PARIS (VN) — David Brown stood above the Place de la Concorde and watched as the peloton whipped past again and again until it stopped and the skinny kid he put on a 650c steel Miyata with downtube shifters 17 years ago became a Tour de France finisher.
Nate Brown carried a polka-dot jersey in his bag for three weeks, rolled up in a corner and tucked away safe. He has a pile of them from two days at the top of the climber’s competition, short sleeve jerseys and long sleeve jerseys and dotted vests. This one was set aside.
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As the Tour rolled to a halt, David Brown walked down from the Delta Airlines VIP box looking out over the race and made his way toward Cannondale-Drapac’s green and black team bus. “Pas possible,” a French gendarme said when he tried to cross the fence without any accreditation. Not possible. The Champs-Élysées was on lockdown. Brown pulled out his Tennessee driver’s license and pointed to his last name. “Nathan Brown is my son,” he said. He’d flown a Boeing 767 full of passengers to Paris for this moment. The policeman smiled, checked over his shoulder, pulled back a small section of the fence, and pointed the way.
Nate Brown knew where this jersey was going as soon as he stepped on the podium in Vittel, France and two hostesses in red and white slipped it over his slim shoulders.
David Brown was a bike racer, still is sometimes. He stood under the Cannondale bus’s awning in an old nylon USA Cycling jacket, blue with white accents and the little flying wheel and flag logo of American cycling and told stories of his son’s early years. Nate’s first bike, a five-speed mountain bike. The first road bike, that steel Miyata. The first races, at 13. The first jersey, borrowed and a size large, which hung to Nate’s 13-year-old knees. “If I sent you those photos he’d probably kill me,” David said. “I’ll send them to you.”
The Colombian crowd began to swell in anticipation of “Rigo Rigo Rigo’s” return from the podium and team staff put on shirts without logos for the first time in three weeks in anticipation of a night out in Paris. Nate poured champagne into little Dixie cups for his family. His girlfriend Annie Ewart held their tiny dog. Just a drop of bubbly for David, who had to fly again Monday. Nate poured one for himself and then slipped behind the curtain that hangs in the doorway of the bus to find the red and white jersey from Vittel.
“Dad, I have something for you,” Nate said. He held the jersey up by its shoulders. “Read what it says,” someone said from the crowd, and David did and smiled the scrunched smile of a pilot trying not to cry in public.
Above the argyle Cannondale-Drapac logo, scrawled in Sharpie:
Thanks for always believing in this dream with me!