Chase Group

Paris-Rubaix, 2012

Johan Vansummeren (right), last year’s surprise winner, and Matteo Tosatto lead the chase group, already over a minute down with 14km left to the finish.

Tom Boonen is solo, out ahead, going on to a record-equalling fourth victory at P-R.

They’re just exiting the feed zone in the short transition between the brutal Carrefour de l’Arbre and the (luckily) short Gruson cobblestone sections.  Many of these cobblestone (pavé) sectors have been in existence since Roman times.

And many felt like they hadn’t been maintained since then, although that’s not true.

However, they are very, very rough and can make or break a race in seconds, either through a poorly chosen line, a line chosen by the bike and cobbles (because it’s best to just keep a loose hold of the handlebars and let the bike do most of the movement), or a catastrophic equipment failure, as we saw as the pack (no longer a peloton) race through the Arenberg Trench when a rider’s (very expensive) carbon wheel shattered under the stress right in front of us.

Exciting moments.

There’s a reason that the Dutch call the cobbles kinderkoppen (children’s heads).  The stones are large and rounded on the top.  Luckily (for the competitors) this year, there had been little rain so the dust had settled in and kept the gaps between the stones to a minimum (in most sections).  However, a little bit of rain and the dirt washes out, leaving a muddy mess with large gaps between the stones.  Dry or wet, there’s a reason that this race is called “The Hell of the North“.

And I think the look on the racers faces above captures that.

Just 20 minutes after this picture was taken, the rain started.  That would have changed the face of the race significantly, especially amongst those that were in the lagging groups, as they dealt with the mud-slick cobbles.

Here’s a nice behind the scenes look at how Team Garmin-Barracuda and Tom Boonen took the win that day:

But if you want a longer look at “The Hell of the North”, here’s a documentary from the 1970’s called “A Sunday in Hell”:

Wet or dry, a great race to watch.

Even better in person.

Although, after riding a portion of the course (minus the flat, smooth leading 100km that the pros take), I can now understand why the riders feel like this photo of Greg Lemond:

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Life Changing

There are certain simple things that we could go through life without experiencing and not be poorer for it.

There are certain simple things that we could go through life that, once experienced, we are much richer for it.

Like the taste of an Amarone or a Brunello, both of which are sublime.

Both of which I thought were the pinnacle of flavor for anything.

Until last month.

Goddess and I were lucky enough to be able to go on a truffle hunt just outside of Dijon, France, where we were led by a farmer and his gorgeous young Lagotto Romagnolo (Romagno Water Dog) pup, who was full of energy and lacked some of the focus that he’ll gain as he gets older.  The farmer explained that they switched from pigs to dogs for the hunt because the the pigs would eat the truffles.  But whenever the farmer wasn’t looking, the pup snatched a few truffles of his own.

Those were not cheap dog treats.

Yep, those truffles are €350 per kilogram.  That’s about $220 per pound!

After the hunt, where the pup found several black truffles, the farmer took us back to his farmhouse, which was more like a small castle than a farmhouse, and gave us a taste.  A lovely variety of truffle appetizers – truffle and liver paté, truffle and rabbit paté, truffle and duck paté, etc.

To say that the taste of a truffle is heavenly  would be severely understating the facts.

And that small taste was an experience for which we are richer.

So this past  Friday, Goddess and I joined some dear friends for a dinner in Heidelberg.  It was at quite a swanky joint that far surpassed any dining experience either of us had ever had.  Smack dab in the middle of the dinner, during the third of five courses, we were served a pigeon breast on a bed of pearl barley, covered with a truffle sauce and thin slices of the wonderful fungi.

Absolutely amazing.

Although we’ll continue to seek out truffles from time to time, I think that a bottle of Amarone or Brunello is more likely to be within reach.  But do yourself a favor and give truffles a try, if you can.

Buttery

I’m not a white wine fan, much preferring the bold flavors of a good red.  There’s just something about the whites that doesn’t do it for me.

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t keep looking.

Especially when we’re in Dijon, France, in the heart of Burgundy, home of what are considered to be the standard-bearers of white wine, the Chardonnay’s.

So, appropriately enough, our first glasses of wine would be a Chardonnay.

Buttery

Now it didn’t make me want to run out and buy a case (six bottles), but it was pretty good.  It was smooth, it was buttery and it was a bit smoky.  I did like that.

And it was real pretty to look at, especially in the afternoon sun.

But not as pretty to look at as Goddess, sitting directly across from me.

Dame’s Lines

There are many, many fundamental flaws with this image.

But I’m still drawn to it.

Must be the lines.

ND Lines

Honestly, this could be any one of a gazillion churches in Europe.  I hate to say it, but after a while, they all start to blend together.

But the beauty is in the details.  This is the Notre Dame of Dijon, France.

It’s significantly different from the Notre Dame in Paris, as well as the Notre Dame in Strasbourg.  Slightly different (inside) from the Frauenkirche of Munich (that’s where the details tell the truth) and only slightly different from the town church in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in Germany.

So while this is a throwaway image for me, it’s still fun to play with and think about not only the history, but all of the other cathedrals that Goddess and I have been lucky enough to visit.

Life is good.

Yum

Goddess and I, half-jokingly, refer to our travels as “eating and drinking our way across Europe”.

But it’s all done European-style.  A small glass of the regional or local wine or beer (depending on the specialty) and a regional appetizer, both to get a feel for the local cuisine, but also to take a 30-45 minute break from our sightseeing.

We rarely rely on any transportation other than our feet, so a day of sightseeing may involve somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-8 miles of walking.

Although some cities (like Paris) require a reliance on the public transportation to whisk us from one neighborhood to another.

The best part of the walking is that we see parts of the cities and towns that most tourists would never see or experience.  You know, the small cafés with reasonable prices, the small memorials or the gorgeous, well-manicured homes that aren’t in the tourist book.  And we certainly get to enjoy the local hustle and bustle.

But I digress.

This wine bar wasn’t off the beaten track, but it sure was nice.  More trendy.  Slightly upscale.

But a nice spot to stop and get out of the rain for a moment.

To enjoy each other’s company, some impressive burgundy and a small tray of escargot.

Yum

While in Dijon, Goddess and I joked that we ate our weight in escargot, half a dozen at a time.

And no, we did not have any mustard.

Zoom

Those who know me well know that some of my greatest joy, complete separate from my Goddess, is derived from my commutes to and from work.

Especially if the weather is horrible.

Give me pissing down rain and 35ºF (+01ºC) or dumping snow and 27ºF (-03ºC) and a good, hard push on the bike and I’m grinning from ear to ear.

Hell, give me +10ºF (-12ºC) on a clear day and I’ll still grin ear to ear.

It’s all about wearing the right kit.

But regardless of the time of year, every day is still a great day to ride the bike to and from work.

Especially when you’re going faster than those that do nothing more than twist their right wrist or press down their right toe.

Place du Théâtre, Dijon, France.

Rule 9.

Immediately followed by Rule 5.

Oh, and Rule 58.

Monkeys

Some hang out.

Some fling poo.

Some look in mirrors.

And some are so old that they need support.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg, France

What kind of monkey are you?

Christmas Pudding

The neighbors invited us over for some Christmas Eve dinner.  He’s British, she’s German.  His sister flew in from England last night, dealing with the entire Heathrow mess that’s been going on for a week now.  But she made it.

Complete with Christmas Pudding.  First made back in October, complete with fruit, bread and rum.  Stored to meld together.  All ingredients becoming one for our pleasure tonight.

Topped with cognac.  Lit on fire.

Only one word can describe this culinary delicacy –

“Sex in your mouth”!

Merry Christmas, y’all!