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A Second Claude Criquielion Hitachi Rossin Bike Surfaces—and I Got it!

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(Photo by NUTAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

I’m a fan of Claude Criquielion and, perhaps more so, a fan of the bikes he rode while at Splendor and Hitachi. Of those bikes, my absolute favorites are the Rossin Ghibli and SLX frames he rode in 1987 for the Hitachi-Marc-Rossin team.

If you’ve read any of this blog, you know I’ve been wanting one of those Rossins for more than 30 years—since 1987.

My friend David Verbeken owns one of Claudy’s 1987 Hitachi bikes. Because it’s an SLX bike rather than a Ghibli, David believes it was one of the bikes Criquielion got just before the Tour de France and used through the end of the season. He makes a good argument and I have no reason to doubt his theory.

Last spring, I met David at his home in Belgium and he let me “ride” the bike around his driveway. It was a minor religious experience for me. I was thrilled with the opportunity to look over the bike and check out the details.

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David is emphatic that he will never sell the bike and I figured the chances of another one of Claudy’s Rossin bikes coming on the market were slim to none. Still, I hoped maybe, one day, one of Claude’s teammate’s Rossins might come up for sale.

At the end of 2019, I was able to sell off some of the last of my most valuable BMX stuff. It netted me a nice little cache. I thought I might use some or all of it for a new bike. Something really special.

Earlier in the year I had let it be known on FaceBook that I wanted to buy one of three frames or bikes—a mid-1970s Gios Super Record, a mid-1970s Flandria or a 1980s Splendor. To my complete surprise, I managed to acquire a Flandria, although it’s earlier than I hoped, and a 1986 Splendor team frame used by Etienne De Wilde.

Since the Gios remained elusive, I thought I might start another search for one of those. I have a special Gios Record and 1979 Super Record, but my fave of all the blue bikes are the Super Records used by the Brooklyn Team in the mid-1970s. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to get my hands on one.

Before I posted to the world that I was looking for a Gios, a friend in the Netherlands let me know about an auction for one of Criquielion’s 1989 Hitachi Eddy Merckx bikes. It was interesting, but not necessarily what I was looking for. Still, I asked around to a couple friends in Belgium and got more information.

I was told Claude gave the bike to his son, who rode it and swapped some parts to make it fit. I also learned that you had to be at the bar in person to bid. It seemed unlikely I’d have a shot, not to mention, I assumed it would go for far more money than I wanted to spend. But, with one of my Belgian friends willing to attend the auction and bid for me, it was possible. The auction was a few weeks away.

Then, I found another use for the cash. During a visit to the home of Matt Gorski, a local collector friend, to check out a Fiorelli frameset, I spotted a mint De Rosa 35th Anniversary bike he was selling. It was my size, but it was a tad out of my budget. I was pretty sure, however, I could raise the extra cash I’d need. The bike also was missing a few bits—the front derailleur and saddle. But Matt saide he had everything, including the Campy SGR pedals, somewhere.

I left his place pumped about the De Rosa, planning to see if I could both bid on the Claudy bike and buy the De Rosa. Then, my wife reminded me it was time to pay our property taxes. So much for expanding my quiver.

What the…? Part One.

A few nights before the Claudy bike auction, I woke up at 4 a.m. and was unable to get back to sleep. I picked up my phone, as one does even though it’s a terrible thing to do when suffering from insomnia.

I pressed the “on” button and Facebook Messenger immediately let out a loud “ding.” Then another. And another. And another. And…

My phone was blowing up. What the fuck?

David Verbeken was sending me photos, 15 so far with more coming every few seconds. The poorly lit and sometimes blurry images showed various dirty Mavic components. There was a front derailleur, a rear derailleur, some cranks and pedals, a Cinelli bar and Rossin-pantographed stem with Mavic levers. Everything looked well used and unloved.

Then, photos of a yellow and orange frame started popping up. The frame was without stickers or branding, but it was clearly a 1987 Hitachi paint scheme. And when combined with the full set of Mavic parts in the other photos, I started to dream that it was a Hitachi Team bike.

“Wow! What’s the story?” I asked.

“54.5 c-c. Pity the fork is not original,” David replied.

“Perfect size. For sale? Price? Do you know any history? I thought the fork was wrong.”

“Yes, I am finding out. This is rust,” David said, referring to a new photo of rust under chipped paint on the frame.

“Yes, I see. Not as bad as my Splendor.”

“I am just getting the pics. Didn’t see the frame live. Asking for toptube length,” he wrote.

“It’s nice he sends so many pics and with such detail. Usually when I ask for photos I get two or three blurry ones,” I typed.

At this point, now sitting up and fully awake in my bed, questions were popping into my head faster than I could type.

“Do you know the guy?” I asked.

“Yes and no. I know him from seeing, but not personally,” David said.

Then came the information I was hoping for.

“The top tube is 57cm center-to-center,” David said.

This was the same length as Claude Criquielion rode. And if it was truly a 54 or 54.5 frame size, the extralong top tube would indicate it was one of the Belgian legend’s bikes.

I quickly typed a reply, “I’m interested if he’s selling. This has been my dream bike for a really, really long time.”

“I know. That is why I am sending it to you. I already have one,” David replied.

“I know. Just want to be sure my intentions are clear.”

“He is asking 1,600 euros.”

David and I spent the next 20 or so minutes discussing value, the bike’s many issues—no stickers, the wrong fork, it’s apparent poor condition, etc. All the while, David was negotiating with the seller—or so I thought.

“Been negotiating the whole time. But he is looking at prices on the internet. Very stubborn. I argued about the state of the frame, parts, etc. Made him an offer of 1,200 euros. It would surprise me if he accepts it. Have to be gentle, he already became a little bit angry when I pointed out the condition. Luckily, I was able to defuse it.”

As I would learn later, David wasn’t negotiating with the seller, but an acquittance who found the bike and was trying to profit from brokering the sale.

While we messaged back and forth, David searched for and found a replacement fork for the bike in Belgium. It would need to be chrome plated and the steerer tube was too long. He also located a vendor with a sticker pack matching the one on his bike.

Together, we figured it would cost me about 1,500 to 1,600 euros to buy the bike, refinish the fork, replace the stickers and have it all shipped to the U.S. Plus, I’d need to buy a few other replacement parts—new Modolo brake hoods, Modolo brake cables, tires. And the seatpost and saddle were wrong. Claudy used a Campagnolo Super Record post with a Selle San Marco Rolls saddle. This bike had a Chorus post and a saddle I couldn’t identify.

“Okay, I think I am going to buy it. I’m still in bed. Let me get up, have some breakfast and then I will make a decision. Thanks for the negotiations and all the searching for forks and decals,” I wrote.

An hour or so later, David wrote to tell me the seller would accept 1,300 euros. He told me it would take 1,528 euros to cover the bike and all the additional expenses, so I sent the money, depleting my cache, and waited.

“I have an appointment to pick up the bike on Friday,” he replied soon after.

What the…? Part Two.

The next morning, I again woke up at 4 a.m. and reached for my phone to kill time. There were no messages or updates from David. Facebook and Instagram were uninteresting. But I had a weird email. It was from someone I’d never heard of. And the subject head read: hitachi team bike.

What!? Another one?

The email read:

From your blog on old bikes, I gather that you may be interested in this bike that I own: http://www-lmpa.univ-littoral.fr/~stubbe/RetroVelo/2009.02.04_RetroVelo.html

You will recognize a Hitachi team bike from ’87, Rossin SLX (54cm seat tube, 57cm top tube), with full Mavic 87 SSC (except for the seat post, which is Campagnolo).

Unfortunately, the bike has been taken apart and the decalls [sic] have been removed (I once intended to do a complete rebuild, but never got around doing it—silly me!). The paint job looks like it has been touched up and the fork is probably a (period-correct) replacement. I got this bike from an uncle, who himself had it from the team. I don’t know which rider rode this bike.

I am selling this ensemble. Let me know very soon if you are interested.

Best wishes, 

Isar

The link led me to photos of the exact same bike I had agreed to buy earlier that day. But the images were of the bike when it was built up and before the Mavic and Citröen stickers Criquielion typically stuck on his bikes had been removed. The bike looked to be in much better condition than I thought. I was overcome with a mix of excitement and dread.

Who was this Isar guy? Was he trying to sell the bike I had just agreed to buy? Was he trying to pull a fast one ? Was this a scam?

Before I replied, I reached out to David and shared with him Isar’s email.

“I just got this message from the guy selling the bike! Are you sure he’s going to sell it to you/me? Should I reply and tell him I already bought it? The photos are interesting. Sadly, the Citröen and Mavic stickers have been removed. That they were there once indicates to me it’s also a Claudy bike. He always covered his bikes with the stickers of sponsors,” I wrote.

His reply was brief.

“WTF?”

“Right?” I replied.

“I am not buying it from him!” David quickly wrote.

“Who are you buying it from?”

“I wonder how much he asks. I’m buying it from Eric Van Sever,”

“Interesting.”

“Yes, surprising.”

“I will contact Isar and find out more. Without telling him anything,” I said.

“Eric told me he knew somebody with the bike. I think the guy is that person. But what surprises me is that he was okay with the price and now he is contacting you to sell it. Very strange.”

“Yes. Is Eric taking some profit for himself maybe?” I asked.

“Maybe. I don’t know. I am very curious what his price is. We have a deal and behind my back he tries to sell it to somebody else!”

After breakfast, I sent Isar an email. My plan was to get as much information as possible without letting on that I had already bought the bike. My number-one goal was to make sure I got the bike and did not mess up the deal David and I, and Eric, apparently, had already made.

What follows are the questions I sent and Isar’s answers.

Q: What was your uncle’s relationship to the team? Do you know more about how he came to own it?

A: Teams used to sell race bikes at the end of the season, or when they changed sponsors, to locals, friends, family, amateurs, and so on. My uncle got these bikes from his father-in-law, who bought it at such an end-of-season sell-out.

Q: Do you collect bikes or was this just one you came to own by chance?

A: I ride a (steel) Merckx, have a very old Groene Leeuw disassembled in my garage. And I have a couple of other non-racing bikes. I love all aspects of road race cycling. It’s a family thing. When my uncle was cleaning out his garage about 10 years ago, I was all too willing to take care of his bikes. I just never got ’round restoring them properly. But no, I’m not a collector of bikes.

Q: What happened to all the stickers? Are any of the ones in the photos still on it? Or were they all removed as you prepared it for restoration? 

A: All removed, sorry. (Stupid, I know.)

Q: You said the bike was taken apart. Do you have ALL the components and ALL the small parts? Often things like the small parts of the brakes, shift levers, seatpost binder bolt, etc. get lost. I noticed the bike has the original bottle cage bolts with yellow paint and all. Do you have these, for example?  

A: The group is absolutely complete, nothing got lost AFAIK. I just cut through the cables and cable guides, which I threw away. (Silly me.) I still have an old TA bottle cage (not in the photos; I’m not sure if it was on this bike or on my Groene Leeuw) & the painted bolts—I was originally not interested in keeping those, so I chucked them in a cardboard box full of small parts, but I found them just now.

Q: Are there any serial numbers on the bike? Maybe on the dropout?

A: There is a number engraved on the top tube (right under the cable guide); I don’t know if it is a serial number.

Q: And, of course, what is your asking price? 

A: What are you willing to spend on it? This kind of Mavic kit, about as complete as they get, go for good money. And to be perfectly honest, I have an offer already: somebody is willing to come from Holland to buy this lot for well over 1,000 euros. But I feel a bit uncomfortable with this buyer, and your enthusiasm for precisely this bike tells me that you might be a better new owner.

Let me add that the Mavic parts are splendid, but that frame is worn and has rusty spots (but it is straight AFAIK), and that the fork does not look like a Rossin fork but is probably a period-correct replacement. When the bike was still assembled, it rolled far better than any of my other bikes—smoother hubs do not exist. (Even those Mavic pedals have extremely smooth bearings, it is brilliant material.)

Best wishes, hope to hear from you soon.”

 Isar’s reply gave me comfort. He seemed legit and his intentions good. The news of a buyer in Holland was strange. And his lack of comfort with said buyer was curious. I assumed he was talking about Eric. But I thought Eric lived in Belgium. Had Eric lied to him? Even more interesting was the selling price of “more than 1,000 euros.” I had agreed to pay 1,300. Was I paying too much?

I shared the new info with David and banged out a reply to Isar outlining the former team bikes I own and what I paid for them. I also included some photos of the bikes as proof that I actually own them. I wanted to use those prices, all of which were less than the 1,300 I had already paid for the Rossin, as reference and to back up my “fair” offer of 1,100 euros.

Isar replied promptly the next day. He complimented my collection and told me about his bikes. He also replied to my offer.

“Thank you too for your offer on the Rossin. I appreciate your situation, and I’m glad to read that you can appreciate mine. I’ll have to consider things, will lose some sleep over it and will contact you as soon as I have a confirmation. As it stands, the other bid wins it over yours, I’m sorry to say,” Isar wrote.

I replied, saying I understood and asked what the other offer was. “1,200 euros,” he said.

Apparently, this Eric guy was taking a cut of the sale price. Normally I’d have no problem with him getting a finder’s fee, but to do so without being upfront about it was not cool. Also, I recalled he had tried to get 1,600 euros initially.

Precious Is Mine

The next few nights I was slept fitfully. I still feared the bike might slip through my hands. And I was still unclear how the sale went down. David had shared with me more info from his perspective. But I wanted to know more. I planned to pen a confession and tell Isar the truth after the sale was complete. Friday could not come fast enough.

On Friday, Dec. 20, I received the following message: “First, the good news. HH2.”

It was, indeed, good news. David was referring to the serial number on the Rossin. We had discussed if there was a serial number and I had asked Isar, but until David had the frame in hand, we didn’t know. David’s Criquelion Rossin is stamped HH1. Mine is HH2. They are twins. One (David’s) is likely Claudy’s main bike, the other his spare.

“You have it in your hands? Deal is done?” I asked.

“Yes, here is a pic of the receipt. I paid 1,200 and 100 to Eric.”

“I’m scared what the bad news is.”

“Color looks good. Not as faded as I thought. I went to Eric’ s house. From there we went Isar’s house. Nice guy. He told his family history—what he told you in his emails. He even told me an American was interested. We drank a coffee and I told that it is most likely Claude’s spare bike. The frame has two very minor dents. If you don’t know, you won’t see them,” David reported.

“I would suggest you give it a good polish. There is a number engraved on the top tube. That’s the number Isar talked about in his email. With the brake cable you won’t see it. The rear hub has no Mavic 87, but it is a team wheel,” he added.

The bad news wasn’t so bad. David also sent a variety of photos of my frame next to his bike for comparison. They were very similar, but not identical.

“What are the chances to find his spare bike? It’s incredible,” David wrote.

“It really is incredible. And that you would find it and the two bikes would be reunited. Thank you so much for helping me get this bike. I’m super excited. A dream come true,” I wrote back.

True Confession

Not long after David and I traded messages, I heard from Isar.

“A follow-up to our messages, that you may find interesting: turns out the other bike collector is David Verbeken (whom you met while in Belgium, I believe). He bought the Hitachi-Mavic team bike—and was happy as a kid in a candy store when picking it up ;-). He immediately recognized the frame as Criquielion’s second bike (he spotted a “2” stamped in the rear dropout), so it perfectly matches his other Criquielion, which has a “1”. David comes across as a likable guy. We chatted a bit over a cup of coffee. And I am happy that this “Criq2” has found a good new home,” Isar wrote.

And who knows, perhaps I’ll see some pics of this bike, restored and all, on your blog sometime in the future!” he added. 

I replied and fessed up.

Hi Isar,

 Thanks for the message. 

 David has been sending me photos and comments about the bike (the good and the bad) all morning. You are right, he is as happy as a kid in a candy store. So, I am I, as I will explain below. 

 I have a confession to make…

 The story of this purchase is quite complicated, convoluted, odd and funny, I think. It’s a bit like a spy story. I will keep it short (ish), but I wanted you to know the back story. I hope it will not upset you and you, too, will find it amusing. Like you said in your email, “I suppose that it’s a small world of vintage bike collectors, so it is perhaps not unusual that one helps out the other.” This couldn’t be truer. 

 I am not 100 percent sure of what happened between David and Eric, but I can tell you what happened between David and me and what David told me. 

 On Dec. 15, 24 hours before you contacted me, David began sending me photos of a Hitachi frame and Mavic parts. He sent 20 or more photos, but no explanation. I asked, “What is this? Is it for sale?”  

I outlined David and my conversations and told him how I eventually agreed to buy it for 1,300 euros. I shared my reaction to his first email to me and mentioned Eric.

 This morning, when David began sending me photos and giving me his impressions of the bike, I felt a great relief. He said he enjoyed meeting you and that you were a good guy. He said you shared coffee. And he told me you tried to sell it to Jan Goeman, who I met with David in April. I am shocked he did not buy it, to be honest. I am also quite happy he didn’t. 

 David also said Eric was a little upset that he did not get the bike himself once David “confirmed” it was a Claudy bike. By the way, Eric does not know about me either. 

 I want to apologize for the subterfuge. I wanted to come clean to you when I replied to your first email, but I wanted to better understand your motives and do whatever I could to be sure the deal I had agreed to through David did not fall apart. 

 I also want to thank you for the bike. It is, without exaggeration, my holy grail of bikes. I will cherish it until my death, I am sure. 

 After David gets the fork and stickers for the bike, he will send it. I should have it in late-January. I can’t wait. I’ve already secured a saddle and handlebars (same type used by Claudy) and own the correct seatpost, so it should be built and ready to ride within a day or two of me receiving it. Painting the fork may have to wait.

 Again, my apologies. I hope you aren’t offended or angry and find humor in the story. I think it’s a great story and I’ll definitely be writing about it on my blog once I get the bike rebuilt and back into shape.  

 Isar replied soon after.

Dear Michael,

First off, no, I am not upset—but, I confess, I am (more than) a tad surprised. The bottom line is that I got enough money for my bike, and that you did not pay too much to make a dream come true.

The 100-euro difference between what you paid and what I received, is not too shocking in itself, but I would have preferred coming clean about it straight away. I do hope that David will get his share: like I wrote, he seems like a likable guy, is clearly a connoisseur of eighties bikes, and—very important—did not try to bullshit me. On the other hand, if this were a film script (and it might well be!), Eric would be the fishy character—for he did try to screw me. Let me tell you my side of this sale…

One day, some two months ago, I was out for a ride, as always on my steel Merckx Arcobaleno. At the traffic light near home, an older cyclist shows up next to me and says “Ha, that’s a nice bike, good ol’ steel frame.” That was Eric. I replied, jokingly, “This Merckx is indeed a nice bike, but I’ve got a real collector’s item in my garage.”

He insisted to accompany me home, and I showed him the Rossin. He had the proverbial dollar signs in his eyes from the moment he laid eyes on the Rossin.

Soon after, Eric makes me his first offer, with much pathos—300 euros. Of course I laughed at that and more or less told him not to contact me for such ridiculous proposals, adding that, in fact, I was not planning to sell this bike anyway. But he kept calling me, kept coming over to my house, which is on his way to work, kept bothering and annoying me. So, at some point, I told Eric that the bike is for sale for 1,500 euros. I honestly thought that I would not hear from Eric again.

Except that he came ‘round once more, this time “to take pictures” because those on my website “weren’t sharp enough.” This was starting to smell fishy. What would he need pictures for, if he had the bike under his own eyes? But I am not a suspicious mind and I didn’t mull over this. One or two weeks later he calls me on a Saturday morning, says that he “has some important news” but “wants to break it to me in person.”

 He comes to my house again and solemnly announces, “well, I’ve got bad news, I’ve consulted a specialist who owns Criquielion’s bike from the 87 Hitachi team, and he says yours is in a terrible state, the paint job is terrible, the fork is all wrong, it’s might not even be a team bike,” adding that “nevertheless, I offer you 750 euro.”

Needless to say that I was quite offended and I sent him walking.

But now I had in my mind to sell this Rossin, convinced as I was that, for one thing, I would never get around to fixing it up as it deserves to be, and for another, I could spend the money on my other vintage bike, a Groene Leeuw which is closer to my size (I’m 1m 82). That afternoon I started looking around on the internet, found your blog, etc. That same evening though, Eric calls me again and says, “It’s ok for 1,200. It’s for a guy I know from Holland. We can come and pick it up next Friday.”

At this point I was fed up with his bullshit, told him that I was having second thoughts, and that I would contact him to confirm. That’s when I contacted you. The rest of the story you know better than me.

 There you have it, my version.

Please do me the favor of sending some pictures of the bike once it’s in your hands; it would be great to see how you put it back together again. I sincerely think that it is as complete as it gets (and David confirmed this), so I’m sure you’ll have tons of fun with this great kit!

And if I ever pass by in California, I count on you buying me a cold beer. Favor will be returned. 😉

Best wishes, enjoy the holidays,

Isar.

Bike Collecting in the Time of COVID-19

As I write this, it’s more than four months since David told me about the Rossin, and the bike is still in Belgium. It took David a little longer than we anticipated to get the replacement fork cut and threaded. I have access to the tools and could have done it myself, but I had seen video of frame builder Jan Weymans threading a fork with a lathe. It looked far more professional than I (or any of my local bike shops) could do. David graciously offered to take it to Jan before he took it in for chrome plating.

The day after David let me know that he was going to pick up the fork from the chrome plater, Belgium went on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Included in the lockdown was the temporary suspension by the Belgian postal service of shipments of packages overseas.

My bike is boxed and ready to go, but still in David’s possession. When the bike does get here, I’ll be ready to build it and ride it. I’ll probably have the fork painted to match before I build it though. It all depends on if my painter, Evan Whitener of The Bicycle Stand in Long Beach, who works with Joe Bell, is taking work at the time.

I have acquired all the parts I need—new Modolo brake lever hoods, grey Modolo brake housing and cables, a late-1980s Cinelli Criterium handlebar, a 1987-dated Selle San Marco Rolls saddle, Bike Ribbon bar tape, a full selection of Mavic and Rossin stickers and a vintage Hitachi-Marc-Rossin Team jersey. I also made the other stickers Claude had on the bike originally (based on Isar’s old photos and David’s bike), including the Citröen and Claude Criquielion stickers.

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And the rest of my costume is ready. I picked up a pair of blue and red Patrick Bernard Hinault shoes similar to those used by Claude in 1987, although they are too big, and an NOS pair of Castelli socks, which won’t last long once I wear them—the elastic is on its last leg. I also made a pair of Hitachi-Rossin bibs. And, of course, I have a pair of Gammi Sport Hitachi Team gloves.

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I’m still missing a correct team cap. And, as mentioned above, I still need a better fitting pair of Patrick shoes. I’d love to find a Cinelli or other brand hairnet in some combination of black and orange or black, orange and yellow as seen in the back pocket of the rider in the photo at the top of this page. But there’s about as much chance of me finding one of those in my size (57) as there is of me finding a Criquielion Hitachi bike. I think I’ve used up my Hitachi luck.

The Criquielion Hitachi Merckx bike sold on Dec. 21. A good friend and collector here in Orange County asked his friend in Belgium to bid on it. His max bid was quickly surpassed and the bike sold for 1,900 euros, according to his friend. I was told it sold for 1,600 euros. I can’t confirm either.

Sadly, I passed on the De Rosa 35th Anniversary bike. Recently, however, I put Matt together with another local collector and a deal was done the same day. (They actually know each other, but Matt didn’t know the buyer was in the market and vise versa.)

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In the meantime, I acquired another longtime dream bike (aren’t they all), a 1990 Buckler Colnago Master Piu. It’s not a real team bike, but a replica frame and good enough for me. I’ve wanted a Colnago with a straight fork and I’ve wanted to build a bike with Superbe Pro since around 1990 when I lived in Japan. Building a Buckler bike seemed like the perfect solution.

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The Colnago also sits unbuilt. I’ve been waiting for Ambrosio Nemesis rims to arrive from Belgium—lockdown delayed—and 3T handlebars and stem and a Suntour chain and 38T chainring to arrive from a local distributor. A silly COVID-related communication SNAFU has held up the parts delivery for four weeks. It’s been frustrating, to say the least. I can have it on the road in about 30 minutes. I just need bars, stem and chain.

As of today, May 6, I should have all the parts by week’s end. I ordered an NOS set of rims from Italy (I’ll get the ones in Belgium for a future build.) out of sheer impatience, plus the new rims will pair better with the new Superbe Pro hubs I have. The rims arrived in three days from Italy—thanks Ciclicorsa for the amazing service. And I think I worked out things with the local distributor for the bars, stem, etc. If all goes as I hope, I’ll build the wheels and glue the tires tonight and should be riding the Buckler accurately built this weekend. Finger’s crossed.

And of course, I’m ready to ride the Buckler in style. I have the jersey, two Isostar water bottles and a Buckler cap (Thanks, Jos.) and Time shoes (new and my originals from 1989). I’ve even ordered some prototype Gammi Sport Buckler gloves (should be here next week). And, for the first time, I ordered some sublimated side panels from my glove vendor that I plan to have sewn into prototype bibs. If all goes well, I will to start offering Gammi Sport bibs and matching gloves later this year.

Update Number One

As of today, July 7, I still don’t have the Criquielion bike. David shipped in June 5 via bpost, the Belgian national postal service. A few days later, the tracking number showed it was in Germany and in the hands of DHL. Both these facts seemed odd. Despite several calls, David was unable to get an explanation for either, only that it was in Germany and headed to the U.S.

There is sat for more than one month.

David continued to make numerous queries by phone and email to bpost. Unfortunately, they were unable to tell him anything new. All he and I could do was sit tight and remain positive. We knew COVID-19 was still being blamed for shipping delays all over the world.

Today, we finally saw movement when the bike entered the USPS (US Postal Service) tracking system. It’s still in Germany, but it appears it was processed out of international control. With any luck, it will hop a plane for the U.S. soon and I’ll finally have the bike, hopefully by month’s end.

Update Number Two

As of today, July 20, the bike hasn’t moved. It’s still in Germany. I’m getting tired of this.

I did get the Buckler bike built several months ago. I ride it often. It’s really quite a fantastic bike. And, I finally found a mid-1970s Gios Super Record in my size. It has yet to be shipped from Italy, but it should be here within the next few weeks. I hope.

I’ve been riding the Buckler Colnago quite a bit while I wait for the Rossin to arrive. It’s a really great bike.

Update Number Three

Today, July 29, I got word the bike had finally left Germany and had arrived in the US. As far as I know, right now it’s in New Jersey, a mere 3,200ish miles away. Based on my past experiences with bikes and other bike parts shipped from Europe, I’m guessing the Rossin is roughly five to seven days away. Of course, it could take a lot longer. I’ve seen things sit in New York for nearly a week before moving west.

At any rate, My Precious is not lost, yet, and it’s on its way to me.

Update Number Four

Today, August 12, the bike finally arrived. The box was badly beaten, but the bike survived and it appears nothing fell through the holes. More to come. Stay tuned.

Update Number Five

Taadaaaaa…

My Saturday in Hell: The Netherlands

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The drive to my AirBnB in Limburg was easy and relatively short. On the way,  I received a text message. I know I shouldn’t have, but I gave a quick look to see how it was for. It was Luc, my tour guide at Leo’s Cycling Collection. The message was still visible on the screen and I could see it said one of my cycling heroes had died.

I would later learn that Patrick Sercu, teammate to Julien Stevens and Eddy Merckx, among others, died after a long illness. He was 74. The Belgian sprinter had been the topic of many conversations that week. He was much beloved and respected by Belgian cycling fans. It was very sad news. I was bummed.

Perhaps it was because I was thinking about Sercu or still reliving my encounter with the jerseys, but I didn’t even notice when I left Belgium and entered the Netherlands. It wasn’t until I was 10 or so miles over the boarder that I noticed the street signs and road designs were different. The roads also seemed more organized and everything a little more tidy.

The Air BnB was located smack-dab in the middle of Dutch suburbia and just a few miles from the Amstel Gold Race finish in Valkenburg. I would be staying in a simple guest house behind a cute white home where a free-spirited Belgian yogi named Katty lived. A theme of spirituality and Eastern religions dominated the decor and complimented Katty’s warm and generous demeanor.

I unloaded the car and reached out to my friend Richard, who lives nearby. He and I met several years ago at the Papendal BMX track at the Dutch Olympic Training Center in Arnhem where I was working for Box Components and he was spectating with his son, then a young BMX racer. We kept in touch over the years. He helped me find my Hitachi Eddy Merckx. When he learned of my trip to Limburg, he reached out. Through a friend, Richard was able to get me entry into the Amstel Gold Xperience even though it had been sold out since November.

Richard picked me up around 7 and took me to dinner at an F1-themed restaurant owned by a former professional BMX racer he knew. The place was packed. We took a seat at a table outside along the sidewalk. The restaurant was informal, but the menu was slightly upscale. It was the first “adult” meal I’d had since I arrived in Europe some nine days earlier. And it was delicious.

I had a beer with my meal, that the waitress described and a “special beer made by a local craft brewery.” Although I had no idea what she meant by “special,” I felt like being adventurous and took her word for it that it was good. I figured, I’m in Holland, a few miles from Belgium, of course it will be good. Then, I had a fleeting thought—Maybe here in the land of Belgian ales and Trappist brews, “special” means something exotic like an IPA. To say I’m not a fan of IPAs, is an understatement. But since I had seen all of about three IPAs on grocery shelves since I arrived in Europe, unlike in the U.S. where it often seems like 90 percent of beers are the bitter brew, I blew off any concerns I might have had.

As soon as the beer moved across my lips and hit my tongue, I tasted the sharp tang of pine needles. It was an IPA. I drank it anyway. And although I wouldn’t order it again, it wasn’t too bad. Since then, I’ve actually tried and finished IPAs twice, once unknowingly.

After dinner, Richard drove me around the area and showed me where Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race would finish. We drove down the Cauberg and through Valkenburg. Having watched the race in videos and on TV many times, it all was all very familiar. The finish up the Cauberg had become one of my favorite race features in any race and I Iooked forward to Amstel Gold every year because of it. It bums me out that the race no longer finishes there.

Richard also showed me where I would pick up my rider packet and start the Amstel Gold Xperience the following morning, if I was feeling better. Richard’s tour was awesome and so was the meal.

When I got back to my room, I decided was too sick to do the 80-mile ride along the route of the famous Ardennes Classic the next day and I wouldn’t need to bother getting up early.

Steven at the AirBnBn in Aarselle, had described one of the drugs he got for me at the pharmacy that morning this way: “Take one packet before bed. You will sweat like crazy all night, but in the morning you will feel better.”

I took the meds, climbed into bed and immediately went to sleep. I woke up several times during the night, each time well aware that I was lying in a virtual pool of sweat. Steven wasn’t kidding.

Day 10

In the morning, I was still very sick. It was a beautiful sunny day and perfect for a bike ride, but I was going to have to miss the Amstel Gold Xperience. I was gutted. I ate a little breakfast and discovered that not only was the coffee in my room instant (I noticed this the night before.), but it was decaffeinated. What was the point of such an abomination?

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I disassembled my bike and put it into the travel case. I had been dreading stuffing it into the bag again, but it went smoothly and now it was done and the bike out of my way.

I checked the Google for local coffee shops and found a couple of possible options. I chose the one not in the city center, which I knew would be crowded with tourists. On my way, I shared the roads with riders doing the Amstel Gold Xperience. There were hundreds of them. I was envious they were riding in the beautiful sunshine and I was too sick to join them.

I spotted a bakery well before getting to the destination I had plugged into my map. I stopped to see if they also served coffee. On this day, the day before Easter, the place was packed. I looked around and saw no signs of coffee. The pastries looked amazing, but I had no appetite for sweets and needed an espresso, pronto.

Parking was sparse near the bakery so I had to grab a spot on the curb several streets over. On my way back to my car, I gave an adjacent “tea house” a closer look. On the patio were 10 or so tattooed bikers, most of whom were dressed in black leather. Undeterred by their sideways looks and cigarette smoke, I entered the place and saw a big espresso machine. Jackpot. I ordered, took note of the gelato and pastry selection and returned to the patio to find a seat. I chose a table as far from the bikers and their smoke as possible. Unfortunately, they had taken most of the tables under the canopy, so I took a seat in the bright sunshine. Its warmth was pleasant, but I could feel the uncomfortably intense sun on the bald spot on the top of my head.

The waiter, who I took to be the owner, was dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt and boots. Ink sleeves covered both arms. I assumed he was the reason the Dutch biker gang was hanging out at a tea house. He dropped off my coffee and wandered over to the bikers to take their orders. With limited distractions available on the patio, I entertained myself watching the gang. Most of them looked as if they’d made some bad life choices, among them smoking and possibly heavy drinking, which left plenty of premature lines etched  on their faces. Still, they carried an air of middle-class comfort. Their bikes were nowhere to be seen.

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I finished my coffee faster than I might normally. The sun was burning my balding head, despite the fact that I had grown my hair 1970s long in an effort to match my appearance to the age of my bike. I also was bored. And I needed to blow my nose. The snot was flowing out of control and I was out of tissues and quickly used all the napkins on the table.

Being that Easter was the next day and I had nothing at the house to eat, it seemed prudent to hit the grocery next door before I headed back. I grabbed my usuals—orange juice, water, a baguette, sliced cheese and meat, cookies, muesli and some milk. I looked at other foods, but the AirBnB had no place to cook and I only had two more days in Europe, so I kept it simple. Not to mention, I still felt like shit.

Not long after I got back to the house, Richard messaged me to see if I wanted to get some good coffee. He had seen my FaceBook post about the decaf instant that was in my room. He was appalled and embarrassed and wanted me to know there is good coffee in the Netherlands. He picked me up about an hour later. He was with his son, Ruben, who was a good foot taller than when I had last seen him a couple years prior.

Richard wanted me to see more of his hometown, so we went to Maastricht where he knew of a good coffee shop that doubled as a bike shop. On the way there, we visited a bike shop that had a small range of vintage road bike and jerseys for sale. I wasn’t feeling very much like spending money, so I didn’t look as much as I might usually, nor did I ask about the prices of the various, cool, wool jerseys that hung around the shop.

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Maastricht, Richard explained, was unique because so much of its architecture was influenced by France. It felt like so many other Northern European counties I’ve visited—the building facades were hundreds of years old while the businesses they housed included banks, restaurants and bars, grocery stores and shops selling modern design goods.

The coffee shop, Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee , had a cool vibe, great coffee and killer pastries. It was easily the best coffee experience I had in Europe that trip. The bike shop seemed to be less important that the coffee shop, and it seemed to focus on clothing and accessories and, possibly, repairs and service. The service department was “closed” and the lights turned out, but there were a few customers there shopping for jerseys and helmets. You can check out the shop with Team Sunweb pro cyclist Coryn Rivera here.

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Richard, Ruben and I caught up on things and chatted about the city, BMX racing (which is how we met), tomorrow’s Amstel Gold Race, Ruben’s new interest in photography and whatever else came up.

While I was working on my second cup of coffee and sampling the carrot cake, I received a text message from Celment Lucas, a BMX racer and friend. He wanted to know if I was planning to attend the European Cup BMX race that weekend in nearby Zolder, Belgium. Not long after that, I got a second text from a racer there asking the same thing. I shared the messages with Richard and Ruben. Although we had no plans to drive the 40 or so minutes to watch the race, we really had no plans at all, so Richard suggested that if I wanted to go, he would be into it. I gave it a few minutes thought and decided it would be fun to see a European round of BMX.

After we casually finished our coffee and food, we took a walking tour though Maastricht, ending in the city center where an antique swap meet was going on and, in an adjacent parking lot, the Pro Tour team cars were starting to line up for the Amstel Gold Race team presentation that would take place later in the afternoon. We browsed for a bit before heading back to Richard’s car.

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The drive to Zolder was pleasant. The roads were small and narrow and there were relatively few people on them. The sun was finally shining. The trees were budding, the grasses along the roadways were green again and the spring flowers were beginning to bloom. I was feeling okay, but the snot was flowing. I must have used two dozen tissues on the drive. Lucky for me, Richard had a stash of tissue packs in his center console.

Driving into Circuit Zolder, the one-time home of Formula 1 racing in Belgium, I was hit with memories of my last time there for the BMX World Championships in 2015. At that time, the company I worked for, Box Components, not only sponsored the event with number plates, but also sponsored many of the world’s top professional racers, including Niek Kimmann and Stefanie Hernandez who would end the rain-soaked race weekend wearing rainbow jerseys. It was great weekend for us and I had many positive memories from my time there.

Working with Zolder and the World Championships in Belgium is also how I met my friend Gil, who took delivery of my Brooklyn jerseys in Gent and with whom I had lunch on the first day of the trip. Gil recently told me he took a new job with Flanders Classics, the organizers of Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and the other big Flemish Classics. Sadly, all the race but Omloop Het Nieuwsblad were cancelled or postponed this year.

Although I had been to many BMX World Cups in Europe, as well as a few World Championships, I had never been to one of the Euro rounds. The Euro rounds, like a National here in the United States, includes amateur and professional racing. The amateurs are of all ages and experience levels. It was cool to see how a race of that scale is run in Europe and to experience the vibe and  be among the people who appreciate BMX—the racers, parents and spectators who had to pay a 20 euro entry fee. And despite that fee, there were far more people there watching than you ever get at a US national.

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I spent my time checking out the venue and visiting with some of the World Cup racers, coaches and mechanics I know. I swung by the Dutch team pit and talked to Willie Meijer, the head mechanic and the Australian pit where I visited with coach Wade Bootes and racing siblings Kai and Says Sakaibara. Along the way I ran into New Zealand’s Sarah Walker, France’s Manon Valentino and 2018 world champion Sylvain André, Danish coach and former racer Klaus Bøgh Andersen and others.

The racing was exciting and fast paced. And it was nice to spend the day outdoors in the sunshine. After about three hours of BMX, we decided it was time to head back to the Netherlands. The walk to the exit took longer than it should have. Richard knows as many people in BMX as I do, so along the way he and I both stopped numerous time to visit with people we hadn’t seen for a long time. One of the people I finally found was Clement Lucas, whose query into wether or not I would be at the race was in impetus for us going. Clement was my marketing intern at THE about a decade ago. He and I have stayed in touch over the years. He’s stayed with us when he as vacationing in California and we met (along with Klaus Bøgh Andersen) when he was living in Copenhagen and I was there for a couple days after a BMX World Cup in Sweden.

Without a doubt, the best things to come out of my career in the bike industry, particularly my years in BMX, are the many friendships and acquaintances made over the years. Richard and Ruben, Clement, Klaus, Sarah, Wade among the dozens more people I have been fortunate to meet and get to know. Although unplanned, the day trip to Belgium and the BMX races was one of the best things I did this trip. It reminded me that I need to live in the moment and be open to making changes in my plans.

We got back to Valkenberg after sunset. Richard drove us around the city, showing me a variety of landmarks and architecturally interesting buildings. We asked through a sculpture garden outside a super-fancy and expensive hotel, whose name I forget, then headed to a very cool restaurant in an old barn. The restaurant was closing, but they let us come in for a nightcap. Informed of my preference for Trappist-style ales, the waiter recommended something completely different. Open to taking risks and loving in the moment, I took his recommendation. I forget what the beer was,  in large part because I really had no idea what it was to begin with, but it was tasty.

My illness had zapped my energy and by the time we got back to my Air BnB, I was toast. My nose was also stuffed to the point where I was breathing almost entirely through my mouth. It had been a very long, but extremely enjoyable day, but I was ready to call it done.

After taking the Belgian meds and shooting some Afrin up each nostril, I climbed into bed and went to sleep. As with th night before, I would wake up from time to time and find myself wrapped in sweat soaked sheets.

Day 11

Easter morning, I awoke to a perfect spring day. The sun was shining and the temperature was perfect. It was perfect wether for an Easter egg hunt. Perfect for a bike ride or bike race. Perfect for a hike. Unfortunately, I was felling anything but perfect. I made myself a simple breakfast of juice and muesli and checked the day’s race schedule. Unfortunately, I discovered that I would be unable to watch the Amstel Gold Race remotely. There was no television in my room, so I would have to stream it. Much to my disappointment, however, all the live streams were blocked in the Netherlands.

After doing numerous fruitless searches for ways to watch the race online, I wandered into the backyard to sit in the sunshine. Katty, my AirBnB host, came out to say hello and check on me. She told me she was headed home to Belgium for the day to prepare Easter dinner for her family, so she would be away. She asked about my plans. I was hoping to find a nearby coffee shop or bar I could walk to and where I could watch the race on TV, I told her. She was unaware of the race and had no idea where a bar might be, but she gave me several restaurant recommendations. She also told me there was a coffee shop at the end of her street, just a few blocks away. This was, indeed, great news.

As we talked, she was kind and voiced her concern about my illness. She offered to make me some ginger tea, which she said would help me. Reluctantly, but somewhat desperately, I accepted her generous offer. She left me and returned a few minutes later with a hand-drawn map showing me the way to a vegetarian restaurant and to a Thai restaurant. Some spicy Thai food sounded like a great lunch or dinner option.

The short walk to the coffee shop—less than 1 kilometer away—was a good test for me. I was feeling much weaker than I expected. And I was lightheaded and a bit woozy. The coffee shop was inside the walls of the castle at the end of her street. I had driven past the castle several times in the short time I was there, and was curious about it. Richard had mentioned there was a restaurant inside. The coffee shop had seating in and outside. Many of the tables, however,  were occupied. I grabbed table for two away from the rest to the diners. I was practicing social distancing before it was the cool thing to do.

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I ordered a cappuccino. The various food items on the menu didn’t appeal to me for some reason. The coffee came with a side of strawberry ice cream. It was delicious. It may have been the best thing I had ever eaten. It was so good that as soon as I finished the cappuccino, I ordered a second just to get more ice cream. The second coffee came with a citrus sherbet. Although not as tastily as the strawberry had been, it was satisfying just the same.

I walked back to the Air BnB feeling better than I had on my morning walk. The lightheadedness and wooziness were gone. I took a new route in the hope I’d pass a bar or restaurant that was open and full of Amstel Gold Race watchers. The neighborhood was virtually silent. I saw no one and the two or three bars I passed were dark and empty. And I saw no signs anyone would be there later to host a viewing of the race. How was I going to watch the race? It was sad that I was so close to the race route and lacked the energy to make my way to the roadies to watch the riders pass by.

Shortly after I returned to my room, Katty knocked at the door carrying a thermos filled with her homage ginger tea and box of tissues. She also brought me some bags of other teas. She wished me a nice day and left for Belgium.

The ginger tea was fan-fucking-tastic! Whatever I though about the delicious strawberry ice cream I ate that morning, the ginger tea was a thousand times better. I expected an herbal concoction heavy with the taste of tree bark, fungi and bitter berries with a hint of ginger and maybe some lemon. What Katty made was amazing. It was warm. It was sweet. It burst with the flavor of ginger. It soothed my sore throat and calmed my cough. To this day, I wish I had the recipe.

I spent the bulk of my morning laying in bed, streaming television series on Netflix like the recently released Hanna. From time to time, I’d try to stream the bike race. At some point late in the day, my efforts payed off and a stream of the race opened up on my laptop. I don’t recall exactly where in the race it was, but it was late. I’d guess it was within 40 or so kilometers. I do remember that I saw Julian Alaphillipe and Jakob Fuglsang attack my race favorite Mathieu van der Poel. And when Van der Poel chased them down with 500 meters to go for the win, I was ecstatic. What an amazing race. It had me wishing I’d pulled myself out on to the roadside or made my way to the finish.

After the race finished, I went back to my TV shows and took a nap. When I woke up, I was feeling a little better. I drank some of Katty’s delicious ginger tea and planned my adventure to the Thai restaurant.

Using Katty’s map and information, I looked up the restaurant on Google. It appeared to be about 2 kilometers away. Katty told that on the way, and very near the house, was a nice path for hiking. I planned to take a walk there first, then make my way to dinner. The “trial head” was really a pathway between some homes and a farmer’s field. It was very short and not very secluded. Still, it was nice to walk among the trees. And in those trees, I spotted a few local birds I had never seen before.

The route to the restaurant took me through Katty’s neighborhood, past a number of pastures large and small, most of which were inhabited by a horse or two. The way the Belgians and Dutch mingle the rural—small farms and livestock—with the urban, is a beautiful thing. I really love the towns I visited and walked through in both countries.

About half way to the restaurant, I started feeling an uncomfortable urge in my bowels. It was unusual for me to need the bathroom so late in the day. With each passing block, it got worse and I began to wonder if I would make it to the restaurant in time. I also worried what I would do if the place was closed. I continued in the direction of dinner, but weighed my options as I walked. Based on Katty’s map, I was unsure exactly how far I had to go. Nearly three-quarter of the way there—probably—I decided that the known was safer then the unknown and turned back toward the house. My bowels were not happy.

The closer I got to the house, the faster my pace was. But I couldn’t run. In fact, I could barley walk fast for fear I’d lose control of myself. The last 500 meters or so, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I did.

Apparently, one of the side effect of one of the meds I was taking is diarrhea.

When it was all over, I considered heading back out to the restaurant. The fear of another attack, however, kept me at the house. I made some sandwiches, ate the rest of my muesli and washed it down with orange juice and herbal tea. For dessert, I had cookies an the remainder of Katty’s ginger tea. It wasn’t an ideal last meal in Europe, but it got the job done and it used up all my food stores. After getting my luggage packed and loading some of it into the car, I watched a little more Netflix and went to sleep.

Day 12

I woke up early wanting to get on the road before the Monday morning rush hour. The drive from Katty’s to the Brussels airport was supposed to take about one and half hours, but possibly up two or even two and a half with traffic. As is my norm when going to an airport, I planned for the worst case scenario—three hours—and added a couple hours to make my check-in time. I also needed to stop and fill up the gas tank before returning the rental car. My flight was scheduled to leave at 11:30 a.m., so if I was on the road by 5:30, I should be there with plenty to time to spare.

I forgot that I was traveling on the Monday after Easter. I don’t really know what that means in Europe—does everyone return to work early Monday morning or do they take an extra day off—but based on the empty highways, I tend to think the latter may be the case. My drive to Brussels was fast and uneventful. Stopping to get gas gave me the usual stress, but it only took two tries with two different credit cards to get the pump to turn on. I arrived at the airport early, squeezed into the ridiculously tight underground parking lot and dropped off the car at unattended rental car return.

No longer a status carrying Delta customer, I was pleasantly surprised to see the short line for “regular” travelers—another benefit to arriving way too early. I got to the counter quickly, loaded my bags onto the scale and handed my passport to the woman behind the counter. Her first question: “Is this a bicycle?”

So much for all I had heard about how the bike bag I rented always slips past bag checkers. She changed me an additional 50 euros on top of the $50 I paid for an oversize bag.

After passing through security, I searched for a place to spend the pocket-full of change I had collected on breakfast. I recalled that the last time I ate breakfast in the Brussels airport, I had a nasty cappuccino and the worst pain au chocolat I had ever eaten. I hoped for better this time. I walked past the crowded Starbucks and found a counter where they sold a wide variety of parties and sandwiches as well as espresso drinks. everything looked pretty good. I calculated what I could buy using just my change and ordered a cappuccino, a pain au chocolate and a cheese danish. With that, I had only three coins left over.

I made my way to the gate, took a seat and enjoyed my breakfast as best I could in a crowded airport. While watching the passing travelers, I reflected on the past 10 or so days. Getting sick sucked and really put a damper on the trip. Still, I made the best of it. With the exception of missing the Amstel Gold Xperience, which was a last-minute addition to the trip anyway, I did everything I set out to do. Okay, yes, I didn’t visit a Trappist abbey for beer. And I generally ate pretty crappy food. But really, I have no regrets and few disappointments. I really fell like I made the best of my situation and managed to push through the shitty virus and get things done.

Reflections

The Paris Roubaix Challenge was brutal and fun and demoralizing and inspiring and horrible and beautiful. When I climbed off my bike in the velodrome, I was shattered. I imagine the look on my face was akin to those on the faces of men fresh off the battlefield. Of course, I got over my experience by the time I was went to sleep that night, but I’m pretty sure I was in a state of shock.

I can still remember how difficult it was for me to walk and ride back to my car. I was dazed and confused. I remember how much I had to focus just to undress and redress in dry warm clothes. I remember how slowly I moved as I disassembled my bike and put it in the back of the car. I remember sitting on the back of the car, dazed and staring out into space, slowly eating some sort of European energy bar and drinking water, trying to muster the energy to drive back to the Air BnB. Between then and going to sleep that night, all I remember is that would have killed for a hamburger, frites and a Coke.

Two days later, when I was sure some sort of illness was coming on, I rode the cobbles again. This time, I was somewhere in Flanders, and likely somewhere along the Ronde van Vlaanderen course. It was fun. It was easy. Much easier and much more enjoyable than I expected it would be a couple days after finishing Roubaix. It was overcast and chilly. Just as I would expect it to be in Flanders. My wool Brooklyn jersey and shorts paired with wool arm and knee warmers kept me perfectly comfortable.

A year later, as I write this final chapter, I have to admit that dozens of times, I’ve thought about how I’ll do the Pairs-Roubaix Challenege next time. And, of course, I’ll also do the Tour of Flanders the Sunday before. Maybe I’ll even make it a two-week tour and add the much mellower Amstel Gold Xperience to the end of the trip.

My plan now is to ride on an a vintage steel bike again. But I’ll fast forward to the mid-1980s or even the early-1990s. Even though I wished I could shift from the bars a thousand times while I was on the cobbles in Roubaix, I still want to do with a pre-STI/Ergo Power bike. But I definitely want to ride with aero brake levers, at least seven rear cogs and maybe a 39-tooth small chainring. Maybe I’ll ride the Bucker bike I’m building now. Or maybe my Etienne de Wilde Splendor, the frame of which I like to think raced both Flanders and Roubaix in 1986. I’d use Time pedals if I rode the Buckler; Campagnolo SLs with clips and straps on the Splendor.

To be honest, I’m not sure either bike would really improve the ride or make it any easier to finish the 109-mile course. For sure, it would feel less impressive than doing it on a bike built in 1972. And it may even look less impressive to those I see out there on the road. But I’m not convinced the bike matters much. At least not until you get to the type of bikes used since Fabien Cancellara won Paris-Roubaix in 2006. I think that’s when he and a few others started using bigger tires with lower air pressure on bikes built around frames and components that are insanely better than anything you could get back in the day. For sure, the current crop of gravel bikes—the descendants of Cancellara’s 2006 bike—would make the ride a more bearable.

I can see myself doing the two Monuments on either of those bikes and in matching kit, of course. I’d like to be 30 pounds lighter. I’d like to share the experiencer with a friend or two. I’d want support along the route so I don’t run out of food or water again or so I can drop off or pick up extra clothes. I’d like to shoot more video with at least have two cameras—helmet and bike—with much longer battery life. Even better, I’d like to have a buddy along the way who can shoot me riding some of the cobbled sectors, say Arenberg or Carrefour de l’Arbre, from above or at eye level with a drone.

Between Monuments I’d like to hit one of those Abbeys I missed last time around. I’d also like to see the Ronde, Gent–Wevelgem  and Paris-Roubaix live and from the roadside or experience watching a race in a bar with the local fans. The rest of the time, I’d want to ride and keep my legs subtle for P-R, visit more cycling museums and private collections, maybe buy some cool bike stuff, visit more friends and I definitely want to eat better food at better restaurants.

Also, as I write this a year later, it would be rude of me to ignore what’s going on right now. The world is in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and everyone I know in the U.S., Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Italy…is affected in some way by the pandemic. All of us are in some level of lockdown, with the exception, maybe, of Japan. I’m extremely thankful I’ve had so many opportunities to travel the world—for work and privately—and meet new people and make new friends.

Last April, I was the most recent time I was able to do this and it’s thanks to all the great people I met on my trip, from the Air BnB hosts and the bike guys I had befriended prior to the trip via FaceBook to the various people I met for the first time. Without them, my trip would have been mediocre at best. I’m grateful for their contributions then and for the continued friendships we have today. I wish all my international friends and their families good health during this crazy time we’re all experiencing and success after it’s all over.

Peace & Love,

Michael Gamstetter

Revisiting Claudy’s Bike Geometry

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As I wrote in My Decades-Long Quest to Fit my Bike Like the 5′ 8″ Pros I have struggled with finding the correct bike fit since I started riding steel bikes with old-school gearing again around 2015.

“Recently, I completed a two-years quest to properly fit my fleet of vintage road bikes. At least I think I did. After lots of research and trial and error, I’ve raised my saddle 2cm and moved it forward about 1cm. The height is pretty much what I had in 1980s and 1990s. Moving my saddle forward, however, is new. It’s still early, but since putting all my bike saddle heights up to 72cm, including my modern road and cyclocross bikes, I seem to have vastly reduced the amount of back pain I have been experiencing,” I wrote.

Not much has changed on my bikes since then, although I have raised my saddle 5mm more and often consider going to 53 or 54cm—where I ran it in the 1990s. And, I’ve settled into my saddle being farther forward and perfectly level. (Since the 1990s, I had shoved it all the way back and angled it nose slightly up to prevent me from sliding forward.) Esthetically, I don’t like it, but I rarely find myself pushing myself back on the saddle because I’m constantly sliding forward. I’ve also found that a 55 toptube with my preferred 120 stem works just fine. I don’t really notice the extra 5mm.

Oh, and I haven’t had lingering back pain for quite a while.

Since writing that piece, I acquired an early-1970s Flandria frame. It was supposed to be 55×55, but it’s really 56×55. I did a quick test fit with a 120 stem, but it felt long so I settled on a 110. The fit is good, but the frame’s long wheelbase and big fork offset make the bike a little “too stable.” It’s comfy like a Cadillac Eldorado, but it handles like a land yacht, too. It’s just not very exciting to ride.

But here’s the big news, soon, I will be the proud owner of a real 1987 Claude Criquielion Hitachi Rossin—one of the bikes I featured in My Decades-Long Quest to Fit my Bike Like the 5′ 8″ Pros .

The bike I’m getting is likely one of Caludy’s Tour de France SLX bikes, not one of the Ghiblis Criquielion and the team rode through the Spring Classics until July. The bike is truly one of my Holy Grails. Based on their consecutive serial numbers—HH1 and HH2—it’s likely the twin to my friend David Verbeken’s bike.  (A Look at David Verbeken’s Claude Criquielion Hitachi Rossin)

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The 1987 Hitachi Team Rossin I’ll be getting. It’s almost entirely original, but it is missing the fork (I have a replacement.). It’s also likely that the saddle and seatpost were swapped out–it should have a Campagnolo Super Record post and Selle San Marco Rolls saddle. The rest, well, it seems OG.

I plan to write more about the bike and how it came to me later, when I actually have it in my possession. (David is helping with a few things and will ship it to me soon.)  I mention it here because the frame has a 57cm top tube (54 c-c seat tube) and the bike comes with the original 110 Rossin pantographed Cinelli 1A stem.  (It’s not Claudy’s usual 130 stem. Although there is a photo of him riding what may be the bike at the Tour of Lombardy.) We believe mine, HH2, was his spare, and possibly a team spare and was fitted with a shorter stem. This is impossible to know without verifying with the team mechanic, who may have no recollection. But, believe me, if I can track him down, I will ask. By the way, if you look closely at the photo at the top of this page, the rider in the foreground has a pantographed stem.)  The bike is roughly the same size as my Flandria, but I’m fairly confident that it will ride better. I assume the wheelbase and fork offset are both smaller.

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Claude Criquielion at the 1987 Tour of Lombardy riding a bike equipped with a Rossin pantographed Cinelli 1A stem. This slim, slim evidence that this may be the Criquielion bike I’m getting. He usually rode with a non-pantographed Cinelli stem with a black winged logo badge. This is the only photo I’ve ever seen with him using a stem marked like this.

I recently found this enlightening article about frame design by Dave Moulton, The Evolution of Frame Design. Part I: The Wheelbarrow Effect. The three-part article (as well as his other pieces on bike fit) gave me a lot of new insight into how stem length and fork rake/trail/offset affect bike handling.

I confess I haven’t quite figured out how to use his unique method for finding your correct frame size.  It’s more comprehensive than many I’ve seen and involves shoe size as well as considers saddle hardness, the width of the rider’s pelvic bones and the width of the saddle.

I’m 5′ 8.25″ (173.3cm) tall with an inseam of 31.065″ (79cm)  and I wear a size 42 shoe. Based on my inseam, Moulton would put me on a 51cm frame with a 53cm toptube and a 105 stem. But that’s if my shoe size was 42.5. If I read his instructions correctly, based on my smaller shoe size, I should actually go with my height not my inseam to establish frame size. Doing that would put me on a 53cm frame with a 54.5cm toptube and a 110 stem. That’s almost the same as my LeMond, which is 53×54.5 with a 120 stem. That bike and my other 54.4 toptube bikes—Julien Stevens’ 1973 Gios and Etienne De Wilde’s 1986 Splendor—are, in fact, my favorites.

Dave Moultons Frame Fit Chart

Moulton’s article about saddle height basically says you can get a good starting point by using this formula: inside leg measurement x 109%. This gets you the measurement from the pedal surface in its lowest position to the top of the saddle. You then subtract the crank length to get the more traditional center-of-the-BB-to-top-of-saddle measurement.

My inside leg is 79cm, so 79 x 109% = 86. When I subtract my 17cm crank length from 86, I get a saddle height of 79cm.  Funny that my inside leg length and “recommended” saddle height are the same. (To get Moulton’s full explanation, read his article. I’ve barely scratched the surface of it here.)

A saddle height of 79cm, however, is far above the 74cm height I rode at in the 1990s and farther still above the 72.5 I’m at now. I can’t even imagine riding at 79cm on a 53cm frame. The amount of seatpost showing would be extreme.

To be fair, Moulton stresses that this is a good place to start. And with my “small” feet, I imagine, he’d agree that 79cm is too high. Still, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around his recommendation of a 53cm frame with a saddle height of 79 or even 75+cm. It seems to me, a 54 or even 55 would be better.

What I find interesting here is that at 79cm or even my old 74cm, I’d have a lot more toe point at the low point of my pedal stroke than I do now. I’ve often wondered how much toe point is correct. I’ve noticed that a lot of pros seem to have more than I do. (I had more back in the 1990s.) This is something I want to explore more.

I know, I know, I could get all or many of my questions answered by getting a “pro fit.” I had a pro fit, once. It was underwhelming. He changed nothing on my bike. I also had a custom Seven built. While Seven’s system certainly isn’t a “pro fit”, it did help me realize that my bike was pretty damn close to what I apparently need. The only thing Seven changed was my top tube length, which went to 54.8 (from 54.5). But that was based on the shorter 110 stem I was running at the time when I was on a Trek 5900 with a 55.3 top tube. So… (I’ll note here that I deeply regret not having Ugo De Rosa do a fitting when I had the chance in the late-1990s. It would have required I also bought a custom frame, which would have been a financial stretch.)

Although I am certainly very curious about what I’d learn from a pro fit, I can’t justify the $150-200+ cost of one. Not to mention, I’d probably like to get two or three opinions just to be sure. That isn’t to say there isn’t value in that investment, which, to be fair, is small in comparisons to some bike parts. A proper fitting also has the potential to lead to much bigger performance improvements. I feel like I’m close to where I need to be, so I’m not sure I need to pay for the help.

But generally, what I really, really want to understand is how other 5′ 8″ riders like Criquielion, Bernard Hinault and Davis Phinney (none of whom look like they have huge feet) successfully rode bikes with 55.5, 56.5 or 57cm top tubes with up to 130 stems and fairly moderate saddle heights of 73.5ish (Hinault with an 8cm saddle setback) and an estimated 74 -74.5cm for Criquielion. (I really need to track down and contact the Splendor/Hitachi mechanics.)

Anyway, despite what Moutlon says and my experience with the similarly sized Flandria bike, I very much look forward getting the Claudy bike, setting it up and riding it. I’m optimistic it will be a bit quicker in the handling department than the Flandria. If all goes well, I’ll be riding it by mid-March.

Building My Splendor Team Bike and Dressing to Ride It

 

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For at least 27 years, I’ve been hot to get my hands on one of those periwinkle-blue-with-yellow-panel-stickers Splendor bikes that cycling legends like Claude Criquielion, Sean Kelly, Michel Pollentier, Eddy & Walter Planckaert, Dirk De Wolf and Rudy Dhaenens rode at one time in their careers. 

I have been more aggressively looking since just before my trip to Europe in April. It’s one of the main things I hoped to buy while there. Although I saw three or four of them, I didn’t come home with one. Recently a guy in the UK reached out to me after reading one of my blog posts here. What he had was my size. Plus, it was a real team frame ridden by Etienne De Wilde in 1986. 

Hitachi Team Cards 1986 Etienne De Wilde

Although it checks many of my boxes, I’ll admit it’s a bit of a compromise. My least favorite of the Splendor Team’s bikes are those they used in 1986. It was this year that the team added Hitachi’s orange and yellow corporate colors to the livery. (Hitachi signed on as a major sponsor in 1985 when the team moved away from its blue-grey with orange, white and black checkered jerseys, to the orange and yellow Hitachi tops. The checkers stuck around through 1986.) Although I do love the Hitachi jerseys, this paint job looks as if it was an afterthought—like the frames were already painted blue when a Hitachi marketing exec put into the contract that the frames would feature Hitachi branding and colors. The basic Splendor bikes before 1986 as well as the Hitachi Rossins and Eddy Merckxes in 1987 1988 respectively are far better looking. 

Still, there is beauty in the 1986 frame. And that is the fact that I can build it with C-Record components, which will allow me to run a 39-tooth small chainring. It’s also, arguably, a better gruppo than the predecessor Super Record. 

It was also in 1986 that Campagnolo was unable to deliver its new (and, in the years since, much maligned) Delta brakes. Instead, most riders used Cobalto brakes—essentially the same as the 1983 50th anniversary brakes and the Super Records that would come later, after the Deltas hit the market in 1987. Compare a Cobalto caliper to a script-logo Super Record, and you’ll find no differences other than white o-rings, white tire guides (early Cobaltos had black) and the obvious blue gem in the heart of the center nut. 

My Build

I plan to build the bike up—the frame could be here as early as next Wednesday—with parts I have; many of them off my Pinarello. Some are correct for the 1986 team bikes. Others are temporary and will have to due until I find suitable replacements and, more important, I have the budget to pick them up. 

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The following are of some of the parts I have ready to assemble onto the bike. 

The rear derailleur is the first first-gen C-Record I’ve ever owned. I’ve wanted one since I first saw one in 1987. I’ve had several second-gens, but never one of these beauties. I bought one from a guy two or three years ago in Europe, but it never arrived. He swore he’d find me another one. I wanted to believe him. But by the time I realized I’d been ripped off, it was too late to file a PayPal claim. Lesson learned. I’m really pumped to be putting one of these on a bike. 

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The brakes are a set of Cobaltos that became available to me out of the blue. I had planned to used plain, old, ordinary script-logo Super Records, then these popped up at a good price. I swapped the original brake pad holders with white tire guides to black ones because that’s how everyone in the pro peloton had them in 1986. The blue brake cables, which are what the Splendor Team used, are real Campagnolo cables. Another timely find. I replaced all the pads with NOS Campagnolo pads that Julien Stevens gave me in April. I’m almost as excited about theses as I am the rear derailleur. They’ll definitely provide comfort while descending at Eroica California next spring. But I MUST find another blue gem nut for the rear brake. 

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The front derailleur was sold to me as a first-gen with the rear. It’s not. When I bought the set, I really didn’t even care about the front and barely looked at it. I just wanted the rear. I don’t know when the second-generation version hit the market. But I think it’s safe to assume the Splendor Boys used first-gens. For some reason, I have three or four of these, so that’s what’s going on the bike. Someday, if a real first-gen falls into my lap, I’ll swap it out. For now, it’s not a big deal.

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The saddle is a Selle San Marco Rolls, as was used by the team at the time. (Selle San Marco was a team sponsor.) This one is date stamped 1983. If I ever stumble on a 1986, I may swap it out. 

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The P65 Look pedals were the first clipless pedals widely used in the pro peloton. And that, for the most part, happened in 1986. Claude Criquielion used P65s for part of the year, starting at the Tour de France, I think. At the beginning of the season, he was on traditional Campagnolo Super Records with toe clips, which are shown below. Mine are regular SRs with a set of Ale cages and some well-used Alfredo Binda Extra toe straps with Cinelli end buttons. I plan to swap back and forth between pedals, using the SRs more often. I recently bought a pair of French-made, Rivat, Charley Mottet model shoes for this kit. Ideally, I’ll find some Patricks, but those have proven impossible to locate.

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The cranks are some beater C-Records I’ve had for a while. I took them off my Pinarello. They’re not correct for a 1986 bike, but they’ll do for now. First-Gen C-Records, which have a stamped logo as opposed to the printed logo these have, are highly coveted and thus, generally a bit on the pricey side. 

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This stem is 100 percent temporary. I want a Cinelli 1R in a length to be determined—either 120 or 125. This 125 1A has the older “oval” logo and is too old for the bike. It’s also a 1A and I want a 1R. The stem will temporarily clamp to a set of Cinelli 64-40 Giro d’Italia model bars. They have the double Cinelli logos of the time. The bars will be wrapped in Benotto tape. 

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This Campagnolo Croce d’Aune seatpost also is a temporary place holder until I can find the correct C-Record post. I’ve had this for decades and have no recollection of where it came from. I’m not even sure I’ve used it before. 

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These are the mis-matched bottle cages I’ll use until I can find a matched set of silver, aluminum TA cages. One is a TA. One is unbranded. Both are chrome plated steel. Claude Criquielion used both aluminum and steel during the 1986 season.

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The friction shift levers, headset and bottom bracket are all C-Record. The shifters and headset will come off my Pinarello. The BSA BB was too greasy to lay on the clean floor of my  photo booth. 

The wheels are built with C-Record hubs and Campagnolo Record rims, just like the Splendor Team used. I bought the rear some years ago with a future Splendor bike in mind. A good friend found a matching front by chance this spring while buying some other bike stuff. Luckily, he reached out to see if I had any need for it. I’ll shod them with Challenge tires of a size to be determined once I know how much tire clearance the bike has. Finally, I’ll run an NOS, Regina Extra, 13-28 freewheel with a Regina chain. 

The Frame

This is the Splendor frame that all this stuff will go on. It’s fairy well used, as are most old pro frames. The fork (not pictured here) is a Tange with an off-set crown that may or may not be original to the frame. It’s rusty enough to be the same age, but I suspect the bike had a Columbus/Campagnolo fork like the NOS Splendor frame (the last photo below of the clean frameset) I didn’t bid on a couple years ago. I’m looking (as are a couple friends) for a suitable replacement.  

My Dream Kit

As I mentioned above, I want to ride this at Eroica California 2020. Of course, for me, that means I will need the full range of accouterments to go with the bike. Because I’ve been wanting one of these bikes for so long, I have a bit of head start on collecting the kit I need. That said, I have four jerseys, but all of them are wrong—a Splendor-Wickes from about 1982, a Hitachi-Sunair from 1985 and two Hitachis from 1987. I do have the correct cap, however. And I have a pair of Gammi 3 Dot gloves modeled off the gloves Claudy wore in 1986 that will work. And I made some bib shorts that based on the one Claude is wearing in the photo at the top of the page.

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The main thing I need is the jersey. So, if you know of anyone with one of these, preferably in size 5. A size 6 will work if I stay the same weight I’m at now. Or, a 4, if I lose the amount of weight I hope to by next April.

 

I also have the Rivat shoes I mentioned above. (They’re in the mail.) I even have two Coca-Cola water bottles, although I am on the hunt for at least one Hitachi-Splendor bottle. And, the piece de resistance, one of Criquielion’s actual 1986 Tour de France number placards.

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Check this blog for updates to come.

My Saturday in Hell: Leo’s Place

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Steven, the AirBnB owner, made me a special breakfast of ham and eggs my last day there. His wife, who normally made breakfast, was out of town with their daughter, so he took over the duties. He said Charlotte is the one responsible for the healthy foods like fruits, yogurt and muesli. He is the one who bought the good stuff—the pastries, meats and cheeses and eggs. For my last meal at his beautiful home, he made me scrambled eggs with ham and made a trip to the local bakery to get a fresh supply of delicious pastries. 

Unfortunately, I was really sick and had no appetite. I made an effort, however, and focused on the food I knew he cooked special. I ate about half the eggs and ham, and downed one pastry. 

As was his usual thing, he stopped in to see if I was enjoying my stay. Then, he asked me about my loud music the previous night. (See previous post.) I told him I thought it was him. I recounted my experience trying to locate the source and how I figured out I could turn it off with Sonos. He was as confused as I was by how it got turned on in the first place. He though maybe he had “butt dialed” the app. 

Our conversation then turned to my obvious illness. He asked if I wanted to see a doctor. I did, but I was in a foreign country and was unsure how that worked. I knew the healthcare system in Belgium (and the rest of the world) was very different from here in the U.S., but I had no idea how to access it. He volunteered to find me a doctor and left the room to call around. 

He returned about 5 minutes later and told me I had an appointment in about an hour and half with his doctor, who was located two blocks down the street. He then left me to finish my meal. 

I loaded my car for the trip east to the Netherlands and took a seat in the backyard where I enjoyed the warm sunshine and the birds. It was another beautiful day. Perfect, I’d say. And it was going to be that way all weekend. I was bummed though, because I had serious doubts I’d  be able to ride the Amstel Gold Xperience. Perfect riding weather. But imperfect health. 

I walked to the doctor’s office. The office was nondescript and looked as much like a house as a healthcare provider. If I were to guess, the building was both—his house with the office in front. I went in and took a seat in the waiting room. There was no receptionist or check-in desk like I was used to in the U.S. After about five minutes, the door to the “surgery” opened, a patient walked out and left the office followed by the doctor who invited me back to the exam room. 

In the brightly lit room were the doctor’s large desk, bookcases, cabinets stocked with the usual medical supplies, an examination table, a stool—in other words, it was very familiar and, with the exception fo the desk, exactly like what I’d see in the U.S. The doctor spoke perfect English and greeted me as any doctor would. I took a seat in the chair in front of his desk. He asked me what was wrong and we went through he normal list of questions before he asked to take a seat on the exam table, which he proudly pointed out was made in the U.S.

He listened to my heart and lungs. Took my temperature. Looked in my ears. And concluded that I had a virus of some sort, just as I expected. He said he’d give a prescription and asked if I was familiar with a couple of different drugs. I wasn’t. We returned to his desk where he wrote up the prescription before typing some notes into his computer.

I had been stressing about what this was going to cost. After all, I didn’t have any insurance in Belgium. When the doctor told me it would be 25 euros, I chuckled. He then told me that Steven pays 6 euros,. He explained that since Steven had had cancer (now in remission), he paid a lower rate for healthcare. Why? Because as a cancer survivor it was likely he would need ongoing care in the future. “We have very good social medicine here,” he said. 

I was floored. In the U.S., health insurance companies do the opposite—they punish you for getting sick and jack up your rates and reduce your coverage. 

Steven kindly took my prescription to the pharmacy to get it filled. He retuned with two drugs and told me how to use them. He was very familiar with both. Apparently, they were quite common. He and I chatted about the differences between the U.S. and Belgian healthcare systems—we agreed Belgium’s is better—and how best to get to the highway that would take me across Belgium to the Netherlands.

He walked me to my rental car and continued to tell me which roads to take to the highway. He asked if the car had GPS. I told him it didn’t, but I had been getting by with my malfunctioning TomTom and iPhone. It was then that I looked at the dashboard of the Opel wagon and noticed something new. I pressed a button and up popped a map on the touch screen. Seriously? I had  GPS the whole time? I plugged in the address of the restaurant where I was going to meet Luc and was on my way.

I needed gas, so I stopped the station not far from the AirBnB. Getting gas in Europe is another thing that stresses me out. Why? Because nearly every time I’ve had to do it, I’ve had issues with my credit card. I’ve always mamboed to work it out, but I retain a fear of being on empty and unable to buy gas. Also, I stress a little about accidentally putting diesel into a gasoline car or visa-versa.

This time, in fact, the self-service pumps rejected both my cards. For one, it required a PIN code I had never set, so I had no clue what it was. The other, which had worked previously, was simply rejected. The pumps were located in a lot in front of a restaurant. I went inside to see if I could pay there. The sound man working the counter told me the pumps had nothing to do with his place of employ. He said I had to pay at the pump.

As I was nearly out of gas and was unsure when I’d find another gas station, I gave it another shop. When the pump asked for my PIN, I guessed and tried one I had used years ago. It worked. Hallelujah.

The drive across Belgium, as usual, went smoothly. I hit a little traffic near Brussels, but nothing to complain about. I love driving in Europe where people stay to the right and only use the left lanes to pass. 

When I got to the restaurant—a small sandwich shop—I texted Luc and let him know I was there. He suggested I get something to eat and he’d be there soon. I ordered a tuna melt and a Coke. This was my third Coke in a week and more than I’d consumed over the past two years. 

Luc offered to drive the five miles or so to Leo’s. On the way, he told me Leo wouldn’t be there because that morning he received an invitation from Deceuninck-Quick-Step team CEO Patrick Lefevere to have breakfast in Maastricht, an annual pre-Amstel Gold Race tradition. Leo has had a long relationship with Lefevere and the team as the supplier of roof racks. The relationship has been a boon for Leo’s collection.

Luc said Leo’s wife would be there to let us in and because he and Leo are good friends, he would be allowed to show me around the collection.  

On the way, Luc told me a bit about the local cycling history pointing out buildings that once housed bike factories or a famous pharmacy where riders would visit to collect their “vitamins.” He also filled me in on Leo’s history as a  bike collector. I had heard he got his bikes as payment for supplying roof racks to major bike teams. This was true, in part, but his collecting began before that. And many of his bikes pre-date his rack-making days. 

According to Luc, Leo had been a successful antiques dealer and refinisher with solid fabricating chops. When he saw the roof racks on the team cars he thought he could do a better job and started producing them, offering to trade them for team bikes and jerseys and other memorabilia. Tight on cash and fat with extra bikes, several teams jumped at the chance. It’s well known that many teams sell off surplus new and used components and bikes to supplement their budgets and to pay mechanic’s salaries. Trading bikes for racks is an extension of this tradition.   

Leo also is friends with many of Belgium’s former and current champions, many of whom have gifted him bikes and jerseys. His collection is stuffed with bike ridden by legends dating back the other 1960s. And each year, his collection grows at he adds the bikes of today’s champions, riders such as Tom Boonen, Cadel Evans, Tom Dumoulin, Greg Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert, Marianne Vos and many others.

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Leo’s Bike Collection is located in a building adjacent to his home. The building is purpose-built to house his collection. His wife, who like me was suffering with the flu, met us at the side door of their home. She is small in stature with a bright and bubbly demeanor, even when sick. She explained to Luc that Leo was out and she would be our guide. 

Inside, I was struck with the extreme level of professionalism of the private collection. Leo’s is a true museum and incredibly well executed. The level of curation easily rivals, if not surpasses, those of the Flanders and Koers museums I visited earlier in the week. Upon entering the building, visitors stop at a reception desk where a requested donation of 5 euros is collected. From the desk, visitors are given a taste of what they will see inside.

The collection begins in the lobby adjacent to the desk with one of Eddy Merckx’s Ugo De Rosa-built, 1973, Molteni Team bikes. The ubiquitous orange machine is flanked to the right by one each of Merckx’s world champion jerseys and maglia rosa from the Giro d’Italia. Perfectly lit with spot lights, the bike sits in one of Leo’s custom-made bike stands at eye level in front of a slightly bigger-than-life-size image of Merckx at the Tour de France. As with almost all the bikes in the collection, it includes a matching, vintage, Molteni water bottle and race number. 

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In the center of the lobby is a sitting space with two facing leather sofas and a coffee table. I assume this is where the friends and spouses of cycling fans sit and wait when they’re tired or  have had enough of old bikes. An old juke box sits nearby. When I was there, it was silent, but I assume it is used to provide background ambiance during special events. 

The collection is housed out of sight in a connected room off the back of the lobby. The gallery is divided into three sections and is well-lit and entirely white. Dozens of bikes, organized by the decade they were used, sit on the floor behind ropes. Others hang on the walls between old race photos and jerseys. A few head forms wearing helmets and mannequins dressed head-to-toe in vintage team kits break up the bikes. A staircase leading down indicates there is more to the museum than what you see. 

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Leo’s bikes are all displayed on his custom bike stands, which expertly support each bike without obscuring any details or drawing attention away from the machine. The stands, which also feature wheels for easy relocation, are the envy of every bike collector. 

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Leo’s bikes are all displayed on his custom bike stands, which expertly support each bike without obscuring any details or drawing attention away from the machine. The stands, which have wheels for easy relocation, are the envy of every bike collector.

Leo’s attention to detail is something to marvel at. Most of the bikes, the older ones in particular, include bottle cages, bottles, spare tires under the saddle, race numbers and, of course, toe clips and straps. Many of these elements are vintage and accurate to the era of the bike. Luc told me Leo admits to being an obsessive perfectionist. 

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The main criticism of Leo’s collection that I have read is his obsession with making the bike “perfect” or “like-new.” He often highly polishes components—more than they would have been when they were new—and refinishes his frames. For those who prefer original finishes and natural patina, his shiny bikes can be a turnoff. But even these snobs have to admit, his pristine bikes are beautiful and offer much to be appreciated. 

Luc and I started the tour with the steel bikes from the 1950s and 1960s to the right of the entrance and walked down the rows, passing through the decades until we got to the 1980s at the far wall. With each bike I was more amazed at what I was looking at. The brands—Plum, Groene Leeuw, Libertas, Flandria, Mercier, Colnago, Pinarello, Rossin, Bianchi—teams—Mann, Solo-Superia, Flandria, Panasonic-Raleigh, Buckler, Telekom—and riders—Roger Swerts, Georges Claes, Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Eric Vanderaerden, Bjarne Riis—represented in rolling steel a who’s-who of post-war professional road cycling through the end of the last century. 

One of the coolest things in Leo’s collection is the gold cobble stone trophy given to Eric Vanderaerden after his mind-boggling 1987 victory at Paris-Roubaix. The trophy consist of a small, gold cube on a gold, stair-stepped platform. It’s displayed inside its original blue velvet-lined, black-leather box. Three doors, one that opens at the top and two that swing in opposite directions in the front, are held closed by two ridiculously large clasps, the kind you find on old suitcases. 

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I also took some time to look at the few jerseys hung on the walls and the fully dressed mannequins. I mentioned to Luc that I was surprised the Roger De Vlaeminck Brooklyn jersey he wore when he won Milano-San Remo in 1973 wasn’t on display. I told him it was one of the things I most had hoped to see. 

On the opposite side of the room, is a spectacular collection of modern and contemporary bikes 

Luc took me downstairs where we were greeted by some of the coolest time trial and pursuit bikes ever used in cycling, among them bikes used by Chris Boardman, Peter Winnen and  Dirk De Wolf. In another area were a handful of cyclocross and track bikes, including a 1979 De Vlaeminck Benotto track bike and a Gios Tornio cyclocross machine ridden by R. Liboton in 1982. These and some of the other odd-ball bikes in the basement were some of my favorites in the collection. 

Back up stairs, we relooked at the bikes and I noticed some I had somehow missed the first time through. One, a beautiful red, yellow and blue Rossin with Campagnolo C-Record identical to one of my dream bikes. We also took some time to admire the Fons De Wolf Gios Torino he raced to victory at the 1981 Milano-San Remo.

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Leo’s wife popped in while we were admiring the pristine blue bike and Luc explained to me that De Wolf is friends with Leo and often visits the museum. I’m not sure what she said to us, but heard Luc mention the De Vlaeminck jersey. Based on her body language, I thought maybe she was going to bring it out for us. Luc didn’t tell me what they talked about. 

We slowly made our way back to the entrance of the museum, discussing the amazing variety of Quick-Step and BMC team bikes and those ridden by Rigoberto Uran, Mark Cavnedish, Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire, Heinrich Hausler and others.  Leo’s collection is impressive and there is something for every fan of road cycling to marvel at. 

Back in the lobby, Leo’s wife was waiting for us. I got the feeling she was ready for us to be on our way. Then, while speaking to Luc, she opened one door on a bank of cabinets on the wall behind the reception desk. Inside were stacked plastic tubs labeled with dates like 1973 and 1975. I was unsure what each contained until she pulled one, labeled 1976, from the shelf and sat in on the desk in front of me. This was Leo’s jersey collection. On the top of the tub was a jersey housed inside a plastic bag and labeled R.DEVAMINK [SIC]  76. Whoa…

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She sat a second then a third tub on the desk in front of me. One was labeled 1974, the other 1972.  She asked Luc what year the jersey I wanted to see was used. Before he could ask me, I answered, “1973.” He relayed the information as he opened the 1972 tub. Luc handed me a Molteni jersey labeled E. Merckx 72. My heart was racing. 

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He held up the jersey as I snapped a few photos. Luc then turned his attention to the 1974 box and pulled out another De Vlaeminck jersey. It was an unusual jersey with a design that combined elements of the second 1973 jersey with the well-known Brooklyn jersey the team used from May 1973-1977. It was dated 1974, however, which I found very confusing. 

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Leo’s wife spotted the 1973 box high up in the cabinet and asked Luc for help retrieving it. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I knew I’d soon be holding Roger’s Milan-San Remo jersey. Luc brought the tub down, set it on the desk and opened it. On top was, much to his and my surprise, was a Brooklyn jersey labeled Stevens Julien 73. What? I was shocked to find one of Julien’s Brooklyn jerseys in the collection. I’m not sure why I was shocked. He was, after all, one of the Belgium’s top sprinters and six-day riders in the 1960s and 1970s. 

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I didn’t ask to remove the jersey from the bag, although wanted to. Still in my head was the idea that Leo’s wife was ready for us to go. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome by asking to remove all these jerseys from their protective bags. I thought I’d save such a request for the RDV Milan-San Remo jersey. 

The Stevens jersey was another strange one. It is unlike any I had ever seen in photos. The Brooklyn logo is on a white field, but instead of it being chevron shaped, it is a rectangle. Below that are the words “La Gomme Del Ponte,” or, in English, “the gum of the bridge.” Most unusual about the jersey is that it is solid blue—there are no red and white vertical stripes. 

As I snapped more photos, Luc worked looked through the tub. He handed me a very cool Sonolor TV jersey labeled L. Van Impe 73. He continued to work his way through the tub until he found what we were looking for. I could feel a huge smile stretch across my face as he handed me the Milan-San Remo jersey. This was the new highlight of my trip. 

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I snapped a few photos of the jersey inside the bag, then summoned the courage to ask if I could take it out.

I was thinking we might have to don white cotton gloves to handle it, if she would even allow it. Leo’s wife snatched the bag from my hands, opened it, pulled out the jersey, grabbed it by the shoulders and gave it a good snap to shake out the creases. Clearly, I had higher regard for the jersey than she did, I thought as I let out a little chuckle. She walked to the sitting area and laid the jersey on the table. Luc and I followed her. 

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When I made the design for the 1973 jersey for 2Velo, I did so using the photos of this very jersey taken by Marco Gios when he visited the museum. I was able to get a reasonably good design that way, but I knew my dimensions were certainly not perfect. Now, I had the opportunity to correct my design. I took nearly two dozen photos, many with my tape measure stretched across the priceless jersey. I couldn’t believe I was holding it in my hands. When I finished, I handed it back to Leo’s wife and said thanks. 

Outside, Luc and I looked at each other in disbelief over what had just happened. “I think you were lucky Leo wasn’t here today. I’m not sure he would have let you do that,” he said. I had been thinking the same thing. 

I was still smiling and my heart was still racing during the short drive back to my car as Luc and I recounted the wonderful visit to the museum. Before I left for the Netherlands, we talked more about Leo’s, our vintage bike collections and interests until his wife called to remind him they had a date that night. We said goodbye and I hit the road for Maastricht. 

To be continued. 

My Saturday in Hell: More Bikes

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This photo of Claude Criquielion taken during the 1987 Tour de France may feature David’s bike.

Again, breakfast was as usual—I ate and grabbed some bread, meat and cheese for later—but my appetite was low. Outside I was greeted by warm sunshine for the first time during this trip. The many neighborhood jackdaws a were chirping their lightsaber-ish chirps and the wood pigeons were cooing. It was a beautiful morning. 

The 45-kilometer (27-mile) drive to David Verbeken’s house in Serskamp was uneventful, but took longer than I expected. It seems like everything in Belgium is close together, but because many of the roadways are dual-lane or smaller and most meander through the countryside and small villages, drive-times are longer than you expect. After driving up and down his street three times looking for place to park, I lucked out and a spot near David’s home opened up. He met me outside, invited me in, offered me a beverage and took me to his garage—more of a small barn—to see his bikes. 

David owns one of my holy grails—one of Claude Criquielion’s 1987 Rossin bikes. That particular Rossin in that particular livery has been one of my favorite frames since I started riding road bikes. Claudy has been one of my favorite riders for almost as long. David had sent me dozens of photos of the bike, but I was super excited to see it in person. He was more excited to show me his Colnagos, his favorites. He told me a bit about his history as a “collector” and how he got into it. (See my interview with David for more on this.)

After the bike tour, we returned to his house where he showed me his small collection of Hitachi clothing, which includes a skinsuit and short and long-sleeve jerseys all made by Castelli. David said he is unsure of the history of the items, but the odd construction of the long-sleeve jersey—the sleeves were essentially made from black arm warmers with thumb loops sewn to a short-sleeve jersey. This and the fact that it’s unlikely that Castelli sold team replica skinsuits to the public (at least in markets outside Europe), lead me to think they may have been team-issue items. I was as excited to look at, study and photograph the clothing as I was to see the Criquielion bike. 

In a bit of a hurry to get on the road, the visit was short. We hopped into David’s car and started the 69-kilimeter (47-mile) drive to Evenberg to visit Jan Goeman and look at his bike collection. Goeman, a bicycle retailer and former professional team mechanic, keeps a private collection in his attic, including some Splendor bikes, one of which was Criquielion’s. Along the way, David stopped at an ATM to pull out enough cash to buy a Coca-Cola water bottle Goeman said he had. David wanted the bottle for his Criquielion Hitachi bike. Along the way, we got talked freely and got to know each other. 

Evenberg, like so many other Belgian towns, was quiet, even sleepy. Goeman Fietsen was closed, but we rang the bell there to find Jan. He came to the door, said hello and directed us to the door of the home connected to the shop. He was serious and businesslike and initially only spoke to David. We entered the house and went up a flight of stairs to the living quarters where Jan’s parents seemed to be finishing up breakfast. David chatted with them for a minute before Jan ushered us up a flight of stairs to the attic. 

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The two rooms were unfinished, but nearly overflowing with a generally well-organized collection of bikes. Set against a background of rustic brick walls and OSB flooring and under flat fluorescent lighting were some 100 or so road bikes. (I should have asked how many were there. Subsequent emails to Jan have all gone unanswered.) Most of the bikes were lined up close together on the floor in rolling rear-wheel bike stands. A few prized bikes were displayed at eye level in wheel trays that spanned the length of the two longest walls. Other bikes casually leaned against the walls, some stacked two or three deep. 

I didn’t know where to look at first, but it was clear that all these bikes were legitimate high-end racing machines. All were complete and their spec thought out, if not original. Many also included vintage team water bottles in the cages. I saw Bianchis, Flandrias, Raleighs a Peugeot. Then a Splendor bike caught my eye. 

Placed at the end of one row, the periwinkle blue bike with bright-yellow panels, stood out against a background made murky by the chaotic jumble of frame tubes and wheels and poor lighting. Like many of Jan’s bikes, it had a bottle in the cage. Hanging from the top tube was a vintage promotional postcard featuring the rider who use the bike when it was new—Rudy Matthijs of the 1984 Splendor-Mondial Moquette-Marc team. A quick check of his racing stats shows he placed second on GC in the Tour of Luxembourg and the Four Days of Dunkirk that year.

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The frame was much less workman-like than I had expected based on descriptions of Splendor frames that I had heard before. Jan said the bike was all original. The frame, not built by Splendor, has nicely filed, long-point lugs with diamond cutouts, chrome fork and chain stays, Campagnolo dropouts, two sets of bottle cages bosses, a brazed-on chain hanger and a Columbus SL turning sticker. The gruppo is Campagnolo Super Record with Cinelli bar and stem and a Selle San Marco Rolls saddle. Unfortunately, I blew it when it came to ID’ing the rims. From the only photo I have that even remotely shows a rim sticker, they appear to be Mavic, red-label, GP4s.

While I dawdled at Matthijs’ bike, David and Jan began walking through the collection. By the time I joined them, making my way through the bikes they had already looked at, they were looking at a Freddy Maertens-labled Flandria bike. Speaking perfect English, Jan explained that the factory-made Flandria frames, like the factory-made Splendors, were not very high quality, so many pros had theirs custom made in Italy or by one of Belgium’s better builders, like Plum, Kessles, Martens or a couple of others I’d never heard of. 

The next bikes we spent time with were two late-1970s Renault Team Gitanes, one of them ridden by Bernard Hinault. Because Hinault and I are about the same height, I was particularity interested in his bike and how he had it set up. Regrettably, I forgot to bring my tape measure with me. I carried it all the way from Southern California, in large part to take measurements from Jan’s bikes, only to leave it at the Air BnB on the very day I needed it most. My camera and the photos I was able to take would have to do for future reference. Sadly, the poor lighting in the attic museum and my occasional lack of attention (I’ll blame the flu I was battling.) meant many of my photo leave much to be desired. 

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The frames of the two Gitanes are similar—the same paint color and graphics—but they have different lugs, seatstay caps and braze-ons. The Hinault frame also lacks the Reynolds 531 stickers of the other bike. (The photo I took is too blurry to read the name of the rider who used it.) Perhaps most interesting on the frame, the water bottle bosses are repurposed down tube shifter bosses. Making this even more interesting, there are no shifter bosses.  Instead, the shifters are the clamp-on type. I also was intrigued by the French-made Atax stem and Guion Phillipe Tour de France handlebars, both of which I had never heard of. I admit that other than Mavic, I know little about the French component makers. Both were quite nice. 

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The next bikes to catch my eye were a 1980 Colnago Roger De Vlaeminck signed on the top tube by Alfons De Wolf and a beautiful Kessels-made Eddy Merckx from the C&A Team ridden by Lucien Van Impe in 1978. As David owns a Kessles Merckx and is interested in the brand, he peppered Jan with questions. From time to time, one of them would explain to me in English what they were discussing. The Van Impe bike is hung with a variety of nicely pantographed components while the frame and fork feature the pantographed lugs and fork crown Kessels is known for.  Prior to this bike and David’s earlier in the day, I had never seen a Kessels. I have become a fan and  hope to own one someday.

 

Not far from the Van Impe bike was the Claude Criquielion bike I had come to see. It’s a 1986 Hitachi-Splendor Team bike—the year the Splendor design team came up with the ugliest livery of the team’s history. Unfortunately for me, the Splendor bike was buried deep in a row if bikes and was difficult to see, much less photograph. 

Equipped with a mix first-generation Campagnolo C-Record and Super Record components, the bike is a time capsule of what was happening in component technology at the time. It was in 1986 when C-Record made its debut in the peloton alongside Look clipless pedals and carbon fiber frames. Criquielion was one of the handful of riders open to trying those new technologies. At the Tour de France that year, he rode both steel and carbon frames and switched between clipless pedals and those with toe clips. Jan’s bike has Campagnolo Super Record pedals and a single bootle cage, which may indicate it was used earlier in the season. The original Hitachi-badged Campagnolo Record rims were nice to see. 

On our way to the second room, a red Dreher bike caught my eye. I hoped it would be one of the Gilardi-built frames the team used in 1972, before the team became Brooklyn. If it was, it would be the only one of those frame is know of in its original livery. It wasn’t. More likely, with its chunky fork crown, clamp-on components, lack of braze-ons and eyelets on the dropouts, the bike was one of those used by the team in 1970 or 1971. The photo I took of the rear derailleur is unclear, but looks like it may be stamped Patent-1970. Jan knew relatively little about the bike, so we moved on. 

In the second room were several Brooklyn Team-era, Gios Torino bikes, including those Jan said belonged to Eric and Roger De Vlaeminck and Ronald De Witte, as well as several very cool Flandria Team bikes, on of them, Maertens’. 

Earlier, I wondered aloud if some of the components on the bikes were replacements. I noticed the stems on some bikes looked particularly short. Many of the bikes had late-model Christophe toe clips and toe straps and vintage-looking modern bottom cages, as well as incorrect bars and “off-brand” saddles. When I asked Jan about one specific bike, he kind of shrugged and gave a sort of non-answer. Looking at the Roger De Vlaeminck bike, I began to think my earlier questioning of the originality of all the parts on some bike was spot-on.

I’m no expert on Brooklyn Gios Torino bikes, but I have spent many an hour looking at a lot of photos of team bikes, in particular, De Valeminck’s. Jan’s RDV Gios Tornio is no doubt built around an original frame, although one that is unique—it’s the first that I’ve seen with chrome stays—but I believe the parts were collected from other sources and added to the frame.

For example, the GIOS Tornino-pantographed, Cinelli, 1R stem is too short for Roger (He used a 125, I was told.) and the all-caps Gios logo didn’t come until after the Brooklyn Team shut down in 1977. The Selle Royal Superleggero saddle is not Roger’s usual Cinelli Unicanitor. The pantographed chainrings and crank spider are painted more than was done by Gios for the team. Roger usually rode with a pantographed seatpost. This bike has a plain Nuovo Record post. The Nisi Laser rims are all wrong—Roger almost exclusively used Mavic rims on the road and the hard-anodized Lasers are too new for a Brooklyn bike. The curved-lever quick release levers also are too new.

I’m not being picky, nor am I criticizing Jan’s collection or his build method. If I had as many bikes as he does, I’d do my best to build them 100 percent so they were ridable, even if some of the parts weren’t original or even accurate, then update them as I could. I’m simply pointing out that one needs to be careful about using his bikes (or any collection’s or museum’s bikes) as references, which was one of my goals. As when I visited the Flanders and Koers Museums, I hoped to see 100 percent accurate race bikes. Although I would hardly say I was disappointed by any of the collections I had seen, I was well aware that few of the bikes were perfect examples for future reference. Still, many of Jan’s bikes did appear to be mostly-to-all original, other than minor details like toe clips, bottle cages, chains and the like. 

Among the many other bikes in Jan’s collection that got me excited were André Dierickx’s 1976, Maes-Rokado Groene Leeuw and 1974, Flandria-Merlin-Plage bike; David Wilfried’s 1973, Carpenter-Flandria-Shimano bike; a Watneys Groene Leeuw and a Watneys-Maes Pils Groene Leeuw; Christian Callens’ 1972 Double Bubble Novy; a 1974, Team SCIC Colnago Super; Ronald De Witte’s 1978, Team Sanson, Benotto; Patrick Sercu’s Fiat Team Kessels Merckx; an Eric De Vlaeminck cyclocross bike and a Freddy Maertens Flandria. Some of Jan’s collection can be found on line. http://goemanfietsen.be/index.php/retro 

After we toured his collection, Jan took us into his closed shop and made us coffee served in a Peugeot cup for David and  a Brooklyn cup for me. We sat at his counter and talked about Jan’s collection, his life as a bike mechanic and shop owner and a recent family tragedy. It was during this time that he mentioned that he also has a collection of hundreds of vintage jerseys. If I’d only known…

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He told that  one of his neighbors when he was a young kid was aunt to Roger and Eric De Vlaeminck. As a kid he met the brothers many times and collected a stack of their jerseys and other memorabilia, all of which he threw away years ago, before he started collecting such things. 

When David reminded Jan that he wanted to buy a Coca-Cola water bottle, he asked Jan if he might have a bottle that would match my Hitachi Merckx bike. Jan said he thought he did and left to fetch the bottles. When he returned, he had a Coke bottle for David and a Hitachi bottle for me. It was missing the nipple, but I paid him 20 euros for it anyway. I have seen them on eBay before but always for about $25 and in France, where shipping one to the US costs about $30. Hopefully, I’ll find a suitable cap from which to scavenge a new nipple. 

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I brought with me a nice sum to buy vintage bike parts while in Europe. Unfortunately, I had few opportunities to acquire much stuff. I did, however, get a Hitachi bottle from Jan Goeman and a Nuovo Record headset and Binda toe straps from André Delagrense.

David and I planned to grab a late lunch on the way back to his house, but we had stayed so long at Jan’s that David was in danger of getting to work late. He works evenings for a security company in Brussels, which we would pass on the way to his house.

Before we said goodbye, David urged me to take a final look and even a short spin on his Criquielion bike. My ride was no more than a 20-foot circle in his driveway, but it was quite satisfying and I was sure the 54 x 56 bike would fit me just fine as my daily rider. 

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My illness had worsened to the point where all I wanted to do was get back to Aarsele, eat something light and climb into bed and watch some TV until I fell asleep. I parked at the AirBnB then walked to the nearby grocery store and bought some simple food—yoghurt, orange juice, sandwich fixings and cookies. 

When I got back to my room, I heard the sounds of a radio station coming from some nearby room. When I checked in, Charlotte told me I’d be the only guest there. She also pointed out several of their private rooms, which I noted at the time, but forgot about soon afterward.  It sounded like the music was coming from a room I believed to be the private bathroom of the owners. Oddly, it was quite loud and I didn’t hear anyone moving about in the room. The music was annoying, but I assumed, and hoped, whomever was listening to it would follow the house rules and keep the volume low once they realized I was home.

I had been popping throat lozenges all day and wished I had something more to calm my worsening symptoms—sore throat, runny nose, congestion, body aches and an increasingly intense cough. In my room and I checked my stash of medicines. I didn’t have much, and nothing for a cough. Then it occurred to me to go see if the pharmacy had something better. It was 6:50 p.m. and I wasn’t sure the pharmacy was still open.

I sprinted the four blocks to the pharmacy. and lucky for me, it was open for 5 more minutes. I described my symptoms to the pharmacist and he sold me bottle of cough syrup that he said they made on the premises. 

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Back at the AirBnB, the music was still coming out of the bathroom. I turned on the TV to drown it out and fixed myself some “dinner.” I ate a sandwich, a couple cups of yoghurt, drank a half bottle of orange juice and had some cookies with tea for dessert before taking a hot bath. 

Although I was quite sick and took some medicine that would usually put me to sleep, I wasn’t feeling sleepy. This was my last night in Belgium. In the morning I planned to drive to Zepperen to meet Luc Blocken and visit Leo’s Bicycle Collection before heading to the Netherlands where I was going to ride (if I wasn’t too sick) the Amstel Gold Xperience. It was going to be big day and I was sick and getting sicker and needed to sleep. But I couldn’t.

I watched television until around 10 when decided I should try to get some sleep. With the television off, I could hear the radio was still blasting in the other room. I poked my head outside my door and made some noise hoping someone would hear me and realize I was  home and it was late and time to shut off the loud music. It didn’t work. 

I retuned to my room and started a new movie on television. I envisioned Steven, the friendly owner and host, passed out drunk in the room with the radio blasting. His wife and daughter were out of town, so I thought maybe to went on a little solo bender.

Around midnight, I turned off the TV, put on my headphones with the noice-cancelling function tuned on and tried to get to sleep. The headphones were uncomfortable and every time I moved, their plastic casing would creak and groan, making it impossible for me to fall asleep. 

Nearly at my whit’s end, I remembered that Charlotte told me they had Sonos throughout the entire house. I had never used it before, but I did have the app on my phone. I opened the app, not at all confident I could figure out how to use it. Much to my surprise, however, I found the private bathroom listed on the app, selected it, and, before I turned it off, checked to see if I could adjust the volume. I could. I turned it down at first then hit “off.” Finally, I had silence. 

I tossed and turned most of the night, but did get some sleep. I had packed before going to sleep, so I was ready to leave for Zepperen when I woke up. But because Luc and I had not set a meeting time, only that we’d meet in the afternoon, I slept in. I tried, but as usual, I had trouble sleeping past 8:30.

It was clear I was really sick now. I got up, dressed and went down to breakfast. I had no appetite, but Steven had promised to make me a special breakfast for my last morning there. I had to at least try to eat something.

My Saturday in Hell: Meeting Julien

 

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A new symptom—coughing—was developing. I coughed a bit during the night, but after I woke up, it got worse. My throat was on fire and I had to blow my nose almost constantly. Breakfast went as usual. I ate as much as I could and downed all the orange juice and chopped fruit salad in the hope that a boost of vitamin C might cure me of my ills. 

I was to meet André Delagrense early at his home in Gent. André had sole me my Juline Stevens frame, as well as various other vintage parts. From there, we’d drive to Julien Stevens’ home and visit with him for a short time before he left to go to the Brabantse Pijl race. I had no clue what André had in store for me after that. I figured if we finished early, I’d come home and go for a ride, or, as seemed more likely, take a nap. If I felt okay, but not well enough to ride, I might visit another cycling museum or go to the In Vrede Café and abbey for what is considered the best beer in the world, Trappist Westvleteren. 

It was still overcast and grey and it was spitting rain. The drive to Gent was easy, but getting to André’s house was an interesting experiment in European urban driving. I had driven in Gent before, but apparently in a completely different area. It had been simple and traffic was light. André, however, lives in what I’d call downtown. The narrow roads followed zig-zagging routes probably established 500 or more years ago when donkeys were the favored form of transportation. At every turn, Apple Maps led me down a road that was smaller than the last. I followed a descending Fibonacci sequence of spirals deep into one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, ultimately finding myself in a single-lane alley with a dead end. 

André’s house was the fourth or fifth one in. Luckily, there was a spot where I could temporarily park in front of his garage door. Almost as soon as I got out my car, he stepped into the alley to greet me. He said we should go right away and asked if I wanted to drive or if he should. I offered and as soon as I finished using his bathroom, we were on our way. Getting out of his neighborhood was a lot easier with him as my navigator. 

Julien Stevens lives in a small town some 30 or so minutes from Gent. Like all the neighborhoods I’d seen in Flanders, his was quiet and well kept. Steven lives in a small brick home perched on a perfectly manicured lawn, typical of Flanders. 

We parked in the driveway and knocked on his side door. When he appeared at the door he looked as if he’d been napping. His hair was mussed and a he had a groggy hue over his face. He was wearing a black fleece jacket embroidered with the Continental Tires logos and faded blue jeans. Sensible, black, leather shoes finished his ensemble. 

I recognized him immediately. I had, of course, seen many photos of him as a racer, but also more recent images of him online. He has several very distinct features. His severely curved nose, that I can only assume was broken when he was young, looks as if it was painted on by Picasso—it’s almost in profile when you look him straight on. And he has an slant to the left side of his face, making it look as though the features there had dropped a centimeter or so over the years. 

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Julien Stevens and our Dreher/Brooklyn Gios.

He and I are about the same height—5’8″—which makes sense as his bike is an excellent fit for me, although these days I think I like a slightly higher top tube (in other words, a longer seat tube and taller head tube). His large, beefy hands were surprising.

Stevens is well known in Belgium among cycling fans, but not so well known elsewhere. If he were racing today, however, with the wide range of cycling media worldwide and 24-hour coverage of cycling, his palmares would certainly make him know to fans around the world. A strong sprinter and track racer, his role throughout much of his 14-year career he raced on legendary teams such as Faema, Molteni, Dreher and Brooklyn where he often rode for Belgian greats like Eddy Merckx, Patrick Sercu and Roger De Vlaeminck. 

Among his palmares, Stevens placed second at the 1968 UCI professional road World Championships in Zolder, losing by less than a centimeter to Dutchman Harm Ottenbrus, he said. He was also the Belgian national road champion that year. He wore the race leader’s yellow jersey at the Tour de France in 1969 after he won the second stage into Maastricht. He finished as high as 20th at Paris-Roubiax, 4 minutes, 40 seconds behind Dreher teammate Roger De Vlaeminck in 1972—the first year he raced on Gilard-built frames, one of which was mine. He also won a number of Six Days and held a number of national championship titles on the track.  

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Julien Stevens wore the race leader’s yellow jersey at the Tour de France in 1969 after he won the second stage into Maastricht.

I have met and talked to Merckx a couple times and I’ve met other legends from Stevens’ era—Fiorenzo Magni, Vittorio Adorni, Felice Gimondi, Francesco Moser, Giovanni Battaglin and others. I also did a sit-down interview with Greg LeMond once. But for some reason, I was extra excited to meet Stevens. It had been years since I met a pro from his era and many of those meetings were in group settings at a press event or a factory tour. My excitement over meeting Stevens was due to the fact that he was the only racer with whom I had a connection—a bike I ride regularly and the bike I had just ridden at the Paris-Roubaix Challenge. We also were meeting one-on-one at his home, which I found particularly interesting. 

Speaking in Flemish (Dutch) André introduced me to Stevens, telling him I was from the United States and owned one of his old bikes from the Brooklyn team. He was listening with his head down and eyes looking at nothing in particular on the ground. I saw his eyebrows raise slightly when André told him I had just ridden the Paris-Roubaix course on his old bike. He chuckled, looked up at me and said in English, “Crazy. You’re crazy.”

He stepped outside and André showed him my bike, which I had brought along. The two men continued to speak in their native tongue as I tried to glean what I could from their conversation using my beginner’s level Dutch. As Stevens looked at my bike, I heard him say the name “Lupo,” the nickname of Umberto Mascheroni, the Dreher and Brooklyn mechanic who commissioned Luigi Gilardi to build the frame, followed by a phrase or two I couldn’t make out. Then, I heard him say, “That was a good bike,” as he studied my build. The look on his face made me believe a rush of fond memories filled his head. He then pointed out that I ran my brakes backward, with the front controlled by the right lever. 

The two seventy-something men continued to talk. I could make out some of it, but very little. At times, André would translate something Stevens said for me or parle one of my questions. Other times I could tell they were talking about something else, like his plans to watch Brabantse Pijl later on. 

Through André, Stevens asked me if I rode the full Paris-Roubaix route. I told him the route I did was 109 miles/175 kilometers, but covered all 29 sectors. He told me that when he raced Paris Roubaix in the 1960s, the start was still in Paris, making it some 280 kilometers long. He said back then there were more cobbled sections and they were longer. One section, he said, was 18 kilometers long. I can’t even imagine how painful bouncing over a cobbled road for some 30 minutes (at my pace) would be. 

A neighbor and friend of Stevens’ stopped by on his bike while we chatted. While the three men conversed, I made a futile effort to listen in. Occasionally, André would tell me what they were talking about or ask me a question. When the neighbor left, I took a few photos of Stevens with my bike and André took some with me. At one point, Stevens signaled to me to wait as he went into his house to get something for me. He returned with a plastic bag and in it, a number of old Record brake pads and pre-CPSC brake pad holders. He handed me the bag and said I could have them. 

André explained to me that Stevens had been race team mechanic after he retired from racing. He said he had a garage full of old parts and tools, but when he moved to his current house, he took it all to the dump for recycling. It was a story I would hear several more times before I left Belgium. I couldn’t help but wonder if he he still had a collection of trophies and jerseys. I had hoped we’d be invited into his home and I’d see the odd dust-covered trophy or other mementos from his career. 

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We stayed for about 30 minutes total. It was a real pleasure to meet Stevens and show him his old bike. I hope he also enjoyed it. 

On the drive back to Gent, André asked me if I’d like to see the Gent Velodrome. I assumed he meant the place where the six days were held, and eagerly said yes. When we pulled into the parking lot, André explained to me that the velodrome was new and well funded and was not the home of the old six day track. We went inside and walked around. He showed me where he sometimes works as a volunteer mechanic and we looked at the track itself. On the infield were a a variety of courts for other sports like handball, some of which were in use. 

As we left the beautiful facility, André said we could go to the six day track, which was closed, but if we got lucky we might be able to get us inside. I thought it was a risk worth taking, so we headed that way. 

The Kuipke velodrome is part of Citadelpark and is housed in a building opened in 1965 after the original 1927 building burned down in 1962. André instructed me to park the car behind the building. We checked a couple of locked doors before walking to the main entrance. The doors also were locked, but we could see a workman inside. André knocked on the door and motioned to the man when he looked up at us. He cracked the door and the two men spoke. I heard André drop a name, to which the man said something that led me to believe the man was on the premises. The workman held the door open for us and we went in. 

André was intimately familiar with the building. He pointed out things of interest, while I was trying to get a look at the famous track through the open doors we were passing as we walked through the building. Eventually, we went inside the arena. 

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The Kuipke velodrome’s tight track with its steeply banked turns has hosted many great Six Day races, including one won by Julien Stevens and Patrick Sercu in 1972.

Although the track was mostly covered with black curtains, I was able to get a good feel for it. Its steeply banked walls were mind blowing. And at only 167 meters in length, the track was ridiculously tiny. I tried to imagine Merckx and Sercu, even Stevens who won the Gent Six Day with Sercu in 1972, ripping around the track while fans ate dinner and drank on the infield of the track. 

I snapped a few photos while André spoke with the man he had asked about at the front door. He was general manager of the place and was overseeing some new construction. After a short visit, we went on our way, André continuing to fill me in on Kuipke trivia and the building’s history. A connected building was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, he told me. Its arching steel roof and support system were easily recognized as a relative to the famous Parisian tower name after the French engineer.

We drove across Gent and back to André’s house, an apartment in a building built before the United States existed. There, he showed me some of his recent cycling purchases—a pile of Campagnolo wheels he got from a race team mechanic, a bike he hoped to sell soon, more wheels. We settled into his second-floor man cave where he had a beer or two and I drank a coffee. We talked bikes and bike racing for a half hour or so until his girlfriend called to remind him he was having lunch with her and her mother. 

Before I left, I bought a Campagnolo Nuovo Record headset still in the box and André gave me a few cycling gifts. I gave him one of my 1973 Milano-San Remo RDV T-shirts. 

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Escaping the city was easier than it had been to get in and I was back in Aarsele in short order. All day, I had been getting sicker. It was good to be back at the AirBnB where I could rest. I made a sandwich with leftovers from breakfast and watched Brabantse Pijl on television before dozing off for a nap. 

When I woke up, I felt a panic. “Fuck! I’m wasting my limited time here in Belgium!” I thought. “I need to get up and do something.” I considered about my options—The Koers Museum, the Abbey, go for a ride…

Not feeling up to doing anything too strenuous or complicated, I decided that casually wandering through a museum and looking at bikes and cycling ephemera was the best bet. A quick look at the Koers website told me I had about two hours to get there and through the museum. If I left right then, I should have about an hour, I guestimated, to view the exhibits. I got dressed, grabbed my backpack and hit the road. 

The drive was supposed to be 30 minutes, but took closer to 45. I had to circle the block three times before I spotted the museum—twice, I missed a right turn down a tiny street. I found parking about four blocks away, purchased a parking ticket and jogged to the museum. Inside, I found a stark, modern, echoey space with high ceilings. Two women were seated at the counters. Adjacent to them was a spartan gift shop consisting mostly of books and postcards. 

I purchased a ticket and the woman at the cash register let me know the museum would be closing in an hour. I told her I understood. She then gave me a detailed description of the museum’s various galleries and floors and handed me a map and brochure. I headed in.

I throughly enjoyed the museum and wished I’d had given myself a little more time there. Still, I was able to see all I had hoped and wasn’t too rushed. (See story about my museum visits here.) 

I exited the museum just before 5 p.m. and was feeling a little peckish. On my walk back to my car, I checked out several restaurants along the way where I thought I might grab a snack or even dinner, but everything was closed. This was becoming a regular thing. I decided I’d drive home, look for something along the way and, if I found nothing open or appealing, stop at Joke Frituur. 

At Joke, I was the first customer of the evening. The parking lot wasn’t striped and there were no indicators where to park, so I chose a spot near the front door and off to the side that I thought would give people plenty of space to park around me. Inside, I ordered the same meal as I had a few days prior, but went for the kids-size frites. Brabantse Pijl was on the television while I ate. I love Belgium, I thought.

After I ate, I found my car pinned in. In my mind, there were all sorts of other places to park that wouldn’t block me or the two cars that followed my lead and parked next to me. Apparently, the driver of the black wagon had a different opinion.

I panicked a little. Was I going to have to go inside and go form table to table asking all the customers if their car was the one blocking me? I’m not a fan of that sort of confrontation when it’s in my own language. Doing it in a foreign language would be a nightmare. Before I left, I noted that most of the new customers were waiting for to-go orders. I decided I’d just wait in the car until the car’s owner left, hopefully sooner than later. 

After ten minutes of waiting and two other customers leaving in different cars, I went inside. The owner saw me looking around the restaurant and somehow figured out why I was back. She asked a customer if it was his car and he, somewhat reluctantly, got up and went outside to move it. She then told me I should have parked in a different place. How I was supposed to know that, I’m not sure. I nodded and went to my car. 

Back at the house, I became very aware of just how sick I was getting. I had little in the way of medicines other than a few NyQuil capsules. I walked to a nearby pharmacy to see if they might have something to soothe my sore throat. The pharmacist on duty spoke English and was very helpful. She recommended some strong throat lozenges with lidocaine. At 15 euros they weren’t cheap, but I was desperate and needed something to ease the discomfort. Lidocaine sounded like it would work. I popped one into my mouth for the all back home. It was good. 

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Back in my room, I drank a large bottle of water and finished off a bottle of orange juice before I popped two NyQuil capsules, shot some Afrin up my nose and climbed into bed. I was tired, but found falling asleep difficult. I watched more cycling and then a run of bad American television shows and movies before I finally differ off to sleep around midnight. Congestion and coughing woke me around 3 a.m. From then on, unable to breath freely and violently coughing, I tossed and turned until my alarm went off at 7. 

I got up, took a hot bath and referred to Apple Maps to check the travel time to Serskamp, where my friend David Verbekem lives. He and I had arranged to meet and visit Jan Goeman at his shop in Everberg to look at his bike collection. I was really looking forward to meeting David and seeing Goeman’s private collection, which David told me included some Splendor bikes and at least one Claude Criquielion bike. As sick as I was, I was still excited about the day’s plan. 

My Saturday in Hell: Riding the Ronde?

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I didn’t sleep as well as I had the nights before. My dry, scratchy throat was not getting better. It wasn’t quite worse, but I was starting to really believe I was about to get sick.

Just as I had the day before, I entered the dinning room to be greeted the same inviting atmosphere and amazing spread of food. My appetite was strong and I ate just about everything. I was running low on supplies in my room, so I grabbed a couple slices of bread and the remaining cheese and meat for later.

I dressed in my 2Velo 1973 Brooklyn jersey and new, custom, Tiralento Brooklin wool shorts and went to the garage to collect my bike. My ride started on the same roads I used the day before. About 7 kilometers/5 miles in, I followed the signs and tuned off the route toward Oudenaarde. I rode through neat neighborhoods and several small towns that seemed as if they’d been recently abandoned. Where were all the people?

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About an hour in, unbeknownst to me, my phone lost its connection and Apple Maps stopped prompting me. I rode until I hit a particularly nasty road where, unwilling to mingle with the traffic, I stopped to see what my other options might be. With my phone “dead,” I tuned around to search for a signal. Eventually, Maps started working again and I was on my way. It was about this time when I emptied my water bottle.

The next time Maps stopped, I was on a particularly enjoyable farming road. I followed it until I hit a “T” intersection. I had no clue which way to go, but my gut told me to turn right. About 50 meters after doing so, I spotted a sign informing me that I was on the Yellow Tour of Flanders Route. Lucky me. It was the road I was looking for, but I somehow found it at least 7 kilometers/5 miles sooner than expected and when I was well off my planned route.

The road wound its way through green fields and past cute, brick farmhouses. Occasionally the air was thick with the smell of cow urine and manure. It was along this road that I found my first Flemish cobbles. They rolled up and down through a village whose name I have forgotten. The cobbles were well maintained and were not nearly as painful as I expected. I hoped I might find an open shop or bar here where I could buy a bottle of water. I was really thirsty. But, there was no such luck.

A few miles later, I passed a windmill before hitting a second sector of cobbles—a legit farming road. Its chunky surface undulated like the back of a dragon from one side to the other. It was only slightly wider than a car and it stretched out in front of me, perfectly straight, as far as I could see. This was going to be along one.

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As I had in France, I pushed on my bars and slid backward on my saddle. I floated over the road’s surface, not quite effortlessly, but better than I had in Roubaix. I was optimistic that I’d make to the end of the road before I lost all power. The cobbles, however, had a different plan. The road was much longer than any I’d ridden in France. After only a few minutes I slowed and settled into a pace that I could maintain. I felt the road surface more, but at least I’d make it to the end, maybe, before I was forced to ride at a crawl.

Smooth gutters barely existed, but I took advantage of them when I could, diving from the crown to either side sporadically. I was having fun. Riding cobbles really could be enjoyable.

I wondered through the verdant Belgian countryside, following the Yellow Route signs, which were randomly hung on either side of the road and at various heights. I missed a some, each time realizing my mistake with a few kilometers before doubling back to find the route. Generally, however, I rode without care.

Several more cobbled sections and villages passed before I hit the first “hill” of the day and shifted into my small chainring. It wasn’t particularly steep, but it was certainly a hill compared to pancake-flat roads I’d been on. Again, I noticed how thirsty I was. My bottle was empty, but I gabbed it and tried to suck out a drop or two just to wet my throat a little. There was nothing around me except a few large homes, many behind fences and walls. I rode on.

Eventually, I popped out on a rather busy roadway. There were no Yellow Route signs, so I gambled and turned left, following another cyclist. A few hundred meters on, I entered a small town lined with shops and other businesses. Everything seemed closed. Near the opposite end fo the town, I spotted a sandwich shop with bottled beverages displayed in the window. The lights were on and it looked open, so I stopped. It wasn’t.

By now, I knew I was going in the wrong direction. I turned around and headed back through town the way I had come. Just after passing the town’s boarder, I spotted a Yellow Route sign. No wonder I’d missed it, it was on the opposite side of the road from where I had been. I turned right and headed into a park.

The road was lined with forest. It was beautiful. Quiet. Other than in a few small parking lots at trail heads, there were no cars. Along the road several male, ringneck pheasants casually strolled through the underbrush. They were big and their plumage brilliant. As I passed a fallow field, I spotted a northern lapwing. Its fighter plane-like flight pattern was impressive. T\Other than hundreds of wood pigeons and jackdaws, these are the first birds I’d seen clearly in Belgium.

Soon, I was riding along the Scheldt River. It was peaceful. The air was cool and damp. A number of huge barges silently lumbered up the river. And I was thirsty. Really thirsty.

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When the bike path split, I chose the route that pointed toward Oudenaard and went through an urban area. I hoped I’d find some bottled water. Or a fountain. Anything I could use to fill my bottle. A few minutes up the road, I rolled past a small shop that sold I’m-not-sure-what. But they had bottled water. I bought two; chugged one and filled my bottle with the other.

My thirst quenched, I pondered my next move—go onward to Oudenaard and look for the Koppenberg, Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont and/or any of the other climbs of the Ronde, or head back to the AirBnB. I was tired. I felt puny. And it was clear to me that I was in the early throws of some sort of illness. I estimated that I’d done 25 or so miles and had about the same distance to cover before I got back home. That seemed better than wandering around Flanders, basically lost, for who-knows how long.

The ride back to Aarsele was uneventful, although I got lost almost immediately. Somehow, I stumbled upon one of the roads I’d taken in the morning, which led me to several of the cobbled sections I’d ridden earlier in the day. In total, I think I rode eight sectors over 54 miles. Not too bad. It wasn’t the 70 miles/90 kilometers plus the legendary cobbled climbs I had hoped to ride. But as crappy as I was feeling, I was satisfied. I promised myself I would be back and I would ride the climbs of the Ronde, if not the entire race course.

I got back to Lion House, chugged some water, took hot bath in that awesome tub and headed out to find some food. Joke Frituur was calling my name.

I walked the 2 kilometers to Joke fantasizing about the frites and a how good a Coke was going to taste. From 100 feet away, the shop looked closed. I pulled on the front door anyway. The sign clearly stated that Tuesday was a holiday. I had missed this before. And I was pissed that the owners hadn’t somehow let me know before I wasted my time walking there. I stood in the parking lot and stared at the restaurant for a minute or two willing someone to walk into the place from the back, switch on the lights and unlock the door.

Dejected, I turned and started my walk back to town. I took a new route, hoping I might stumble upon another restaurant. I didn’t. I took a stroll around the neighborhood and checked out the local church before returning to my room. Sadly, it was going to be another meal of leftover lunch meat and cheese from breakfast. A bottle of Delirium Tremens helped me get it down.

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It took me a long time to fall asleep. During the night, my dry throat turned into a full-blown sore throat paired with congestion and loads of snot. When I woke up around 7:30, I could no longer kid myself about being sick. It was either a really bad cold or the flu. I half considered cancelling my plans for the day. But, with the exception of the ride in Roubaix, this was the day I was most looking forward to. I was going to Gent to meet the man who sold me my Gios Torino. He had arranged for me to meet Julien Stevens, the man who raced the bike in 1972 and 1973. It was a highlight of the trip and I wasn’t going to miss out.

A Look at David Verbeken’s Claude Criquielion Hitachi Rossin

1987 Hitachi Rossin Calude Criquielion

When I made the decision to buy a vintage road bike to ride the 2016 Eroica California, the only bike I wanted to do it on was a replica of the orange and yellow Rossins that the 1987 Hitachi Team used. 

My research and efforts to find one started with the Google Machine. Besides a handful of photos of Hitachi rider and Belgian Classics specialist Claude Criquielion, I found three photos of a Hitachi Team bike displayed at some sort of bike show. The info attached to the photos was a claim that it was one of Claudy’s personal bikes. A claim that seemed legit. I hoped it had been for sale at that show and that it was still for sale.

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This is one of the three original photos of David’s Criquielion bikes that I found on line in 2015.

A few more days of research and I leaned that Rossin never sold frames in the orange and yellow Hitachi Team livery to the public. There were similar color ways, but not the exact colorway. I also hit a dead-end trying to find out who owned the Criquielion bike or if it had been for sale. I moved on and bought an Eddy Merckx in the 1988 Hitachi livery. 

Sometime later, new photos of the Criquielion bike reappeared on one of the Facebook pages I follow. The details are unclear to me now, but I reached out to someone and eventually made contact with David Verbeken, the 43-year-old owner of the bike. 

David willingly answered all my nerdy questions about his bike, took measurements and shared the dimensions with me and kept me in the loop when he found other Criquielion bikes. He even sent me a stack of magazine clippings from the 1980s featuring Criquielion and the 7-Eleven Team. I sent him a portrait of his Hitachi bike that was part of a series of Claudy’s Splendor and Hitachi bikes I did. 

This past April, David invited me to his hometown of Serskamp, Belgium, to see the Hitachi bike—it’s a holy grail for me—and then to visit a collector  who owned  a couple Splendor bikes, one of which had been Criquielion’s. 

David gave me the chance to sit on Claudy’s bike and give it a thorough look. I had always wondered if Criquielion’s bikes would fit me. We are both around 5’8” tall. Well, he was. He died of a stroke in 2015. And although he, like I do, rode a 54, his frames had long top tubes generally ranging from 56 to 57 centimeters.

Very interesting to me were the bars—believed to be original to Caude’s build. They are Cinelli Criteriums, as expected, but they are 65-40s, not the wider 65-42s I assumed he would have used. I was also interested the stickers. When I did the portrait above, I used David’s photos of the bike a reference, but exactly how the stickers were printed was a mystery. The Hitachi sticker on the top tube, for example is black ink on clear with two logos, one on each side of the bike, on a single sticker. 

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David generously spent much of his day driving me around Belgium and looking at bikes before heading to work. He works evenings for a security company. It was awesome to meet him in person, spend some time with him geeking out on bikes and to get a look his bike collection and small stash of Hitachi stuff.

What follows is Q&As with David focusing mainly on his 1987 Claude Criquielion Hitachi bike. 

44-16: Have you always been a cyclist or fan of cycling? Were you a Claude Criquielion fan?

DV: I started biking when I was around 30. Before that I wasn’t very athletic, although I have always been a huge sports fan. I have always been a football (soccer) fan first. When I was little, like most Flemish-Belgian families, we watched all the Spring Classics on TV. It’s a kind of family happening in Belgium. We are born with cycling in Belgium and it’s everywhere. When I was 11 years old, I watched Claude Criquielion win the Ronde Van Vlaanderen in 1987 on TV at my grandma’s place. I wasn’t specifically a Criquielion fan, for us the most important thing was that a Belgian won. I remember victories of Eric Vanderaerden, Eddy Planckaert and Edwig Van Hooydonck. I also remember (like every Belgian) the 1988 World Championships in Ronse and that fatal finish. It was only a few years later that I began to have more interest in cycling, specifically Johan Museeuw and the Mapei team. I was a Museeuw fan and it’s from that era that my love for Colnago bikes comes. The Mapei Team Colnagos were gorgeous. My first road bike was an aluminum Colnago I bought when I was around 30. 

44-16: How did you get into collecting vintage bikes?

DV: When you ride regularly, things break or need to be replaced. In the beginning, I couldn’t even change a tire. When I had a problem, I had to go to my local bike shop. I was fed up with paying for overhauls and maintenance and decided to take some bike maintenance classes. I went to class for three hours once a week for two years. It was very nice because everyone there was a bike enthusiast. At the end of the class, we had to assemble a bike and write out the whole assembly process. I took an old, steel Sannino frame that I found at an old bike shop. I immediately fell in love with it. That was the beginning of my love for classic bikes. Little did I know it would become a sickness. I had an aluminum Colnago, but now I wanted a steel one. I found a Nuovo Mexico and started to search for parts. A new project was born. That’s how I rolled into the vintage bicycle hobby. 

44-16: What is it you like about vintage bikes?

DV: I really love classic bikes because of the fine tubing in contrast to modern bikes. Classic bikes are more graceful. There is greater craftsmanship. The builders had more of an eye for detail. When I went to Stalen Ros Belgium for the first time a whole new world opened for me. Stalen Ros is a fair where you can buy and sell vintage parts and show off your bicycles. Suddenly I was among people contaminated with the same sickness. I met a lot of people. My world began to expand on the internet via Facebook and different forums. I have been collecting for seven years. Throughout the years, plenty of bikes and parts have passed through my hands. I sell a lot of them and that’s how I finance my projects. The Sannino was sold a long time ago. I’ve had some luck and some bad luck. I collect bikes from the 1970s through the 1990s. I really don’t know much about earlier bikes.

44-16: What bikes do you have in your stable? 

DV: Currently I have nine vintage bikes. I keep my number of bikes low on purpose. I have a Colnago Super from around 1978, a 1987ish Colnago Master, 1995 Colnago Master Olympic—my favorite because of Mapei—a 1974ish Kessels Molteni, a late-1970s Kessels L Hirondelle, a 1992 Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra, a 1997ish Eddy Merckx MX Leader, a 1974 Masi Gran Criterium, a 1987 Rossin Professional Team Hitachi and the aluminum Colnago, which I still ride in the winter. Most of them mounted with Campagnolo groups like Nuovo Record, Super Record, C Record, Chorus 9-speed, and Ssuper Record 11-speed.

David and his Eddy Merckx Kessels bike.

44-16: How did you come to own the Criquielion bike? 

DV: At the beginning of my new hobby, I was constantly in search of old bicycles. I restored them and sold them or disassembled them and kept the parts. I placed an ad in a national paper that I was looking for old bikes. One day, I received an email from someone who had two bikes for sale. As he lived around 160 kilometers/100 miles from where I lived. I asked him to send some pictures of the bikes. He promised to send them later when his children could help. A couple days later, I received photos of a Colnago Super and a Rossin. Although I am a Colnago fan, the Rossin immediately grabbed my attention. I saw it was something special—still not knowing it was Criquielion’s bike.  I told him I was interested in the Rossin. He told me it was an old bike of Criquielion’s and asked me to make him an offer. I did some research on the internet. I was even more excited. I made him an offer, which wasn’t very high. (Back then, there was a lot less hype around vintage bikes.) To my surprise, he accepted my offer. I was very pleased. 

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David (right) riding the Criquielion bike with friends.

44-16: Who was the guy and how did he get the bike? 

DV: I made an appointment to meet him at his house where I received a warm welcome. We looked at the bikes. He asked if I wanted the Colnago, too. But the Rossin had my full attention. I fell in love with it. His wife insisted I stay for dinner. While we ate, he told me about his life. He was a real cycling enthusiast. He survived two heart attacks and cancer. Back in the day he was a banking director. He knew somebody with the Hitachi Cycling Team and at the end of 1987, when the season was over, he bought the bike through that person. He told me they had said that particular bike was used in the 1987 Tour de France. I promised to take good care of it. 

44-16: What conditions was it in when you got it? Was it all original? 

DV: At home I began to research the bike. To be honest, until then, I had never heard of the Mavic SSC group. Funny, because as a child I saw Criquielion win the Ronde Van Vlaanderen on a Rossin. A lot of parts had been replaced over the years, including the front and rear derailleurs, the brake levers and shifters, which were all Shimano 600 tricolor. The brake calipers, bottom bracket, crankset, headset, bars, seatpost and wheels were all original. The crank is engraved Mavic 87 and the hubs have Mavic 87 logos.  

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The Claude Criquielion bike as it was when David acquired it.

44-16: Was it difficult to find replacement parts? 

DV: My first concern was to find the correct Mavic SSC parts. I put ads on the local Craigslist asking for the parts. To my surprise it went very easy. I got responses almost immediately from someone who had a rear derailleur and someone else who had the Mavic-branded Modolo brake levers. I had worried about how hard it would be to find those levers. Again this was seven years ago, just before the big vintage boom. The most difficult part to find was the front derailleur. I ended up buying one off eBay from someone in the U.S. It was the most expensive part. Because I had a lot of projects at the time, I didn’t start the second phase of the rebuild until four years later. In the second phase, I concentrated on the handlebars, stem, pedals, seatpost, saddle and tires. 

44-16: What resources did you use to rebuild the bike? 

DV: Between phases, I found some old magazines from 1987, but all the pictures were from the Spring Classics. In the spring, the Hitachi Team rode the Rossin Ghibli frame. Mine is a Professional. I always kept in mind the bike that it was used at the Tour that year. But there were very few clear photos of him racing in the Tour. Most were from the mountain stages when he used A Vitus frame. When I got the bike, the saddle was a Selle Italia Novus Italia. Criquielion used a Selle San Marco Rolls. Finding a replacement wasn’t so difficult, but I wanted one dated 1987. I had one dated 1987, but it was white. I had it recovered in black by Corne Bouman. The handlebars were the original Cinelli Criterium handlebars Caludy used on all his bikes. I replaced the stem because of the length. I needed a 130mm stem. It isn’t the right Cinelli stem, though. I haven’t been able to find the right one with a bolt in the front [1A], but mine [an XA] is era-correct.  When I bought it, it had Nuovo Record pedals. In 1987, Claudy had gone clipless, but finding clear images of which pedals he used was difficult. I found some footage of the 1987 Ronde Van Vlaanderen on YouTube where I could see his pedals were white Look PP65s. I found a pair in good condition on Craigslist. I could also confirm that he used a San Marco Rolls saddle. Next was to find out which tubulars he used and which freewheel. Because Clement was the team’s sponsor, I knew it had to be Clement tubulars and most likely Criteriums. The freewheel was an aluminum 7-speed Maillard. Maybe it wasn’t bad that I started the second phase four years later because I had accumulated a bunch of parts over that time. I was surprised to find the tubulars on a set of wheels I had in my attic. Even better, they were barely used. And I acquired an aluminum,  6-speed, Maillard freewheel when I bought my Kessels frame. I have never been able to find a 7-speed model, so the 6-speed has to do. It only weighs 147 grams. I learned the seatpost was original.

44-16: Are there any interesting or unusual parts on the bike? 

DV: The handlebar is drilled for aero cables. The chainring has Rossin pantogrpahs, which is remarkable because it should be a Mavic chainring. But I tend to believe it’s original. I don’t think the previous owner replaced it, but, I never asked him. It’s a 53-tooth though. Claudy always rode with Campagnolo brake pads and not the original Modolo Sintered pads. At some point I replaced the original Campy pads with Modolos, only to find out later that the Campy’s were correct. The seatpost is a round, non-aero, C-Record. They are fairly rare.  At some point the rear rim or whole wheel was replaced. It’s an Ambrosio Durex rim with a Mavic 87 hub. The front is a sponsor-correct Mavic SSC rim with a Mavic 87 hub. Two things that aren’t original are the handlebar tape and the chain. For me this is not a big deal because these things tend to wear out and are easily replaced. I used white, Fizik, perforated, handlebar tape. The chain is a KMC X8.

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44-16: Do you ride the bike? 

DV: I take it out about twice a year for a spin. I use other wheels because I don’t want to puncture the tubulars and aluminum freewheels tend to wear quickly. I use Ambrosio Nemesis Durec Servizio Corsa rims with Mavic 86 hubs, which are close to the originals. Two years ago, I rode the bike to Criquielion’s grave in tribute. 

 

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44-16: Do you have any other Hitachi stuff? 

DV: Throughout the years I’ve collected a short sleeve jersey, a long sleeve jersey and a skinsuit.

44-16: Thank you for your time. I love, love, love the bike. Your Kessles bikes are sweet, too.

My Saturday in Hell: Exploring Flanders

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Day 4: The Morning After

When I went to bed around 8 on Saturday night, following my ride at the Paris Roubaix Challenge, I planned to sleep in. Generally, sleeping much more than seven hours is difficult. But with the metal binds in the room closed to keep the room seriously dark, I managed to doze past 9 a.m. I got up and ate the remaining food I had while watching a rebroadcast of the Tour of Flanders—during Classics season, cycling is on TV in France and Belgium all day, albeit mostly rebroadcasts. 

I checked the weather and started putting together a mental plan of my day. I was tired. Dragging. It was early, I needed to check out in about 2 hours and it wouldn’t be until 2 or 3 o’clock before the riders came through the area. It was also really cold. I realized I didn’t really have the clothing with me to spend hours standing along the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector waiting for the race.

I tried to convince myself it would be fun—I’d surely switch into my outgoing mode and meet some people, drink some beers, take some good photos, enjoy and absorb the atmosphere. But, I wasn’t feeling very good. It seemed like more than just fatigue from the day before. Continued dehydration, maybe. 

The thought of driving around to find parking near Sector 4, walking god-knows how far to get back to the cobbles, standing outside in the cold with only a light poofy coat and otherwise generally unprepared for a long day in the damp, grey French countryside and then doing it all over again as I exited with crowds of people and heavy traffic was dreadful. 

Maybe I could find a bar? Surely there would be a number of local bars open with the race on television. Like the one in a Sunday in Hell where the film introduces us to Freddy Maertens.

As I packed up my car, the owner of my next AirBnB sent an email letting me know the room was ready. Hmmm, maybe the thing to do was go there. I could hit a grocery store for some food and beer on the way, soak in the deep claw-foot bathtub (the main reason I picked the place), then watch the race on the large TV I knew was in the living room. During the 90-minute drive I could keep my eyes peeled for an open bar. If I saw one that looked inviting, I’d stop. 

I was headed to Tielt, somewhere in Flanders. The sky was a milky grey and it was intermittently raining. I would take the E17 then go north on the N35, a two-lane road through the Flemish countryside. The surrounding area was mostly a mix of rich green hues dotted with farmhouses and the occasional village. It was lovely. I couldn’t wait to ride some of the many, many small roads cutting through the fields. 

When I arrived in at the house—a small mansion with statues of lions on each side of the front door—I found it impressive and a little intimidating. I was surprised to find it in the center of one of the small villages—Aarsele—not further out in the countryside, as I had imagined it based on the photos on AirBnB. It was also a good 6 kilometers from Tielt, the city in the address. On first look, I saw no restaurants, bars or shops of any kind. I wondered where I’d eat and if I had picked another place located far from good food and restaurants. Just before rounding the last turn to the house, was a grocery store and it was open for another 30 minutes—score. I stopped and stocked up on supplies for the next couple of days. 

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My Belgian AirBnB was a mansion in Aarsele near Tielt. It was both impressive and intimidating and the most welcoming and nicest AirBnB I’ve ever stayed in. Owners Steven and Charlotte were friendly and generous with their time and local knowledge.

I arrived at the house early. Although they wrote to let me know the room was ready any time, they didn’t expect me until 3 o’clock, the regular check-in time. I killed time in the grocery store, then sat in my car until I got the okay to check in. 

The house was awesome. I had private parking, plenty of space to work on my bike and a garage in which to store it. Inside, was a well appointed living room with a big comfy sofa and a huge television on the wall. The decor was a mix of the building’s original 18th century architecture and modern furnishings, which is pretty typical in Europe. I liked it. Charlotte, the owner, who lived in half of the mansion with her family, told me I would have 24-hour access to the living room and breakfast would be served every morning. I had never been served breakfast at an AirBnB. 

My room was upstairs. Similarly decorated, it was spacious with an equally spacious bathroom where that fabulous bathtub sat centered in the room. The large shower, closed only on two sides—the wall on back and a large sheet of tempered glass on the front—with a huge rain shower head was a huge improvement over the last four or five AirBnBs I’d stayed in. The only negative, the toilet was across the hall. But I was the only guest there, so I wouldn’t have to share it. 

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This mazing bathtub was one of the main reasons I picked this place to stay. I’d have loved to have soaked in it Saturday night after riding the Paris-Roubaix Challenge.

When I went downstairs to unpack my car and get my luggage, the television was on and tuned to the Paris-Roubaix race. I paused to see where the racers were and how much longer they had to go. Steven, Charlotte’s husband, stepped into the room behind me and said he had tuned on the race for me to watch. When I sent my request to rent the room, I explained that my purpose for being in Europe was to attend the race and ride my bike. How cool was that? 

I dragged all my stuff to my room, grabbed my groceries and returned other living room. I made a sandwich in the adjacent dinning room and opened a beer. Although I was alone, I was in heaven on that sofa watching the race. The riders were not far from the Arenberg forest when I tuned in. I was going to see the bulk of the good stuff. 

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For a variety of reasons, I elected to watch the 2019 Paris-Roubaix on television from the comfort of a sofa with a beer and sandwich rather than standing in a field along the Carrefore de l’Arbre sector.

 

I sunk down deep into the cushions with my sandwich and a Belgian triple and watched in disbelief as the leaders effortlessly sped across the cobbles and seemed to transfer from one sector to the next in a matter of seconds rather than the many dozens of minutes it took me.

Having just ridden them the day before, every cobbled sector was intimately familiar to me. I remembered various landmarks along the route—a church, a bar, a roundabout, a barn—each of them passing in a blur at the pace of the peloton unlike when I saw them in person the day before. Then, they would appear to me off in the distance and much later pass by slow enough to see every detail of the architecture or even to read the signs displaying the hours of business on the front door. On TV, going at the speed of the peloton today, everything was a blur.

I was rooting for Peter Sagan, even though I knew he was a bit of a long shot. I was happy to see him among the leaders when they hit Carrefour de l’Arbre. The other rider I was pulling for was Belgian cyclocross star Wout Van Aert. Neither man would have a great race, although Sagan’s fifth place finish wasn’t what I’d call a failure. Sure he fell short of his win last year, but fifth ain’t bad. 

Philippe Gilbert’s win was a surprise. And though I am not a fan of his Deceuninck-QuickStep Team (something feels fishy there), I am a fan of many of its riders, among them Gilbert. I was pumped for the old man. 

I had been thinking about doing a post Paris-Roubaix-viewing ride to check out the area and to loosen up my legs. But I had nothing to give. I was depleted. In some ways, more so than I expected. I spent the afternoon unpacking and setting up my bike for Flanders. I had installed a 12-23 freewheel and 52/44 chainrings for the Paris Roubaix Challenge. For the hills of Flanders, I put my usual 13-28 freewheel with 53/41-tooth chainrings back on. 

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I also took a walk around the neighborhood, looking for restaurants and cafés. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot to choose from. The AirBnB owners provided a very good binder with all the usual info—Wifi password, TV how-tos and a comprehensive list of local businesses a guess might need. Among the eateries on the list was a place called Frituur Joke. A quick check of its website told me they served hamburgers and frites. I had been craving this exact meal the day before, so it sounded best among the local venues. 

Two minutes after stepping onto the streets of Aarsele, it began to rain. For whatever reason, I didn’t let it bother me. I pulled up my hood and embraced what I had always heard was typical Belgian weather. Frituur Joke was about a two kilometer walk. It was nice to be outside. 

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The surrounding countryside was basically exactly what I expected from Flanders.

The restaurant was busy when I stepped inside. There was a line of three people waiting to order and several small groups of people waiting for their orders. Most were doing take-away. On the television was another rebroadcast of Paris-Roubaix. It took me a good 10 minutes to figure out the menu and come up with my order—the fresh (not the frozen one) house burger, frites and a Coke—and to muster the courage to ask the young woman at the register if she spoke English. I always feel a huge amount of guilt when I can’t speak the local language. Unfortunately, the only other language I’m competent in is Japanese, which pretty useless in most countries. 

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Apologies for the blurry photo. I was dying for this meal the day before. But on this day, I had no appetite. I barley finished the burger and threw away about three-quarters of the delicious frites.

Fortunately, the young woman and another woman I took to be the owner, were more than competent in English and were super helpful. The burger was quite good and the frites were amazing. The Coke, my first in years, was also delicious. But I couldn’t stop thinking I was drinking poison.

To my surprise, my appetite wasn’t very strong. The small order of frites was actually quite large and I could only eat about a quarter of it. I also struggled to finish the burger, leaving half of the bun. The meal would have been so much better yesterday, I thought. 

My walk back the AirBnB was drier. Along the way, I lamented the fact that it’s so difficult to walk in the U.S. and, at least where live, the scenery is just plain ugly. I enjoy walking to restaurants, grocery stores, the butcher, the veggie stand, the pharmacy and other local businesses like I had everyday when I lived in Tokyo. I missed it. 

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I spent much of the late-afternoon and evening of my first day in Belgium here, watching rebroadcasts of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix races.

The rest of the evening was spent in bed watching television—mostly rebroadcasts of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix—and organizing my kit for the next day’s ride. I was going to dive to Oudenaarde to visit the Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen ( Tour of Flanders Cycling Museum) and, if possible, ride the Red Route of the Tour of Flanders Course.

I was asleep shortly after I closed my eyes.

To be continued…