At this charity ride, before cycling got big, in 99 or something, a bunch of very famous pros came out to lead Calgary’s who’s who on a tour around K-country. There were only about 700 people there. The thing was led by Lance Armstrong, Eddy and Axel Merckx, and Steve Bauer. The guys I was riding it with agreed to meet up on the front if we got separated, and of course we did, so I remember hoping from group to group to get up there and I had settled in with this crew, and I looked over and thought, “ok, this guy’s super smooth, this is a good spot.” And it was Bauer.
Anyway, we get up front with Armstrong and every bike racer in Alberta that can hold the pace, prob 40 guys. Behind is everyone else. Then, about 40k into the 110k ride, Armstrong and crew duck out, taking a shortcut back, and of course every single dude goes with him. Except us. We paceline the remaining 70k, all out. Jordan was a CAT1 in the US. Bill was at least a 2, in the US as well, and I’m just trying not to let them down. I hang in there and we hammer this thing out. Like, 3 hours and a bit. FUCKING FLYING. 34/35k average. Just drooling. We were the first to finish the full distance.
And after we finished, the guys disappeared to find their families in the crush of people at the staging area, and I was calling my mom, who was out there floating around somewhere, with my girlfriend. I left her a message and found my way into the food hall where I grabbed a banana and a Coke, taking it outside to wait.
I remember sitting on this bench at this picnic table. I felt wasted but euphoric, the same way you always feel after riding at your limit like that. Eyes were bloodshot, face streaked with grit and sweat, hair matted down, a bird’s nest from the helmet.
I remember looking down at my feet and seeing the stark line on my ankles from where I had peeled my socks off to put some sandals on. I remember seeing my legs and feeling good about the fitness that I saw in them, noticing hard-working veins popped out and flushing gunk back to the heart for processing.
I remember sitting there thinking all this, enjoying the sugar of this chilled Coke and kind of feeling like a ‘real’ cyclist, and I looked up and, no word of a lie, there’s Eddy Fucking Merckx walking 3 feet by me. He’s showered and changed and also drinking a Coke. He has black hair shot through with grey, he is slim, around 60 years old now and still looks pretty intimidating and more than a little intense.
Our eyes meet and he glances down at my bare, bone white feet which are incongruously attached there at the end of my mid-summer-tanned ankles. He scans my legs, lifts his eyes back up and makes eye contact again. Then he nods at me. A slight, acknowledging tilt of the head.
I’m totally in awe but I slowly nod back and as I do there’s a ghost of a smile on the face of The God of Cycling as he continues on his way.