Last week, I called Lyli Herse to wish her a happy 87th birthday. You can see her 62 years earlier in the photo above (third from the left). I love this photo – a great group of young (and some not-so-young) people. They congregate around a beautiful bicycle, yet their bond is not with the machine, but with each other. You sense that the smiles aren’t just for the camera: More than one rider has told me how much fun they had in those days.
When I called, Lyli was in a buoyant mood because she just had received two visits from long-lost friends and relatives. They had found her through the miracles of the Internet, and more specifically, via our René Herse book.
She told me excitedly how a few distant cousins from Normandy had visited her. They had searched for “René Herse” and found the web page for our book. They contacted me, asking for information about how to find Lyli. I put them in touch…
Lyli was just as excited about the second visit, from two riders who used to be on her father’s team. One of them was Jean Hoffman, holding the bike’s stem in the top photo. Nobody had heard much of him since he became a professional racer in the mid-1950s. We weren’t even sure whether he was still alive.
It was a huge surprise for Lyli to have him show up in the company of Roger Demilly, another rider on the Herse team. (Demilly is leading the charge in the photo above, taken during the 1966 Paris-Brest-Paris.) I can only imagine all the memories that were rekindled during their afternoon together. And I hope to meet these riders myself the next time I am in France.
Cycling creates life-long bonds. There is something about sharing the experiences of the open road together that makes friendships deeper and longer-lasting. I am glad that Lyli has reconnected with so many of her old friends. Even though the photos above were taken more so many decades ago, she is in touch again with five of the riders, plus many others who rode on her father’s team during the 1960s, as well as a few of the women who raced for her during the 1970s.
I hope that when I am too old to ride, I’ll be able to visit with old-time cycling companions. I envision us digging out old photos and reminiscing of the incredible Cyclos Montagnards challenge, of exploring gravel roads, of night-time mountain rides, of cresting passes in the snow… of the joys that come with cycling in the company of friends. In fact, we probably shouldn’t wait until old age, but plan a get-together now!