“Maman! Papa!” Henri bellowed. “They’ll be here soon!”
The boy, aged 8, threw back his bed sheets and leapt from his bed. The sun had pierced through the parted curtains turning into nature’s alarm clock.
Indeed they would be here soon.
Grabbing his shoes, Henri flung his bedroom door open forcing the wood to bang against the wall. He ran down the small hallway to the staircase that led to the lower level of the little house in which he dwelled.
As his feet pounded the wooden stairs, the boy slipped but his firm grip of the railing kept him from falling face down the steps. Taking a deep breath, Henri composed himself for but a fleeting moment. Then he hopped down the remaining stairs and landed in the forayer of the home.
“Henri,” his mother began, “slow down. Come. Eat your breakfast.”
Henri responded by violently shaking his head. No time for that nonsense!
As he ran to the front door, he felt his father’s firm grip on his shoulders. His father turned his faced down toward the boy and began to smile.
“Henri. They haven’t even started yet.”
Defeated, the boy permitted his father to lead him to the kitchen at the back of the house. Henri dropped into the chair and stared at the bowl of homemade yogurt and granola.
His mother placed a bowl of fresh strawberries in front of the boy and stated, “It will be a long day. You need to eat.”
Henri nodded grabbing his spoon and began to devour his breakfast barely coming up for breath. Once he showed his mother he’d finished his food, his eyes begged her to allow him to go.
She smiled and then looked over toward her husband waiting on approval.
“Go! But stay close. We’ll meet up with you.”
Henri stood up in such a hurry sending the wooden chair to the floor. He was in too much of a hurry to bother erecting it back to its normal position.
He barely uttered as much of a goodbye as he ran out the front door. Henri ran toward the side of the house, grabbed his bicycle, and began peddling down the gravel road.
Two minutes passed as he escaped the small hamlet and neared the French town of Morzine, nestled in region of Rhône-Alpes.
The morning air was somewhat cool but the day would see temperatures as high as 28° and the anticipated crowd would only make it warmer.
As the boy approached the town, he could see a crowd of people along the main road. Peddling faster, Henri began to plot where his position would be among the human barricade. He had to be near the front. He just had to.
Suddenly a police officer stopped Henri telling him the road was closed to traffic and ushered him to the side of the street. As the officer guided him toward the crowd of people, he looked down at Henri’s eyes expressing some sort of desperation. The man sighed and gazed over at the mass of onlookers.
“Here,” he smiled pointing toward one of the barrels. “Louis! Help me move this.” Another officer approached the man and the pair pushed the barrel aside to create enough room for the boy and his bicycle.
“Merci!” Henri gasped.
“Just remember us when you become a famous rider,” the officer laughed tapping down the bill on Henri’s cycling cap.
He couldn’t believe his luck. There he was at the very front waiting for the convoy to arrive. Impatiently he kept craning his neck for a simple glimpse of the procession of men on their wheeled horses. It wouldn’t be long, he thought to himself.
The anticipation began to build with his heart began racing faster and faster. He knew they would be arriving soon in all their glory and he would be there to witness the grand parade.
Then without warning, the crowd erupted in a loud roar. Cheers, whistling, flags waving. They had arrived!
Henri’s heart leapt as he spotted the leader of the peloton with two other riders close to his back wheel. His heart beating faster, the spectators growing louder. It was almost too much for him to contain.
The boy held is breath as the leader flew past him in a blur of colors. Then the two in close pursuit sped by. The herd of watchers continued its thunderous applause as the rest of the peloton approached.
Soon Henri found himself caught up in the crowd’s hysteria. He began cheering and waving. Then in a brief instant, he saw one of the cyclists look over toward him, nodded and subtly waved at the boy. Amazed Henri clenched his fists and drew them to his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut tight in an effort to capture and retain that moment like a photograph etched into his memory. Standing with his eyes closed he continued listening to the crowd roar and felt the wind from the cavalcade encompass his body.
As the audience continued its chants, Henri’s ears began to ring and the sound soon became muffled. He pressed is eyelids tighter together and held his breath. Praying this moment would never pass.
“Henri! Henri!” he heard a voice calling. “Time to start!” Henri opened his eyes to see his teammate Andre pointing toward he crowd of cyclists lined up in front of him.
Inhaling a very long breath, Henri nodded and began to peddle his bike. As the peloton began to move forward, he looked over to the sidelines and spotted a young boy on the sidelines with a bike propped up against his side. The boy couldn’t have been more than eight years of age and was screaming wildly.
Henri locked eyes with the child, nodded and gave the boy a slight wave. The boy gasped and waved back.
Henri began smiling recalling that magical day 13 years ago when he stood on the sidelines watching the racers. And now he had become one of them. He wondered if one day that boy would grow up to compete in his first Tour de France just like him.