During the COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve been working on a book … a compilation of my French cycling adventures. Here’s one from 1992 …
“Bonjour,” the older-looking guy said, hardly out of breath, as he and his friend pulled up alongside of me as I struggled up one of the tallest mountains in Luxembourg. OK, I know: Luxembourg is a really small country, and so are the mountains, especially compared to the Alps or Pyrenees. The top of this mountain, near the town of Marnach, was “only” 520 meters.
“Bonjour,” I answered, totally out of breath.
The older-looking guy then launched into lots more French I didn’t understand.
“Je ne parle pas Francais,” I panted. “Parlez-vous Anglais?”
“Oui,” he answered. “Are you British?”
“American,” I said.
It seems this guy, and his bike buddy, were from Belgium (one country over to the west) and were on vacation, with their wives, who were spending the day shopping while they went for a ride.
“It’s a beautiful day for a ride,” the guy said. “And not too hard for someone who is 20, yes?”
“I’m 33,” I said. “And this is hard.”
“Thirty-three,” he said with a triumphant smile. Then he pounded his chest with his right arm. “I am 60.”
“Good for you, old timer,” I mumbled to myself. Then he began speaking to his friend, in French, or maybe it was Dutch, which they also speak in Belgium. The second guy laughed and then pounded on his chest.
“He is 62 and says this is an easy ride,” the first guy said.
Easy? What the hell were they talking about? I was already over the 1,000-mile mark on this trip, and feeling pretty darn good about myself and my cycling abilities. And then these two Belgian chest pounders have to go and ruin it.
And then, to make matters worse, they stood up on their pedals, starting spinning faster and pulled away from me. Quite easily. How dare they! I wasn’t about to let these two old guys kick my ass, and quickly rose up and began pedaling faster and more furiously. Nope. Not even close. They kept pulling further ahead of me, and the pain in my thighs and lungs got worse with each and every pedal stroke. I sat back down on my bike seat and began to pedal slower, gasping for breath.
The 60-year-old turned and gave me a wink and a wave, as they pulled further and further away.
In my defense, these were most likely two former professional cyclists. In fact, they were probably once among the top professionals and, perhaps, one or even both of them, had won a stage or two of the Tour, maybe even a mountain stage. Yeah, this sounds plausible.
FYI: I’m now 61 as I write this, the same age as these guys. And can, and have, kicked the butts of some much-younger riders on the way up some pretty long, steep hills. I have not, however, ever pridefully pounded my chest in triumph as I pedaled past and dropped these young riders. That can wait till I’m 70. I’m looking forward to it.
FYI(2): I don’t have any photos from the 1992 trip. The pictures above are from 2018 and Provence.