André had spent the last ten years working underground, yet he had only just turned 24. His face, skin hardened and cracked from a cocktail of sweat, coal dust and intense labour, gave him the appearance of a man decades older. He had grown up quickly, but had aged even more rapidly in the physical sense. Wearing a bandanna fashioned from a handkerchief to conceal his premature hair loss, the other miners would often tease him, nicknaming him ‘the pirate’.
He needed a way out, an escape from the darkness that enveloped him day and night. His only friend in the mines, Rémy, had mentioned that a colleague drove the service vehicle for some of the bicycle races held in the region; André had a driver’s licence, and figured this could be his ticket to a new life. Rémy had other ideas.
He would always comment on André’s legs, a foible that didn’t sit well with André and made him uncomfortable around the other miners. Rémy would laughingly call him “Bouvin, Bouvin!”, a reference to the champion 6 Day rider who hailed from the next town over and would often be seen training on the undulating roads, rare for this country but more common around these parts. Typically, anyone spotted riding a bicycle would get the “Bouvin” call from Rémy, joker that he was.
Rémy was resolute in his defiance; André wasn’t cut out for driving a service vehicle. No, he should be racing the bicycle, Remy insisted. He had witnessed André ride the 20 miles each way, every day to the pit on his crude one-speed bike, rusted and squeaking and tyres nearly flat. He would get André a better bike from Bouvin’s uncle, and enter him in the criterium raced in the centre of town as part of the cheese festival held every two weeks. Reluctantly, André agreed on the proviso that he be able to wear his Sunday best leather loafers, carry a flambéd rabbit in his jersey pocket, and that any cheese won would be split 60/40 between them. Rémy came through on all counts, and the rest is history.*
*Historical facts may not be historically accurate, or real. Clarification welcomed.