Guest Article: Velo Love

Guest Article: Velo Love

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Even Wiggo said it’s just a bike race. Bike racing may be just that but Cycling is life. And Love is life and it’s amazing when they all get tangled up together. We first heard from @Farzani months ago; a Belgian in training. She said she had an on-going story to tell and asked if we were interested. It’s an honor we can share these stories that show cycling in the bigger, brighter light of life.

VLVV, Gianni

How it all began.

I stopped racing in 2006 due to elbow and wrist breaks requiring surgery and six months off the bike. At 46 years old I just couldn’t justify returning to road racing with all it’s time, money and pain commitments. My job requires I am able bodied and I don’t get paid if I don’t work. It didn’t make sense. However I like having reasons to train, so I always found some sort of goal to get fit for.

Prior to road racing, which I started at age 43, I had participated in a Marmotte Granfondo, did the Raid of the Pyrenees (self supported) in 96 hours as well rode through the Swiss Alps, French Alps and Dolomites. In 2009 I decided to participate in the Marco Pantani Grandfondo, 175 km and 4500 m, three epic climbs-the Gavia, the Mortirollo and the Santa Christina.

I was scared of the Mortirollo. Could I do it? It’s legendary length of steepness was daunting. Thus, in preparation I did every “meatgrinder” I could find. Once a week between clients I’d climb up the steep hills from the financial district in San Francisco to Pacific Heights (Filmore to Broadway/Steiner etc). On weekends I climbed everywhere in Northern California including some uphill TT’s near Lake Tahoe (Geiger grade and Kingsberry) as well as many epic bay area trips with ex-teammates and riding pals. I knew I could do it. And although I didn’t expect to be competitive I certainly would not be the last.

Consequently it was there in Aprica, Italy where my life was changed. I had gone up to the mountains five days before so I could recon the passes. I always like to know what to expect before race day. I rode alone and the towns were quiet. I got lots of strange looks from the locals as very few “solo” women come to these mountain towns climbing the mountains by bike. Two days before the race the town started to fill with cyclists. The sponsors began to set up booths and the town of Aprica became alive! I happily took advantage of the shopping opportunities and found myself rummaging through a barrel of vintage bike clothing. I picked up an old pair of wool bike shorts with leather chamois  and marveled. They were well worn and I wondered about their history. I then picked up a Molteni jersey and just at that point a man rode up on his bike and said to me “do you know who wore that?” I automatically quipped “of course! Eddy Merckx” and it was that moment when I won his heart. He then proudly announced he was from Belgium and I naturally quizzed him about all the classics, etc. The conversation flowed effortlessly and it wasn’t until his friend nudged him about going back to their hotel to shower and eat did we part. We had exchanged first names but that was all. I enjoyed our interaction but frankly did not think much about it. I tend to talk to whomever engages a conversation especially if it involves my passions.

Race day- We were corralled at the start line and the women (all 50 or so of us) were staged after the elite racers and before the masses of others. I looked around and saw an array of ladies mostly younger but I did spot an older one who donned rainbow stripes on her jersey. Ahhhhhh, I thought, I won’t see her for long. The gun went off, confetti strewn and the mob started. It was a complete bottleneck for the first 20 km. I was so pleased that I knew the road and did not fear the sweeping descent elbow to elbow. I knew as we approached the valley and began ascending towards the start of the Gavia it would open up. Riding towards Ponte Legno, the Belgians passed me and he slowed to say hello. I was in my own world thus smiled and said “have fun!”

The race was all it was cut out to be, but I made it. I never succumbed to the steepness of the Mortirollo. Then on the Christina, I encountered a bulging tire (turned out to be a factory defect from Schwalbe and I had no spare) so I carefully continued and prayed during the last long descent that I would not flat or rupture the lumpy tire.

As I crossed the finish I heard someone call my name. Who knows me here, I wondered? It was the smiling Belgian man. Oh what a coincidence, I thought and we rapidly exchanged stories about our rides etc. He had finished a good two hours before me, showered, eaten and dragged his friend to the finish to wait for me. Little did I know, after we had met he went to the race registration to find out my last name, race number and any other information they would give him. All he knew was Nancy from San Francisco. This information was divulged much later. I was clueless and elated with endorphins.

That evening the three of us met for the post-race pasta and then afterwards for drinks. The conversation flowed easily and I knew I had met a very special man. Nonetheless I had no idea he would shortly become the love of my life and husband.

Our courtship was very respectful and built on getting to know each other via twice daily Skype calls, emails and two trips to San Francisco and two trips to Belgium. We knew we were meant to be together. Because he had three small children from his first marriage he was adamant about staying in Belgium. I respected that so I made the decision to sell it all, pack it up, leave my work and friends to start a new life as a part time Mom, wife and Belgian apprentice. My work was clearly cut out for me. Thus I embarked on a journey with a new culture, new languages, new customs, new family and new life with my Belgian bike racer, proud papa and hard working man.

We kept busy. He worked full time as well as was building the house that we and the three kids would live in. Weekends he would race elite without contract. He was incredibly strong and focused on everything he put his mind to. Nothing was done without thought and nothing was done half-assed. If he had time to train on the bike he often cycled with the local Limburg pros. He not only could keep up with them but was known to drive the pace. He was known and respected by all who encountered him.

Together we shared our love of the bike, racing, as well as quest to have a simple family life. In two short years we biked in the Sierras, Ardennen, French, Swiss and Italian Alps. In addition he built our house (80 percent by himself), we got married, as well as took care of all of life’s other responsibilities.  We were a good team together.

We talked about racing the Marmotte in 2012. I was not in the condition I had been when we met. Moving, adjusting to a new life as well as embracing having three children half-time gave me new priorities. I was happy in a different way. Nonetheless I agreed and even boasted I would regain my old fitness for the race. All the while knowing how painful and focused I would have to be, I was a bit unsure.

August 13, 2011 my world changed. It was a rainy summer day. A day I will never forget. I had ridden a local tourtocht with some friends (160km and it rained for the last 50 or so) He was going to test his legs in a race as he was on the roster to race the two day tour of Antwerp with his team the next day. He had a bad feeling and decided not to. Eventually he headed out on his bike for a short training on the wet roads. He never came home. I got that phone call, the one you only see in movies. That one that tells you to go to the hospital but no details. Immediately I knew, but I wanted to think positively. Unfortunately my gut instinct was right. I was met at the hospital by his good friend (the one who was with him at the MP Granfondo) and we were ushered to a conference room and greeted by two police officers. I knew what they were going to say. He was struck by an out of control car, hit head on and died immediately. No time to react, no time to brake. It must have been a quick flash and then the light turned off for good.  Thus, I was a newlywed to widow in less than a year, in new country with different rules regulations and customs. Besides all the responsibilities of dealing with the practicalities of a death in a foreign land, there is the eventual grieving.

His friends helped me with the funeral arrangements and organized a beautiful memorial bike ride from the funeral home to the crematorium. We had polices escorts and rode two by two following the hearse. The pros rode in the front with me and his team mates and then scores of locals followed. The last 3 km the children joined me on their bikes. It was beautiful.

It was then I decided I would fulfill my Marmotte commitment. We had talked about it and I was going to honor it. I would write myself a training plan, change my diet (lose a few extra kilos) and regain my fitness. I aimed to be in the top ten in my age group. I would go to France a week  before the race to train in the mountains (Belgium is relatively flat) and spread some of his ashes on the Cols that we had ridden together in 2010 and the ones we would race in the Marmotte. I needed to honor him in the way he deserved. The goal was set.

Belgium winters are not conducive for cycling unless you are a tough cyclocrosser. That I am not. However I trained on my rollers, did my strength training and ate clean. Whenever I could, got out on the bike. Out of necessity, I learned the art of layering, woolen hats, double gloves with black pepper sprinkled on my hands. It was a journey I needed to take in order to reach my goal. When the weather finally got warmer, the rain did not give in. Every weekend I participated in as many of the “Classics” I could. I did the Walse Pijl (Fleche Wallone), Philippe Gilbert, Maxime Montfort, Liege Bastonge Liege (all 240 km in rain, thunder, lightning and hail), Tilff Bastonge Tilff, La Choufe and many other non-famous tours to prepare. I had planned to race the Trois Ballon in the French Vognes in June as a warmup event, but unfortunately was sidelined by bronchitis. I knew I needed to rest as not to dig a deeper hole before the Marmotte. The following weekend I did a weekend recon trip there just to test the legs on longer and higher climbs. I was pleased with my feeling. I was as ready as I could be for the Marmotte.

June 30th I left for Bourg D’osains to begin part 1 of my dual-fold journey. Ashes and photos would be left on the Col d’ornon, Col de Croix de Fer, Telegraph and the Galibier. I carried his ashes in my cycling pocket and laminated photos tucked under my jersey. It is something I never expected I would ever do in my life and especially with my new found soul mate. But such is life. It was the least I could do for him.

July 7, 2012 part 2 was about to be fulfilled. At 7:30 am I was cued up and ready to go. Me, the friend (who was with me when we met and when he died) and his father had all taped a photo of him on our top tubes. My goal was to equal if not exceed my time from my first Marmotte eight years before. I wanted to be top 10. In 2004 I was 10th in my age group.

Eight hours and thirty-one minutes later I crossed the finish line. I was 30 minutes faster than 2004 and now fifth in my age group.  As I crossed the finish line on Alp D’Huez, I kissed the photo on my top tube. I knew he was with me and was proud.

My love for the bike and my short stint of true love will always stay safe in my heart. I hope one day the children can see where their Papa left his heart and where mine will always be.

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// Guest Article // In Memoriam // The Rides

  1. Thanks for sharing your story with everyone Nancy. We all strive for that kind of love.  The right kind; that lifts and sustains us always. So nice to know its out there. See you soon sister-T

  2. Thank you, that’s all I’ve got…read over half that with tears streaming down my cheeks.

  3. Such a sad but beautiful story, Nancy. Thanks for telling it, and I hope sharing it helps keep your love alive. Best of luck for the future.

  4. Another saying thank you for sharing. A pleasure to read such a well written piece. I was so involved in your story, all loved up and then my breath was taken away. Great to hear about a life well-lived and you certainly seem to do that in spades

  5. @farzani

    Sorry for your loss and I wish you strength for you and the children.

    I really felt the love in your story.

  6. @ten B

    @Farzani thank you for sharing your story, and your wonderful way of telling it. Have you thought of writing a book? I think it would make a brilliant and truly unique addition to The Works. I think it also has the potential to be the basis for a superb film that would touch a huge number of people – and maybe, just maybe help non-cyclists understand what we’re really about.

    This.  Yes.

    What a beautiful, tragic story.  I’m not a crier but you’ve moved me to tears this morning.

  7. @ten B thank you and yes I do want to write a book. I have many many stories to tell..Not just about the bike, but ll my other “past” lives….musician, bodybuilder, rock climber…….etc

  8. @Tara YES you and I will climb Ventaux soon!!!! xoxox

  9. Thanks for sharing. Big lump in my throat. Keep pedalling. In Welsh, I’d just say Calon!

  10. @Gianni how do I get one of those wonder “V”‘s  on my profile? xxx

  11. oh my goodness!!I follow you on FB since 1 year but I didn’t know all your story and you touch me so deeply in my heart and so often when I’m on my bike suffering or others I’m thinking about you and your story!!!!You are such a model for me and I respect you so much!!!I couldn’t stop my tears, you are juste amazing women!!!!!!

  12. Such a terrible loss but a heart warming and inspiring story none the less.  A perfect tribute and great attitude, chapeau.

  13. @farzani

    Wow. Touched. Thanks for sharing your story with us, and best of luck for your future, on and off the bike.

    And yes, come and drop me on KT13!

  14. @farzani

    @Gianni how do I get one of those wonder “V”‘s  on my profile? xxx

    I’m not quite sure what you are asking but the V to the right of @farzani changes with how often one posts articles and comments. More details at the bottom of this page. And the other V on the left is the default icon until you get yourself a sweet avatar on http://www.gravatar.com

    Happy your story has met with such fine comments from our fellow readers. It’s well deserved. We are not such a callous bunch.

  15. @farzani  Thank you for sharing your story. I had choosen the V to share my own story and received the same support you have here. WHile my story is different, it is the same. We both have cycling as our therapy (or in my case additional therapy, but you get my point). After reading your article, I must remind myself how lucky I am, as my VMH encourages my cyckling and my future life in cycling. Thank you for that reminder.

    On a side note, now that I have moved from the prairie to the mountains, I have a strong respect for your dedication to a goal and your climbing ability.  My previous climbs were relagated to the first bank of the velodrome, but now, I am learning the pain of going up. Always. I mean, I have a short 1km descent from my nieghbourhood that I have to ride up to get home now. It tops out at 7% which is peanuts compared to any of the mentioned climbs, but damn it still hurts. And I love it every ride. I hope to see you fly by me some day on the way up some epic climb. You’ll recognize me. I will be the guy that looks like absolute crap and my wife will be yelling me to ride harder from the support car while throwing bidons at me.

  16. @Dan_R  thank you Dan. I would love to read your article. what is the title? I am floored by all the wonderful comments. I must say the bike community is tight knit world wide.

    BTW I am not a great climber just got a decent engine, strong legs (years of strength training and I mean REAL STRENGTH training- not what most girls do and most men for that matter) and stubborn as hell. I will NOT walk my bike. 22% etc.

    You are lucky to have a supportive wife, Hopefully someday I’ll be throwing bidons to Yves boys..At 7 & 9 years old we already mastered hand offs.

    Keep climbing!

  17. I am so sorry for you and your family’s loss and I feel so honored that you shared your moving experience with us. Your strength shines like a beacon of hope and has motivated me in more ways than you could ever imagine. Thank you for inspiring me to go harder and faster…

  18. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.  I was truly honoured to be able to read it and experience it in such a positive light.  All the best for the future, and never forget!  You are an inspiration.

  19. @eightzero

    @frank @farzani This too has had me thinking all day. While my VMH is a Badass, there are occasional times that I ride without her. She is never far from my thoughts, but particularly when I am on the bike. We’ve been together for 30 years now, but been cyclists together for only about the last half dozen. “It” can happen anywhere, anytime, but I never feel more vulnerable than when I am on a bike. This story just touches on something so…human…that I’m having trouble with perspective.

    So, in an attempt to do so, may it please the Keepers, I propose the following as a newly discovered Rule:

    “Rule #92: The Bike is an Eternal Committment: Love the VVork. The ride you are on now will never come again, while at the same time it is preparing you for the next ride.”

    The Ancients occassionally work their wisdom in ways difficult to understand.

    This is being kicked around the boardroom; we’ll advise the community of our findings. Its like I’ve said (and I’m sure many others as well) many times: the best rides are the ones we come home from.

  20. Carpe Diem encapsulated in an article. 

    Remember to feel the breeze as you descend and hear the hum of the tyres as you ascend.  Stop and take a look around as tomorrow it might all be gone. 

    It is all in the Bike if you take the time to look.

    Allez!

  21. @farzani

    This is Dan_R’s great article about the wounded warrior games at Camp Pendelton. Both articles are both heartfelt and beautiful.

  22. I just found out today that I was not 5th but 3rd!!! it appears that #2 and #3 in the 2012 female 50+ category were men… I PODIUMED! Yves is surely proud now…

  23. @farzani That seems very fitting. Congratulations.

  24. I “met” Nancy on the Ridley group on Facebook a while back.

    I joined the group when I was thinking about what bike to buy and Nancy gave some great advice – hence the Damocles ISP in the garage and the two great weeks I’ve just had in the Pyrenees.

    I’m lost for words now I understand the full story.

  25. Just read this for the 4th or 5th time since last year, still can’t get beyond halfway before getting teary. Fantastically told story, hope things are still working out well in Belgium.

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