Leading up to the 2013 Giro d’Italia, I received an invite to attend the race as a VIP from the race boss, Michele Acquarone. For the little boy who grew up recording every stage of the race on grainy VHS tapes, this was a dream come true.

There was only one problem: I was in the middle of undergoing chemotherapy. I went to see my oncologist about this amazing opportunity. He was a cyclist himself, so he understood the enormity of it. “Go,” he said, “but come and see me immediately after you land back in the country.”

With tickets booked and poison pumping through my veins (I had received treatment 4 days before departure), off I went to the Dolomites. The first stage we attended finished in Cortina d’Ampezzo. It was my first visit to Italy and if the treatment hadn’t taken my breath away, the scenery certainly did.

Starring at these majestic mountains, I thought I was looking at a painting. The towns en route had been painted pink in anticipation of the race.

I got my first glimpse into Italian passion, standing on the finish line watching the race action on the big screen. The nation’s hope for the race, Michele Scarponi had been dislodged from the lead group on the day’s final climb. A brave effort saw him rejoin the front group moments before entering the finishing town. The crowd shouted in unison, “bravo Michele” followed by what felt like 20 minutes of applause.

The experience was an amazing one, but it wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t healthy enough to ride my bicycle, so this year, 3 years later, happy and healthier than ever, when I got to return to that amazing place, it was a really special time. This time, I spent a week riding in the Dolomites with some friends. It felt like a comeback, it felt like a victory.

One of the friends had recovered from a heart attack six months earlier. This ride for him was a comeback. We had common ground. We knew riding in the Dolomites wasn’t a right, it was a privilege for us to be there. Our lives could so easily have been different, or not at all.

There is no better feeling than riding a bicycle. Riding a bicycle while in great shape in one of the world’s most amazing places is even better. Overcoming hardships, pushing through to the next level. That’s what cycling is all about. That’s what we live for.

Xylon van Eyck
Xylon runs an agency working with various brands and athletes within professional sports.