It’s funny how you can remember certain things very clearly. I don’t know how many times I have gone fast around a corner in my life, but I bet it’s a bunch. Of all the times, though, there is one turn I remember more than any other.
It was around Christmastime in 1989. I was living in Bad Godesberg with my wife and daughter, at the Studentenwohnheim Rheinallee. Most days before school I would hop on my blue Eddy Merckx, drop down to the river and go up the bike path a couple of miles to the bridge at Hochkreuz. From there I’d cross over and ride in the hills along the river for an hour or two, then cross back over and come home.
In winter it was always good riding. Wet, cold, and lots of cobbled, stony roads that zigged up, zagged down, and never had any traffic. One of the places I always ended up was on a dead end called Adriansberg, in Königswinter. It was a brute climb and ended in gravel for the last couple of hundred yards. From there I’d drop back over to Dollendorfer Street and bomb full bore back into Königswinter.
There was one huge hook turn, a right-hander, and this was decades before Strava so I never knew how fast it was, but it was fast, screamingly fast, all-in fast, so fast that you made yourself small, leaned, leaned, leaned, leaned, and then popped back up like a cork, zooming on back to the Rhine and safety and home. I did that descent so many times that I kind of forgot how fast it was. Of course I’d see it, set up for it, lean into it, and get a little thrill, but then continue on with my ride … special but not that special.
Anyway, this particular December my good friend Jeff Fields had come to visit, and he’d brought his bike. Do you know what kind of friend brings his bike to ride with you in winter in Germany? A good friend, that’s what kind. Jeff was also a real, real good bike handler. I had never seen him fall, or even come close to falling. He had nerves of steel.
Jeff had raced in Belgium and knew what he was in for, so we suited up and rolled out in that light freezing drizzle. “Any fool can ride home in a cold rain,” Jeff always liked to say, “but it takes a hard bastard to start out in it.”
We crossed the river and began doing the climbs in the Siebengebirge, the beautiful expanse of hills on the far side of the Rhine. When we got to Adriansberg, we were pretty done, but we raced up it anyway. As we headed home, gathering speed down Dollendorfer Street, I rolled in front of Jeff. “I know the route,” I said. He nodded.
In a flash the turn was there, and we were absolutely flying. I’d done it a hundred times before, in harder rain and worse weather than this. Unusually, there was traffic in the other direction, so it crossed my mind, fleetingly, that this would be a bad day to lay it down and slide into the oncoming travel lane.
The turn reared up in front of me but I wasn’t scared. My tires were glued on well, they had plenty of tread, I was running them slightly underinflated to make them stickier, and when the g’s began to pull I leaned against their tug, the bike pushing farther and farther and farther, the road getting closer and closer and closer, until it popped back up, just like it always did, squirting me out of the apex like the world’s most well-lubed watermelon seed.
A minute later Jeff caught up to me. He grabbed my jersey. “Hey,” he said.
I looked and he was absolutely white, a hue I’d never seen on his face before. “Yeah?”
“That turn,” he said. “I thought you were going down. No way you were going to hold that.”
“Oh, that? I do it all the time.”
He shook his head and let go. “Never seen anything like that in my life.”
A lot of things went through my head just then, not least of which being that Jeff had trained and raced with some of the world’s best. Suddenly I started shaking from fear, but it was too late, I’d already won.
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