Friday, April 27, 2007

The Last April Showers? Shrines and Bike Polo

It is 5:26 AM and pouring rain. I may or may not get a ride in.

Meanwhile a few other notes: I have some familiarity with religion, religious thought and religious practice. And, of course I have a wariness regarding the proximity of religious practice and idolatry. So the accompanying picture begs the question: Is this a contemporary form of idolatry? Well, I suppose so, but it sure is fun! BikePortland featured this look at the Eddie Merckx shrine and I thought it looked really cool.

If you don't know much about Merckx, this from Wikopedia:
Successes in stage racing and single day races

Merckx started competing in 1961. Three years later he became world champion in the amateur category, before turning professional in 1965. In 1966 he won the first of seven editions of Milan-Sanremo. The following year, he started his first grand tour at the 1967 Giro d'Italia. He would win his first stage here and finished seventh overall. Later that year he outsprinted Jan Janssen to become world champion in the professional category in Heerlen, The Netherlands. He would win this title twice more.

In 1968 with the rainbow jersey on his back and a change of team to the Italian Faema team, Merckx went on to win Paris-Roubaix for the first time and started his domination of the Grand Tours by becoming the first Belgian to win the Giro d'Italia in 1968. He would repeat this four times.

Starting the 1969 season, he won Paris-Nice stage race. In the time trial that Merckx won in this race, he overtook the 5 time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil who over the previous ten years had been the master of that discipline. Merckx went on to win Milan-San Remo and Ronde van Vlaanderen several weeks later. In his Tour de France debut in 1969, Merckx immediately won the yellow jersey (overall leader), the green jersey (best sprinter) and the red polka-dotted jersey ("King of the Mountains" - best climber in the mountain stages). No other cyclist has achieved this trifecta in the Tour de France, and only Laurent Jalabert has been able to match this feat at the Grand Tour level, in the 1995 Vuelta. If the young riders' white jersey (for best rider in the Tour under 25 years of age) had existed at that time, Merckx would have won that one as well, as he had only just turned 24. It was the first time a Belgian won the Tour de France since Sylvère Maes thirty years earlier, and because of this Merckx became a national hero. He would win this contest four more times: in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974, equalling Frenchman Jacques Anquetil. Over the next 25 years, only Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain were able to equal the five victories. Then Lance Armstrong broke the record and went on winning the Tour for a sixth (2004) and a seventh (2005) time. Merckx still holds the records for stage wins (34) and number of days in the Yellow Jersey (96).

In addition to these well-known Grand Tour successes, Merckx also has an impressive list of victories in one-day races (for a comprehensive list, see lower down). Among the highlights are a record of seven victories in the Milan-Sanremo (which to this day is unequalled), two victories in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, three wins in Paris-Roubaix (the Hell of the North), five in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège (record), and two in the Giro di Lombardia, which makes a total of 19 victories in the 'Monument' Classics. He also won the World Road Racing Championship a record three times in 1967, 1971 and 1974, and every single one of the Classic cycle races, except Paris-Tours. Finally, he was also victorious in no less than 17 six-day track races on the velodrome, often with his partner Patrick Sercu.

Merckx retired from racing in 1978, at the age of 33.

And if we bike worshipers have the shrine then we must also have a book. I know that I have been promising book reviews for months and just haven't had the time or motivation to act on this promise. But in the present context I wanted to report regarding one book in particular. I've read a bunch of bike novels and loved them, despite their varying quality, and I've read Lance's book, which is also terrific but once read stays read. The book that I want to very highly recommend and propose as the meditative text of bike aficionados: "Need For The Bike" by Paul Fournel. This is unlike any cycling book I've encountered. It is written, first of all, by a certified French intellectual, associated with avant-garde French literature; more importantly, it is a truly meditative look at every aspect of cycling and the inner interaction between the soul of the rider and the soul of the machine beautifully translated by Allan Stoekl. It is a series of loosely connected essays many no more than two pages and the longest no more than 4 or 5 pages. The book is published by Bison Books in a soft back edition suitable for carrying in a small day pack, "man bag" or even in a good sized pocket. It is not a book one sits down to read from cover to cover. Rather, one savors an essay or two or three at the most, puts down the book and meditates on where the essay has transported the reader. Not is it a book that should be read once. Each essay seems as fresh and pregnant with meditative possibility at each reading. One simply can pick up the book and open to any page and be drawn in. It should be the sacred text for any lover of bicycling.

Finally today, check out the New York Times polo video in today's paper. It is about 2 minutes long and shows the NY City messenger community playing urban bicycle polo. A very cool video.

By the way (sorry for such a long post) I did get my ride in. The rain had stopped by 6 AM and I shot out having a really lovely ride for the first half of the route. Then the rain came buckets. I actually still enjoyed it. I have more and more trouble getting myself to go out in such weather, but once out - what are you going to do? I must say when the thunder and lightening joined the scene I was thinking "this was a bad idea," but that too passed uneventfully and 13 miles is 13 miles as we get close to reporting the monthly total.

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