Lars and Bart Verheijden took part in the first edition of the charity ride GeMSe on September 5. It became an emotional day, there among the Alpine giants in northern Italy.
A kilometer below the top of the very last climb of the day, Lars Verheijden stopped. His brother Bart had started the climb to the top of the Stelvio later due to equipment failure. But how beautiful would it be to reach the top together, as the ultimate conclusion of this joint adventure? My father, who followed me by car on the climb, had already asked cautiously; would ik be good to wait? At the time I didn't want to know, I was so focused on cycling. But just below the top, I stopped and had a beautiful view of the hairpin bends below me. I thought: if Bart gets through that bend in 30 seconds, I'll wait.
And so it happened. Tired, but with a satisfied smile from ear to ear, the Verheijden brothers arrived together at the top of the Stelvio on Saturday, September 5, the third tough climb for the pair. There they were welcomed by the family, photos and videos were taken to capture the memories and there were emotions.
Lars found the announcement in MS Live, the magazine of the MS Fund. "In late 2018, my wife Lisa was diagnosed with MS. In 2019 we got married and our little son Livio was born. So we had a very intense year behind us, in which we went through a deep valley, but then also had room for very beautiful events. One day Lisa saw the advertisement in MS Leef and said: this might be something for you, something that touches you personally in combination with what you really love to do: cycling."
Lars asked his brother to help him out.
Lars asked his brother Bart, also an avid cyclist, to join in and he was interested. "It kind of had to be that way, it seemed," Bart explains. "I was actually going to participate in another event, but that one was cancelled due to lack of entries. Shortly after that message, Lars came up with his proposal."
The brothers are big cycling fans, but knew that quite a few preparation kilometers would be needed to be ready for the GeMSe. Lars: "I contacted a former Paralympic athlete for advice. He said: I would like to make a program for you, but.... Actually, he said I was crazy to do that in three months. Did that reaction make me flinch? No, I had ridden the Stelvio before. I wasn't afraid of not completing the ride, but the question was in what way. Suffering all the way or pedalling smoothly."
Bart: "Neither of us are that scared. In the corona days we could train a lot. I remember being in South Limburg for some climbing."
"After the ride, I had 800m+ to go. Then I thought: okay, so this is less than a fifth of what we'll have to deal with later..."
The brothers chose, as a precaution, not to do the large course, including the Gavia, but the small one, with the Stelvio, the Mortirolo and - in case of sufficient energy and enthusiasm - possibly the Stelvio again. Together 150 km, with no less than 5350 meters of climbing.
With the family, they traveled to Sondrio in early September, where it was all going to happen. On the day itself, Bart was up early. "I sat upright in my bed at half past three with a plate of cold spaghetti. That gives you that expedition feeling."
In the pitch dark of the early morning, the GeMSe participants jumped on their bikes for a reasonably flat fifteen minutes towards the foot of the mountain. Bart: "The Stelvio for breakfast, said one of the other cyclists." It turned out to be a fantastic climb. The brothers stayed together and did not have to go straight into the red. "That allowed you to chat a bit and enjoy the scenery."
Lars and Bart had no illusions; after the Stelvio the Mortirolo was on the menu and that's something else. At least in terms of gradient, which on average is above ten percent and sometimes close to 20 percent. When Lance Armstrong conquered the Mortirolo in 2004, he called it the toughest climb he had ever done. The brothers managed to reach the top of the Mortirolo. Bart: "Then you really have the feeling on top: we did a great job. Lars: "You get such an adrenaline rush from it. That is the beauty of cycling: halfway up a climb you wonder: what am I doing, what am I doing to myself? Once you're on top you can take on the whole world and you're looking forward to the next mountain.
Given the state of the legs and the brain, there was one more to go: one more time up the Stelvio, this time from the other side. There were no doubts. An extra incentive was the sponsorship campaign that Lars and Bart had linked to their trip. Part of this campaign was that companies and individuals had the opportunity to bet on the number of altimeters. Bart: "The more we would climb, the more money it would raise for MS."
But for Bart, there seemed to be a major disappointment in the making for a while. In the descent of the Mortirolo he had equipment problems; a cable came loose and had to be repaired before he could continue. That took longer than expected. "I said to Lars: standing still here is not good for either of us, you can go ahead. I then tried everything but partly thanks to the help of my father I could eventually get back in the saddle pretty quickly."
Bart could eventually follow his brother and slowly polished off some of the gap. It was a surprise that Lars was waiting for him just below the top. Together they completed the final kilometers. Our family didn't know that we would reach the top together, so that made it even more special" says Bart. Lars: "Of course we all knew why we were doing this, what the personal background was. To experience this together, it does something to you. Even on the Mortirolo I sometimes cycled with tears in my eyes.
It was a day to remember. In many ways. Bart: "I have to say that the entire organization of the GeMSe contributed greatly to that. The welcome, the enthusiasm of all the volunteers, even at the care stations. It was all perfectly organized, but at the same time very relaxed and informal." Lars: "The whole entourage was just right, the puzzle pieces all fell into place." But the puzzle hasn't been completely put together yet. "One day we will return and do the full GeMSe distance of 190 km and 6950m+."
Doing it yourself? It will be organised again in 2022, on 3 September. All info can be found here.