27 years ago I crossed the finish line on the Champs-Élysées, completely shattered not really knowing what I had just done.
I knew that I had just ridden longer and farther in one sustained effort (4,094 kilometers in 3 weeks with only 1 rest day) than I had ever done in my life. Looking back on the pictures, I looked like a ghost warmed over. What I hadn’t realized at the time was that I had created an indelible memory that I would be truly proud of for the rest of my life.
So, in the Winter of 2013 when the ASO (which owns the race), invited me to attend the 100th anniversary along with the other living finishers I jumped at the opportunity. I had already made plans to be in Chambery with my wife and friends to ride, relax and watch the Tour for a few days so getting to Paris was a short TGV ride away.
Arriving at the Eiffel Tower hotel we were greeted by the friendly staff of the ASO who provided us with some small tokens of appreciation and an itinerary for the day. It was apparent that there were many old time French pros and quite a few Italians as well….none of whom spoke any English and couldn’t understand my French.
15 tour buses were loaded up for the drive over to our tribune where we would be watching the race – the point on the Champs-Élysées where the course splits and goes away from each other. But first, we did a lap of the course on the buses to remind ourselves of the pain and suffering we each endured along with the elation of joining a pretty special club – a finisher of the Tour.
We disembarked into an amazing Paris sunset and watched the French air force fly directly over us with their classic blue, white and red streamers. Great food and beer awaited us as we mingled with the guys who all had shown their mettle at some point in their lives. Amazingly, I didn’t recognize many and it took the name tag for me to remember a few. Alain Bondue was there with a lot of grey hair – he was a pursuiter like me and I shared my memory of him of an Alps stage that went over the Galibier, Croix de Fer and finishing on the Alpe d’Huez, We both got dropped from the grupetto on the Croix de Fer and on the descent into Bourg D’Oisans it was Alain and myself with our own private lead police motorcycle screaming down roads that I had never been on at speeds that I’d never thought possible. We TT’d to the base of the Alpe and then I never saw him again…turns out that he got a lot of spectator pushes that helped him gain 5 minutes on me by the top! It didn’t matter though as I finished within the time limit to live another day. Now, with a few more gray hairs, we traded a few tweets and wished each other well.
There were only a few English speakers there including Barry Hoban, the British TT specialist whom I had only read about in old bike racing mags. We had a great conversation about the history of the sport and how far it’s come. Jock Boyer was there – my good friend who I had last seen at the Cape Epic in South Africa in March. Jock is leading the charge with Team Rwanda and the Rwandan National Team as well as working with other East African nations to help them with their cycling programs.
I shared a cold beer with Marty Jemison, a stalwart rider with the early days of U.S. Postal who now runs a bike touring company. We shared thoughts on our love for the sport and how much our lives have changed since we finished the Tour.
I told Bernard Hinault that I was very grateful to have won the yellow jersey – I think he remembered me…but his English and my French didn’t really mesh.