Old School Belgian Hardmen

Belgian Alphonse Goosens recovering from a crash on the first night of the 1925 Madison Square Garden 6-day bike race.

Madison Square Garden has resided in three locations: Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street (1879-1925), Eighth Avenue and 50th Street (1925-1968), and Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street (1968-present). As befitting the era, the 1925-1968 Madison Square Garden’s inaugural event was a 6-day bike race spanning November 30, 1925-December 5, 1925. Judging from the daily reports in the New York Times, the event was quite a barn-burner. The race came down to the wire, with a team of young Belgians Gerard Debaets and Alphonse Goosens lapping the field in the closing minutes snatching victory from 6-day ironman Reggie McNamara (45 years old!) and his young, Italian partner Franco Georgetti.

And the photo? Depicted is Alphonse Goosens (left) with his trainer on the first evening of racing. Goosens is taking a moment to recover from his facial wounds suffered during the event’s first crash. However, for Goosens and his partner, this was only the beginning of their suffering. From the December 6, 1925 New York Times:

The victory of Debaets and Goosens was the triumph of youth, experience, gameness, and courage, combined with riding skill and speed. The Belgians emerged from the race with the marks of battle - as many a fighter has left the ring and many a football player has left the gridiron. Last Thursday night Debaets was stretched out unconscious on the track flat, and was out of the race for an hour.Within an hour of last night’s finish, the game little Belgian was on his track cot after a nasty spill in a terrific jam, his right shoulder and right hip injured as he crashed to the track in a smash-up which many thought would eliminate the team from the grind. He was painfully hurt, but he gritted his teeth and mounted again after a short respite. When the great test came he was found ready and he responded in thrilling manner.

Goosens started the race banged up. He was the victim of the first spill in the race. He went through the grind with his face battered out of shape and discolored. He finished that way and with the added pain of several minor spills of which he was the victim.

They made an exciting spectacle, these Belgians, Debaets with his fresh show of crimson through his short-sleeved undershirt, his legs and arms bleeding and raw, and Goosens with his eyes discolored and blazing after six days of painful riding, his elbows and arms barked and stripped of skin and his face patches of raw red from falling. But, like his wonderful little partner, his courage remained unshaken.

They wouldn’t quit…

It was a notable triumph for Goosens, a signal victory for Debaets. Goosens won his first (six-day) race in five starts. He finished second in one previous grind, third twice, and sixth once. Debaets, a 21 year old youngster, road cycling champion of Belgium, was making his first six-day race appearance.

Debaets and Goosens covered 2,294 miles during the six days of racing. That’s quite a few laps of a 1/10 mile velodrome! Approximately 150,000 tickets were sold over the course of the six day event to spectators clamoring to witness the daily morning, afternoon, and night sessions.

Still Life With Huffy

Well, seeing as how the Discovery Channel team has already made their formal team presentation in Silver Spring, MD and are currently grinding out pre-season miles in Solvang, CA, and that jerky bastard Lance Armstrong still hasn’t called me about my position on the roster then I guess it’s time for plan B: sayonara Pro Tour-bound Discovery Channel, hello D3 WKTV Channel. That’s right, I’ll be kitted out in 2005 for Utica, NY’s very own SoLow budget NBC affiliate. (Ah, the stories I could tell about the unintentionally comic local newscasts where each of the talking heads (anchor, field reporter, weather, sports) shared an identical first name. Cue cheesy commercial voiceover, “All of central New York’s news, sports, and weather brought to you live by Bill, Bill, Bill, and Bill!”). I’m sure for most of you this revelation is as shocking as Igor Astarloa’s downgrade to the backwaters of Barloworld-Valsir, but above all, like Igor, I’m a survivor. Therefore, no exotic, tropical spring camps for me, just the Saturday P-ride and oodles of miles sucking down fumes behind my wife’s Aprilia scooter. USPRO week, here I come…

Since the team budget is extremely tight, we couldn’t afford a fancy photo shoot for our press release. Instead, we got my Dad to donate his talents for an artistic rendition of the 2005 WKTV Channel kit.

(Thanks, Dad, for the artwork!)

The Ghost of Eddy Merckx’s Past

When one parses the coy, obtuse statements emerging from Lance Armstrong’s initial Discovery Channel press conference, you can’t help but speculate that Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong cozied up with Cycle Sport’s excellent Eddy Merckx retrospective (January 2005 issue) and decided to sketch out a 2005 campaign to close (infinitesimally) the palmares gap, perhaps satiating Armstrong’s “What about the rest of the season?” critics. After all, Lance probably has about 2 good years left and some rather frightfully imposing monkeys still reside on his back (short list: Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold, non-French Grand Tours). Amazingly, rumor has it that Lance is even considering constructing a one-off indoor velodrome at altitude for a late-season assault on the hour record. I can just imagine Lance and Johan flipping through the opening, double-page photo spreads…

pg 8-9: Stately Eddy Merckx poses in front of an Eddy Merckx painting within his factory. (Sorry, no pic to show you, I guess you’ll have to pony up a few bucks for the magazine.)
Johan: “Lance, this one’s easy. I’m sure there’s a barren wall in the Trek factory just itching for some paint-by-numbers Lance Armstrong colossus.”
Lance: “Yeah, those dudes in Wisconsin owe me. It’s too bad that Bob Ross bit it, I sure would have loved him painting a scene of me on L’Alpe d’Huez, torching Ivan Basso, with a few little trees and clouds to keep us company.”

pg. 10-11: Eddy Merckx beach beefcake shot, 1967 Giro d’Italia. (Same scenario, no pic…)
Johan: “Lance, how do we match this, uh, how you say in USA, “Glamor Shots” moment?”
Lance: “No problemo, Johan. I’ve got an Annie Leibovitz photo of me buck-naked on my bike. How do you like them apples, Eddy! Damn, I’m ripped. Ripped!

pg. 12-13: Eddy Merckx hour record bike on display underground in Brussels, Belgium’s Eddy Merckx Metro station. (Not quite the same as Cycle Sport, this came directly from the Brussels Metro website.)

Johan: “Hmmm…This one’s tough. First, you’ve got to break the hour record. Second, what US metro station would go for such a ploy?”
Lance: “Dude, have you no faith in me? I’m going to kick that record’s ass inside out. And about that metro station plan? Screw that. That’s small potatoes. I’ve got the mother of all plans.”
Johan: “I’m listening…”
Lance: “Do you remember in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure how Pee-wee Herman was looking for his bike in the basement of the Alamo?”
Johan: “Who is this Pee-wee Herman character you reference?”
Lance: “Never mind, Johan, just hear me out. Pee-wee Herman was humiliated because the Alamo doesn’t have a basement, but I’m sure with W. on my side I could build a basement for the Alamo and store the hour record bike there in a glass enclosure. How sweet is that? My own shrine at the Alamo, the dream of every Texan. Besides, mass transit sucks ass.”

pg. 14-15: Panoramic shot of Barcelona with Eddy driving the break in the 1973 professional world road championships.
January 2005 Cycle Sport photo spread of Eddy Merckx driving the break during the 1973 world pro road championships

Enter Pietro Hymasini, the Ghost of Eddy Merckx’s past.

Pietro: “Lance, Johan, I think it’s time for this little charade to end.”
Lance and Johan: “WTF?!?!?!?!”
Pietro: “Look closely at this photo and I will point out a heretofore unknown Eddy Merckx fact that will forever put the kibosh on your farcical “I wanna be like Eddy” crusade. Check out the man with the ‘fro. Do you know who that is?”
Lance and Johan peer intently: “Nope.”
Pietro: “Here’s a magnifying glass. Have a closer look. Lance…sure, you’re shacked up with soft-rocker Sheryl Crow and you may hang with the Wallflowers from time to time, but only on Planet Armstrong does that equate to street cred. Eddy Merckx has the ace-in-the-hole to end all ace-in-the-holes: that gent with the Afro is none other than incognito Eddy Merckx fan #1, MC5 frontman Rob Tyner. For this reason alone, Merckx has no peers in cycling lore and legend. How about them apples, Lance? The MC5!”
Lance and Johan: silence
Pietro: “I thought so. How about in 2005 you win Amstel Gold, maybe the Giro, and call it a career. My job here is done. Later…”

Poof! The ghost of Merckx’s past has left the building.

Pattern Recognition

Jim Kunstler's rendition of exit 29 off of upstate NY's I-87

Have you ever had a sense of deja vu while viewing artistic endeavors? Before I read the caption for the above painting, I had a fairly certain notion that I’d been to that offramp on multiple occasions. And sure enough, Exit 29 off of upstate New York’s I-87 was indeed familiar to me from my numerous trips to races in New York’s Lake Placid region or races in the Burlington, VT/Stowe, VT neck of the woods. I’ve been a fan of Jim Kunstler after reading his book The Geography of Nowhere and lately I’ve been spending time reading the rich, yet somewhat grim, musings on his site concerning sprawl, congestion, and the ramifications of our country’s addiction to cheap petroleum. It’s interesting to see how the detritus of sprawl, industry, and transportation infiltrate Kunstler’s paintings of what I believe to be scenes in the vicinity of his upstate New York home. It also reminds me of R. Crumb’s comments, within the excellent documentary Crumb, about how we’ve been totally de-sensitized to the omnipresence of overhead power/phone lines and traffic signs. Crumb was talking about having a friend drive him to your typical “strip”, chock full of fast food restaurants and gas stations, so he could sketch the electrical and communication cables. Crumb needed to have realistic urban/suburban scenery for his comics and he was shocked that he couldn’t draw them from memory even though he knew he’d seen them ad nauseum.

Sampling Jorgen Leth, Cycling Auteur

Molteni domestique equipped for bar-raiding duty. Screen capture from Jorgen Leth's Stars and Watercarriers. Does Eddy Merckx have one, too?

I thought only bike messengers and singlespeeders travelled with their trusty bottle openers, but lo and behold, Euro pros in the early 70s raced grand tours with bottle openers on chains around their necks. This Molteni domestique, riding in the 1973 Giro d’Italia, just raided a bar and is now riding no-handed in the peloton clutching a gigantic glass bottle. That seems safe. But the absolute kicker is having the foresight to compete with a bottle opener.

Felice Gimondi recovering from a cold, miserable day in the Giro mountains. Screen capture from Jorgen Leth's Stars and Watercarriers. Who am I?:

1. Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi kicking back with some Tatooine homegrown.

2. Osama Bin Laden, public enemy #1, samples some Afghani moocah in his most recently released videotape.

3. Renowned hipster William Burroughs savoring hookah-induced inspiration in Tangier.

4. Felice Gimondi seeking solace from cold, miserable conditions while racing in the 1973 Giro d’Italia.

Ole Ritter during his 1974 attempt to break Eddy Merckx's hour record in Mexico City. Screen capture from Jorgen Leth's The Impossible Hour. So that’s why Ritter came up short…

Danish strongman Ole Ritter showed up in Mexico City during 1974 with a featherweight Benotto, scary-ass first generation clipless pedals, and steadfast determination to regain his hour record which was broken by Eddy Merckx 2 years prior. Unfortunately for Ritter, his attempt to beat Merckx’s mark of 49.431 km came up approximately 700m short. And I found out why. Look closely at this image. Little did Ritter know that Eddy paid off a UCI official to blow cigarette smoke in his face lap after lap. Ritter’s 48.739 km = 144 trips past the UCI chain smoker = 144 lung-fulls of wee toxic clouds.

World Class Helmet-Heads

Bobke Strut says, buy this DVD!Danny Pate and Mike Sayers, discussing their day off the front of the Philly peloton, in the Health Net tent post-race.

No coal in my stocking this year, but instead a must-see DVD. PRO, Jamie Paolinetti’s deftly filmed USPRO week documentary, is worth viewing if only for the scene pictured above. Danny Pate and Mike Sayers drove the first lap break in Philly for approximately 120 miles before calling it a day. One of Paolinett’s cameras honed in on them retiring to the Health Net feed zone tent and first Sayers, then Pate, take off their helmets to reveal geometric road grime stains and an exquisitely sculpted, disheveled lid. It’s the subtle, normally off-camera moments like this which exemplify what being a pro cyclist is really all about.


December 28, 2004. Cyclocross World Cup #7. Hofstade, Belgium: 14th place.December 12, 2004. Vlaamse Industrieprijs Bosduin Cyclocross. Kalmthout, Belgium: 19th place.

November 28, 2004. Challenge de la France Cycliste #2. Sedan, France: skipping the Super Prestige race to unleash a monster-sized can of whupass against his French peers = 1st place

John Gadret in the midst of World Cup #7 in Hofstade, Belgium Belgian-Beat-Down is a two-way street, and on Dec. 28 it seems that Mr. Gadret found himself on the receiving end of some punishment. According to cyclingnews.com:

French cyclo-cross champion John Gadret (Chocolade Jacques) injured himself in Tuesday’s World Cup race in Hofstade. He is suffering from a dislocated right shoulder and will have his arm in a sling for several days, receiving twice daily physiotherapy sessions. Gadret was hoping to take part in this weekend’s World Cup race in Switzerland, but will have to forfeit. But he is aiming to be on the start line to defend his national champion’s jersey in Liévin on January 9.


I’m not sure if the photo is pre- or post dislocated shoulder, but here’s hoping Gadret’s French title defense and ultimately his world championship showdown in Germany won’t be compromised.