By Jen Dial
Editor’s note: Jen Dial, riding as a teammate of Jeannie Longo on Office Depot at the HP Women’s Challenge, is providing an inside-the-race look at the biggest women’s stage race in America. The latest from her diary:
Why is it that every time I climb to the top of the 8,700 ft peak at Galena I end up with a needle in my arm? It probably has to do with the fact that I live as close to sea level as a person can get without being in the water. Still, after the climb up and the race down the other side I’m in much better shape than I was in my first HP Women’s Challenge in 1998.
It was the most devastating day of my life when I was told I would have to get in the car before the start of the climb. The day before I was given a hydrating IV at the top and it did some good, but not enough. I rode into the quaint ski town of Ketchum, Idaho in the broom wagon, and that’s where I met Bill.
VeloNews readers may remember the story of Bill from Maynard Hershon’s “At the Back” column. Bill was just a guy who liked to watch the race every year. He was older, maybe 60, at the time, and fascinated by the story of our little composite team. He wondered where our matching bikes and cars were, and how we managed to work and race this big race against all these pros.
I apologize to those who have heard this one before, but it bears repeating. Bill walked over to me as I was half dazed and nearly in tears of disappointment. He told me he never wanted to see me too hungry or thirsty to finish a race. He reached in his wallet and pulled out three crisp hundred dollar bills.
Bill came to the crit and I explained bike racing. He told me to keep in touch and let him know if I ever needed anything.
Months later I gathered some articles and a card together. I wanted to let Bill know that I was doing well, and I wanted to send him Maynard’s article. I bundled up the VeloNews and sent it to Haily, Idaho. For months I heard nothing.
One January evening my phone rang.
“Jen Dial?” And unfamiliar voice asked.
“My name is George. I believe you know my father, Bill.” How could I forget Bill?
George had some bad news. Bill had passed away. George was going through some of his father’s things and came across my letter. He apologized for reading his mail, and told me that if his father had promised me anything, he intended to make good.
Of course I never asked for anything from Bill; how could I? The story alone is priceless, and knowing just how willing this person was to walk up and help a strange bike racer gave me hope that the sport is not so inconsequential in America.
I talked with George for a while and I found out after all that time, what might have been his motivation. It seems Bill was a race car driver. He drove Indy cars, and was in fact good enough to qualify for the Indy 500. The Tour de France of American car racing. But Bill didn’t have a bunch of matching cars and clothing; kind of like us. He didn’t end up seeing his dreams through because he didn’t have the backing.
When Bill heard the story of this little composite team, and a rider who flew across the country only to dehydrate and get dropped after two days, he remembered his own plight; he selflessly tried to help another person with potential get over a hurdle he never could.
Today as I crested the Galena summit with the lead group, my teammate Jeannie Longo once again off the front in a three-up break, I thought about how long it has been since that day Bill walked up to us out of the blue. I thought about how proud he would be that I stuck it out, that I finally made it over the summit and rode into Ketchum on my bike instead of in the car.
Bettina, our manager this year, was actually on my team that year. It was she who pointed to me in the car when he asked who really needed some kind words. Bettina was waiting at the finish today, and I know she remembered too.
As she handed me a bottle and shuttled me over to the med tent for my customary IV, I said, “Remember Bill?”
How could we forget?