Of Gourmand and Staircases

•February 18, 2010 • 8 Comments

 Again, it’s been a while since I’ve updated, but I safely made it into Belgium on Monday the 15th.  Since then I’ve logged a couple of rides on, and I’ve got to say; Belgium is awesome. 

In fact, I think Awesome is the operative word for Belgium, at least in my point of view.  The people, the food, the riding, the beer, the sights, everything is in so few words, awesome. 

Yesterday, my roommate Stuart and I headed out to lunch after visiting a “pretty big” bike shop out in Aalst. A little later we grabbed lunch; I really can’t remember the name of the place, but I know where it is, and I know that it was really good. It was basically a cafeteria-type place; good, basic food, large portions and large, cafeteria-style tables.  I decided on something off of the ‘k’ and ‘j’-heavy menu called Americain Prepare with Frites e Mayo.   

   

    

Surprise! A burger and fries! The frites were the best I’ve ever had, and with the special mayo I don’t think anything in the US could top the pairing. The burger…. was a burger but it was good and the special ketchup was tasty, too. Next time I’ll get one of their sausages, which looked awesome, and slightly more exotic than a so-so burger.

——–   

A few hours later, we’re on the road again, this time on two wheels. We’re on a narrow road with bits of mud and snow on it. A Volkswagen Jetta comes down the road at about 50 mph and it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to share the same strip. Somehow, this VW  shrinks in width and passes us with two feet to spare.   

Then Stu says something that frightens me,

“First we have to go down it.”

I nearly wet my shorts.   

“Down what,” you ask?   The Koppenberg.   

The Koppenberg

It was possibly the most fear-filled moment of my time on the bike. Ever. The cobbles were trying their best to rip the wheels off of my bike, the gradient so steep that my brakes couldn’t bring me to a “safe” enough speed, and the wet conditions were killing my traction. It came to a point where I felt that I would surely hit the deck and break something, so I got off and walked it.

Yes. I walked down this hill. You really don’t realize how steep a 22% is until you’re staring it down.  

It really looks like this

The hill is astounding. It just comes out of nowhere and you’re hit with this monstrosity. A 22% grade is hard enough to climb on a well-paved road, but adding in cobbles and rain? Good luck making it, unless your name is Tom Boonen or Eddy Merckx.  

Sure enough, I got to the bottom. How fast isn’t really important (it was a long time). I finally get to the bottom and I look up at the Koppenberg and I’m already feeling humiliated. Why not? I click into my smallest gear, which I already know is too big to make it all the way up.  I get 200 meters in and I’m feeling good. My arms are getting shaken like a martini and my bike is doing the same. Another 50 meters and I’m dying. I can taste the delicious frites I had a few hours prior. I hit a particularly large cobble and come to a halt. I put my left foot down, but the cobbles are so slippery and the road so steep I lose it and fall on my side.  Again, I have to walk the rest of the way, except instead of going down, I’ve got to go up.

As I described it yesterday, the Koppenberg is basically like climbing a flight of stairs; both in steepness and in roughness, but I’ll be back soon enough, and when I do, I’m sure I’ll make it all the way up.

Lust

•February 3, 2010 • 3 Comments

Since my 95% completed draft was accidntally deleted yesterday, I needed to find something else to post because I’ve been incognito for almost two weeks. After watching an episode of THROWDOWN! with Bobby Flay on Food Network, I’ve had a serious food lust for the humble Belgian wafel, so here are some sinful snapshots of some scandalously savory…. wafels?

Anyways, I know I’m going to be eating in 10 days.

From Hell

•January 20, 2010 • 2 Comments

Imagine a behemoth of a bike race, 263 km in length (163 miles). Standing out is not only its length, but the nature of its roads. Contained in it are 28 cobblestone sections, all of which pose a unique and real danger; of crashing, of puncturing, of breaking equipment, of breaking the body, of breaking the will. Imagine a race where just finishing is an accomplishment in itself, and the line between glory and agony has become a blurry grayed line, stepped on by the men who entered small and left giants. Tripped on by the men who entered stars and never left. 

The race is Paris-Roubaix. 

Racing through the Arenberg Forest, Paris-Roubaix, 1968

It’s Easter Sunday, 1981. 

There’s a six-rider breakaway formed off the front of the main group, and it’s cast is full of legends. Four-time winner Roger de Vlaeminck, three-time winner Francesco Moser, the 1976 victor Marc Demeyer, and the relatively unknown Hennie Kuiper and Guido Van Calster sitting in. The last rider is one everybody knows, the World Champion, Bernard Hinault, and it’s obvious that he’s not here to place second. His feelings of the race are clear, he hates it;  He’s here to prove himself. 

“I believe I’ve already shown that I am the strongest rider, and now I have to prove that I’m also the best on those wretched cobblestones.” -Bernard Hinault 

After winning the World Championships, Hinault came under public scrutiny, as it was considered etiquette for the World Champion to contest Paris-Roubaix, The Queen of the Classics. In the months after his Championship, the pressure only rose until, early in 1981, Hinault announced that he would race Paris-Roubaix, but only for one reason; to silence the armchair critics. 

………………… 

Hinault is known the world around for being a rider with the capacity to win anything. Who could forget his win at the 1980 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege? In a blizzard, he won by more than 10 minutes in a race where only 21 riders finished. He was unable to move his index and middle fingers on his right hand properly for the following three weeks (and would be plagued by pain in his bones in cold temperatures for years). The race elevated him to a God-like status. 

Hinault leading at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 1980

………………. 

Through the deafening  screams of the thousands of fans lining the narrow roads, word gets through that Hinault has had two flat tires and a few crashes. To avoid a pileup on the cobbles he shouldered his bike and ran through a mud-filled ditch. Despite this, he’s still in the breakaway. 

It’s clear that Hinault is answering only to Destiny, and riding like a man from Hell. 

Hinault is off the front of the breakaway

With less than 10 miles to go, Hinault is down again. A poodle runs into his wheel and causes the crash. Out of spite, Hinault kicks the dog back to the side of the road, and unbelievably rides back up to the breakaway. With less than 3 km to go, he slides out in a right-hand turn. With no luck involved, he bridges the gap and again rejoins the race. 

As the group of six reaches the steeply banked race track in Roubaix, the cheering of the crowd is reaching critical mass. Hennie Kuiper is the first on the velodrome, but Hinault quickly steals the show. Quick to get into his big gear, the Frenchman slowly winds up to speed with his breakaway companions surrounding him. 

With one and a half laps around the track, it’s going to be a long sprint. In what seems like slow motion, Hinault makes his way to the front with one lap to go. On Turn 1 and 2, Demeyer makes his pass on the left, but is no match and slips back. Not even the legendary Roger de Vlaeminck, Mr. Paris-Roubaix, is able to pass Le Blaireau, The Badger. 

The race is his. 

The Aftermath

When presented with his trophy, a cobblestone mounted on a plaque, he shoves it into the hands of his team manager and says “Take it, here’s your cobblestone, it will wind up in my cellar.” 

With the race finished, Hinault feels it necessary to clear up his feelings toward the race. ” I’m not going to tell you that  I like this sort of race now that I’ve won one, it has too many pitfalls, too many motorcycles, and too much dust.” 

While so many racers took years, some even a decade to find success, Hinault had entered the race out of spite, overcame misfortune, and beat the overwhelming favorites at their own game, while still maintaining his hatred for the race. It was like punk rock. He showed up against his will, played one song, smashed his guitar, spit on the crowd and left. 

…………………….. 

“When I entered the track I was sure I would win. What cost me the race was that Bernard Hinault took off in front. I was not able to catch up with him, given that the track is a ring where one can fly around in high gear. That said, Hinault was strong as a beast.”  Roger “Mr. Paris-Roubaix” De Vlaeminck, Record 4-time winner  

Mr. Paris-Roubaix in 1973

El Guido

•January 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’m not going to pretend that road cyclists are impervious to certain jokes about our sport, our attire, or our attitude. If anything is tolerated for long enough, it becomes an every day part of life; some deal with it by joining in with the jokes, others bottle it up. I’m one of the former.

However, when all the stereotypes are proliferated by us, not in words, but in actions, especially when cameras are near, it becomes hard to tolerate.  The following post is in response to the events that took place on on Sunday, January 10, 2010.

Team unveiling presentations have always ranged from the obscenely gaudy, to the clean cut business functions, and all points in between. The reason for the team presentation is simple; it’s another way for a sponsor to get their name in the mind of the public by supporting someone or thing that they do too. What better way than to have 25-30 of the best athletes in the world standing still with puffed out chests, representing a sculpture? It’s also a great way for a sports organization to market themselves, gaining fans and sponsors and giving them something to look forward to and support in the coming months.

Flash back to January 10th and the years that went into perfecting the art of the presentation were shot down in one fell swoop by a Spanish team by the name of Footon-Servetto.

Coming soon to Jersey Shore

It’s hard to imagine how one could make something so ugly. To find out what exactly happened, I went to find out a little about the artist, Dario Urzay, a Basque artist. While it looks like he is a renowned painter, it’s very clear that he should stay a far way away from clothing. Claude Monet was a great painter, but that doesn’t mean that I want a flowered landscape on my jersey.

The Man Responsible (center)

By looking at the team, you’d expect them to be a New Jersey-registered team. A cornucopia of hair gel, bronzed skin, tight clothes, and enough gold to make El Dorado look like Detroit brings forth the image of a cheap used car salesman cross-pollinated with a pawn shop owner.

Added to the overcooked look, the color of the clothing is a mile off anything resembling gold, in fact, it reminds me of a certain villain’s attire in a certain 1992 blockbuster.

Danny Devito modeling the new Footon-Servetto team kit

Despite the gaudy colors of the team, I will continue to support them just as I did last year when they had significantly mellowed down attire. With an average age of just 24 years and three national champions (Austria [2], Portugal [1] ), I think they will be a team to house a lot of new talent.

As a quick side note, I also hope that everyone on the team wins a national championship or leader’s jersey so we don’t have to see so much foot on the camera.

[Insert Clichéd LL Cool J Quote Here]

•January 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

2009

Even though dominated by Lady Gaga, Tiger Woods, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, Jon, Kate, and a dog named Bo, I’ll remember 2009 most for The Comeback.

Unlike the perennial comebacks of politicians, athletes and celebrities, the class of 2009 is packed with huge, record-breaking, media-grabbing personalities, so let’s take a look at a few:

Michael Schumacher

Media mogul, philanthropist, seven-time world champion, mega millionairre, record-breaker, and the man who helped bring upon Ferrari’s resurgence in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

In late 2005 Michael Schumacher, after 7 wins and 12 podium placings, announced his retirement from Formula One. He’d won 91 races, started 250 and eclipsed every record that could be conquered. After 16 years in Formula One, he’d had enough.

Flash forward to December 2009, and after months of speculation, it was announced that Michael, at the ripe age of 40*,  would be returning to the sport;  instead of racing for Ferrari, his team of 10 years, he’d return with the new Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team for three years.

Pitted against the new crop of fast drivers; Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastien Vettel and Jenson Button, he’ll be under pressure from every direction. At his disposal; Ross Brawn, the technical mastermind behind all of Michael’s championships, and a new star teammate in Nico Rosberg, the son of Formula One World Champion, Keke Rosberg. With mounting competition from Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and Sauber, it will be interesting to watch as all of these big name drivers and teams throw their hats into the ring.

* Michael Schumacher turned 41 on January 3rd, 2010

Lance Armstrong

Media mogul, philanthropist, seven-time Tour De France winner, mega millionairre, record-breaker, and the man who helped bring upon cycling’s resurgence in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

In July 2005, shortly after winning his last of seven Tours De France, Lance Armstrong  announced his impending retirement from cycling and his focus on his cancer organization.

Like Schumacher, after three years out of competition, he announced his comeback in September 2008 along with his hopes of racing the Tour de France again.

Finishing third in the Tour De France, twefth in the Giro d’Italia, and a highly publicized verbal battle with his 2009 teammate and Tour winner Alberto Contador, he’s made his mark on 2009. At 39 years-old, he’s still keeping up with the best in the game, while other riders his age are retiring, taking up management positions, or becoming supporting riders to the young guys.

After starting his new RadioShack team in late 2009 and bringing in more talented riders to the front, there’s no sign of slowing down for Lance in 2010. With his hand-picked team, it looks like the 2010 Tour will be one of the most exciting of the past twenty years. To add to that, Armstrong has revealed that he will race the Dutch One Day Classic, the Amstel Gold Race, one that he’s placed second in twice. It’s going to be very interesting to see how well Lance rides at his peak.

Brett Favre

Media mogul, philanthropist, Super Bowl XXXI winner, mega millionairre, record-breaker, and the man who helped bring upon the Green Bay Packers’ resurgence in the 90’s and 2000’s.

Is this getting familiar yet?

Brett Favre, in short, never quits. Or maybe he always quits? It’s hard to keep track of his retirements and comebacks, but it’s good entertainment. He’s led the Packers to seven division championships, four NFC championships games, and two Super bowls, winning one of them. In fact, his Minnesota Vikings team is only two wins away from entering the Super Bowl. Besides that, he’s the current record holder for Most Career Wins as a Starting Quarterback,  Most Career Touchdown Passes and Most Consecutive Starts, among others.

Like the previous two sportsmen, he’s showing the young guys how their job should be done, and at the age of 40, and he’s reaffirming his position as an undisputed leader.

With all of this talk of great comebacks, I can’t help but think; Who has the worst comeback of the year?

Sammy Hagar

Unfortunately, he never went away, but he did create a so-called “Super Band” called Chickenfoot, which released an “album” in July 2009. Now I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of his singing, but I originally heard of the band through my favorite drummer, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and hoped that maybe the music would make up for the vocals.

Let me tell you, my ears bled. I wanted Rhapsody to give me back my monthly subscription fee. The only way to forget what I heard would require extensive surgery. Really, I don’t think dogs could listen to this garbage. After listening I felt dirty, like I had to take a shower. On behalf of the rest of the world, Mr. Hagar; Stop. Just…stop. Go back to racing sports cars and making tequila, just stay away from the microphone, you remind me of a drunkard at Karaoke Night. Thank you.

So, with the exception of Mr. Hagar, I’m really looking forward to a great 2010, and I wish you all a good year!

The Gift of Giving

•December 27, 2009 • 2 Comments

While every Xmas has its own qualities; the many memories of each one that you replay over in your head as you’re finally going to sleep very late on December 25th, there is always the one memory that stands taller than all others. Whether it’s that great cruise, or getting the tech toy you’ve always wanted, there’s going to be one,  probably the only memory you’ll have years later. Like a stick thrown into a salt mine and taking it out weeks later, the memory becomes crystalized and gets better as time goes by.

This year, despite getting lots of cool things; the best gift was the Pinarello I found for my dad. If Colnago is the Ferrari of racing bicycles, Pinarello is the Lamborghini; just as fast, flashy and sophisticated, but not as angelic. It’s like wearing an Armani suit with a toxic green mohawk.

The bike came to me in tatters, the whole thing had a layer of 25-year-old dust on it, the chrome was rusty, the bar tape was disintegrated and the tires were leprous. After about 10 hours of work, and several carcinogenic products later, the bike looked brand new. Many thanks to Marty and Nate over at Marty’s Cycle Center for tolerating my single-mindedness while restoring the Pinarello.

www.MartysCycle.com

Anyways, I’ll leave you with these pictures, and I hope you all had as good a holiday as I did.

 

Xmas Day 2009

TeeMcBee Image Consulting Joins Breaking Belgium

•December 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

TeeMcBee Image Consulting Joins Breaking Belgium

 

It’s my pleasure to announce the addition of TeeMcBee Image Consulting as a personal sponsor of myself and of Breaking Belgium. TeeMcBee, the brainchild of Traci McBride, specializes in business image consultation in cooperation with small business owners in North Eastern Ohio, including her and my hometown of Avon Lake. 

Conducting focus groups, on-site evaluations and secret shopping as well as interviewing business clients, employees and owner/operators, TeeMcBee finds any potential complications with businesses and works with her clients to find the best possible solutions. Whether you want to find new clients, locate trouble areas that are prevalent in all businesses, or even introduce your clients to new products or services, TeeMcBee can help you achieve success. 

I’m proud for TeeMcBee to be on board of Breaking Belgium and helping me make my experience in Belgium that much easier. Recognizing the potential of a vast, even non-cycling audience, of Breaking Belgium, Traci at TeeMcBee extends her expertise to help reach beyond my target audience as well as open new doors for her inventive and expanding business. 

“I am proud to work with Mitch and Breaking Belgium. When I first read of his story I saw a lot of potential. With our partnership, I expect both of our respective projects to thrive. I wish the best of luck to Mitch in his trip to Belgium, and expect nothing less than his best.” 

To get in contact with TeeMcBee go to www.TeeMcBee.com , or join the TeeMcBee Facebook fan page. Traci also offers complimentary 15 minute phone consultation for analysis of your specific needs, and don’t forget to mention Breaking Belgium! 

If you or your business are interested in promoting on Breaking Belgium, please leave a comment.