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March 29, 2017

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Cast of iconic cycling film takes trip down memory lane in Las Vegas

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Alan Snel

Cast members of the film “American Flyers” are shown, from left, Alexandra Paul, Luca Bercovici and Rae Dawn Chong at the Interbike trade show at Mandalay Bay, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016.

Back in 1985, Luca Bercovici had no experience as a professional bike racer.

But that didn’t stop the actor from playing the role of Barry “The Cannibal” Muzzin and taking on other bike racers in the Colorado mountains as part of a three-day pro bike race in the 1985 movie, “American Flyers.”

Bercovici may have played a snarling bike racer inspired by a real racer by the name of Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx, but he was a smiling sweetheart as he relished a movie reunion with fellow "Flyers" movie alums Alexandra Paul and Rae Dawn Chong at the Interbike trade show at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Thursday.

This was the second-straight year that Interbike organizers brought together former cast members of an iconic bicycle film. Last year, actors from the 1979 coming-of-age comedy-drama, “Breaking Away,” shared hugs and swapped stories.

"Breaking Away" and "American Flyers" supplied a powerful one-two punch to accelerate bicycling into mainstream America more than three decades ago.

Bercovici, Paul and Chong enjoyed meeting some of the more than 700 bicycle industry leaders at an Interbike awards dinner Thursday night.

Interbike ends Friday. About 900 companies exhibited during the weeklong event, representing 1,400 brands.

In much the same way that "Breaking Away" allowed hunky Dennis Quaid to establish himself as a popular actor, "American Flyers" featured an unknown at the time named Kevin Costner.

“Costner was a possibility, but a long shot to attend,” said Pat Hus, Interbike vice president who puts on the annual bicycle industry trade show in Las Vegas.

In "American Flyers," Costner played a sports doctor, Marcus Sommers, and he cajoles his brother in the movie, David, played by current TV show producer David Marshall Grant, to train with him for the Colorado race nicknamed, “The Hell of the West.” A lot of the movie race footage was filmed at the Coors Classic bike race in Colorado.

Costner’s girlfriend in the film was Chong, who played the role of Sarah.

Chong said the movie was significant outside of the bike race theme because it featured a mixed-race relationship between her and her movie boyfriend, Costner.

“It was a studio movie, and it’s always a big deal to be in a movie with Kevin Costner. And it was a movie where a woman of color was being cast opposite a white guy,” Chong said.

At Thursday night’s three-hour Interbike industry awards dinner, Chong brought up race again when she took a knee before handing out an award. It was a reference to NFL player Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback who refuses to stand for the national anthem before 49ers games to protest racial inequality issues.

Interbike gave “icon” awards to Bercovici, Chong and Paul during the ceremony.

In "American Flyers," the plot involved Paul when the two bike racer brothers and Chong’s character pick up a hitchhiker played by Paul on the way to Colorado.

Grant would have been part of Thursday’s reunion, but he could not attend because he was making a TV show pitch to a network.

Bercovici, who flew in from Budapest for the reunion, said he had no bike racing experience when he took the movie part.

He recalled breaking his collarbone when crashing during filming, but was back on the bike the next day.

“We went through some intensive training. I had no idea what I was getting into. But we learned quickly,” Bercovici said.

Interestingly enough, both "Breaking Away" and "American Flyers" were written by the same screenwriter, Steve Tesich. And in "Breaking Away," the actor who played the lead role, Dennis Christopher, also underwent intense bicycle racing training to get ready for that award-winning movie.

Hus pulled together the "American Flyers" reunion by networking with Paul’s husband, triathlon coach Ian Murray. Hus chatted with Murray and then Murray’s wife, Paul, called her former "Flyers" cast mates to see if they could come together at Interbike.

Chong, Paul and Bercovici have not been all together since the making of the Warner Bros. movie 31 years ago.

“That movie was 40 pounds ago,” Chong quipped.

Chong said she had zero bicycle experience and she took three weeks to learn how to do an eight-second bike wheel change.

“I did the wheel change on the first take,” Chong said.

Paul also had no cycling experience when she was a mere 21-year-old during the filming, but has gone on to become a triathlete.

She said she would not have minded doing some cycling during the movie.

“I was slightly envious that the guys got to cycle and I was in the van driving,” Paul said.

The trio gave away awards at the dinner and posed for photos behind the Specialized Allez road bike that was used in the movie.

“It was the most wonderful era of bicycle racing,” said Mercedes Ross, national director of the Bike Tech in School program who attended Thursday’s dinner. “The racers loved it and it wasn’t the big business it is today.”

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