Watching Le Tour De France

As I sit here now, watching the final stages of the 2010 Tour de France, it is incredible to think of all that has happened on this year’s tour. The first few stages were a train wreck of crashes and disasters, those were some of the ones we were able to see while we were in Belgium. The team I cheer for, Garmin, lost its lead rider almost immediately. Another race favorite lost the yellow jersey (that’s first place) when the wrist he broke the day prior, and kept secret from the rest of the racers, got the best of him. Since that point, it has been a two man race and after all 2,200 miles 90+ hours of racing the second place man will finish a mere 39 seconds behind the overall winner. Lance Armstrong, fell back after a series of crashes early on, finished in 23rd place, 39 minutes behind the winner. If you think bicycle racing is for wimps, I dare you to pedal your bike up a mountain, get to the top, start to roll down at 40mph, and jump off your bike…..not going to do it, are you?

So how does it work. It is simple really. The rider who has the shortest overall time wears the yellow jersey each day, making him a target for all other riders. At the start of the race, that first place jersey often changes hands each day of the race as different riders are able to showcase their strengths at different points. Once the race reaches the mountains though, usually the strong climbers take over and the competition narrows to a handful of riders. In addition to wining the overall race, you can also win points for certain climbs and sprints and these points also factor into the competition for other jerseys. Sprinters will compete for the green jersey (mostly during flat stages) for being the best sprinter or the dotted jersey for the best climber. Lance may not have won, but his team took first place in the team category this year and that certainly counts for something.

This year we managed to arrange our travel so that we could see a couple of stages. There are no tickets sold to watch the tour and by some estimates it is the most watched athletic event (probably not counting television viewers) in the world. Images on television of spectators on the Tour usually involve people dressed as comic book characters chasing after riders as they pedal uphill. We saw the tour arrive in Brussels on its first day and depart on its second, enjoying the array of crazy advertisements, festival like atmosphere, and barriers separating us from the main raceway…so unfortunately I did not get to dress up like Superman and run alongside the riders.

The reason I love the tour is that it is probably the most dramatic, and most athletic event on television. As a former (and future….) endurance athlete I have extreme respect for any man who can sit on a bike seat 4-5 hours a day for over 3 weeks as while crisscrossing two mountain ranges, several international borders, and around flamboyant and annoying spectators clogging the roadways. The equivalent in other sports simply does not exist. Lebron’s athleticism simply doesn’t come close to Lance’s, sorry. It is a true test of physical limits as riders who can’t keep up, begin to fall back and out of the winner’s circle. This is the world’s greatest endurance event and watching as human limits are tested, each day, on live international television, is what brings me back each year.

Foodie Friday: Waffles and Chocolate

Wedding gift registry’s are really popular in the United States. For the first week, our registry only had one item- a Belgian waffle maker. We really, really wanted it. Affectionately in Spanglish we call our waffle maker “casa de los waffles” (house of waffles), and place a dot on it every time we use it. Needless to say it has a lot of dots.

Belgium is known for its waffles and of course its chocolate. For research purposes we had to try both, individually and together. And with ice cream. And strawberries….Turns out our little casa de los waffles doesn’t do such a bad job: it makes practically perfect Belgian waffles, American sized of course, but just as delicious.

The chocolate of course is a different story. Belgian chocolate is delicious, and although we loved our Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Dark Chocolate Bar, nothing compares to fresh chocolate on the street. With a sense of humor, we strolled from chocolate shop to chocolate shop sampling little mannequin pis chocolates and other delicious goodies.

Brussels: Chocolate and a Tour…

We were determined to prove two Belgian travelers wrong about their country: it is NOT possible to see Belgium in one day. In fact we spent 4 days in Belgium and only left Brussels once. So there.IMGP5355

More than any place on this entire trip, Brussels reminded us of home. No, it wasn’t the french accent, the chocolate, the strange little boy statue or the little-Africa neighborhood downtown. While these could all be said of DC, it was the vibe of “power” in the city. The political center of the European Union, we attended a birthday party where the attendees were from no less than a dozen nations.  (In fact, ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung in three different languages.)  It was the first time in a long time that we were really able to enjoy ourselves in a big group, not having to constantly wonder if the other person understood what we were saying.  English in fact, despite there being only three native English speakers at the party, was the language of choice.  Like DC, everyone it seemed directly or indirectly worked in European politics. Conversations swirled about current events, international politics and exotic travel. We felt at home.

Brussels of course is not like home. IMGP5381Chez Antoine is not cooking up fries on in a petite maison on 14th street in Washington and there is no way Ben’s Chili Bowl is going to start serving pomme frites with 20+ varieties of mayonnaise. We walked into the European Parliament building without showing a badge, doing the same in DC would have been a breach of national security! Buildings are much older and much taller, and there’s good Belgium chocolate is everywhere…not just at Trader Joe’s.  Yes, things are different, but not by too much.  And since we were there for the 4th of July, we still managed to enjoy a nice BBQ, some fireworks, and a trip to to Waterloo to celebrate the defeat of the French….clearly the next best option when in Europe with no other American’s around…

Besides eating ridiculous amounts of french fries, we spent our long weekend in Belgium visiting with friends, and dragging them to the Tour de France, which went through Brussels on its way from the starting point in Holland back to France.  Le Tour was the real reason we wanted to come to Brussels. If we were going to be in Europe in July, we were going to the Tour de France. That was the deal. So off we went, and when people asked why we were in Belgium we always replied in the best French accent we could muster, Le Tooouurrrrrr! The Tour did not disappoint, but you’ll have to wait for our next post to find out why…