Friday, May 31, 2013

The Retro Ronde: May 25 & 26, 2013

Just imagine: a place where once a year great food, fine drink, and vintage bicycles being ridden on unsuitable roads come together in a multi-day festival in a country obsessed by cycling and racing history. Sounds like l’Eroica in Chianti, right? Well, yes but this description applies just as well to Belgium’s Retro Ronde, which has just completed its seventh edition on May 25/26, 2013. And you get a glass of beer at the end.

Growing rapidly, the Retro Ronde offers an impressive menu of events , including vintage racing and the opportunity to ride some of the brutal Hellingen, as the steep cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders (de Ronde van Vlaanderen, which marked its centennial this year) are known. It is centred around the town of Oudenaarde, which for many years hosted the finish line of the Tour of Flanders. Ourdenaarde, easily reached from Brussels, is the home of an impressive cycling centre/museum/bar, the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen, one of a multitude of sponsors of the Retro Ronde.





The rules are pretty simple and rather less exclusive than l’Eroica’s: show up with a “vintage” racing bike (not really defined) or a pre-1987 bike or a singlespeed or fixed-gear bike with a steel frame; shifter levers on down tubes; no clipess pedals; vintage or replica clothing without modern accessories. Nobody is checking too strenuously since the whole point is to have fun but you would have felt foolish riding your carbon time trial bike anyway. Registration is a mere 10 Euros (12 Euros at the start) and 5 Euros to join one of the criterium races on Saturday evening. This includes a vintage-style photo of you before you ride off on Sunday, marked routes of 40, 70 or 100 kms, great food stops with live entertainment, mechanical and/or medical assistance and cheering crowds when you roll back up the ramp to finish. Then you get a bacon sandwich and an excellent dark-brown beer. Remember: 10 Euros (US$ 13.50) for this.

Besides the Sunday rides, event s include Friday evening’s Beer Cycling Contest at the Centrum and which appears to involve riding a bike on a training stand at high speed while consuming beer; the jumble sale where you find that special frame or obscure part; the Retro Dansant ball, with music by the Lindy Hop Dansinitiatie and the Dipsy Doodles; and, of course, the beauty contest to choose the “Ravissantste RetroRondeRenner,” or “Most Ravishing Retro Ronde Rider.” The last event had no fewer than four categories: a rider with a pre-1987 racing bike and retro clothing; a rider with a pre-1987 non-racing bike with a retro outfit; an individual rider with a homemade jersey; and a team with homemade jerseys.

A necessary aside on the homemade jersey requirement. As the bike market was closing I met Isabelle Finet who sells patterns for sew-it-yourself jerseys. The patterns come in the form of charming children’s books about la Famille Victor and are available in English as well as Flemish. Popular patterns include the famous Flandria bicycle brand and we saw a number of these jerseys at the event. But once you have the pattern you can choose your own colours and style changes, of course, and perhaps look like Hugo Koblet in the Yellow Jersey in 1951. The rules for the contest stated that to win you should have sewn the jersey yourself (!) or have a family member or friend do it—no pros, please. Furthermore, clever amendments to the Flandria or Superia design put you “in the good books” of the judges. Lastly, the seamstress/tailor should be present at the judging. This is a wonderful idea and reflects the spirit of enthusiastic amateurism and down-hominess that characterizes the Retro Ronde. That said, organization of the Retro Ronde is impressive and professional.


The entire centre of Oundenaaarde is cordoned off on Saturday evening and all day Sunday for the Retro Ronde. On Saturday evening there is a series of criterium races in categories of multi-speed, singlespeed and fixed gear bicycles, presided over by an announcer in a tweed suit with plus-four trousers. This was all highly entertaining to watch. Each of the races, except the final, was 10 laps through the town, mainly over cobbles, and begin with two neutral laps where the riders were preceded by two ancient scooters as pacesetters. 



The riders, none of whom wore real helmets although the infamous “leather hairnet” was much in evidence, were generally d’un certain age, as the French put it, so not only were the bikes rather experienced but most of the riders had been around the block a few times too. This became evident around Lap 7 or so when the field had long broken up into little groups and several of the participants were either brilliantly red-faced and gasping or sampling cruising around hands-off. We were dismayed when an ancient rider on an ancient yellow Faggin was pipped at the finish line by some young whippersnapper after leading most of the race during the Multispeed II crit. Shameless Youth!



RSV Vagabund ’13, the Rhineland’s newest vintage bicycle club, was well-represented with the presence of myself, Nick and Tom, standard-bearers for Canada, Britain and the USA. Flanders is convenient to a lot of places in Europe so there was a strong presence from neighbouring Germany, France and Holland and a huge contingent from across the Channel. Retro rides are growing rapidly in popularity on the European continent but the UK, which has many collectors and many fine vintage bicycles, does not offer the same event opportunities, we were told.

Grant from England with his Raleigh Team Pro
We drove in from our luxurious bed-and-breakfast (you would be amazed what kind of accommodation Flanders offers!) to Oudenaarde and followed the excellent signage to a huge parking lot not far from the Centrum. It had rained all night but the forecast was fairly positive and although it was not raining when we assembled the bikes it was rather bitter and damp. We slowly made our way through the mass of riders. Having already picked up our start numbers we joined the line to the sign-in. Yes, just like a pro race the announce in his tweed suit and flat cap asked us about our bikes and where we were from (in three languages, no less) before we rode up a little ramp to a platform where a big board had all of our numbers. 


One of the costumed crew members—a policeman, a nun, a village priest or a local mayor with a tricolour sash—held your bike while you signed in beside your start number and waved to the adoring crowds. There were many really beautiful bikes, including a purple 1935 Automoto and various marques unknown to me. The announcer noted immediately that I was riding an early 1980s Belgian bicycle, a Cicli Diamant made in Flanders, and I said it was a great opportunity to bring the bike back to its native roads.




Down the ramp and into another line, this time for an Olde Tyme photo in front of a Retro Ronde backdrop. Nick and I had our pictures taken although Tom, sadly arrived too late but there is always next year. Then we were marshalled, sort of, onto the main street in front of the Centrum and around 10 minutes late at 10:40 we departed with the hardcore riders planning to do the 70 or 100 km courses. Fifteen minutes later the 40 km people would leave.

Our route began by taking is around the centre of Oudenaarde, clearly a test to see if everything on the bike was secure as we bounced over the cobbles. But they were pretty civilized cobbles and we made some good time. It was wonderful to look at the diverse colours of all the vintage bicycles, so different from today’s limited palette of black, black, black and some white or red.



About twenty minutes into the ride Tom discovered that his Continental Puncture-Proof tires were not so we took a break to look after the rear flat. Most of the group passed us, including a cyclist doing the course on a high-wheeler. After some wrestling, Tom nearly had the tire back on when the Broom Wagon arrived. A very large gentleman offered some help and a floor pump. Tom was struggling with the tire but our Broom Wagon Friend took it from him and with gigantic practiced hands simply rolled the Conti back onto the rim with no effort. And we were on our way again, our goal being to pass the high-wheeler and confirm the superiority of the safety bicycle.


This British rider was doing the full 100 km course on his highwheeler!

The Nun With The Stamp checks Tom in

Having ridden all of 12 kms, we now arrived at Control 1 at de Valleihoeve, where the aforementioned nun stamped our cards and we enjoyed some atmospheric accordion music while consuming fresh strawberries that a local farmer was handing out. There was chocolate too and some other nice things to eat. We looked at some of the other bicycles and then went off on the next leg which would see our route separate from the shorter ones. 



We had a brief climb (den Ast) and then two sections of flat cobblestones (Molendamstraat and Oude Dorpsweg). As I had feared, the gearing on the Diamant, which I had purchased only the week before, was totally unsuited to steep climbs but I just dropped into my lowest gear (46-19!) and slowly ground my way up to the top while Tom and Nick, riding more sensible Italian bikes with gearing for humans, went on ahead.


Our route took us through back roads which were sometimes just muddy farm paths and through quiet neat villages with dark-brown brick houses, where often people leaned on their fences to shout encouragement or just beam in pleasure. A very different attitude from those places where the locals are infuriated if the road is closed for an hour of a race…

We were accompanied by a collection of vintage cars that generally were no faster than we were. My favourite was an Austin Seven, but there were lots of Citroens too, including the iconic 2CV and the DS. They all got in the way a bit at times but nobody was in a hurry anyway and it certainly added to the atmosphere.


Passing a small castle near Hoeve Ter Weede, we continued along two more sections of cobbles and then climbed the Nokereberg, another cobbled hill, before coming to Control 2 at In den Hemel. In addition to more live music, we were given big tureens of excellent tomato soup to enjoy. There were more picturesque cyclists and their mounts to admire and everyone was impressed with a family of four in matching gear: father, mother, older brother and, on a tiny bike, the little brother who looked around seven or so. They start they young in Belgium. We also met up with the group of Germans that had been staying in our B&B. Unfortunately, the one riding an elderly Legnano had had some bad mechanical problems and his ride was over. We found out later that he sold the bike on the spot; perhaps he found another to continue the ride!

The tomato soup ladies

Waiting to check riders in




Riding out of the control point we rode through an allée of tall trees, bringing us past the Kasteel Baron Casier, a water castle constructed in the mid-19th Century in the classical style and today housing a tea room in addition to the fine park we were riding through. We climbed a little hill and then rode just east of the village of Wortegem-Petegem (now there’s a familiar name to Belgian cycling fans!) before approached Control 3 at de Stroheve. We could see everyone at the food stop straight ahead but the red arrows marking the route took us to the right. The reason was that our path now took us directly through a huge stable, where there were many black Belgian horses to admire, including several wobbly colts, and a collection of interesting carriages. And riding to the control we discovered that in addition to the usual apples and oranges and cookies there was a large gentleman smoking a cigarillo and pouring out lemon schnapps for everyone. 





All this cycling was the typical roundabout course you find in Flanders. Having ridden 40 kms we saw a sign indicating that Oudenaarde was 6 kms away! No matter: onward to the hard part of the course. We streamed by another castle, the Domein de Ghellinck, that had been converted into a restaurant/family centre and then find ourselves riding along a fast smooth path along a river. The routes separated again and we had another cobbled flat section to enjoy before the Tiegemberg, another nice little climb, before looping back to join the 70 km course.


This brought us to one of the very famous Tour of Flanders climbs, the Oude Kwaremont, which begins pleasantly enough but soon you leave asphalt behind and the cobbles gradually deteriorate in quality as you approach the 19 percent maximum grade. My legs definitely did not like this much but I managed to get to the top without walking. Nick missed the turn and continued to climb against a one-way road directly to the top.

On the Oude Kwaremont as it begins to steepen
A bit further one was probably the worst climb in terms of steepness. It is described as the Rampe and must be at least 22 percent, although short. Time for Mr. Diamant to get a push since I was walking this one, accompanied by some elderly Brits with some really admirable bikes to look at.  Our next control was in a big barn and featured a duo doing AC-DC music to give us energy. We carefully rode along the cobbled farm driveway and back on course—35 kms to go!

A steep climb at Kuihol saw some admiring children rush over to give us a push, although Nick got a slap in the leg from a little boy, and we were making our way through the hardest part of the course. Next up was the Taaienberg, also a featured cobbled climb in the Ronde and then one more paved climb before the last control point. We were left with just 18 kms to go but this included four climbs, including the rather painful Kapelleberg and one final stretch of cobble, which ran through the village of Jagerij and must have been the inhabitants’ pride and joy.

Now the end was in sight and we tore downhill into Oudenaarde, rolling up the finishing ramp and signing out with 102 kms and 1075 m of climbing in our legs, three of 535 participants at the Retro Ronde. A welcome sandwich was provided and an even more welcome cool brown beer. We enjoyed our refreshments while listening to the Vindaloo Five perform and then it was off to use the showers at the Centrum, say goodbye to our British friends who were packing up and jam Tom’s Fiesta full of our gear and take the highway home.

Entertainment at the finish line
Everyone had a smile on their face and all have agreed to come back next year for the full program since missing the Beer Cycling Contest was tragic. We may even work on our sewing skills in preparation for next year but no matter what the Retro Ronde is one of the most entertaining (ravishing!) weekends you can have on a bike. Admission is a bargain: entry is 10 Euros, there is plenty of reasonable accommodation in the region and as to getting equipped: well, my handbuilt Diamant, made from quality Reynolds 531 steel and with excellent Shimano Arabesque components, cost me complete roughly half the price of a modern wheelset alone. But that sprinter’s freewheel has to go!

RSV Vagabund '13 looking good!



For more information about the Retro Ronde go to www.retroronde.be
 
And because you really want a vintage-style jersey or want to sew one for a Significant Person, ask Isabelle at www.lafamillevictor.be.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Just a little club ride...with 5,000 participants!

In deepest Hessen
In 2001 I rode the Rhőnradmarathon, a rather difficult organized ride near Fulda in the eastern part of the German state of Hesse. For my efforts I received a participation medal and a t-shirt—the former I still have but the latter has gone to T-Shirt Heaven after being used for workouts until it faded away. I had ridden the Classic version of the ride but this time planned to go for the Marathon version: 202 kms and 3400 m of climbing. I persuaded my friends Nick and Bernd to sign up since places are limited.

This just goes to show the changes in German cycling in the last decade. The professional sport is dying as races have been cancelled until only a handful are left, only one of which is a UCI Pro Tour event. On the other hand, bike marathons, which were a scarce novelty a decade ago, have boomed as amateurs make the most of the sport. Jedermannrennen, as races for amateurs are called in Germany, did not exist in 2001 but now there is a whole series of them as well. A bike marathon must be 200 kms to be called one but, like the popular Radtourenfahrt (RTF) that covers shorter distances and can be found throughout the country on every weekend during the season, it is not a timed event. The Jedermannrennen is timed but from my experience at the Velothon Berlin only the hardcore riders take it seriously.

The Rhőnradmarathon is organized by the local cycling club, RSC '77 Bimbach, which was founded in 1977 and ran the first Radmarathon already in 1979. It is one of the most loved events in Germany and extends now over two days during the Pentecost Long Weekend. On Saturday a number of RTF rides are offered, including a 20 km family event, with the longest being 152 km. On Sunday more RTFs are offered from 20 to 112 kms but the Big Event is the Radmarathon, which now comes in three variations. Besides the Basic and Classic lengths two years ago a brutal “Extrem” route of 238 km with 4500 m of climbing was added. Described as the hardest bike marathon in Germany, it is for crazy people.

On Friday, May 17, Nick picked me up at the Siegburg train station and then we headed southeast to Lauterbach. The drive was harder than expected as we ran into very heavy fog in Hesse as Nick's GPS took us along some very small roads. In the end we reached our base for the next two days, a spacious apartment, around 10 pm, feeling pretty tired.

Our B&B: Haus Ortwein in Lauterbach

On Saturday it was time to ride. I had signed up for one of the RTFs and was hoping to do the 112 km version, while Nick was considering something shorter. In the end it did not matter as Nick's Garmin took us to the registration in Bimbach the long way, meaning a 27 km route rather than the expected 13 km one. This meant we were too late to start but the weather was decent, if overcast and humid, so we decided to ride our own variation of the 48 km loop. I did get my start number for the RTF but was not too concerned about food stops or controls as I had only invested 5 Euros anyway.


In addition to the registration set-up, there was a beer tent and some tents for people selling things. Nick lusted after some Lightweight wheels but, more importantly, he also had the chance to have his failing rear wheel trued by a brilliant mechanic.


Nick, lusting
We set off from the muddy start area and were soon cruising through Hesse, which boasts truly excellent roads. The Rhőn area is considered by Hessians to be the prettiest part of their state and the lack of traffic and the fine pothole-free surfaces of the streets make it a great cycling destination.




Propaganda for yet more rides!

Riding through small towns along the Fulda River, we noticed not a lot of activity for a Saturday. Hesse is one of the German states where rural areas are depopulating at a noteworthy rate and the villages we saw generally had no stores or cafes in them. It was only when we got to a larger centre that there was more activity. This was in Schlitz, where there is an impressive castle that is now an old age residence and there is also a fine hotel. We climbed up through the cobbled streets to take a look around and came across a group of ancient motorcycles assembled for a vintage run. Some great old machines, including ones with sidecars.



Saturday afternoon in Schlitz
Our plan to stop for a coffee did not work out as the only cafe had too many smokers on the terrace so we continued enjoying our spin through the countryside, eventually collecting 71 kms and around 700 m of climbing.We returned to our bed-and-breakfast and the welcome opportunity to clean our quite muddy bicycles.



That evening we drove back to the start area for the pre-ride briefing for Sunday's adventures. A Powerpoint presentation had been assembled but first the speaker from the club doing the briefing went into a long and excited monologue slamming the sports press for concentrating only on the doping scandals in cycling and not on big and successful events like the one put on in Bimbach each year. That out of the way, he then proceeded to entertain us with stories of Celtic settlement in the town and then a brief diversion into the geological formation of the Rhön region.


Just as I was thinking I had never heard a pre-ride briefing like this before, the screen featured the route we would be riding. As there is overlap between routes, the speaker just covered the long 238 km version. The route was divided into five segments, each with a slide. After the 45 km “prologue” it got very quiet in the tent. There was a mention of a time cut-off for the 202 and 238 km routes, the first indication of this we had had. There were lots of food stops (hooray!) and a whole lot of climbing. A whole lot, actually. The presentation ended with an animated fly-through of the route in 3D, which did not provide much comfort either.

Sunday: the Day of Truth. Our landlady had left breakfast out for us as we had to get up early. The bikes were already in the car so it was the work of only a few minutes to drive to Bimbach. We were impressed that so many people had already arrived, filling two large fields with cars on the edge of the town. Many of the people leaving for the longer route would have gone between 6:00 and 6:30. We sleepyheads got enter the course with the other 202 kms-intending, along with 171 kms riders. At 7:15 we were off on our adventure. It was a cold morning but no rain, thankfully.


The prologue was marvellous. We rolled out on the empty, pothole-free roads, smoothly climbing and very rapidly descending and having a jolly old time, eventually rolling though the Rhönsprudel mineral water factory (one of the ride's sponsors) and coming to the first food stop. Nick had ridden with a triathlete from Hamburg who was using this route as a training ride. Refreshed with our quick stop, we headed to the first serious climb of the day, just past Poppenhausen. It was slow going but steady enough. Most of the hills in the region probably max out at 8 percent gradient but are very long.

A short descent and then we were climbing again. There was quite a bit of traffic here and it was both in the air and on the ground. Cars, motorcycles and buses overtook us and overhead were light aircraft and sailplanes. To my surprise we had already reached the top of the Wasserkuppe, at 910 m the highest point of the ride and the home of gliding. There is a little airport at the top and lots of tourist kitch places as well. I was last here in 2000 and now I was enjoying the descent I had climbed up more than a decade ago.


Enjoying the smooth fast descent, we came to an intersection where my GPS said we should go right but all the signs pointed left. We knew that there had been some changes in the route and this must havae been one. In fact, as we were to learn at the next food stop, we had missed the time cut-off and were now riding the 171 km route instead of the longer one we had planned. We discovered this at Fladungen, when our cards were stamped KP3 (Kontrol Punkt 3) instead of the KP2 we expected. This was kind of annoying but we decided we could add some distance at the next split. We mulled this while eating big bowls of hot pasta at the food stop.


As usual, the most food is always located before the toughest climb. Our idea of lengthening the ride was wishful thinking as to get to the split we had to conquer a big Category 2 climb and the signs for the longer rides were gone anyways. The sun had come out now and I was definitely struggling. At the Gotthards food stop we debated taking an extra loop but instead opted for the flatter 171 km course section through Morles. This was a good opportunity to recover a bit from our exertions. I felt the odd twinge of cramping in my adductors coming on but stopped, drank, did a bit of massage and rode off in an easier gear with no more adverse effects.

By the time we got to the last checkpoint before the finish at Margretenhaun we were in relaxed cruising mode but eager to finish the ride. There were a few ups and downs until the final little descent brought us back into Bimbach, the ride completion and our commemorative t-shirts.

We were both pretty tired and a bit sunburnt. We made our way back to the car after misdirecting ourselves somewhat and returned back to the B&B. Shortly after our arrival the skies turned black and it began to pour in torrents, not letting up for the rest of the night.

Lauterbach might be bigger than most of the villages around but it still did not offer much in the way of budget eateries so our recovery meal was consumed at the local McDonald's, a first for me! The rain continued and the next morning, feeling a bit stiff but triumphant, we drove back to Siegburg and I took the train home.

It was a great weekend riding some of Germany's best roads at a superbly organized (and sold-out) event. This was the best-attended of the Radmarthons to date and everyone looked like they were enjoying it. Nick and I were among the stoutest people at the event and there were riders who finished the brutal long course averaging 30 km/h, apparently. But the ride is the thing and not the time, as the organizers point out. I was happy to accept my 245 kms of riding with 3400 m of climbing as a pretty good weekend workout at the beginning of the cycling season. Next year for sure, but we will make that time cut-off!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Herd of Tin Donkeys: A Cicli Diamant, My Flahute Bike

My collection of interesting vintage bicycles continues to have some gaps in it. I now have steel bicycles made in the following countries: Canada, Germany, England, France and Italy, with the Italians currently leading by a good margin. But the other hotbed of cycling, the Lowlands, had contributed nothing to my geographical diversity. I have attempted a few times to land an Eddy Merckx Super Corsa, preferably in 7-Eleven colours, but to no avail. Considering how well-known are the major brands in Italy—DeRosa, Colnago, Pinarello, Basso. Ciocc, Chesini and so forth—it is strange that no brand cult has arisen in Belgium or the Netherlands.

The famous marques tend to be large faceless corporations like Gazelle or Batavus, which continue to produce utilitarian bikes that are noteworthy for their strength and high weight. There are less famous brands that are regional or local, like RIH, which was connected to an Amsterdam bike shop and used the city's triple-x logo on headtubes. Jan Legrand, the Dutch framebuilder who was involved in constructing the Raleigh pro team bikes in the seventies, had his own line of frames named Presto and there were surely many others. Lowlands bikes tend to be solid and competent but a bit workmanlike in comparison to their more flashy Italian competitors. Also many framebuilders built for other manufacturers.


 My newest bike is one of those. It is labelled as a “Cicli Diamant,” and was sold by the big Diamant (“diamond” in Flemish) concern which sold those utilitarian kind of bikes referred to previously. This is not to be confused with the East German Diamant brand, now owned by Trek and building utilitarian bikes or the Diamant company that builds Cippolini bikes in Italy. The “Cicli,” which is obviously Italian, stems from the seventies when Dutch builders thought it would be good policy to pretend that they were sort-of Italian. The bike was actually constructed in the workshop of Eddy Martens, who built for a huge number of brands including Coppi, Jan Jansen, Concorde and another Belgian-Italo brand, Scanini. Eddy Martens was not immune himself to the lure of the south and produced his own brands under the Martelli or Martelly name. He continues to produce frames under the Martelly (or Martens) name here. He built bikes for pro teams in Belgian and there was a successful Sigma Paints-Cicli Diamant team. Its most noted rider was Etienne de Wilde. Unfortunately, the team jerseys, which come up on E-Bay, are hideous.


A current Martens/Martelli: a new frame with retro parts
The bicycle I now have has no model name or serial number. The complete frameset is built of Reynolds 531 steel tubing with Campagnolo dropouts and the bicycle has Shimano 600 EX Arabesque components, with drilled Dura Ace chainrings. The Reynolds sticker and the parts suggest a build date between 1978 and 1984. In addition it boasts a Cinelli 1A stem and 40 cm Cinelli Campione del Mundo handlebars, along with Mavic rims. It is currently shod with inexpensive but tough Continental Ultra Sport tires and has cotton bar tape, just like in the old days. And just like in the old days the gearing is brutal: 52/46 up front and 14-19 in the back. I replaced the worn Concor saddle with a new Selle San Marco Regal, honey-coloured with copper rivets.

Having ridden the bike for around 100 m to adjust the saddle height, I thought that this would be the ideal bike to take to the Retro Ronde in Oudenaarde, Belgium this past weekend. I installed the new saddle on Saturday and took some photos and on Sunday we did the 100 km course with 1000 m of climbing, including several of the painful cobbled climbs the Tour of Flanders is so famous for. I managed to get up the majority of them, including the Oude Kwaremont, but ran out of gears and gas on a few and had to walk. The bike is extremely comfortable and the Shimano components work well. I was impressed that my bad idea of taking an unknown bike on a long ride actually had worked out.

Enjoying some Belgian bruyn at the conclusion of the Retro Ronde


The Belgians were impressed as well; when we signed in at the start the commentator knew right away what it was and was happy to hear that I had brought a Flandrian bike to ride in Flanders. My friend Nick said that several people had looked at it with interest when parked at the control points.  I did not see another one on the ride.
What is a Flahute? This is the French expression for the hard cyclists of the north, the ones who train in snow and rain and on cobbles. Maybe not so smart but very very strong and impervious to pain. Here is a discussion of the term but I also like this definition from the Pedalling Squares blog:

"Flahute" is a French term for the hard as granite, dumb as rocks Flemish farm boys that would race in any weather, over all roads. When more delicate French and Italian racers would sit in the cafe or climb into the team car, these big Belgies would be grinding away for hours in poor weather over poorer roads. The southern racers assume that it was because the Flemish boys were too stupid to know when to quit.

In truth, I believe their tenacity is from something different. A flahute keeps racing out of combination of pride and opportunity. The pride is simple to understand, if you are a bike racer, you finish races. Only the weak or worn out quit a race in Belgium. Only the soft refuse to train when it is cold, or wet, or the pavement is bad. If you do not train today, you will not be prepared to race when its cold tomorrow.

After our successful Retro Ronde, a shower and a parting beer, we loaded the car and drove back to Germany. With 20 kms to go we heard a sudden loud “BANG” and immediately pulled over as the first reaction was that the bikes had come off the roof rack. Sure enough, the only one of the three to go was the Cicli Diamant and it lay forlornly on the A52 Autobahn in the middle lane. We ran towards it and Tom waved away two cars that were approaching. There was very little traffic luckily and I ran out and grabbed the bike. It was hard to determine the amount of damage as it was getting dark so we put it back and drove the remaining distance to my place.

The stem and seatpost were out of position but the majority of the impact was taken by the brand new Regal saddle, which is a write-off, and the brake levers, which have some deep scratches. The front brake caliper appears to be bent back and there are new scratches on the fork. The bike was not pristine to begin with and can be touched up easily. I rode it over to Ricci-Sports and the fork was not bent so it is really only a matter of bending back the brake caliper arm, adjusting the brakes and checking the rest of the bike. I will also be getting a new Shimano 14-28 freewheel installed to make climbing less agonizing. A new saddle is coming as well.

When I walked into the shop Richard immediately said: “Ah, a Belgian bike!” as apparently Belgians typically built frames with big 5/8” seatstays. Considering how well it came out of hitting the ground at a speed of 125 km/h (a speed neither I nor anyone I know could reach on human power) it did its Flandrian heritage proud and deserves to be labelled a Flahute.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rund um Köln 2013



My latest article at Pezcyclingnews is my coverage of the 97th Rund um Köln.  Enjoy it here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Help Make A Film About Cycling Through the Heart of Historic Italy!


Paolo Casalis, the filmmaker who did "the Final Kilometer" is putting together another cycling film and is seeking financing on Indiegogo.  Everything is in Italian but if you kick in 25 Euros through PayPal you will get a DVD.  I want to make sure that the subtitles are done properly this time so I have already contributed!

Here is a fast translation of the description of the project, which seeks to raise 4000 Euros:

"VenTo: the Po on Two Wheels" -documentary film in the works
(Release October 2013 - if the campaign financing is successful!)
Support the film by booking your copy at here.

Description
"Ven.To, the Po on Two Wheels"

The green artery of Italy, cycling along the river Po, from Turin to Venice.  A great cycle path that runs through Italy along the Po valley, following the course of the river Po from Turin to Venice and back again.

According to a handful of seasoned professors at the Polytechnic of Milan it would be possible to connect existing paths to complete the course.  They have prepared a detailed promotional plan for this project and on May 26 will set out on their bikes for a ride of over 800 km, from Turin to Venice.

Ven.To could be the first eco-friendly cycle route through four regions and some of the most beautiful Italian cities: Milan, Cremona, Ferrara, Parma and many others.  The film is also the story of an important development opportunity for Italy based on this green artery. A visual journey that links incredibly varied daily stories, vibrant economic realities, and narrates the balance between tradition and need for change.

Ven.To is also the adventure of 5 professors on 10 wheels and their encounters through travel, landscapes, joys and sorrows of each and the challenge of completing the route.  The documentary will be welcomed by the people, associations, administrators--all those people who may give wings to the project VEN.TO, and everyone with an interest in Italy and cycling.

The shooting of the film will take place in May 2013. The release of the documentary is scheduled for October 2013.