An inspiring story that reminds us we are not alone in cancer.
The Alpe d’Huzes–with its steep climb and 21 switch backs–is known as one of the most treacherous segments of the Tour de France. But while it may shatter many a cyclists’ dreams this coming July 22 during the Tour, this week it raised hope for millions of cancer patients and their families. Each year, thousands of Dutch nationals organize to cycle, run or walk up this infamous route to raise awareness and funding for cancer research. This year, I am honored to know one of them, our dear friend, and once-ago neighbor in the Netherlands, Hein-Jan. He made the climb, op de fiets (on bicycle) in honor of his wonderful wife, Ina, who lost her battle this fall to glioblastoma–an aggressive form of brain cancer.
While I couldn’t be there to cheer Hein-Jan on, our good friend, Neil was on hand to provide moral and logistical support. I asked Neil to provide a report of the event. Here is his account of yesterday’s effort.
The great day had arrived. Around 10,000 Cloggies (an affectionate slang term for Dutch folks) including 3,700 riders would be raising €20 million for Cancer Research by climbing “their” mountain. The local population was struggling to cope. In the whole region there was not a slice of ham or cheese to be found, the cows were working overtime to produce enough milk and by 10am in the morning the bakers had their “sold out” signs in the window!
It was also an early morning in room 301 as the final preparations were made. Being in a hotel at the top of the mountain there was first the easy bit. The journey down to the start line. I waived Hein-Jan away at 8:00 and he was back at 8:05! A new record! 5 minutes to descend and the Alpe d’Huez! And he had crossed the finish line! Those of you who know Hein-Jan well will also know he has a terrible sense of direction. This was another case in point! At 8:05 he actually descended along the correct road after being sent back by a steward!
The next meeting point would be bend 5 where the Rabobank group were gathering and supporting the riders with the help of Foolen sound installations from Son and Jan Thingy – a famous cycle race commentator.
Hein-Jan duly arrived at 11:10 after setting off around 9am – a great performance considering his training schedule. Getting to the top would probably take another hour. Looking at the queue for the cable car that we (Jasper van Zuuren had joined the coaching team at this stage) would need to take to get to the top as well, there was a good chance he would get their first! We arrived at the finish line at 12:30 – an hour and 20 minutes after he had left bend 5 – and he had indeed beaten us to the finish! Considering the training schedule, this was indeed a performance to be proud about. Even the legs were doing well! I asked how he felt….he was proud of the achievement, but it was also difficult at the end as thoughts turned to Ina and others like Dan Zenka, Francois Bienfait, Jan Burgers and more, who are fighting the battle with cancer. For a while he had ridden with a guy who had had 50 chemo treatments, the last 2 only two weeks ago, but he still made it to the top. This is just one example of the many, many incredibly brave people who undertook similar actions today…..sometimes it is possible to be proud of the human race.That’s it for now….we’re off to cheer on some more crazy people who will be riding up this mountain as many as SIX times today! This evening we have the Rabobank BBQ to praise all who took part and take the team photos….our masseuses will be with us!
A Post BBQ Note from Neil…
After a long and amazing day we have finally crashed in our apartment. Just watching events and a few minor climbs have left me shattered….what a huge number of people have done here today is breathtaking. I can report that Hein-Jan’s head hit the pillow two minutes ago only a few metres away and already the sound of snoring is wafting through the air. We will not be up early tomorrow!