Tom Simpson, a Brit, was the mentor to Eddie Merckx, the legendary God of Cycling and the most winning rider in the history of the sport. Tommy took the young Belgian racer in under his wing when the two were on the Peugeot-BP team, in the late ’60s. Tommy was a seasoned pro, and it was Eddie’s first year.
I’m only mentioning this because it illustrates the kind of rider, and the chapter in cycling history, that is Tom Simpson. He won the Tour of Flanders, the World Championship, was the Lion of England and the pride of Great Britain. And in the 1967 Tour de France, while climbing the barren and desolate slopes of Mt. Ventoux in 45c temperatures, he collapsed from his bike to die in the dust on the side of the road. His final words were, “Put me back on my bike. On, on, on.”
There’s so much more to be said about Tom Simpson. His story shouldn’t ever be relegated just to the fact that he, essentially, rode himself to death. There’s a lot more to it than even that, but for the purposes of this post, that’s the background I’m going to give on him. There’s a great biography on Simpson written by the UK Guardian’s William Fotheringham.
Now that we know who Tommy is, I can relate this story. I recently found a very cool company that produces very small runs of neat T-shirts related to cycling culture. One of their shirts commemorates Tom Simpson and I ordered one from their site, http://www.gagedesoto.com. The shirt has Tommy’s smiling face on it, and that mythic quote on the back, “On, On, On…”
So I have a feeling that this shirt isn’t all that common. You’d have to be a pretty committed road cyclist, and have to have stumbled across the website, or read about them somewhere. I think I read that Mike, the owner of the company, was initially hand pressing the shirts. Might not be anymore, but that was the start.
Anyway, I had a neat experience related to the shirt and to Tom Simpson. Here’s a description of that in an email to Mike, the guy that creates this stuff.
|From:||Kevin R (email@example.com)|
|Sent:||September 17, 2009 9:59:23 AM|
I just went to a wedding in this little place in British Columbia, the province next door to Alberta. The wedding went down in this cool little hippie beach town in wine country. All these rolling hills and awesome scenery. I brought a bike and did some riding while out there.
So, one day, I was kicking it in town at the only coffee shop there, getting a latte or whatever, and I see some dude wander in wearing your Tommy shirt. Like, in this little coffee shop in this little town of 300 people, on the shores of this gorgeous lake. So I immediately went over and talked to the guy. Kind of a weird thing, ’cause I don’t approach a lot of guys in coffee shops just randomly like that. But I did, and we chatted about cycling and about hardship on the bike and about all those things that an image of Tommy Simpson invokes in the committed rider. The mythology and the legends and how, even though we shouldn’t ever really compare ourselves to those guys, there’s still a fraternity and a connection to the heroes.
I’ll surely never ride myself to death, but I recognize that, on some of the most absolute epic rides I’ve been on, the feeling was that a little part of you gets left behind. At least until you hit a crossant and hot chocolate – then you’re gold again.
Anyway, it was a neat thing and I thought I’d share that with you – the guy had your shirt too and we had this cool connection about the sport and our love and commitment to it. In a small town coffee shop.