the below is ripped, torn, paraphrased and edited for content from an email i sent out to a few pals concerning a trend among cyclists i find disturbing. perhaps not quite as disturbing as babe ruth in drag, or mirrors on bicycles, or whatever the hell "hammergel" is; but disturbing nonetheless. every sport has its heroes, images and myths that stir emotion in its followers. without fanatical tifosi, the giro would just be a stupid long bike ride and could one imagine the decrease in maes pils consumption were the residents of sint niklaas to determine their favorite sport, pigeon racing could disipate any need for their second favorite sport? it would spell the end for an economy based on three day work weeks, a per capita beurocracy larger than east germany circa 1982, and the intellectually retarded notion that a podunk city who's economy died forever when the river silted up in the 16th century is somehow the northern equivalent of venice.
yet somehow among a certain population of american cyclists there is a fetishization at work. it would be cute, humerous and even inspiring were it done based on the italian model....learn everything there is to know about your star rider; hometown, religion, hermatocrit level, possible date of CONI suspension hearing; buy every item form every sponsor the guy has and essentially dress up like the favorite rider as if everyday was halloween and damiano cunego were the costume of choice. acceptable even would be the belgian method; drink yourself into a stupor while wearing a 1980's members only looking windbreaker that your mum embroidered "geert omloop supporter fans clubs group" on the back of at every kermesse the dude shows up for. but the fetishization of which i speak knows no bounds of basis on rational thought. its akin to plato's cave, where subjective reality is based on shadows; except rather than shadows this reality is based on a game of telephone where the subject matter is belgian cycling.
you all know the type, and the marketing of it. hardmen in woolshorts with brooks saddles riding handmade steel frames with cycling caps and brooklyn jerseys....equal parts devlaemink and charly gaul with just enough johan musseuw thrown in to allow for the use of clipless pedals and sram shifters. these hardmen ride hard and don't let weather, conditions or weak chinese carbon hold them back. you can see their suffering in the sweat bands under their arms; the embrocation on their legs and the spare tubular purposely tied beneath the saddle with a real honest to goodness binda toe strap.
i call bullshit. all these fools need to actually go ride a bike in belgium. it's not romantic, it's not hard. the country is flat, the drivers have typical small country syndrome and have priority when entering a road from the right so you'll probably end up killed, and i loved every minute of it but it has nothing to do with this foolish myth these idiots are trying to perpetuate. no one rides in wool clothes....no one cares about handbuilt wheels and the only place a brooks saddle is seen is on the old flandria the town drunk rides to pick up his govt rationed horse meat and milk....(wait until these guys grab on to horse meat as the new secret dietary weapon!; and they will. its served in schools, prisons, and public cafeterias and sold at gb and sarma supermarkets in wallonia where unemployment rates higher than 20%. belgians eat it cause its cheap; not because they like it....the same reason any belgian club racer would still have a handbuilt wheel, or a steel frame or a downtube shifter) rant over, i hate this core toughguy pseudo-belgian shit. i speak both those shitty languages well enough that flems think i'm a walloon and walloons think i'm a flem....but in the end, these idiots look like kids in ghent speaking their own version of ebonics, wearing short shorts and pretending they're pro-basketball players 'cause they've got the same sneakers bill russell used to wear.
do not get me wrong. i love belgium. i love the people, i loved racing my bike there and i do my best each year to drag the missus back to the closest place to home i have ever had. i too fetishize the hardmen of belgian cycling; but the reality is so much tougher, sexier, more humorous and more worthy of awe than the cartoon. real towns where every kid from five on up uses a bike, not as transportation but as sporting good. guys who bust their asses riding a 160km to go take part in a 100km race for beer money, old stinky drunk men with chalk boards who take bets on races where the results are fixed, and high-tech evocative carbon fiber bicycles from manufacturers entrenched in the sport like ridley and eddy merckx.
next time you are riding in the rain on a cobblestoned road, with snot dripping down your chin and visions of ludo dierckxsons dancing in your head; remember: belgians don't ever train on shit strewn cobbled farm roads. the manure splashing around in the puddles is sure to ruin your season as quick as it ruins your gut. likewise belgians don't usually train in the freezing rain; that type of behavior will only cause one to catch cold. racing will often involve these conditions but if the workout can be done on the trainer in front of a subtitled australian soap opera while listening to queen's greatest hits; this is how it'll be done.
fear of a belgian planet? you better be afraid.