What happens to a professional bike rider after he retires ? The guys at the top are usually financially secure enough to pick and choose what they do next . Some become directeur sportifs , others get into tv commentary or punditry . Some will buy a small business or farm to run just to keep themselves occupied . But what about the domestique .They have careers that sometimes span the same time frame as the greats but when they retire they go in opposite directions . Here is the story of two such riders ;
3 am on a Tuesday night and the production line grinds to a halt as a loud whistle blows . It will blow its shrill mind numbing siren once again in twenty minutes time as a signal to the workers to return to their stations in time for the next batch of two thousand saucepans to come their way . Eighty people now have less than twenty minutes to grab a cup of coffee and a cellophane wrapped ham or jam roll . Some opt for just a plain biscuit , but their stomachs will be rumbling by the time their shift finishes at 8 am .
A tall rangy figure wanders over to a corner table and sits alongside another man who has the same weather-beaten look about him . They greet each other with a nod and each settles into removing the cellophane from the fresh ( 5 days ago ) ham roll and begin to consume their evening meals . The late arrival eventually speaks after taking a mouthful of the tar like coffee that will help him wash down the rubber like mouthful of ham roll .
‘How are you this fine evening Jean ?’
‘OK and you MIchel ‘
‘I am good . Today I take the stabilizers from the bike of my son and he now can ride with balance ‘
‘Now he become a cyclist , maybe good , maybe not so good . Maybe it better if you buy him football boots ‘
‘Is good , is good . He is a good boy . I like to see him so happy when he learn to cycle. You not in good form tonight . Everything OK ? ‘
‘Yea , all is good except for my wife . She tell me today we need new TV . She see one in catalogue for one thousand euro . I can just about pay the mortgage as it is and now she want a big tv so she can sit around all day watching the crazy boring people live their depressing lives on the crazy boring soap operas . Then she tell me she has to go doctor because she is depressed . More money . I have to watch the Tour on the small portable in the bedroom . And today did you see Peters , he win again another stage . You remember when he come out training with us that first time after his Father had been calling your uncle for weeks to arrange it ?’
‘Yea I remember . I remember how strong he was but so ugly on the bike , all knees and elbows . After that spin I gave him a jersey and his face lit up like it was the keys to a Ferrari . He was a nice boy then . He still is I guess ‘
‘His Father Frankie , I remember him . He was so into it . His whole life seemed to turn around the son ‘
‘Aren’t all Fathers the same when it comes to bike racing . I remember my first Tour . I was suffering so bad on The Galibier . All that I wanted to do was to pull over and climb off into the car . I was drifting of the back of the bus and my tour and probably my career was nearly over before it really started . My eyes were all blurry and all the roar of the crowd sounded like one big drum beating in my ear . Then I hear my name in a way that sounded different from the crowd noise and familiar at the same time . I was pedaling squares when I feel a hand on my back and I thought I was hallucinating when I realise it is the voice of my Father telling me to keep going . He push me for three hundred meters on that savage gradient and when he let go I always remember the final thing he say to me – We’re all proud of you son . I could not stop after that and somehow I manage to get back into the bus and make it to the finish of that stage . In the hotel afterwards he come to see me . I ask him why he come to the mountain . Before the tour I ask all my family to come only to Paris if I make it that far . But my Father he say that he saw on the tv the day before one shot of me in trouble on Alpe d’Huez and he decide there and then that he would be there for me the next day if I need him . My mother she make some rolls and a flask of tea and my father he bring a pillow and sleeping bag and he drive all through the night form Bruges . Then he sleep for two hours in the car and then he walk fifteen kilometers up the mountain . The thing he did that day it make me fight harder on the really hard days after that .’
‘They were good times huh? , We had to suffer and fight like warriors just to stay with the bunch so that we could then suffer even more to bring some guy a water bottle or be told to ride at the front for 50 kilometers and give every last ounce of what we had . We gave every last ounce of effort in our bodies and more and we loved it ‘
The shrill sound of the whistle sounded again and as every other body in the canteen shuffled out Jean and Michel remained seated both with a far away look in their eyes and a slight smile on their faces .
Two minutes later a young skinny guy in a shiny suit stormed into the canteen and yelled at them both ;
‘What the fuck do you two think you are doing . The line is moving again and you are not out at your stations . Get the fuck out there and I will be docking your wages by fifteen minutes at the end of the week ‘
Both men stood to face the night shift supervisor who was also the son of the company owner . It was Jean who spoke ;
‘ You know something . When your mother was wiping your shitty little ass we were fighting and suffering and giving every ounce of our beings to do something that little upstarts with their daddy’s money would never be able to do . We lived through hell and were adored by thousands of fans and supporters . We saw places and did things that you will only ever be able to dream of . Once we were warriors , but those days are gone now and we have families to support so we come here to work for your Daddy and make his saucepans . But we do not take shit from you !
With that they both left the canteen and returned to their workstations .
The following evening as they returned to work they did not know whether they would have a job or not . But the supervisor knew his father was a cycling fan and had a fondness for the two ex pros . He was not sure of the outcome for himself if he brought the incident up with him so all returned to normal in the saucepan factory and no wages were docked .