Monday, 6 June 2011

Beer, Beadspreads, and blue steak in Belgium

As you may have noticed, I have a tendency to benefit from the kindness of others; Many of you reading have helped me and many of the people who have helped me will never read this and never know how deeply touched I am. I thought I would share with you the story of how I met my Belgian family, ate an eddy mercx style lunch and slept under a club brugge duvet.

After racing on Thursday I decided to drive to the town where the Kermesse was going to be held the next day. The sat-nav having once again failed me I couldn’t locate a nearby hotel which I could afford (actually I shouldn’t blame the sat-nav for my poverty…) I stopped a man by the side of the road to ask if he knew of a camping, planning to pitch up inside pablito for the night. He directed me into a bar (he also accompanied me inside) and we asked the barmaid. Within minuted Bart had offered to let me camp in his garden, he had a tent. I jumped at the offer and quickly a round of pinches was ordered. Bart then suggested we set off home, and when I went to pay for said round. I was told that this was not going to happen. Once it was announced that would be racing the kermesse the next day I achieved something of a “local” status.

Back at Bart’s house we drank another beer and I met his family, 2 boys of 10 and his 17 year old son. Also his neighbours (the two men had been together at the bar). We talked for hours about cycling, Belgium, home and the USA. They didn’t ride themselves (although by Belgian standards they didn’t, all the children still made a 20k round trip to school each day) but had an appreciation for the sport. Their dinner had been and gone but they insisted on preparing me a fine (and not insubstantial) bowl of spaghetti (which was fetched from next door).

When the time came ot go to bed the two twins announced that they would share a bed and I could sleep in the other bed. And thus I found myself, having had my first hot meal in days, better beer than one can encounter rin the us for less than 6 dollars a glass and sleeping a REAL BED, all in the happy environs of the bedroom of a 10 year old football fanatic.

The next day I ate a hearty breakfast of 3 eggs from their chickens and headed out on a spin to Wevelgem, as well as making a practice ronde (in my customary fashion I did this the wrong way) of the race course. On my return having used their shower and towels (microfiber towels are great but only for so long!) I was presented with a blue steak and a heaping bowl of frites, looking at the clock I noticed that this was d to be consumed exactly four hours before the race; clearly one Sunday in hell has achieved the sort of product placement penetration which coca-cola can only dream of.

After a brief trip to visit “family” in Ypres, I returned, signed on in the cafĂ© and came home with the premelist. FLor and Warre the two young boys helped me pin on my number and mix my drinks. The whole family came to watch me race. They tried to feed, they made flags with my name on, they screamed “koomop” every lap and gave me the kind of wholehearted support I’ve honestly never had before. I’ve mentioned that my dad is n’t the most vocal supporter of cyclesport and this was really really touching to me.

Over the next four days I stayed with the family and I have memories I will never forget; Flor and Warre drinking my prolong energy drink and joining me on a “training” ride. Warre’s collection of pro cyclist stickers to which he added my bio-picture and his collection of bottles to which he added one of mine, so proud of it he fell asleep holding it like a teddy bear. He shouted so much on Sunday he made himself hoarse. They all laughed at my ability to consume ungodly quantities of waffles, speculoos and coffee. And we spent hours around the table in the garden of the house that Bart had built for his family with his own hands.

When I left I was genuinely moved to say goodbye. Flor had made me a mini cobblestone trophy and The grown ups had made me a bag of food I am still enjoying. There was also a Duval glass to replace the one I broke last summer. I didn’t have much to pay them back with; the boys liked my chocolate recovery drink so I sneaked it into the pantry, they each got one of the energy gels which fascinated them and a bidon. I also gave them one of my prized boxes of fudge and a box of English tea.

It was really heartwarming to me to be taken in by such a happy, well rounded and welcoming family and community. I’ve promised to go back and win them some premies. 17 year old Kasper and his buddy Mitch have promised to visit next year in England for a tour of our finer drinking establishments. And they’ve all promised to throw snowballs at me if I race the Gullegem ‘cross. Belgium might be a cold country, and it might be a little strange to see a vending machine full of potatoes but the people couldn’t be kinder. Not only bart and his family but the lady who handed me a bidon when I lost all of mine in a crash and as faced with 120k in 35 degrees centigrade without a drink, the fan by the side of the road who gave me his wheel when mine broke, and the race organizer who would always write the town where the next day’s race was on my arm so I could ride there.

If you ever get the chance, make the trip but be sure to take lots of presents! (might be best to avoid American chocolate, beer or French fries though, they’ve got that covered)

And yes it was really 35 in Belgium, and no, all the chocolate did not melt, neither did all the Belgians.

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