Twisted Spoke

My twisted take on the world of pro bike racing.

Begian beer and bike racing. The Trappist monk connection.

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Say Chimay.

Beer, bike racing and Trappist monks. Nothing weird about that.

With Omloop Het Niuewsblad and Sunday’s Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne just days away, we raise a glass of Trappist beer in toast and hail the stellar efforts of Dutch brewing. After all, you gotta wash those frites down with something. Budweiser would just be bad form, like showing up to race the cobbles on a Schwinn Varsity.

Belgium is not just bike race crazy, they’re bonkers about beer. Belly up to the bar and you have your choice of a wide range of styles from lambic, Flemish red, abbey, Oud bruin, pale and amber lagers to saison, dubbel and tripel. (No quadruple but here are the top 25.)

Master brewers.

When it comes to making beer with religious fervor, the Belgian Trappist monks are the masters. Trappist beers are considered by beer critics to be among the finest in the world.

Here’s the six pack: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. That last one was named best beer in the world a few years back and the monks are now forced to ration sales. But Boonen is always good for a extra case.

There is no one Trappist taste profile and each of the abbeys brew their own distinctive recipes. The classic Chimay has aromas of malt, apricots and black currants. While the famous, deep chocolate colored Westvleteren 8 brings to mind figs, plums and raisins. Reviews of the Rochefort Ten mention a port-like complexity of raisins, plums, hard candy and sherry.

All Trappist beer is “bottle conditioned” which means, like wine, it’s only going to get better with age. Not like that six pack of Corona you had left over from last summer. For a wonderful little Belgian beer tasting blog, check out Mr. Cook.

For a beer to qualify for Trappist certification, the brewery must be in or near a monastery, monks must play a role in production and all profits must support the monastery or outside social programs. Would sponsoring the Quick Step team quality? Of course it does. Manager Patrick Lefevere backs the team bus up to the monastery loading dock after every big race.

Beer this way.

The monks take the three vows of stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience. At least two of those vows guarantee you a fantastic beer because you know they’re paying attention to the brewing process.

Throw in a near vow of silence and you have a fiendish focus on producing the heavenly elixir. God is watching and he hates Michelob Ultra — this despite Lance Armstrong’s claim that it “complements my active lifestyle.”

Those of us back in the states owe Belgium many thanks for inspiring the fabulous beer coming out of Fort Collins, Colorado. The New Belgium Brewery began as a wild idea after the founder took a bike trip across God’s gift to cobblestones. In fact, they even took back the Belgian power source — it’s the only wind-powered brewery in America.

Okay, we’ve saluting all things Dutch to in preparation for the cobblestones. We’ve waxed musical about Golden Earring and the classic Radar Love song, we’ve examined the Belgian fascination with frites and plumbed the mysteries of the Dutch Bike craze.

In other words, we’ve worked up quite a thirst. It being Friday, it’s time for a run to Beverages & More for a few sixers of the monk masterwork.

The Dutch Bike craze. The humble Belgian commuter bike becomes an “it” object.

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The Fendi Fashion House Dutch bike.

(Note: This is our third installment of Dutch Treats in celebration of the fast approaching race season in Belgium.)

The responsibility for the current Dutch Bike craze falls squarely on the Dutch. The wonderful irony is, the entire cycling universe is in ecstasy but not the Dutch. Not their style to get worked up about utilitarian, functional commuter bikes they’ve been riding for decades. Way of life meets marketing fad.

J Crew Dutch.

Jump on the web and the Dutch Bike hoopla is everywhere. From New York City to Tokyo, taking in go-green advocates, downshifting rebels, urban hipsters, fashion designers, high end lifestyle brands and best of all, sexy stay-at-home moms.

Trendsetters who never work up a sweat in vigorous activity of any sort speak in glowing terms of the Dutch bike as part of the “new art of living.”

But fads, as any marketing pro will tell you, get pretty pricey. The designer coffee addiction gave us the $1000 espresso machine. People are shelling out two or three grand for an imported “Dutch Style Bike.” The same dollars will get you titanium race bike instead of the black clunker that hasn’t undergone much technological advancement since World War II.

No less than the New York Times did a photo spread on the new commuter fashion styles inspired by the Belgian housewife running to town for milk and bread. The Times went so far as to call it the current “it object”. This occasioned laughter in the blog forums around the world. Critics point to the difference between true “bike culture” and the trendy bike subculture in the states.

Yes, the Dutch bike has hit the big time. You can buy a Dutch bike from a least a dozen companies that specialize in the basic black, non-nonsense beast. Even fashion designers are putting their personal stamp on Dutch cruisers and style powerhouse Fendi does a fashion forward version which you can ride to pick up your Vogue magazine.

Faux Dutch hottie.

Hip clothing chain Urban Outfitters does their own single speed twist in a rainbow palette. Not to be outdone, J Crew shows off the Dutch bike with the sweaters, chinos and suede boots. Even monkey boy Paul Frank sells his take on Dutch-inspired two wheeled locomotion.

All owe their existence to the clunky, black, heavy-as-a-tank, Dutch bike. The upright riding position, the enclosed chain guard, the wrap around handlebars, the basket and fenders and racks. Pure inspiration. Yet something does tend to get lost in translation. It’s the difference between trusted tool requiring no poetry or justification and the designer accessory packaged as clever and envious lifestyle choice.

The Dutch Bike craze isn’t riding off into the sunset anytime soon. In part because everyone is bored with the aluminum Trek and Specialized mountain bikes on the roof rack of the SUV. Here in Norcal, people want to regale you with their $50 pinot and then slide you out to the garage to show off their pristine Dutch cruiser.

Google the blogs and you’ll find much amusing talk about “spokes” models for commuter bikes from starlets like Naomi Watts and Chloë Sevigny and actress Famke Janssen.  They’re going Dutch baby, at least for the photo-op and the sound bite about the ethereal beauty of the Belgian steel mammoth and you know, saving the planet. And those svelte babes love carbo-loading with Belgian frites.

NY meets Dutch bike.

At they will sell you a classic Gazelle but if the Belgian slice of commuter heaven doesn’t move you, they also sell Danish bikes. MyDutchBike in San Francisco will set you up with a Dutch ride so your latte run matches your conceptual package.

Famed Dutch bike manufacturer Batavus is now surrounded by an aura of profound hipness that no doubt surprises the company. Always on the lookout the the next trend, Slate magazine devotes several thousand words to their Belgian test rides.

Somehow, the Dutch Bike traveled to that final destination. Its climbed up to into the beautiful philosophical realm of Aristotelian nobility. The perfect object. A common- man fusion of basic transport and high art.

Twisted Spoke is thinking about crazy artist and brilliant self marketer Marcel Duchamp. The wacky Frenchman stuck a bicycle wheel and fork on a stool, placed it in a museum and called it “readymade art.”

That’s the Dutch bike.

Written by walshworld

February 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Radio Shack’s Horner takes 2nd in queen stage in Sardinia and breaks nothing.

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No crashes, please.

Gumby is back. Yes, he breaks but he always comes back strong. Veteran American rider Chris Horner showed everybody in the Tour of Sardinia he’s feeling few effects from his five major crashes last year.

The bald headed rider from Bend, Oregon put on an impressive display in the queen stage, finishing 2nd to Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) in an uphill finish on Monte Ortobene. Radio Shack fans should note Jani Brajkovic also jammed hard, taking sixth place.

Horner, who last season crashed out of the Tour of California and Tour of Spain, is definitely feeling better this year.  Which is good because his health plan practically cancelled him.  “I feel good, very good.  Even yesterday I could have won if the profile in the race book would have been correct,” said Horner.

Dimwit race books — who writes those things anyway? Horner was gracious about the Liquigas winner –“Today Kreuziger was stronger. The climb was long but not so steep. Not steep enough for a real climber like me. We had the wind in the back. It was more a finish for riders with the real power in the legs.”

Nice to see that Mr. Horner has his form back in form. He practically had his own Astana MASH unit last season — they ran out of surgical wrap and had to to use duct tape.

He’d broken so many bones he looked like an old G.I Joe doll some kid had mangeled to death. You know, foot twisted backwards, one arm gone, face half melted after torture over barbecue grill flames. Rough stuff, baby.

A month ago in interviews he was still saying his body hurt and that basically at his age and with the number of crashes he’d survived, he was always going to hurt until he hung up the bike. But who wants to give up “The Bike With The Thousand R Logos?”

With three stages to go and Horner only four seconds away from the leader’s jersey, Sardinia is gonna get spicy — like mafia spicy. Chris Horner, ride fast, but mostly keep the bike upright — the boss needs you in July.

Written by walshworld

February 24, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Belgian Frites. Would Belgian bike racing be the same without them?

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Cone of greatness.

In our second installment of Dutch treats to celebrate the fast approaching Belgian racing season, we tackle the tantalizing subject of Belgian frites, the beloved Dutch snack.

Bike racing and Belgian frites are so deeply intertwined in the culture that it’s fair to ask if one could survive without the other. There is no tour of Flanders without Tour of Frites. Potatoes meet Peloton.

Paul Ilegems, author of four, count ’em, four books on the subject, claims in all seriousness that “the frite stand is the only national symbol in Belgium,” noting that the country is divided between people who speak Flemish and those who speak French. Of course, the other unifying element would be the national craze for bike racing.

Frite sculpture

Ilegems himself is so obsessed with the snack that he assembled an 80-piece exhibit on frite culture, which consists of paintings, sculptures and other artifacts. And he is not alone in his reverence. In 2007, the medieval town of Brugge opened a Belgian Frite museum. What a brilliant excuse to eat fast food — “uhh, I just stopped at the museum, I was hungry.”

Frite facts: research shows Belgium’s 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones average a weekly visit to one of their country’s 5,000 or so fry shops and shacks. Dutch-speakers call such shops “frietkotten.” Francophones call them “baraques a frites.” (Nobody calls them McDonalds.) Either way, the translation is “fry hovel” — and that’s seen as a compliment.

Belgians fry shacks serve heaps of finger-thick fries wrapped in paper cones and topped by any of 20 or 30 sauces, from Sauce Andalouse (tomato and paprika), Sauce Dynamite (spicy!) or Sauce Crocodile (tamarind-flavored). You can be sure some frietkotten shop has a Sauce Cannibal (a Merckx fave) and a Tornado Tom sauce – which adds a light dusting of cocaine.

There is some controversy as to who invented the frite, with the French sneaking in the back door for credit. Not true, however. Belgian historian Jo Gerard reveals that potatoes were already fried in 1680 in the Netherlands, in the area of “the Meuse valley between Dinant and Liège, Belgium.” Throw that trivia out next time you’re watching the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic.

We are indebted the the brilliant for this definitive definition of the Belgian frite.

  • freshly cut, irregularly shaped
  • cooked (fried) twice
  • fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside
  • a distinct potato taste
  • at least 10 mm thick
  • preferably served in a paper cone
  • This website is the go-to resource for all things frite. Michael Mes is the self proclaimed Missionary of the Belgian Frites. Twisted Spoke highly recommends a visit to immerse yourself in the history, recipes, culinary paraphernalia and an exhaustive data base of every frite shop in the entire universe.

    He even consults if you want to open the first Belgian Frite shack in Mississippi or Brisbane or the Kazak capital of Astana. Vino Frites, anyone?

    What would be cooler than a mobile Twisted Spoke frite shop traveling the route of the Tour of California? We’ll concoct a Tex-Mex Armstrong Sauce just for the occasion. So many frites, so little time.

    In any case, you are now frite fortified and ready for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Fast food, fast races.

    (Thursday we’ll have our third installment of Dutch treats to celebrate the opening of the classics season. Beer anyone?)

    Written by walshworld

    February 24, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Golden Earring. The Belgian hard-men of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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    The Belgian racing season is just about to kick off this weekend with two semi-classics: Omloop Het Niuewsblad on Saturday and Sunday’s Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. As the young kids in Norcal say, awesome sauce.

    We decided to celebrate this auspicious occasion with some Dutch treats for the rest of the week. First off, a musical tribute from the most famous Dutch rock ‘n’ roll outfit there is. Golden Earring, baby, and their legendary, one-bass-note-thumping, monster hit, Radar Love.

    Rock on, Golden Boys.

    Golden Earring was founded in 1961, the year Belgian Rick Van Looy won Paris-Roubaix, and they’re still rockin.’ That’s the kind of raw staying power and attitude you need to win on the cobblestones.

    The GE boys just celebrated their 49th anniversary — how is that possible? Because George Kooymans and his neighbor, Rinus Gerritsen started this thing at ages 13 and 15. And it’s the same four original guys, no line-up changes! Rock on, Dutch dudes.

    Fascinating tidbit: the band was originally named The Tornados — yes, just like Belgian superstar and King of the Cobbles, Tornado Tom Boonen. A quick look at their song titles and it’s clear these guys know what it takes to win a bike race on the stones in miserable Belgian weather.

    The Devil Made Me Do It, Something Heavy Going Down, My Killer, My Shadow, Temporary Madness, This Wheel’s on Fire and Another 45 Miles. Sounds like the dramatic soundtrack music to a long, hard, ball-busting, leg-breaking day in the saddle.

    But if you’re Golden Earring, those kinds of brutal sacrifice are worth it. You’ve shared the stage with the Kinks, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Kiss and Aerosmith. So you tell me right now Golden Earring don’t know who’s winning Omloop Het Niuewsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.

    “It’s my baby calling, says I need you here, And it’s half past four and I’m shifting gear.” Pump the tires, oil the drive-train and blast Radar Love. It’s almost Belgian time. In fact, why not invite GE to join Phil Liggett for the TV coverage?

    (TS note: Dingle in South Africa reminded me that Thys Van Leer and Focus was the greatest Dutch band. Yes, I did have their first disc. Awesome sauce.)


    Written by walshworld

    February 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Gert Steegman’s “headache.” To race or not to race post-concussion.

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    My brain hurts.

    Gert Steegmans of Radio Shack suffered a concussion five days ago in stage three of  the Volta ao Algarve. Not surprisingly his participation in this weekend’s Omloop Het Niuewsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne is questionable.

    Perhaps even more questionable is the reaction from Radio Shack Directeur Sportif Dirk Demol, who told “The headache must be completely gone, otherwise I won’t let him start.” Uhh, we’re dealing with far more than a headache here — gobbling a few extra strength Aspirin is not the solution.

    This kind of quote reminds Twisted Spoke of the old school football coaches — “get the hell back on the field,  kid — you just had your bell rung, ya pussy.” After years of stonewalling on the subject of concussions, the National Football League is finally taking it more seriously. The same can’t be said for professional hockey which is witnessing the early retirements of star players afraid of the long term consequences of multiple concussions.

    We can appreciate Demol’s Belgian hard-man attitude. Top athletes are genetic freaks blessed with incredible physical capacities including recovery. Their bodies can simply do and in this case undo things mere mortals can’t. After a crash like that we’d be in full traction mumbling like a vegetable and eating food from a baby jar.

    The International Symposium on Concussion in Sport defines a concussion as a “complex pathophysiological process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical forces.” Like slamming into a parked car then smacking your brain on the road like Steegmans.

    Experts say recovery time is variable depending on the severity of the concussion and the individual althlete but they all agree on the symptoms associated with ‘post-concussion syndrome.” The after effects include “dizziness, fatigue and problems with concentration and memory, which can persist for weeks, months or even years after concussion.” Given that timetable, a physically grueling bike race sounds like a bad idea even if the “headache” is gone.

    Is dizziness an asset when riding at high speed over brutal cobblestones? Is lingering fatigue a plus for handling the rigors of Omloop Het Niuewsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne back-to-back? Isn’t a problem with concentration a serious liability when racing for hours and hours in a tight pack of aggressive riders going full gas? Another bad crash would put Steegman’s entire Spring campaign in danger, besides the scary consequences of a second concussion.

    Seems like Gert Steegmans and Dirk Demol should agree to skip this weekend’s races. A no-brainer, really. Sure, that’s a headache for Radio Shack but the alternative sure sounds worse.

    Michael Ball and Rock Racing. License to say goodbye, pro cycling.

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    These complicated UCI contracts bug me.

    Wassup with designer jeans mogul and Rock Racing cycling team CEO Michael Ball?

    Confusion reigns. Not, like, which hot models to hire for the new photo-shoot, not what crazy stitching to put on the back of the jeans pockets, not how much cocaine to order for the babes. That’s fun stuff.

    No, it’s the damn cycling team. Can’t Ball just concentrate on his business model? The man is trying to make bank in a comatose economy — he has enough worries. And these freakin’ UCI lawyers with their paper work, Continental, half continental, super funky continental, who can keep up with that crap? Is that a category or a hotel breakfast? My boys wanna ride the big races, what’s with the forest-killing paperwork?

    The cone of silence around Rock Racing leads us to believe the crazy merger plans and South of the Border license tricks have failed. There will be no Rock Racing Murcia Mexico Mozambique Mars arrangement. Which on comedy alone is a bummer for yours truly. Twisted Spoke is already on record: cycling needs Rock Racing because every sport needs a bad-boy team in black with a skull on the chest. Just basic marketing. Floor tile and ceramic dinnerware are okay sponsors but where’s the sex in that?

    What the holy hell cakes — what is going on with Rock Racing? Nobody knows, apparently not even Michael Ball. He’s on a yacht off Tunisia partying hard. He’s at his New York digs looking at Fall 2011 designs. He’s in Milan or Croatia looking at fabric or deep in the denim mines of Central Mongolia. He’s treating his team like a new Rock and Republic concept for socks: he’s interested but it’s strictly back-burner.

    Read the bottom, folks.

    A team dangles in the wind. Are they holing up with Murcia, merging with Mexico or trading international felon Floyd Landis for a Protour license? Are they auctioning off Patrick McCarthy and a few other American riders in an attempt at a fast and cheap Mexican make-over?

    Oscar Sevilla is wandering around Colombia with a pregnant wife wondering where his next pay check is coming from. Rock riders Tony Cruz, Freddy Rodriguez, David Martin, Florentino Marquez, Mauro Richeze, Patrick McCarthy and Jose Enrique deserve far better. Floyd Landis, well, really hard to say what he deserves at this point — ask FakeFloyd. (Interesting to note, there is no FakeArmstrong.)

    Michael Ball, issue a statement.  Something like “I tried to bring my rock and roll show and my sexy babes to this tired tradition-bound sport but the suits kept wrecking my party. I’ll miss my boys but adios.” Something, anything.

    Ball cannot fundamentally understand what is wrong with these UCI people. Have they never been to a party where people had sex in the bathrooms? Don’t they ever have so much fun they puked in the hot-tub? Have they never tried mixing crystal meth with a White Russian just to see, you know, what happens?

    Michael, say goodbye to the sport, give your riders a nice severance package and move on. Twisted Spoke is gonna miss you, man.

    Special note of thanks to Patron Saint of Twisted Spoke, James Raia at the SFExaminer cycling desk. For his amusing insights on Ball and Rock, click on over.

    Written by walshworld

    February 22, 2010 at 9:12 am