By Sal Ruibal
On the face of it, cycling seems to make sense.
But it didn’t take long for cyclists to devolve into all sorts of deviant behavior on two wheels, such as racing over roads made of large chunks of stone, smeared with mud, animal waste, ice pellets and, in the case of the Tour of Flanders, copious amounts of green, viscous phlegm.
The Flemish were not the first to run wheeled vehicles over rough stones to avoid getting stuck in mud, but they have emerged as the premier promoters of those stone roads as a form of entertainment for tens of thousands of drunken fans.
Phlegmish is a sub-language of the Flemish dialect of West Flanders. While romantic French is enunciated with precise positioning of the lips as finely expirated breath is released, Phlegmish begins just below the Adam’s Apple, about the spot where a hangman would cinch his noose. As the noise begins to rise in the throat, it gathers phlegm like a small wave, enveloping vowels and consonants with its guttural force. The result is a language that rattles its way out of the speaker’s mouth with great expectoration: Haaak! Haaaak!
It is the language of men who work outdoors and women who work in noisy bars, where a bark is often useful. It is also the lesser sound one hears while riding a bicycle on those stony roads, often preceded by the signal “Hup! Hup! Hup!,” which means, “Get out of my way, you wanker!”.
The lure of Flemish Phlegm on authentic stones is strong for any rider who wants to be considered a “hard man,” even if that rider is female. The expression is gender neutral once the pedals begin turning in anger or even just a bad hissy-fit.
Paved magazine is edited and written by people who have spent a lot of time in Belgium either racing for pro teams or wearing pro team jerseys they bought at the outdoor market the day before the Tour of Flanders cyclo-sportif race.
I fall into the latter group. I have fallen quite a bit in Flanders.
This year, a few of us from the magazine will attempt to not fall down quite as much as in previous sportifs and perhaps even make it to the finish line. And this year I plan to actually sign up for the sportif instead of jumping in at Oude Kwaremont, the first of the major pave’ ascents, as I’ve done in previous years.
The sportif begins in the wonderful city center of Bruges, the world capital of tower diving. It then exposes the peloton to horrible side winds and lashing rain from the chilly North Sea for a long time until the real suffering begins. So this year I’m going legit and starting the route in Oudenaard, the home of the Ronde van Vlaaderen museum, where the actual RVV finishes on Sunday. Starting and finishing a race in the same place is a remarkable and revolutionary change for the race, which is why everyone complains about it. Yes, the Kapelmuur is gone but so is the long bus and train ride back from Ninove.
I had considered entering the mountain bike class this year, but the last two times I’ve done the sportif I noticed that the MTB riders had to take detours through what looked like pig stys minus the pigs but not the shit.
If the finish area is like past years’, there will be tens of thousands of dirty, hungry, exhausted people standing in a two-hour line for the opportunity to take a shower and buy the world’s most expensive brats.
If our group is not too tired, we might waddle over to Kortrijk, my favorite city in Belgium, and visit the great carnival and disco there. Every time I have stayed in Kortijk, the wonderful staff at the Park Hotel has made sure that the roller-coaster ride is situated next to the window of my room.I’m from D.C.; I can’t fall asleep unless there’s screaming going on.
If all goes well, we’ll send dispatches and requests for extra cash after the race. Hup Hup Hup!