour de Cuba was set to go in early 1996. The plan was to do the longest bicycle tour in that country’s history. From the Easternmost point to the Westernmost. Point to point, zigzagging my way through all 13 Provinces. The bicycle would become the needle. The route, the thread. I gave myself a more Cuban look this time, going with a goatee instead of being the clean-shaven all-American boy. The Tour was to promote peace and friendship between our two countries, I announced, and hopefully put an end to the U.S. embargo that had been going on since I was born.
The State Department threatened to arrest me, because as they said, “By you doing a tour of this magnitude with the kind of press coverage it’ll receive, you’ll open the flood gates for other Americans to head South.” Good, that’s what I wanted.
Most of the sponsors from the last adventure stayed on. Only Bell helmets and Reebok shoes were the major companies to back out. Having Captain America cycle through Castro’s Cuba wouldn’t look good for the company image.
I worked with the Cuban Interest Office in Washington, DC, who connected me with the Ministry of Sports as my official host. Gary Klein designed a sweetheart of a bike. So new was it that I practically had to relearn how to ride. It had motorcycle type grips for shifting. Clipless pedals. And duel suspension, with the fattest top tube (11 inches) in the industry. No matter how tiny I may look in photos, the Klein logo would be sure to stand out. Again, it was painted in the red, white and blue colors; my uniforms, once again, being supplied by my tailor, RA Ando, in New York.
When it was time to leave, another “incident” occurred. A group of Cuban exiles called ‘Brotherhood To The Rescue’ decided to go on another raid of their former country, and when they got to within Fidel’s air space, he shot them out of the sky.