Alf Goullet first arrived in the United States in 1910 as a nineteen-year-old professional. “Coming here from Australia to ride was like entering the big league from the bushes,” he said. “The riders in America were smarter and the racing was faster and harder.”
Goullet possessed the rare physical makeup for both sprinting and endurance races. Sammy Gastman, who rode twenty-two six-day races in the 1920s, said in an interview that he was the “greatest rider to ever sit on a bicycle. He could sprint, and he could do the long ones. You can’t do both. But Goullet did. He was a hell of a bike rider.” By the time of his retirement, he won approximately four hundred professional races.
Goullet raced in twenty-four six-day races, or “infernal grinds” as he called them, and was victorious in twelve. He estimated to have earned over $100,000 in six-day racing and said the race “takes a toll of every muscle in the body, of the stomach, of the heart and, while it is being ridden, of the mind.”
Goullet’s first six-day race was in December 1910 inside Madison Square Garden. He and his partner, Paddy Hehir, finished in a respectable fourth place. He thought they may have done better had he fed himself properly during the race. But he had “no more idea of the rudimentary laws of taking care of myself during a grind than a rabbit has of arithmetic, and I paid a heavy price for that ignorance,” he said. “We began to ride in November in the Boston Area. I was nineteen years old and weighed one hundred and sixty pounds.”
Together with fellow Australian Alfred Grenda, Goullet established a six-day record by riding 2759.2 miles at the Garden in December 1914. Goullet claimed it was his hardest fought victory.
In December 1917, one week after he won the six-day race at the Madison Square Garden with his partner, Jake Magin, Goullet enlisted in the United States Navy. He was stationed at Pensacola, Florida for eight months and later received sea plane training at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During World War I he never left the United States.
On April 6, 1919, in front of a packed house at the Newark velodrome, Goullet competed in his first race since he joined the Navy. He beat five of the best sprinters in the world, including Frank Kramer in the five-mile “Mayor Charles P. Gillen Stakes” race. For the remainder of the season, Goullet competed closely for the coveted U.S. national sprint title but ultimately took third.
In December 1919, Goullet came back to six-day racing as if he had never left and won at Madison Square Garden by riding 2501 miles with his partner Eddie Madden.
Goullet began his training three to four weeks before the six-day race. He walked three hours in the morning and then rode twenty-five to forty miles in the evening—starting slowly at first and increasing his speed as he rounded into condition. In addition he rode at full speed in five-mile bursts motor-pacing behind a car.
In the December 1924 six-day at Madison Square Garden, Goullet raced while suffering from an acute attack of appendicitis. He refused to retire from the race. His partner, Harry Horan, could not convince him to quit and would not listen to advice from trainers and physicians. Goullet finished the race and six days later he collapsed and was rushed to the New York City hospital.
Goullet’s recovery was a long process but soon he was up and about. He got married the following March and enjoyed a long honeymoon in Europe. Goullet raced again at the great six-day race inside the Garden in December 1925, but he was well back in the field. “This doesn’t mean I’m through with six-day riding,” he said when he donned his street clothes. “On the contrary, I’ll be back winning again in another year.” True to his word, Goullet was back in December 1926 but he didn’t finish the race. He attributed his problems to too much training. "I left my race on the road." After that race Goullet hung up his racing shoes for good.
Goullet enjoyed retirement and lived one month shy of his 104th birthday. He was survived by his son Richard, his daughter Suzanne, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
(courtesy - Andrew Homan)