Friday, 10 June 2011

kermis means fair

and not in the sense of all being equal! A kermis in Belgium is like the fiesta major over here or the county fair in 'Murica, indeed a somewhat more raucous version of the village fete at home). When i was a child our town had a mop fair every year, a local tradition origionating from a hiring fair (thanks wikipedia) but by the time i was of age it had become an excuse to drink fizzy cider from a 2 liter bottle, get properly sauced and then ride on those rides which serve no purpose other than to make you barf and, if the pikeys underneath get lucky, make your worldly goods fly out of your pockets.

About the only thing those fairs shared with kermesses was the aforementioned rides (its a bit like a pikey pinata i guess). and of course the huge crowds, even in the middle of the week you can count on 500 or so spectators. All the bars set up an outdoor beer tent and often a braadwoorst stand, at first this seems quaint but after 100k the grilling meats seem to cause alternating hunger and vomiting impulses. Also ever present are droogwis, basically dried white fish on a string. I think i'm th eonly person ever to actually eat a droogwi, i quite like them with a beer but i will admit that they're pretty pungent, kind of like fish jerky i suppose. Of course this being belgium, copius pinches of jupiler abound.

the general kermis schedule is this (and by general i mean universal). The Enschriven (sign on) is at a bar or cafe, you walk in and present your bond (the belgian cycling union, yup UNION) card which is scanned, you pay 8 euros (always 8 euros unless its a topcompetition or something) and this secures you a frame number and a dossard. They tell you if the dossard goes linx or rechs (left or right) and you provide your own pins. Sign a sheet and that' you done. Generally the sign on opens 2 hours before the race.

Then you head to the Kleerdammers (changing rooms) and pin on your number (the proper way) along with bolting your frame number to your specially made frame-number-holder. The Preme list (prize list) details what is up for grabs each lap, and who donated it, you look out for that fitted kitchen, microwave or 3 kilogram cheese what you fancy and make a mental note of when to be at the front. Then you put chamois cream on and apply the chamois. at this point you may also apply the base layer but NEVER put the bibs over your shoulders. You then put on your jersey but unzipped and proceed to elevate your legs whilst someone else (either your father or wife) applies embro, this step is VITAL even in the heat of summer, you MUST apply embro. next you remove your jersey again and put it on your knees, inserting a few gels and the odd waffle into the pockets. Some riders will ride to the race, always with a backpack and ALWAYS carrying not wearing their helmets. wearing your helmet for training is a clear indication of cyclotourist status. These guys appear a little later, sign on and then commence the process at the embrocation step. Then it's time to pull up the bibs and check tyre pressure (3 times is normal) before commencing to ride around for maybe 1 lap (warming up is considered cheating) before hurrying to the start where you wait a minimum of 15 minutes.

and then, an overweight man with a moustache (or sometimes a woman with a moustache) blows a whistle and all hell breaks loose, you sprint to the first corner (typically within 100m of the start) slam on the anchors, sprint out and commence the fastest, hardest lap of the race. next comesa the second fastest lap, and the first preme. and gradually, the race explodes as echelons form and crashes happen. Groups ride around the course, all but the front group stalwartly refusing to work and attacking each other shamelessly. Riders often use kurbs, road furniture, roundabouts etc to move up so the crowd is always kept on its toes. Every lap also sees a sprint for the preme and a change in the betting.

Oh yes, the betting, bike racing is a big deal in Belgium (had you guessed) and a lot of money changes hands underneath the blackboards, with the leather suitcased bookies adjusting the odds each lap as races are bought and sold and riders grow weaker or stronger on the invisible other side of the course.

Whenever your group is considered to be out of the race, the moustachioed one will wave a flag and ring a bell. "laaste ronde" and your group sprints (like really full on sprints) for placings (money often goes down 50 deep) . this is a nice system as you generally go home with something AND you practice the tactics of a sprint. Then its time for a coke, again this is obligatory, on occasion one may substitute an aquarius but a can of soft drink is a must. then back to the Kleerdammers, a quick (communal) shower and chance to scope out the shattered looking racers who've already finsihed. In my case about ten people will ask you about the little thing on your arm, you'll explain the pod and they'll swear loudly, express a genuine concern and admiration and then nudge the guy next to them and tell them they were just beaten by an invalid.

Then its time to remove dossards and frame numbers and go back to the cafe where a line of riders is waiting, you climb through the smoke, up the stairs and into a small attic (i think they have these rooms specifically for this purpose). Your number goes back and you get an envelope stuffed with a few euros and maybe a gift ceritificate if you've earned one.

After this its back to the car and off home for dinner. generally its not advised to let your fellow atheltes see you eat so you wait until you've left to show this mortal weakness. it's frowned upon to get a beer in the bar, unless someone else is paying. I do it anyway. Just occasionally you get to have a bit of a slanging match in the car park as well, especially if you've hooked someone or been a bit generous with your occupation of asphalt in the sprint.

And then home you go. Steak, frites, jupiler and sleep. Bear in mind you've raced 100-140k starting at 3 so you often leave the race at 7 and youre amped up on caffeine and adrenalin until late, so you sleep in. get up at 10 and start the process again.

1 comment:

  1. And the Europeans think American racing is strange. I like the beer and food idea though. Much more like a cyclocross race in the states.