May 11, 2011

Le Jet d’Eau.

When we crested the summit of the final climb and began the descent I was on familiar roads. Our tires, pumped harder for the faultless Swiss roads, hummed as we flew down the mountain. On the flatter roads that hugged the shore of Lac Léman we sped along at over 50 km/h. As I rode on the front of the peloton the landmarks and sites we passed sparked the occasional flash of an old memory. Fifteen years ago, when I was an amateur racing for a team from Annemasse, a suburb of Geneva across the border in France, I had ridden and raced on the same roads. I was a neophyte in a foreign land with the goal of becoming a professional.

Once a week, on my easy training days, I would ride into Geneva and stop at a lakeside café. As I sipped on a coffee I’d daydreamed while watching the jet d’eau spray its fine mist across the harbor.  I pictured myself one day finishing a professional race in the city centre. The images in my mind were glamorous and glorious. The reality is different.

The final stage of this year’s Tour of Romandie finished 200 meters from where I had been sitting fifteen years ago. Our team controlled the finale perfectly for Ben Swift, the sprinter. With an impressive burst of speed he won convincingly.

As a boy, I was attracted to what I had seen on the television images and in photographs: the glory, the fanfare, the action, and the speed with which mountains were ascended and sprints were won. From behind the barriers and in front of the television that was all I knew. But as I attained my goals, my perception of what a professional’s life was like evolved. I hadn’t dreamed of countless days away from home, crashes, sacrifice and suffering.  The professional’s fancy bikes, cars and clothing were what I desired.  They were stars. Immature, I didn’t realize that behind all the glitz the races would push me to my limits and often beyond them. I’ve persisted despite broken bones because cyclists rarely give in. There are no time outs, only DNF’s. We lose more than we will ever win but we don’t relent. By reaching my mental and physical limits I’ve learned more about myself.  There are still few jobs I would rather do. But the reasons I ride now are more profound than before and I now enjoy the job more ever.

At the finish line in Geneva several friends came to the bus. Christian Rumeau, the old Annemasse Velo Club directeur sportif, was there to greet me as soon as I crossed the line. As always, he asked the details of the race, eyed my physique and gave me advice on how to approach the coming races. Rumeau had raced with Fausto Coppi and directed Sean Kelly to many of his finest victories. Through the decades he had gained a wealth of knowledge. During the time I rode with Annemasse, he taught me how to race a bike properly while keeping an eye on me to ensure I stayed focused and didn’t become homesick. Beside him, were the Chenevals, who owned my apartment in Annemasse. They had cared for me as if I was one of their children. Without them I’m not sure I would have endured three years away from home. On the shore of Lake Léman we chatted as if not a day had passed since I was ‘le p’tit Canadien’ living in their hometown.

After Ben Swift returned from the podium the team shared embraces, shook hands, washed up, packed and left for the airport. Like workers finishing up a new house, our job was done and we were on to the next site. Before the finish line had been torn down and the barriers piled on to trucks, we were in the airport with dozens of other cyclists who were all thin, tanned and tired from the race.

However short, I enjoyed the moment we had together in the airport café before my mind shifted to the next objective: the Giro d’Italia.

2 Responses to “Le Jet d’Eau.”

  • Posted by John Cook | May 12, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Hi Michael,
    I always enjoy reading your essays, but this one really caught my attention. I have had some wonderful times sitting on the edge of that lake, perhaps at the same cafe, watching that same jet of water. I had different dreams but your piece caught the same spirit of life’s glorious possibilities. Thanks… and continued good luck in the Giro. I am thrilled to see you doing so well.

  • Posted by Paul | May 13, 2011 at 4:49 am

    It is dark here, when the cycling feed kicks in. The coverage for Euro cycling is amazing, considering how few riders Japan has in the peloton. Through reading your site, and the guys at Red Kite, it helps create a real personal connection with the emotional element of the sport! It is more than beautiful scenery, and flock of bright shirts. Wishing you good fortune throughout the Giro.

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