Chad Gerlach once climbed mountains with the best cyclists in the world and rode as a teammate of Lance Armstrong. Gerlach’s athletic acclaim is long gone, but he’s about return to a national spotlight no one seeks.
The winner of nearly 100 career races will be the subject beginning Monday night, June 16 on the Arts & Entertainment Network program, Intervention.
The show will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern Time and again Tuesday, June 17 at 1 a.m. Eastern Time.
The program is exactly what its name implies, a television show that serves as intervention of someone in the spiral of drug and or alcohol abuse.
Gerlach, 34, who was raised in West Sacramento but now lives in a recovery facility in Auburn, Calif., left cycling in 2002 and lived for five years homeless and in despair in downtown Sacramento.
Few doubted Gerlach had the talent for a successful career at the top level of the sport. He never rode in a grand tour like the Tour de France, but his nine-year pro career took him around the globe.
He won regional events like the Nevada City Classic and he won stages in diverse events like the Tour of China and Tour of Langkawi. He was a U.S. Postal Service teammate of Armstrong in 1996, but was dismissed for “personality conflicts.” Gerlach also rode with high-budget Italian squads and second-tier U.S.-based squads. Many of his coaches gave up, called the talented rider uncoachable.
But throughout his youth soccer tenure and as pro cyclist Gerlach always found difficulty. His tale nts were often overshadowed by an easily triggered temper.
According to the A&E; Network’s description of the pending show, Gerlach was sent to juvenile hall as a teenager for a felony arrest.
But at age 15, Gerlach’s father introduced his son to cycling. The young Gerlach advanced through junior programs and then onto the Olympic development program in Colorado with riders like Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner; Tyler Hamilton, the reigning Olympic time trial gold medalist; and many time Tour de France finisher Bobby Julich, the long-time veteran now in his last pro season.
Gerlach had superior overall skills. He could climb with many of the sport’s best and held his own in time trials and sprints. But Gerlach was often an individual in a team sport. He had a temper and that, in part, led to his nomadic journey. He rode for nearly a dozen teams in a nine-year pro career that ended in 2002 with the Sierra Nevada squad based in Northern California.
In his final season, Gerlach finished 10th in a rich one-day circuit race in New York that also included Armstrong as its marquee attraction.
Gerlach’s erratic temper was well-known. He once punched Lance Armstrong at the Olympic training camp. And by the time he left cycling, he’d been dismissed by nearly everyone in the sport.
“It’s just amazing,” said Chad’s father Peter Gerlach. “Chad was out there for five years. He was smart to get by on the streets. He had a broken ankle and was stabbed a couple of times, but he survived.”
Gerlach’s eventual intervention occurred via a friend, who had watched an episode of the show, now in its fourth season, and contacted its producers. Gerlach’s episode, simply called “Chad,” was filmed during more than a week in downtown Sacramento last February.
Members of Gerlach’s family and several pro cyclists are also featured in the program.
Gerlach’s father often accompanied his son to races, and some observers felt the elder Gerlach pushed his son too hard to succeed.
“I enabled my son, yes,” said the emotional elder Gerlach. “Chad was diagnosed at age four for five with ADD or ADHD; he’s just always had this tremendous energy. But I had finally given up; he’s as strong-headed as anyone on my side of the family.”
Not long after his departure from the sport, Gerlach was living on Sacramento streets, often in back alleys behind gas stations and seedy buildings. He panhandled, turned to drugs and resisted communication and repeated attempts at help from his family. The younger Gerlach sold his cycling equipment for money; his father kept his son’s medals is a shoebox.
In recent times, Gerlach has visited Sacramento-area bike shops and he’s reacquainted with area cyclists who are now taking the troubled cyclist on Northern California training rides. Via the assistance of a former girlfriend, Gerlach, who attended Rio Americano High School and has a GED certificate, has taken courses and plans to enroll in Sierra Junior College in Rocklin, Calif., this fall.