Thursday, September 24, 2020

Viva La Tour de France

Susan Evans

Susan Evans

In 2003, I was lucky enough to go to France and see Lance Armstrong cross the finish line in Paris to win his fourth consecutive Tour de France. My good friend and colleague in Island Bike Tours, Susan Evans, has done what most of us cyclists only dream of: riding some of the same routes in the Tour De France as the professional riders do, while the Tour is being raced. She has not only done this once but twice …so far. So I asked her to write an article about her cycling adventure in France. What I received was not only an amazing story of her cycling “feats’” but a touching story of love, commitment, and the many highs and many lows along her way.

My 2010 Tour de France Bike Adventure:

Two-wheel happiness from the beginning

Susan Evans

As I sit here writing, looking at my living room that resembles the Tour de France (TDF) headquarters, littered with my bike and various TDF souvenirs and memorabilia (including a TDF directional sign and a Lampre pro riders water bottle that I was lucky enough to receive from the race), I realize “It’s not about the bike, but rather what the bike can do for you.”

It was Eric Heiden, my friend and orthopedic surgeon, who reiterated those very words to me upon my return home from my TDF bike trip. I am very grateful to Dr. Heiden, who has performed two successful knee surgeries on me, thus making my TDF biking opportunity possible. So I must say, “Touché,” as I am in total agreement with him! Eric hit the nail on the head as this is what it’s all about, folks! And, yes, the name may ring a bell. Heiden won an impressive five Gold Medals in Speed Skating in the 1980 Olympics, and then went on to ride in the 1986 Tour De France on the first American 7-Eleven Bicycling Team. He now has his own orthopedic practice (www.heidenorthopaedics.com/) in Utah, and is also the Medical Director for both US Cycling (Team BMC) and US Speed Skating. Eric says, “Biking has been my addiction for as long as I can remember.” So he continues today to be both an avid bicyclist and enthusiast.

As for me, the turning point was when I read Lance Armstrong’s book, “It’s Not About the Bike”. This is when my love and passion for biking, admiration and respect for Lance and his cancer struggle, and the Tour de France really took off. And I must say, “What a wonderful journey the bike has taken me on thus far!” In addition, I would be remiss not to mention that, back when I read his book, little did I know what lay ahead in the years to come. In retrospect, this little book was the best inspiration that I could have had in preparation for what was to come. It provided me with immense insight, guidance, strength, hope, motivation and inspiration, all of which would prove very beneficial.

In the fall of 2007, I lost my Mom to the insidious disease of cancer. To say the least, that was a life-changing and devastating experience, and heartbreaking loss for me. My Mom fought a very courageous, brave battle for twenty-one months, as her diagnosis was terminal and she was put into a rigorous clinical trial immediately. While the process was arduous and painful, it bought her and us valuable, much-needed time with each other. It was

Roadside fans cheer riders on. Submitted photos

Roadside fans cheer riders on. Submitted photos

during that time that I almost unconsciously took a negative and turned it into a positive. Once again, it ended up being the best thing I could have done. It helped me to cope with the situation then and even now, not just for myself, but for all the family, friends and medical staff involved.

So what was this positive?

I decided to seek out, and take advantage of, a wonderful (and, at that time, small) organization and all of its resources that Lance Armstrong had created to help people in the great fight against cancer. It started as the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) or, as we know it today, Livestrong (www.livestrong.org/). This is where that little yellow “Livestrong” band was created, and as we all know, the rest is history…

LAF provided a website where people could donate their money. More importantly, it had a scroll where friends and family could leave loving, hopeful and supportive messages in honor of my Mom. I would show her the website on my laptop and in the end we raised $14,366.00 for LAF! Gee, it started out as such a small personal goal of raising maybe $1000.00. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined all the good that came out of signing up for the Livestrong Challenge: $14,366.00 raised for LAF, the helpful touching notes to Mom, the fruitful event, the people I met, and the Livestrong cancer stories that were shared, even including from Lance himself!

One of the first things I had done was sign up for the Livestrong Challenge in Austin, Texas, where my sister and I did the 5K walk/run and 60 mile bike ride in honor and in memory of our Mother. This event took place exactly one month to the day after she passed away. To say the least, the entire event brought on a sea of emotions, as this was such a moving experience and one which made an indelible lifelong impression on me. It was there that the real groundwork was laid and where trust, respect, strength, admiration, inspiration, motivation and loyalty truly formed a special bond between me, Lance, Livestrong, and my Mom. It was definitely very worthwhile.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was all leading to the grander event: “Le Tour de France”…

Upon Lance’s announcement of his return to professional biking and plan to ride in the 2009 Tour de France, I knew instantly that this was the adventure for me to embark on for my heart, mind, body, and soul. I truly admired Lance and his Livestrong cause, Le Tour de France, the country of France, biking, and adventure. And, yes, maybe I secretly even wanted to challenge myself and suffer in a way after seeing how my Mom suffered so greatly during her cancer battle. I also felt a great desire and need for a journey to “get away.” I found the perfect solution with Ciclismo Classico, based in Arlington, Massachusetts (www.ciclismoclassico.com), which offered a bike adventure trip to the Tour de France. So that was it, I had to do it. I would ride in honor and in memory of my Mom!

On my 2009 TDF trip, the warm, fun, dynamic and engaging bike guides, Enrico Pizzorni of Italy and Gabriel Del Rossi of France, were an integral part in the personal renewal that took place in me. Del Rossi now owns and operates his own top-notch bike adventure trip tour company: Pomegranate Journeys

Stunning scenery and intense climbs part of TDF course.

Stunning scenery and intense climbs part of TDF course.

(www.pomegranate.travel), which I highly recommend. The challenging yet do-able and invigorating biking through the fresh mountain air of the spectacularly stunning French and Italian Alps also renewed me. We even rode on some of the very routes that were part of the TDF race, and witnessed several of the TDF stages live which were so exciting! Not to mention, I was pedaling with interesting people, who now have become lifelong friends, while staying in charming world-class establishments, and tasting very fine regional drinks and delicacies.

I was so inspired and motivated by this amazing journey that I was compelled to sign up once again for Ciclismo’s 2010 Tour de France bike adventure trip! Last fall, I started training for my 2010 TDF bike adventure trip with regular weekly bike rides. As well, I started taking Italian language classes at the Italian Cultural Society in Naples at Naples Community School. I partnered with Matthew Walthour, local owner and operator of Island Bike Shop here on Marco Island, to establish Island Bike Tours (www.islandbikeshops.com). With Island Bike Tours, I lead guided/narrated bike tours of Marco Island, highlighting the island’s tropical charm, beautiful scenery, flora and wildlife, and rich, interesting history. In addition, we created a Facebook page called “Island Bike Tours”, which is filled with photos from various tours, as well as informative bicycling news posts.

Literally until the very last stages, this year’s TDF lived up to all of the hype, drama and excitement that had built up over the course of the year. It was a fantastic Tour and finish, with Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador battling it out shoulder-to-shoulder all the way up to the finish line. Unfortunately, there were many crashes and Lance Armstrong was taken out of the equation early on. However, he has had his time to shine over the last couple of decades and now it’s time for others, which is actually good for the sport. Lance and his legacy will always live on because he is an icon, being a seven-time TDF winner, cancer survivor, and the founder and biggest supporter (along with his Livestrong cohort Doug Ulman) of Livestrong and its steadfast and tireless fight against cancer.

Before I actually arrived in France for my bike trip, I had sent in my personal message in honor and in memory of my Mom to the Livestrong Nike chalkbot to be sprayed on the road. And low and behold, it was indeed sprayed, and to see and ride my bike in person over all of those messages of hope and inspiration was incredibly moving and humbling, yet inspirational and motivating to say the least!…

This year marked a historic year for the TDF as they were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the infamous Col du Tourmalet first being introduced into the TDF in 1910. The riders who pedaled up this monstrous precipitous HC category mountain climb in the Pyrenees back in 1910 were quoted as saying to the TDF organizers that they were “murderers” for putting such an ominous and treacherous climb in the race. This year’s riders had to tackle it three times!

The whole experience was very intense and a real challenge for me to ride up that very steep Col du Tourmalet, which overall averaged an 8% grade for 17 km, but I never stopped pedaling until the police (or Gendarmerie) made me quit just below the Col’s summit. Upon stopping, I recall being hunched over my bike frame for

Lance Armstrong provides local inspiration.

Lance Armstrong provides local inspiration.

a good bit, but the heavy breathing and pain immediately dissipated. Exhilaration quickly took over. During the climb, my experiences entailed: riding in the most spectacular and dramatic scenery of the Pyrenees mountains; supportive and enthusiastic fans on the sidelines cheering me on (some literally pushing me), as well as me cheering other riders on; giving the young impressionable children on the sidelines high-fives (actually sideways) along the way; making my Lance-Livestrong-Mom chalk mark on the road; my homemade Go Lance-Livestrong poster being a hit with the crowd; newspaper photographers; TV cameramen; being on the most electric spot on the TDF Stage route near a switchback lined with the crazy ’n’ raucous Norwegians wrapped in flags and so forth (it was a frenzy and pure mayhem); then seeing Lance snaking his way up that treacherous ascent in first place, and literally riding right over my chalk mark, and right by me just a few feet away; while holding my poster in hand and wearing my Livestrong jersey!… As you can tell, it was truly an amazing moment and an experience that goes down in the memoirs!

I have the image of that moment freeze-framed in my head and I am sure it won’t be going away anytime soon! I did all that I could do to avoid being overtaken with emotion, but and all I could think of at that moment was that perhaps all this was meant to happen in the big scheme of things–that all the previous events had led to this moment. I felt an inner sense that I was part of something much greater than what was actually going on right before the eye… And that left me in a stunned state for the remainder of the day; but in the most positive way…

Upon my arrival home here in the States, I checked my email to find that Alessandro, the wonderful bike guide from my trip, had sent me a photo (the one featured here in this article) of me with my Go Lance-Livestrong poster on the Col du Tourmalet from the TDF Stage 16 race day. The picture was taken by a Le Tour de France professional photographer, on the back of a Tour motorcycle, who was in the brigade amongst the riders and race team cars. In another email, some friends wrote that they had seen me and the same image on TV. Talk about timing and being in the right place at the right time! It was indeed a momentous occasion and a perfect day. That photo truly captured the very essence of what the entire Tour de France experience meant to me.

To be a part of all this rich history, past and present, with the race being Lance’s farewell TDF, and with my Mom close in my heart and thoughts, was truly emotionally overwhelming for me. As so often happens in life, these events combined to give me a greater sense of purpose and to keep the spirit alive from now on!

My best advice to all of you out there is to get on that bike and keep the wheels a-turnin’ and rollin’ on the planet! Enjoy the journey of two-wheel happiness and just see where it takes you. Who knows, maybe to a bike adventure trip to Le Tour de France, or even with Island Bike Tours! Remember, “It’s not about the bike, but rather what the bike can do for you”!

Livestrong and Vive le Tour and le Bike!

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