Strix the harbinger
guards the exit gate, quizzing all
Who will pass this night?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Belgium. BELGIUM, Belgium, Belgium!

"To a bike-mad American daydreamer, that utterance, Belgium, it arouses skin-tingling romantic visions: Shit-streaked cobbles, machete-like crosswinds, ceaseless overcast and wet and a hundred riders surrounding you who'd sooner stiff-arm you into the gutter than give up their spot in the echelon: Belgium is the muse that motivates everyone we know (or at least everyone we like) on those days when the cold and the rainshowers make training seem like a longshot.

Belgium is mecca. We made our pilgrimage once and experienced such a totalizing harshness that, in retrospect, it bore no resemblance to our Belgium daydreams. And that's where Joe Parkin's life took a different tack from ours. At the behest of an in-his-prime-with-7-Eleven Bob Roll, Joe left the soft world of California road racing in the late 80's to see if he could stick in Europe's ultimate proving ground. Joe's experience in Belgium is the basis for the astonishing book, A Dog in a Hat.

Joe spent one year tearing it up in the amateur scene in Belgium, before turning pro for 5 years and traveling Europe trying to make his mark. A Dog in a Hat is outstanding for many reasons, perhaps none so important as the fact that Joe didn't have a superstar's engine. Breaking through to become a Tour de France KOM or a Classics winner wasn't an option for him. The very fact that he was a 2nd-tier quality pro makes the substance of this book eye-opening. You'll be fascinated by his humility, his determination, and by the warped way domestiques set their goals and weigh success.

Is A Dog in a Hat the best book we've ever read about bike racing? Undeniably yes. The essential truths you'll learn about Belgian bike racing are timeless. And the self-effacing (and often hilarious) way Joe narrates the absurdity of these traditions will make you laugh out loud. Of everything written about bike racing throughout the history of mankind, Chapter 3, "Kermis Don't Play Fair," is the most important 20 pages ever penned. No one should be permitted to own a USA Cycling license without being able to recite this chapter from heart. If you have the least bit of interest in Belgian bike culture, you owe it to yourself to read A Dog in a Hat. And if you don't, then you need to trade in your bike for golf clubs."

Amazon $15, pick up The Rider, by Tim Krabbe on the way by for only another $10.

2 comments:

Silk Hope said...

Hey watch the golf comments. MTBed yesterday skinned up a hand, broke a rib and bruised my hip. All while riding to the coffee shop. Than went off and rode trails. Crap what a day. Oh yes the God Damn Gary Fisher is fine.

If you want to be flemish have a Chimay after riding.

Jack

Gunnar Berg said...

Sorry you're busted up. All bicyclist go through it. It's one of th hazards.

Chimay? The closest I'll ever get is Wisconsin, with the New Glarus Belgian Red. They made good beer, a little too cute with the names, but good beer.