Louisville Wheelmen

Louisville Wheelmen Newsletter -- January-February 1996

No Question of Honor

by David Stewart

In an article for Bicycle Guide magazine, James Startt wrote about the Tour de France. He quoted his Parisian fruit and vegetable vendor, Jean-Louis Chategnier. “Did you see the young American?” the merchant asked Mr. Startt. “Oh, what class, what courage. And did you see the gesture of the peloton in Pau? What a lesson! If only that honor existed in the rest of our lives.”

When Fabio Casartelli of the Motorola team was killed, I was shocked. I felt a vestige of the grief his teammates and fellow competitors felt. It suddenly became apparent that cycling concerned more than just pleasant metaphors for life. I read about how the peloton rode Stage 16 the day after in Casartelli’s honor quietly and slowly so that no one would be dropped and how the Motorola team was allowed to finish ahead of the rest of the field as an honor to the teammate they had lost. I read that Lance Armstrong was consumed on Stage 18 by his passion over Casartelli’s death and finished in a blazing solo victory. Fingers pointing to the sky as he crossed the finish line.

Early this past summer, I had grown unhappy with running; weary of the solitary miles I was putting in and weary of the sore joints in my knees and hips. Then, over quiet drinks and starched white table cloths, a friend encouraged me to ride with him. To ride bicycles as part of a Saturday morning ritual with a group who named their rides after the restaurants where they stopped for brunch. I went. And kept going. I had come upon something brand new and wonderful.

Of course I had ridden bikes when I was a kid. My first one was purchased in Central Africa. It was a Raleigh. The first Christmas after I came back to the United States, I found a Schwinn under the tree. But the type of riding I did now was different. It came with names new to me. Names that rolled off my tongue like the names of exotic jewels. Trek. Cannondale. Specialized. Bianchi. Mavic and Shimano. Avocet and Campagnolo. And this type of riding came with a group of people who appreciated these names and enjoyed each other. Saturday after Saturday. I was thrilled by leisurely rides through mornings hazed with summer light. I enjoyed the camaraderie of people my own age and those old enough to be my parents. I enjoyed the company of cyclists who, over many years, had developed a love for this interesting blend of machinery and people. The rides were a chance to talk and tell stories, stories of business deals, about politics and power. Stories of races and fine cycles. Memories about centuries gone by. Of 500-mile tours.

The same friend told me about rides for new cyclists put on by the Louisville Wheelmen. I went one Monday afternoon. Found a different group and a different pace but the same camaraderie. More stories in a multi-aged setting. I was impressed by all this so I encouraged my high school-aged daughter to ride with me. She enjoyed it, too. We both rode to Bardstown and back. It was the most fun in the rain I’ve had in years.

With a basic understanding of cycling came a thirst for more knowledge. Ride captains, coaches and experienced riders fielded my questions with patient knowledge. I picked up cycling magazines and pored over the articles. The Tour de France came along and I followed it with increasing interest. Learning names such as Indurain, Zülle, Virenque, Armstrong and Chiappucci. I developed a certain familiarity with French cities and passes in the Alps I had never seen. Then Fabio died.

The idea of cycling as a metaphor came back to me. I recalled the ride captain who hung back patiently with my daughter and me as she struggled up a hill in her first-ever ride with the Louisville Wheelmen. I remembered an early ride of my own where experienced riders slowed to ask after me as I rode panting up hills I should have walked. I remembered a ride I had no business being on with the racing team and the coach who stayed back to ride in with me. I remembered the veteran of many races and tours who loaned my daughter a bicycle that really would make it to Bardstown and back. I remembered the help I saw materialize around a rider stopping with a flat tire.

Our world can be one of easy cynicism, disconcerting unpredictability and uncharted futures. There is a lot to fear. So much uncertainty. So much baseness as people scramble for what they regard as survival. It fills me with new warmth and fresh hope to read that a group of international athletes handled themselves with honor and decorum and to know that a French fruit vendor understood how they honored their fallen comrade. It fills me with comfort and wonder to recognize in my fellow riders right here in Louisville this honor the vendor speaks of. I do love the speed and the exertion and the distances. I love pacelines undulating over rises and falls in the road. I love the sound of derailleurs working like fine watches. But most of all, I love being with the people. “If only that honor existed in the rest of our lives,” wished the Frenchman. It does. It does.

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last updated: 22 December 1995
by Duc M. Do