Bicycle racing grabbed me hard in 1979. I’d always ridden a bike; as a ski racing kid, I’d heard that Jean-Claude Killy trained off-season on the bike. As a soccer player infatuated with all things Euro, the appeal of riding was natural. But when I hurt my knee in 1978 as a college soccer player, I took to riding the bike for rehab with a vengeance. I didn’t know anything about the sport but I loved to ride.
In the spring of 1980, a velodrome built by famed track designer Dale Hughes came to Michigan State’s Demonstration Hall. At 125 meters per lap with 48 degrees of banking, I was scared and thrilled the first time I cautiously circled the track. When I pedaled too slowly, and slid down the banking across the floor, road rash be damned, I couldn’t wait to get back on the boards. Pulling Gs at speed on that track was the most exciting thing I’d ever done. In search of that buzz, I spent most the 1980s in a Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon with a couple of buddies and 4 bikes on the roof that easily equaled the value of the vehicle underneath. We’d drive from race to race from March to September; crisscrossing the Midwest and East Coast to race our bikes.
Here we are in 2016, and I am still a hopeless cycling addict. I ride. I still race on occasion. I watch. Much of my paid freelance writing is cycling stuff. My personal blog, Rants & Mutters, is filled with stories of my many brushes with greatness. My office walls are covered with cycling art. It’s an obsession, and a healthy one.
My son is 23. He was a stellar tennis player; from the time he was little (What Happens When You Play a 1st Grader with a Big Forehand?) all the way through his college career. Yet, oddly, he somehow developed a taste for bike racing. Not as a cyclist, but as a fan. Maybe it happened because from the time of birth until I quit racing seriously, he was at races and watched Dad suffer out there in the peloton. Or perhaps because we used to train together, he for tennis and me for the upcoming cycling season, in the winters on stationary bikes in the basement with VCR tapes of classic races on the television. Or perhaps because I was a teacher, and during the month of July, we could sprawl on the couch together in the early morning, before he left for tennis, and watch the Tour de France. He became a fan on those mornings. He still talks about the Jell-o cube looking things with which Team Mapei adorned their team kit, circa 2002.
Oddly, here I am in my basement office on the morning of the 209 km Stage 16 from Moirans-en-Montagne to Bern. It’s 10:30 am and my 23-year-old son, coffee in hand, just awake after an evening at work, wandered into the office.
“Hey, you’re not watching the Tour?” he said.
“Nah, following the updates, but I’m trying to write something.”
“What’s up with that? Here, let me,” and he flipped on the set.
“Cavendish gonna win? Sprint finish today, right?” he asked, naming the Man from Manx who has won four stages to date.
“Maybe, but there’s a steep little cobbled climb at the end, so…”
“So Sagan, then. Or maybe Valverde or van Avermaet,” naming men who can both climb well after four hours of racing and sprint amongst the best.
“Forty km to go?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said.
“See you with 10 to go. When it gets down to the argy-bargy.”
“And who am I kidding?” he said. “Sagan. Gotta be Peter Sagan.”
Interesting, isn’t it, that as a tennis player, he could just as easily have chosen to watch a bit of Davis Cup this morning? Instead, it was the Tour de France. I’d like to think it had as much to do with cuddling on the couch when he was little as it did with the spectacle of the Tour. Either way, I’m glad for the company, and glad that I’ve managed to pass down a bit of my love for sport to my son.
By the way, Peter Sagan, riding for Team Tinkoff, won today’s stage in a photo finish. As Michael C. once said, “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you, but don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again.”
In other words, when you’re talking about bike racing, you should listen to my son.