A year ago (July 2014), I stood on the start line of my dream and raced at the Tour de France. A year later, I am still assembling the words and sentences to do justice to this experience, and slowly those words are drifting into place. There is a long story to be told of life, love, pain and the pursuit of change and progress, but in the meantime, I'll share journey of this photograph (Below).
40 min after the race started, I got a flat tire, pinched to deflation on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees. There would be no chasing back to the peloton, though for another half our I tried. Along the way, I picked up a few of the development riders who had come off the bunch. When the officials signaled for us to exit the course, we still had part of a lap to go to get back to the staging area. That mile now stands as the greatest the greatest mile of my cycling career. And, that flat tire was the strangest gift I never would have thought to ask for.
The race had been relentless, as professional races are: all intensity, instinct and reaction. We were all very glad to be there at La Course, but no professional athlete is going to smile and hug and rejoice at the progress of sport while we're in the throes of competition. (I've been asked what it felt like to stand on that start line. My activist side was proud. My athlete side only cared whether the woman in front of me clipped in quick. Same as any race). But "thanks" to the flat tire, I was no longer in the throes of competition and I saw La Course from a anew persepctive. My heart rate slowed, my disappointment yielded to exhaustion, and as I encircled the famous Arc de Triomphe for the last time, I truly saw what we had achieved. Fans lined the entire course. There were men and women and children of all ages, and they were not just standing there. They were enthralled. They cheered and waved, as though the young Australian and I were winning. I was close enough to see their faces. These fans understood what was happening. They had watched our chase and knew we weren't winning. Still they clapped and hollered. I understood then that they were cheering for us because we were there. Because the race was happening at all. They knew what we accomplished in having La Course exist. And, like the racers, the crowd seemed so happy to be there. They cared that we were women, and at the same time, they didn't care at all….which is the exactly what we've been trying to prove when it comes to watching athletes and professional sports.
I gave a little wave. The crowd roared and waved back. I did it again, rolling slowly along, and a new section of fans would cheer and wave back. I waved, Paris waved. We ebbed and flowed like this for a mile. "Holy crap," it dawned on me. "My dream and I are waving at each other." In this photo, I am crying. (Truth be told, I'd cried every day for the two months leading up to this race and for many months after... stories for another time) but these particular tears, falling over the very cobbles deflated my race, were pure joy. I waved and cried and rolled myself over a finish line that wouldn't count for me as a racer that day, but will forever remain a benchmark of my life's journey. What a gift it was to have that flat tire, to let that day soak in, to have the bizarre realization that we can actually create something good in this crazy world, and that maybe if we do it right, our dreams will wave to us as we go by.