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Riding with Team Rabobank

September 4, 2011

Robert Gesink at Full Cycle, Boulder, pre-ride (Mary Topping)

It’s a bit of a stretch to say we were going to ride bikes with four guys from the Rabobank Team. But that’s just what 70 recreational cyclists waited for on a cool early September morning at 18th and Pearl in Boulder outside of Full Cycle bike shop.

They appeared on our left silently as if out of nowhere, four silky, jointless young men dressed in orange and blue kits riding Giant bikes.

Robert Gesink, Dennis Van Winden, Stef Clement, and Pieter Weening rolled up to the shop together. The last three stopped and waited while Robert swung off his bike and entered the  shop. The leader is always the leader. Immediately hidden items emerged from dozens of jersey pockets: posters and shirts for autographs.

Stef Clement, the current Dutch time trail champion, straddled his bike near me and my husband Donald. “How do you like Boulder?” I asked Stef. He liked it.

“It’s like a European city,” he said, “with a center.”

Then I asked, “Do you have rides from bike shops like this in Holland?”

“Yes,” he said, then added, “and I have a home there but I’m not in it much.” On the last day of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC), Andy Schleck made the same comment during an interview with Frankie Andreu for Bicycling.

Stef Clement at Full Cycle, Boulder, pre-ride (Mary Topping)

Rabobank isn’t a team I often follow, though Robert Gesink’s strong, silent demeanor at the UPCC opening press conference inspired respect and anticipation for what he might accomplish in a race that on the surface promised opportunities for strong climbers. It’s amazing how this small, flat country with an average elevation of 36 feet (11 meters) turns out strong climbers like Gesink, Steven Kruijswijk who impressed so much at the Giro d’Italia this year, and 20-year-old Wilco Kelderman who joins Rabobank in 2012 from its development team. Instead of battling mountains they spar with the wind. The average wind speed in Amsterdam is 12.0 mph, which compares to 12.9 mph in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and 8.6 mph in Denver, CO. I imagined they felt right at home as fifteen minutes later our flotilla of cyclists turned onto Highway 36 into a cross headwind.

After I fell off the group’s pace, Donald and I took a shortcut to Hygiene and then continued on the same route the group took back to Boulder. We rode under huge cottonwood branches that dipped over the road. We pedaled past roadside sunflowers, grazing horses, barns, and tan fields of shorn, dry stalks abutting green fields of growing corn. To our right the rocky summits of Long’s Peak and Mount Meeker poked out from behind green and rust colored foothills. Our constant companion aside from these sights and a blue sky: the wind.

Fields and Foothills from Hygiene to Boulder (Mary Topping)

Mary's Deli in Hygiene, a Popular Cyclists' Break Place (Mary Topping)

Donald and I returned to Full Cycle in time to watch Robert, Stef, Dennis, and Pieter ride east from the shop down Pearl Street, standing on the pedals, each so fluid it seemed man and bike had fused together, one of the most beautiful sights in the sport.

Biking takes us places – down bucolic country roads, to foreign countries to watch iconic bike races like the Tour de France, even to weddings (Donald and I met on a bike). It’s a pretty safe bet all of us who came to ride with members of the Rabobank team returned home after the ride, while the Rabobank riders returned to yet another home away from home, getting ready to travel to yet another foreign country, another unfamiliar bed. For pros like Stef Clement, toward the end of the season it seems like cycling mainly takes them away from home, no matter how European-like the race location or how windy the ride.

If Rabobank returns to the UPCC next year, I’d like to bring the Dutch riders on the team a little reminder of home. Perhaps a miniature replica of a Dutch windmill. Funny how windmills, just like a bike’s wheels and a pro-cyclist’s legs, keep spinning.

Dutch windmill (Keith Lightbody)

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