I grew up on a busy street with rivers right outside my front door. We’d walk over to the tributaries when my brothers and I were young, with the water often churning off the roofs of houses. Floods are not uncommon in Virginia, and it never crossed my mind that I’d die.
Then, 22 years ago, I was in my first season as a professional cyclist, chasing fame, fortune and a spot on the prestigious UCI road race team, Leopard Trek. It was in 1994 that I first passed the blooming Taddle Creek, and like thousands of cyclists who cross through those waters, I now look back on those four days in 1994 — filled with inches of water rising through open front doors and ripped roofs and broken ribs and broken souls — with an obvious mess of grief and frustration.
I miss it, and that’s why I’ve always been haunted by the not-so-good memories. The rain that swamped the fall of 1994, the floods that washed out World Cup roads in 1998 and flooded Belgium a year later — those continue to, even 20 years later. I’ve always had flashbacks. There, if you look hard enough, is the open water that will always be, always have been, like that river where my family used to run, from where we used to swim and where I raced. There is that town, where my team bus burned to the ground in 1998. There is that river that will always rage, still, through towns, through city streets and through cars, whether they are full of children, families, elderly people or grandpa. There are some rivers I’ve never been able to cross.
Florence Rosberg, the German rider who died Saturday after a crash at the national tour, once said to me, “Cycling is not just a sport. It’s a lifestyle. It’s the reason I fell in love with this country. I was lost without it.” It was too bad that Rosberg didn’t know how little respect people give to people like me and my siblings. But I do now.
What now for the few cyclists who still live on streets in this country surrounded by water? I bet they’d rather lie down in the mud than get on a bike.