It is not often you find yourself eye to eye with a real champion. In Haarlem I entered the café Van Egmond on the corner of the Gedempte Oude Gracht en De Kleine Houtstraat – for the first time in my life, yet I’ve lived here for forty years now…
I saw this picture on the wall.
Observing it’ would not be the right expression. It was Christmas time, the many decorations in the room, also including a wonderful woman behind the bar, first led my gaze astray. Only after paying for my drink, taken at a far-off table, I looked – perhaps out of shyness – over her head at the picture on the wall and then decided to take my stand in front of it.
This, then, is what a tough guy looks like. A cycling amateur instantly recognizes his professional brother. This time one shrouded in his Olympic shirt!
Having asked the bar-woman for his name, he turns out to have been one Jacques van Egmond. Another thing I did not know was the name of the city in which in 1932 those Olympic Games were held: Los Angeles in America.
Another champion of the sport came promptly to mind, the father of my present French neighbour Laurent Vervialle – the owner of the farm just outside the hamlet of La Roche. When young, his father Jean-Louis had been a renowned cyclist, a racer on the tracks who cycled together so much money that he became the mayor of the village and could buy the huge farm where his son Laurent now acts the seigneur.
The first story about this Jean-Louis Vervialle I heard from my village friend Roland. Jean-Louis was a ‘good’ man. In our region of The Brenne, originally of the communist faith, this word meant the opposite of what in the Netherlands we have come to call ‘wrong in the war’.
At the time of France’s division into a Fascist zone around Vichy, managed by the collaborator Marshal Pétain, and the zone which the Germans occupied with Paris as its capital, the border between those two territories was not all too far away from my hamlet.
Jean-Louis used his long training rides on the vélo as a cover to be the go-between, a courier, for the resistance forces on both sides of that line. La Roche is situated slightly to north and a little to the right of the point indicated on this map with Vous êtes ici – thus in the blue collaboration zone.
So a fine man he was, Jean-Louis, his son’s conservative treason can’t change that. By now the whole region has changed colour, having become rather right-wing. As a kind of regular conservative that son Laurent was the avantgarde, the next gulf however is utterly LePenniste.
This father Jean-Louis, like Jacques van Egmond from Haarlem, was another Olympic participant, a member of the French Équipe. Having started out as a affiliate of Le Sociétaire du Vélo Club Blancois he soon became a cycling star who, according to a cycling site on the wed, reigned over the Vélodromes de France et de Navarre.
He participated in all types of racing: the pursuit, the sprint, the omnium and what the French call l’américaine – an exciting type of track racing in which teams of two battle one another. Each of the two, after having done his round, ‘throws’ his partner with a hefty movement of the arm into the following circle of the oval track.
That name alone one would think – l’américaine, only used in France – would have predisposed Jean-Louis for the Games in L.A. However, he was younger than Jacques van Egmond, say a post-war hero instead of an Interbellum guy. So, unfortunately, they never met on the tracks out there in Los Angeles.
The Frenchman took part in the Games of ’48 – those in London where I believe ‘our Fanny’, the Dutch athletic sprinter, did so well. I did not find anything about London prizes won by Jean-Louis. But after all – and as we know so well – participating is what the Olympics are all about.
Cycling, methinks, must be the Olympic sport par excellence. It is the only sport that lends itself perfectly for the Games’ logo, as this stamp so well portrays. From the very beginning those rings were bicycle wheels, or what!
In sovereign reformed church circles this is known as predestination.