I am visiting my parents as my mum asks me: “That Tyler Hamilton book, about his doping confessions, you havent’t read that yet, did you?”
She walks to the book shelf and scours the titles, looking for The Secret Race. After a while she pulls the book off the shelf and hands it over to me. “There you are. Very good book, you know.”
By now, I’ve sort of got used to my mum being a cycling fan, but if she says things like these, I’m still flabbergasted. Till five years ago, about cycling she would only state things like: “All those men riding a bike through France, what’s that good for?!” And: “Races are so boring! Hours and hours on a bike. Stupid waste of time.”
Nowadays, it’s getting more and more common the tv is tuned in to the Tour de France, even if my mum is home alone. When I was a kid, my dad used to follow the important races; in my memory the radio played Radio Tour de France the whole summer, the house filled with the scent of freshly baked pancakes and me washing my sandy feet before joining the family at the dinner table.
When I started cycling at 30 years old, my mum really didn’t like it. Why would I want to do that at my age, she asked. Racing, suffering, crashing, breaking bones… And especially: that stupid act of just riding a bike all the time. She didn’t understand. She wished I would stop immediately, so she didn’t need to worry about me crashing all the time.
But soon she had to admit I was fully captivated by bikeracing. She decided to stop resisting and she started to show some interest. Suddenly I found her at the side of the road at the Ronde van Drenthe, with a camera.
She was so nervous about seeing me race that all her photos turned out to be totally blurred, because she was shaking all over. Next time I passed with the peloton, she had put her camera on a big stone to make sure the photos would be good.
Just after the first year I started racing, my brother was diagnosed with cancer. Testicular cancer, the same type of cancer Lance Armstrong suffered from. The doctors found it out in an early stage, there was no reason to think my brother wouldn’t be cured, but he had to be treated with chemotherapy and they operated on him twice. My mum read Armstrong’s It’s not about the bike, and the book gave her hope. She started to wear the yellow wrist band.
Not long after, my mother bought herself A race bike. One with straight handlebars, to be a bit more comfortable and to make sure braking was easy. She was 62 already and she had never before in her life been on a race bike. She started to train. And she signed up to the Alpe d’Huzes – a challenge to ride up Alpe d’Huez up to six times in one day – to raise money for fighting cancer. She climbed Alpe d’Huez. Easy. My mum! She could even have done the climb several times, I am sure of that because she was in a great shape, but she didn’t dare to ride down. So it was just one time.
My brother is healthy again. My mum doesn’t have a goal to ride her bike for anymore. She doesn’t need a goal. Riding a bike is the goal now. She rides to relax, to enjoy nature. Just like it happened to me, she’s totally captivated by riding a bike. Tomorrow, she’s going on holiday, together with my dad – who also bought a race bike. They are going to ride in the hills in Germany.
Meanwhile, she will surf the internet, looking at all cycling pages she can find, to make sure she’ll see the results of my races as soon as they’re published. She knows exactly where and when I race, even if I don’t tell her. She cheers for me and my teammates on Facebook. And she texts me a good luck wish every single time.
You’re never too old to become a cycling fan. You’re also never too old to start riding a bike. And you’re absolutely never too old to be proud of your tough mother.