So Greg Reain is one of a few young Canadians following a dream by living and racing semi-pro in Belgium, hoping, maybe, one day, to step up to the big leagues of pro cycling and going to The Source to do that. Greg’s from Ottawa and posts some pretty cool stories and observations about living in The Belg.
Him being over and doing this, like my friend Per Strom, from Calgary, is the cultural equivilant of some Belgian jr. hockey player coming over here and playing with the Hitmen WHL hockey team. Belgium is cycling mad and I love this guy’s posts. I’m trying to sell a story about Per’s ambition to anyone that’ll give me $500 bucks for the words so I can hop over, sleep in a shed, wear my wool hat in the Euro rain for a week, and eat some dumplings. It would be as cool as hell all, even when I get absolutely shelled on the cobblestones of Flanders durnig some cakewalk training ride with some of these guys.
Belgium is cool. I’d kind of forgotten why I like this place so much. Cycling culture just seems to ooze from the muddy farmfields, it seeps up from the cracks between the concrete slabs of the roads and it permeates your soul like the everpresent fog permeates your clothing. If you are captivated by scenes of racers pounding over rough roads lined out across the road in a vain attempt to shelter from the wind then this is where you must be. Italy is fine, Italy is nice, Italy is for the soft. Belgium is for the hard. This is a country that seems to thrive on a perverse ethic of hard work and immense suffering. Perfect. I love it. The level of cycling conciousness in the general population is fantastic; it’s sort of like hockey in Canada – maybe everyone is not a fan, but everyone is aware of the sport to some degree. Cycle racing is appreciated as a sport and people recognize the amount of work that the athletes put into it. This translates into a high degree of respect from drivers when training on the road, and also a very knowledgeable community of fans. Witness the following conversation:
Belgian Volunteer- (something unintelligible in Flemish)
Me – “Sorry, I don’t speak Flemish”
BV – “Oh you must be Greg Reain then.”
Me – “What the???” I had literally been out of the change rooms for three minutes at Sint Niklaas after changing into my team kit, and since I had not even shown my face in Belgium yet this season I was a little freaked at how this guy knew who I was. I guess it had something to do with the Stevens clothing and the fact that English is clearly my native language. This is relatively normal here though; the fans make an effort to follow the sport, they know who is on what team and they have a pretty good idea (if not perfect knowledge) of a given riders’ results over the course of the season. Often they’ll remember stuff that you did in a race that you won’t even remember. Pretty cool.
My heartrate jumps just reading that shit.