Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Europe

So my European Spring Fling came to a close last month and I can reflect on some lessons learned and good times. First off, I counted 8 countries visited in over 2 months, knocking off some cool cities including Vienna, Rome, Florence, Salzburg, Ghent and Berlin. I got to hang out with fat, obnoxious, British tourists on the coast of Spain, see Renaissance masterpieces of art and architecture in Italy, and race in circles around Berlin's central shopping district. As far as 'business trips' go, this one certainly weighed in with a healthy dose of recreation. It also probably weighed in with an unhealthy dose of downtime - a cyclists best friend. But being born to my father- who's downtime includes, but is not limited to, hiking, cycling, and eliminating world hunger-I had a tough time just sitting still and reading or watching TV. So the system I worked out was this: as all us riders living in the house hunkered down for the afternoon, I too would take up my post on my top bunk and bring up the New York Times on my computer; I would read as much of it as I could handle in one sitting. Meanwhile, my partner-in-crime Max Durtschi, who lived down the hall from me, would do the same; Max, however, would read either the BBC's website or the Wall Street Journal. Being rather like-minded individuals, at roughly the same time we would both have read our fill of the world's most interesting and thought provoking news stories and we would usually leave our napping roommates behind and convene in the common room to discuss the problems of the world (quite literally). Whilst exercising our minds, time flew by nicely and the conversations would of course digress- but nevertheless continue- throughout dinner and the evening. Our intellectual debates and social commentaries were quite a novelty in the house and more riders would join in: Gavin Mannion became an avid nytimes follower, Connor O'Leary would tell stories of his already established entrepreneurial skills, and Jacob Rathe would pipe in with references to books he read during his first term at college. Topics ranged from foreign policy with regards to North Korea to the economic and social impact of the volcanic eruption in Iceland. A most popular subject was comparing and contrasting different cultures of Western Europe. Being a cyclist with a large amount of exposure to people of different western european countries, we would create our own generalizations based on personal experiences. Now I must add: stereotypes are not constructive and only encourage prejudices. Generalizations are useful, however, as they can help us understand differences in customs and behaviors. As bike racers, generalizations can be important because different nations and regions favor different strategies and riding styles. Different cultures produce different types of bike racers. Allow me to enlighten: Belgian bike racers will work until they drop, but mainly in an effort to make the lowly Americans miserable. Being rather confrontational and stubborn people, their persona on a bicycle makes perfect sense. Germans are more rational and calculated. If they think working with an American in a breakaway will bring them a result, then they will do so. The Dutch are just crazy bike riders who take many risks – and I'm not sure how that fits with their culture, but it's true races in Holland are nuts (case in point, stage 3 of this year's Giro d'Italia). Luxembourgians are strong and reserved. Not very glorious. Spaniards are the opposite. Glorious up the mountains, and they lack some reserve (unless the road is flat. I don't think they deal well with flat). The French love the long breakaway and the Russians love the long solo breakaway (that succeeds a frighteningly high percentage of the time). And then there are us Americans who are pretty linear; put us on a flat straight road with aero equipment and we'll crush it, but add in race dynamics and we can struggle. Now of course there are exceptions, notably Oscar Freire as a Spaniard, Tyler Farrar as an American, and Jimmy Casper as a Frenchman, but the generalizations help simplify an otherwise diverse and complex sport.

And now I find myself back in Europe after a solid month back in the United States. Nationals went well with teammate Ben King winning the Crit and Road Race and now I'm preparing for some more crazy Belgian racing with the USA National team in Izegem, Belgium. On the schedule are a handful of one-day races in Belgium – the first is this weekend in the outskirts of Brussels – and then the Tour Alsace and Tour de Namur stage races in early August. Stay tuned for some more posts of racing and living. Sorry for the recent lull, I promise to be more diligent in the future.