Izegem and Girona
I’ve been in Europe for almost four months. It’s strange every time I think about it. It seems like I haven’t been here that long, yet my first couple weeks seem like ages ago. I’ve been here about twice as long as I’ve ever been in Europe before. I was worried that I would grow tired of being in Europe as I did in the past under much different circumstances. This is not the case – a nice location and a private living space make a huge difference.
In previous years I spent a lot of time with the National Team in Izegem, Belgium. I did enjoy my time there, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the many months that I spent there. But hanging out at the house was tough – tough enough that you knew if you didn’t love bike racing.
There isn’t much to do in Izegem. You can drink coffee and…ride bikes. So it’s really the perfect place to harvest pro cyclists. A pro cyclist not only has to be a talented rider, but must also be able to live the lifestyle. The house, in effect, filters out those who aren’t fully committed to the sport.
The house would wear on people. It wasn’t like living in a hotel, but it wasn’t a home. It was a cross between living in a fraternity house and a retirement community, where young men live together in close quarters, lounging much of the day and taking part in leisurely activities, such as casual bike rides and afternoons at the café. I tried to accomplish things, like learn Flemish. But learning Flemish is a lot of work, and every young person speaks English. Anyway, there is Facebook and YouTube to waste your life away.
There were various activities at our disposal. Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon I would go to the grocery store 1 k away and buy bubbly water. In the early days I would eat some sort of baked Belgian specialty, but I learned that only hurts me in the fight against gravity. Bubbly water didn’t cause these problems.
Another thing about Belgium is that it’s the easiest place in the world to get lost. It didn’t take very long before I would lose all sense of direction. It’s a flat place with indistinguishable windmills and churches everywhere. Because of this, riders only do a few rides that they are familiar with, often on canals. I don’t miss riding on canals. They are straight and often bumpy, and more often than not there’s a headwind or a crosswind. Then I discovered how to put routes in my Garmin, and the adventures began.
There are a few things in Spain that shove any homesickness off to the side. There are beautiful winding roads that go into the mountains and through the valleys, and then there’s ‘The Med.’ Definitely one of the most incredible roads in the world, it twists along the steep hillside above the Mediterranean Sea. One thing really makes the difference – a French press and large coffee cups, which allow me to drink American sized portions. Europe can do a few things well, but a 6 oz coffee is not one of them.
There is a reason why so many riders live in Girona. I’m not the lone foreigner in town. I’ve heard it’s the home of 70 pro cyclists. What does surprise me is how few of them I see around. I hardly ever see another cyclist, whether training or grocery shopping; it’s not because they are hard to pick out. It’s almost as if they just sit in their apartments all day…
There are a couple projects that I’ve been working on in my down time. One such project is working on my Spanish. Though people here know Spanish, they officially speak Catalan – which I think has somewhat of a French influence. I have no grasp of the language so I really don’t know. I speak enough Spanish for somebody to think that I sort of speak Spanish. Once past a basic conversation, I’m lost and they stare at me blankly.
One of my other projects is a blog.
I was making decent progress on everything until something awful happened. I figured out how to watch Netflix in Europe. In our first few weeks here, Alex and I didn’t have Internet. It was awesome. We talked to each other a lot, read books, and looked out the window. It’s not the best view: We can see the edge of a kid’s park where people take their dogs to do business. I came here with a few magazines. Now they are missing their more interesting pictures, but we have collages. Two dudes with Internet access will rarely have an epic arts and crafts night.
Though I do use sarcasm on occasion, I did mean it when I said that I enjoyed my time in Izegem. I realize that it is somewhat unfair to compare my experiences in Izegem to those so far in Spain. But Izegem has its purpose, which it’s perfect for.
After a bit of time in Portland, I’m doing the Tour of California. Start getting excited for another riveting race report.
Oh no, I have to go do all my shopping before the siesta! Oh wait, I’m in America, where people love to work.