Monday, January 24, 2011

The Day Amina Was Born

Guest contributor John, from the U.S., writes in with his story about a part of his trip with Eros Poli, the first Italian to win a Mont Ventoux stage in the Tour de France.

"My wife Eileen thought I was out of my mind, signing up for a cycling trip to the French Alps and Italy at the same time my son and his wife were going to have their second baby. We were all hoping for a little girl, since the first 4 grandchildren were boys. I assured her that cell phones work in France and Italy, just as well as they do in America.

So with the assurance that I would keep my cell phone with me at all times and not ride off a mountain top somewhere, she gave me her blessing to embark on a trip that I will vividly remember the rest of my life. It was, literally, one long series of “Oh my God” moments from the time we arrived in Geneva and met our guide Eros Poli and his assistant Ivan, to the last day in Verona, Italy having dinner with Eileen, trip mate Brent, Eros and Ivan on the balcony of Eros’ apartment. This story is about day 3 of that epic trip to some of the most famous mountain routes of the Tour de France, including the Col du Telegraph and the Col du Galibier.

Day three, Monday, was a rest day for the 2010 Tour de France. We left our hotel in Evian les Bain on Lake Geneva, and drove in our van to Morzine, the scene of the previous day’s mountain top stage that ended in nearby Avoriaz. We spent the morning walking amongst the team equipment trucks and team buses, taking pictures and enjoying the proximity to the riders and their very exotic and expensive equipment.

We then drove several hours to St. Jean du Mauriene, France to begin our ride for the day up Col du Telegraph and Col du Galibier. Since we were starting in the late afternoon, and my son’s wife was scheduled for a C-section delivery at about 10:30 AM in New Jersey, I figured we would hear something by way of a text message sometime after 4:30 PM in France.

We left St. Jean du Mauriene at about 4:00 PM. The first few km’s were relatively flat and wind through the village streets, cross a bridge and quickly start the long, steady (about 7 or 8%) grade up the Col du Telegraph. From the village to the Col, is about 12 km’s. Each kilometer is marked by distinctive yellow markers counting down the distance to the top of the climb. I had my Blackberry in my jersey pocket with the ring tone set to a very distinctive “ding dong, ding dong” whenever a text message is received.

Trip mates Brent and Diana were stronger and had gone ahead up the mountain. Joe, Kimberly, and I were bringing up the rear along with Eros on his bike and Ivan driving our van. Part way up the mountain, we could look back on St. Jean du Mauriene and watch the afternoon thunder showers in the valley below. It was a hot day and a shower would have been welcome, but we stayed clear of the showers.

At almost precisely 4:45 PM at about the 5 km marker, my Blackberry rang its distinctive alarm that meant I had received a text message. Kimberly, riding close behind me, heard the alarm as well. I wanted desperately to stop and check the message, knowing it could be only one thing. Along this stretch of road there was very little shoulder with a stone wall next to the road which gave me little room by the roadside to stop.

After perhaps a couple hundred meters looking for some room I gave up trying and stopped. By the time Kimberly and Eros arrived I had managed to extract the phone, hit the right button (hands were shaking) and was able to make out a message (didn’t have my reading glasses) from my son in the delivery room that baby girl Amina had been born at 10:40 AM. Mom and baby were doing fine. Everyone had expected a boy, so this little girl was a totally unexpected surprise. The three of us stood there by the side of the road, my hands shaking and in tears, trying to respond to the message. Eros chronicled the event on his camera with pictures of the cell phone and my trying to respond without my glasses and shaking from the excitement of the moment.

We finally got ourselves together, made it to top of the Col du Telegraph, took some pictures and headed down a short descent to the ski station of Valloire. From the center of the village of Valloire to the top of the Col du Galibier is about 19 kms at 7% – 9%. It is a stunningly beautiful route amongst the tall peaks of the Alps. In mid July, snow remains in the high peaks and shaded spots along the route. The sun was low in the sky giving an even more beautiful caste to the mountains and clouds.

After about 2 ½ hours of steady climbing we arrived at the top of the Col du Galibier. Our van was waiting for us, the sun was setting behind the mountains and it was getting quite a bit cooler as the day wound down for us. I literally felt like I was on top of the world. A little girl, born that afternoon in New Jersey, had given me a push up that mountain unlike any experience of my life.

We took our pictures, got in the van and watched as Eros got on his bike and headed down the backside of Galibier with us trailing behind. We quickly fell back as Eros reverted back to his professional cycling days with a descent that had all of us holding our breath. The high mountain roads have no shoulders and no guardrails, so any mistake or misjudgment would have sent him into the abyss. He was in his element and truly enjoyed the ride down the mountain. We arrived at our hotel in the ski station of Monetier, and were met by Eros’ good friend and hotel owner Colette on the evening before Bastille Day.

That night, we celebrated an amazing day in the mountains and the birth of my fifth grandchild with Prosecco wine and dinner followed by Colette’s special meringue, whipped cream, fruit and ice cream desert. A dinner with Eros invariably ends with Espresso and Limoncello. It was 11:00 PM as we finished. At midnight, while Bastille Day fireworks went off outside, we finally were able to connect, via Skype, back to the US for a quick view of baby Amina and her proud 3 year old brother. Altogether, a memorable day of cycling and celebrating that I will cherish forever. Thanks to Eros, Ivan, Collette and the rest of our group for a trip and a day of a lifetime."
Photos: click to enlarge

For more information about Eros Poli tours visit

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Share your story. Write a story about your cycling trip, or an aspect of your trip, in Italy. Or, it can be about a granfondo experience, a special encounter, your favorite ride, etc. The period for story submissions for prizes will be January 1-February 15, 2011. Prizes will be awarded on a random basis, stories will not be judged on which is the "best" one. Nevertheless, it should be a good story for the enjoyment of all readers. Photos accompanying the story are most welcome. If you have any questions email me at See photos of prizes here. Prize donated by:
CycleItalia, specializing in cycling tours in Italy, the premiere site for gifts and merchandise for cyclists
Enzo’s ButtonHole Chamois Cream,chamois cream for the ultimate protection
FreeBirdVelo, Italian themed T-shirts
Strada Hand Built Wheels, custom wheel building
Velo-Retro, all things retro for cycling
La Gazzetta della Bici, massage oils for cyclists
Albabici, high-end Italian cycling products distributor

1 comment:

  1. Great story John and your pictures are magnificent. I think you should save it for when Amina grows up - she will love to read about it!