A Bike Race, Family, and Loss

Photo by Jan De Meuleneir/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

In this beautiful and emotional piece for Outside, Ian Dille manages to narrate the drama of the 2020 Tour de France, while also detailing the death of his father. The 2020 Tour was the last the pair watched together, after years of bonding through their love of the race. Dille deftly weaves the legs of the race with anecdotes about the ailing parent watching alongside him, demonstrating his love and appreciation for the man who gave him the freedom to pursue his own passion for biking as a career. When Dille is left to watch the final stages of the Tour without his father his devastation is palpable. This piece is expertly done, showing the shared interest that brought a whole family together, and the importance of taking time just to be together, even if it is while also watching a six-hour Tour stage.

Life’s metaphors, its various struggles and successes, seem to play out in a more dramatic fashion in a bike race. At least they did for me and my dad. Riders conquer mountains and succumb to crashes on the way back down. They surge ahead of the group with a violent effort called an attack, form temporary allegiances to share the draft and break the wind, and then try to dispatch each other in the closing kilometers. A rider will lead the race alone for a hundred-some-odd kilometers and then get gobbled up by the charging peloton just meters from the finish.

For my dad and me, watching the Tour became akin to an annual fishing trip or a multi-day hike. Growing up, I spent countless hours pedaling behind him on a shiny aluminum tandem, exploring rural North Texas roads, where we lived in the nineties, and tackling the rocky singletrack overlooking Lake Grapevine. When my dad moved to D.C. in the 2000s, he lost his tight-knit group of bike-club friends, and also his impetus to ride. I was too strong, or too cool, to get out with him then. We didn’t bond on our bikes anymore, but watching the Tour, we came to know each other as adults. 

My dad gave me his hearty laugh and his boyish eyes, but he could also be stoic, gruff, and comically reserved with his emotions. He’d ask how my car was running, and I understood that he loved me. Watching the Tour together, I cherished that, though my dad had never competed, he understood the sport, and through it, he seemed to understand me. Despite its impracticality, he supported my decision to pursue bike racing professionally. He was good at asking questions, and he didn’t fully fall for Lance’s fairy tale. Over the years, we watched heroic performances with a healthy amount of skepticism but also shared an appreciation for underdogs. An unlikely hero would emerge, and we’d root for him to beat the odds.

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