The Col

Old George sipped his pastis and watched from the roadside cafe as the cyclists passed by; some at speed downhill but many just above walking pace uphill. There had been a lifetime of change here in the mountains. He hadn’t been born when the first dome had been constructed, but as a child he remembered the trail that conveyed men and equipment to the observatory in the summer months. Since then there had been much development in the area, most of it to be deplored and now the small quiet village of his youth had become an ugly ski resort in winter and an even uglier summer stopping point for middle aged men in lycra struggling their way up to the top of the Col du Tourmalet in an attempt to emulate elite riders almost half their age and half their weight.

George had nothing against cycling. He had cycled all his life in these mountains  He looked into their vacant eyes and wondered what they thought about as they suffered on the way up from the valley below. When did the bravado and good humour at breakfast disappear? Were the kilometre markers encouraging or did their spirits drop as they realised what little progress had been made for so much effort?  What did they think when they saw the hideous apartment blocks as they approached La Mongie; relief they had made it so far or despair knowing that there was still a third of the way to go? Did the satisfaction for those who made it make the ordeal worthwhile?

He wondered but he never asked. He never spoke to the tourists, they were not his kind. He looked at the bill, placed a few coins onto the saucer and rose slowly putting on his jacket. It was getting late and his daughter would be expecting him. He climbed onto his rusty old bike, pulled his cloth cap down tight and set off in the direction of the Col, passing rider after rider as he went.

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AROS – Small Stones 25

They drank tea and plotted cycle rides for middle aged birthdays like little boys planning secret adventures.

AROS – Small Stones 24

Whilst her old brother rides up and down the path, the little girl struggles to turn the pedals on her new white bike fitted with stabilisers.  Her mother bends down and encourages her by pushing her along.   Now the pedals turn too fast for her to keep up and she starts to cry from frustration and the cold.

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