Saturday, March 20, 2010

Joop Zoetemelk Classic 2010

In the summer of 1980 I got introduced to the working-life of an office-employee. To finance a bike trip to South-England I did a summer-job at the administration office of a technical warehouse. It was before the digital revolution: the office administration was completely paper based in those days. The main job of the people working at this department of the office was reading order forms, picking registration cards out of giant cabinets, writing mutations down at the cards, putting the cards back in the cabinet. As youngest employee I was placed at a desk in the outmost corner of the room and was given the responsible task of taking record of in and outgoing screws, bolts and nuts. Soon I learned the flow of order forms was never ending. Every morning there was a new stack of fresh order forms on my desk. I thought I had learned what office-life is about: eliminating stacks of order forms. How wrong I was.

In the second week the focus of the office changed. The radio was tuned to `Radio Tour de France`, and a complex schedule of pro-cycling-teams, cyclists and day-results appeared against the wall. The office became the nerve-centre for the company’s betting pool of the Tour the France. All day people passed by to discuss the latest news of the Tour. I knew little more than this was a bike-race in France, and I was impressed by the detailed knowledge of the colleagues about every single Tour-cyclist. Believing work was about order forms I focused on my screws, bolts and nuts and wisely neglected the Tour-madness. How dutiful I was.

It had to happen: one day one of the colleagues asked me who I thought would win the Tour this year. In all my naivety I answered: “Bernard Hinault”. On “Radio Tour de France” I had heard about Hinault’s previous achievements and in the first week of the Tour his performance was again very strong, so I supposed this would be a reasonable answer. How stupid I was.

I wasn’t aware of the impact this answer would have for the relation to my colleagues. My answer was impossible for these patriotic, Tour-addicts. For every Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk had to be the absolute favorite. I clearly placed myself in the outside position. From that moment I was called by the nickname the “Fransoos” . This came to a climax a week later when Hinault abandoned the Tour because of a knee-injury. The colleagues had a good laugh about the youngest employee at the desk in the corner of the office. At that time I didn’t think this was funny. Zoetemelk won the Tour de France in 1980. My summer-job learned me a bit about office work and a lot about sport fans and supporters.

Almost 30 years later: The Joop Zoetemelk Classic is a cyclo-sportive that passes his statue in Rijpwetering. Today I biked it with 2700 other cyclists and shook hands with Joop at the official ceremonies. A modest and friendly man that has become an icon in Dutch cycling history.

Joop Zoetemelk in the T-shirt of "Het Groene Hart Team"

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