Zeddam On My Mind…

John Gadret goes toe to toe with a 14 year-old heckler

Never mind that Belgians have swept the elite ‘cross podium for the past 4 years and have won 20 of 24 elite ‘cross worlds medals over the past 8 years. John Gadret has been on a tear, only a few scant seconds behind Erwin Vervecken and Sven Nys these past couple of weeks. And with countrymen Francis Mourey on hand, a willing and enthusiastic partner in Gadret’s Franco Mallachi Crunch, and with the undeniably inevitable Belgian infighting probably already manifesting itself at this very moment, John Gadret is primed to make history.

I Met Pukey

Sven Nys is faster than you even when he's drunk

Is there anyone out there who can honestly say they’ve never raced a bike hungover, at least once? I know I can’t. For instance, I raced the Athens Twilight Crit once (and only once, that race was nuts) back in 1992. I maybe moved up all of two places in the peloton the whole night, but I didn’t get dropped and I wanted to celebrate. Caught up in the frenzy of about 20,000 drunk crazy people screaming their lungs out around the 1km loop all night, and with plenty of drinking establishments to satiate one’s boozing desires right on the course, it only seemed right that I have a few beers. And a few more. Maybe one more. Ah, fuck it, sure I’ll have another. And then the alarm goes off too damn early the following morning for Sunday’s road race. Oops, forgot about day 2 of the race weekend. But I race about 100km in the am, a bit green in the gills and groggy, and sweat all that booze out of the system just in time to contest the field sprint. Mission accomplished, no big deal.

Now I’m hardly endorsing such behavior, but when you’re in your 20s you can get away with competing under less than ideal physical states. Which is why the whole hubbub about Bode Miller racing World Cup downhill events with a hangover is so amusing to me. I don’t see why Bode had to apologize. If anything, the other downhillers who got their asses kicked by a person who may have failed a breathalyzer in the starting gate should apologize to their fans. What’s even funnier is Nike’s glorification of Bode Miller’s predilection for projectile vomiting (albeit under different circumstances). If you happen to visit Nike’s Bode Miller love-fest, check out the option “training sled” in the pulldown menu.

A Tall Man in a Low Land

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A Tall Man in a Low Land cover“I piss on Belgium.” - Alexi Grewal

Things weren’t going too well for brash American 7-Eleven professional Alexi Grewal amidst the 1986 Three Days of De Panne. Gloom. Rain. Misery. No results. No sight of the sun since leaving the United States. Grewal’s fragile pysche cracked while the team sought pre-stage respite from the elements in a cafe, and the Het Volk reporter, there ostensibly to pen a puff piece about 7-Eleven’s first full-blown Euro season, instead was handed dynamite via Grewal’s mouth as he fled the premises in a tizzy. If only Harry Pearson penned his homage to Belgium about 10 years earlier. Armed with the insight of Pearson’s extensive travels in both Flemish and Walloon Belgium, A Tall Man in a Low Land may have prepared the wide-eyed 7-Eleven pros for immersion in perhaps Europe’s most maligned country.

Harry Pearson, a British sports columnist and travel writer, deftly reveals the quirks, oddities, and charm of Belgium gleemed from several months of travel through seemingly every city or village in the country. Additionally, seemlessly intertwined within Pearson’s narrative is a steady dose of Belgian history impressive in both depth and breadth. If I ever make an appearance on Jeopardy, I am confident I will kick anyone’s ass when it comes to facts about Belgium. Names, places, dates, events, artwork, architecture, beer, language; I’m armed to the teeth. Of course, to me Belgium is synonymous with professional cycling and, fortuitously, professional cycling is what first drew Pearson across the English Channel. His first-hand experience with the 1995 Ronde van Vlaanderen, particularly atop the Muur in Geraardsbergen, allows Pearson to flaunt his contemporary and historic Belgian cycling acumen. For more than 10 pages, Pearson weaves every name of Belgian cycling lore and legend (Eddy Merckx, the de Vlaeminck brothers, Freddy Maertens, Briek Schotte, Rik van Steenbergen, Rik van Looy, Edwig van Hooydonck, Eddy Planckaert, Eric Vanderaerden, etc.) into his account of the Ronde occurring before his very eyes highlighted by Johan Museeuw’s solo victory following the Fabio Baldato beat-down on the Muur. The riders past and present, plus the facts of the 1995 Ronde, are hardly anything earth-shatteringly new to cycling tifosi, but Pearson’s fleshing out of the fervor, zeal, and frenetic ardor surrounding the Tour of Flanders deserves a mention.

On a more macro-level, I think Pearson gets one’s brain churning regarding the dynamic between travel, stereotype, and expectation. In particular, I think Pearson hits the nail on the head regarding certain truisms of foreign travel:

“One of the odd things about being in a foreign country is the impossibility of detecting any kind of social nuance. All the guidelines - clothes, accents, articulacy - that normally point the way are lost to us. We do not know if the person we are talking to empties septic tanks or runs the stock exchange for a living. We wander dippily around in this blissful state and when we return to our hotel in the evening and tell the receptionist how we have spent our day her face turns white, her eyes bulge and she shrieks, ‘You went there. But my God it’s soooooo dangerous over there.’ And we swell with pride and reply, ‘Oh really? It seemed quite pleasant to us.’ To our untrained eyes abroad is wonderfully classless, overseas societies homogeneous visions of the perfect future. It is the happy egalitarianism of total ignorance.” 

For some reason I was to a certain degree surprised that the gulf of the English Channel separating England from Belgium may as well have been expansive as the Atlantic Ocean separating the U.S. from Europe. But I guess I’m just a dumb American. Just as amusing as Pearson’s seemingly frequent snarkiness concerning Belgium was the degree of bewilderment expressed by Belgians that someone would actually come to their country to visit. “You’re here on holiday? Hmmm…It’s flat, crowded, and it rains all the time” was a frequent assessment of Belgium’s appeal. Perhaps everyone worldwide is afflicted by a case of the grass is always greener. Or maybe they’re just averse to being the grist for humorous anecdote after humorous anecdote. I don’t think it’s too broad a stretch to imagine Pearson being beaten senseless if his Belgian subject(s) could have read his mind. Even the Trappist monk may have kicked his ass. I’d be curious to hear the opinion of a native Belgian regarding this book. Thumbs up? Or a resounding “I piss on England.”

John Gadret is Faster Than You

Poster for 2006 French Cyclocross Championships John Gadret outsprints Francis Mourey for the 2006 French cyclocross championship

Sweet. John Gadret avenged being pipped at the line by Francis Mourey in 2005 with a reversal of the scenario this afternoon in Sedan. Only time will tell if this augers well for ag2r’s burgeoning ProTour campaign, or if it’s all downhill from here this season. Here’s hoping for the former. And in case you wanted to meet every living soul who had anything to do with putting on the 2006 French ‘cross championships, your wish has been answered.

I’m Too Sexy for This Six Day

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I’ve spent a fair amount of last evening and this morning watching the live stream from the Rotterdam 6 day event. Very cool. All of the events - the madison, scratch, 400m TTT, miss-and-out, derny (that sounded like I was trapped inside a beehive echo chamber), plus the keirin and match sprints - were entertaining (especially since while I’ve been a big fan of historic 6 day events, I’ve never actually seen one take place live).

While the pros on the track are undoubtedly physically talented, what I actually have the utmost respect for is their ability not to go postal after hearing this soundtrack absolutely beaten to death:

Right Said Fred: “Stand Up (For the Champions)”
Queen: “We Are the Champions”
Survivor: “Eye of the Tiger”
London Symphony Orchestra: “Star Wars Main Title”

At least the audience can drink heavily to diffuse the torment. The riders out on the track have to hear it all full-bore, stone cold sober. Ad nauseum, again and again and again.

And having just finished the 1992 Tony Doyle biography, Tony Doyle: six day rider, where he details the execrable conditions the riders had to put up with (particularly housing), I hope that the riders today are getting better treatment and salaries then Doyle had to put up with in the 1980s-early 1990s, and what was likely worse prior to that. Doyle mused about tennis pros like Ivan Lendl, surmising that he didn’t sleep in a cot in a basement at Wimbledon or have to take a dump in a plastic bucket courtside while playing. What was particularly interesting to me about Doyle’s bio was how many big-name road riders (we’re talking Tour de France and Giro champions: Laurent Fignon, Gianni Bugno, Stephen Roche, Greg Lemond, Francesco Moser) did six day races in the winter. Plus, Doyle chronicled the tension that it created among the 6 day specialists who were wary of the road pros’ riding skills on the tight quarters of indoor velodromes plus jealous of their larger paychecks. It seemed to me that the road riders had yet to adopt the globe-trotting winter travel currently in vogue to seek out warmer climes for winter riding. Instead, they had the choice of cyclocross or 6 day races to add intensity to their road off-season training regimen. Perhaps in addition, the paychecks weren’t quite as large as today for many of the pros and racing six day events was an economic necessity. I did notice a few road pros in Rotterdam (Isaac Galvez-Lopez, Max van Heeswijk, Servais Knaven, Aart Vierhouten, plus I’m sure some of the others race on the road), but it seems to me that the recent generations of Grand Tour contenders avoid the winter track season. It’s probably not a bad thing, particularly for the rider’s constitution’s sake, but just a fact of contemporary pro racing. I think riders don’t race as many days on the road per year, but the days they do race are more intense. Gone are the days of rolling into February a little overweight and able to race off the pounds by the classics or first grand tour. Expecting someone these days to race a full road season then hit the 6 day circuit is likely a one way ticket to uber burnout.

I confess to not knowing too much about the current state of track racing in Europe, but it seems that there still is a core of riders Doyle dubbed “The Blue Train” who are 6 day specialists comprising about 50% of any event’s lineup, while the remainder of the field is made up either of younger, up and coming 6 day riders or road pros looking for training/paycheck/thrill of competition in their home country (or maybe just the desire to suck down cigarette smoke and live vampire hours for 6 days straight).

Enter the Dragon

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John Gadret unleashes a can of kung-fu whupass on hapless Bart Wellens
Image source: http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/photos/races05/cross05/druivencross-thekick.jpg

Vlaamse Druivenveldrit: Overijse, Belgium. There’s nothing like hecklers who pull out all the stops. John Gadret, frustrated by a rather mediocre ‘cross season and comfortable in the knowledge that he’s been hooked up with ProTour squad ag2r for 2006, verbally lit into Wellens from the sidelines lap after lap after lap. Egged on by his cadre of Wellens-haters and fuelled by about 2 liters of Duvel flowing through his slight frame, Gadret thence stripped down to his stylin’ Bruce Lee kit and uncorked a lightning fast strike to Wellens’ noggin.

Bart Wellens is lucky to be alive.

And then not one week later, having let all of Belgium cyclocross know that he’s not a man to be trifled with, Gadret uncorks his best ride of the season at Superprestige #6. If only there was some sprinting horsepower in his spindly limbs. Here’s hoping that having absorbed the final morsels of old school Belgian knowledge from his Jartazi-Revor-Granville goon squad handlers, Gadret will give ag2r its first win of the season in this weekend’s French cyclocross championships.