Friday, August 1, 2008

Belgian Knee Warmers

Real, big-time bike racing was descending on my town. Barriers lined the sidewalks and minivans festooned with roof racks filled the available parking. A door slid open and there were the two stars of the Panasonic-Sportlife team: Viatcheslav Ekimov and Olaf Ludwig, both Olympic Gold Medalists.

While crowds mobbed Greg LeMond just 100 feet away, just a few people stood around the Panasonic-Sportlife van—bike racers and Winning subscribers all. The Panasonic-Sportlife team was to our select audience the ultimate Belgian PRO team. Ekimov and Ludwig signed a few autographs before sitting down on the tail of the van. What happened next was a revelation to me.

I had read that pro cyclists got their legs massaged and had even seen a short clip of a post-race massage on Tour de France coverage, but the pre-race massage was news to me. Further, the experience was my first with a warming embrocation. I watched as the soigneur applied the cream to the pros legs, watched as his thumbs and fingers moved through their hamstrings as if he were pushing through pudding; bread doesn’t knead this easily.


Suddenly, the aroma hit me. It was distinctly European, heady and exotic, as if it were the smell of bicycle racing itself. I had no idea that the massage was helping to warm their muscles in anticipation of the day’s stage. It took talking to a Cat. II teammate of mine to explain how a proper pre-race massage with a warming “liniment,” as he called it, could help prepare a cyclist for the day’s demands.

That I’d been exposed to something I hadn’t read about in any of the magazines made me feel like I had been let in on a secret. I was hooked. That there could be a wealth of hidden knowledge not even hinted at in the magazines gave the sport a new depth for me. As much as I loved the straightforward simplicity of my impression of bike racing, the idea that your success might depend on your pre-race knowledge and ability to prepare made bike racing alluringly complicated.


Before my next race I went out and bought a tub of Icy Hot. It didn’t have the impressive Euro scent but I was amazed at its ability to shut out the cold. More than anything, what stayed with me from that day was the smell of the embrocation and the way their muscles, especially their hamstrings, drooped from their legs as if they were wet cloth. I couldn’t yet reconcile how something so relaxed, so without tension, could contain such explosive and controlled power.

20 comments:

-p said...

Yeah, the Icy Hot probably didn't have the same herbal tinge to it.

Ari said...

I used to wait in anticipation for the new Winning every month. Then I would read it cover to cover and analize the photos under a microscope. That was our only source of anything Euro.
good times,
Ari

franc said...

duuuhhhh......, where have you been all these years? since time immemorial, a good rub down prior to ignition has always been de rigeur.

and to post this "epiphany" now, to what end? more "euro pro" jerk-off?

find something meaningful to share, or just stay quiet like you have been.

oldFonzie said...

Since time immemorial, Franc? Wow. Glad to hear that. You must be a trackie. Trackies love their icy hot to stay warm between events on cool evenings.

That's where I got my first wiff of Euro-liniments. This German junior champ, Rob Lowe, came over for the summer to race in Northbrook back in '82. He didn't smell like Icy Hot, it was my first scent of a different world.

I dunno, I liked the article. It really illustrated how far bike racing in the US has come from the days of Winning Magazine. It's funny, these days Ekimov is famous in the US for his Postal and Disco days. Probably more recognized than LeMond.

Average people now know what the Tour de France is and the difference between a grimpeur, rouler and sprinter. But there was a day, not too long ago that all of this was mystery.

Also, the article nicely shows how something as complex as cycle racing can leave volumes to learn even after deep analysis and study. It was a nice close up on a big picture.

Great pics by the way. The piece really captured a nostalgia for a time not too long ago.

Joe said...

Ah, welcome back.

Not long after I discovered BKW (the blog) I picked up some BKW (the rub) from a local shop. The smell of embrocation has become the smell of a ride. On mornings when I am having trouble motivating myself to get out the door, it's usually when the smell of the embrocation hits my nose that things start looking up.

Anonymous said...

You can get away with mild embrocation (if you need any at all) all winter in Australia. My new favourite is Freddy's Choice. I think it is Dutch. Nice and peppery. My first introduction to any form of embrocation was quite a long time ago when someone gave me the remnants of their tube one crisp early spring day before a kermesse in Holland . . . one whiff, and I am there again, trying to live a dream. Thanks BKW. This is much better than doping. As always, I nod in agreement with Oldfonzie.
Regards,
Aussie Joe.

streighty said...

franc, don't read it if you don't like it--get a life you arrogant ass--better yet, go to a counselor to deal with your low self esteem

Faris said...

Yup love the haters that aren't even man enuff to post with a link. LOL whatajoik!

bikesgonewild said...

...& thus the fascination w/ embrocation...

...ari & fonzie...before 'winning' it was 'international cycle sport' & gary fisher & owen mullholland's old 'mirror d' cyclisme's...(those two guys have been around & paying attention to 'all things cycling' since they were kids)...looking at those old fotos i learned brakes don't have to be set up as "front brake = left hand"...

...made sense to me...being right-handed meant a stronger right hand...front brake is about 70% of the breaking power, ergo, that's how i'll do it...

...those kinda facts aren't usually written down, but 'if you pay attention' or listen to the right people...esoteric info abounds...

...nice contribution, franc...now, what exactly was your point again...

bikesgonewild said...

...duh, on spelling "braking"...damn...

Anonymous said...

where is your hometown that they raced? Eki is awesome -- so down to earth and humble.

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam said...

The tour de trump/dupont day where great. However Panasonic was very Dutch.

Jim Behrens said...

I was there that day and still have a water bottle that both of them signed.

Jimbo said...

Folks, Franc is a troll. Don't feed the trolls.

juzme said...

As a newbie-- only been riding road since late 1970s, on and off for years but now fully committed enthusiast for several-- I diggin' the insights from you that've been deep into the sport for all your lives. Gotta admit I'm a little envious 'cause there's no way to learn all this esoteric knowledge in short time, but fun tryin'. Great entertainment from BKW, plus stuff that helps soothe the beast within. Pics make me remember my peripheral voyeur presence in cycling since baby days. Grazie. PS-- Franc's sourness: yechhh. Hope I live several states away from him. Keep that stink outta my mountains.

Frenchy aka Bike Boy said...

Where the pictures from the 1990 edition of the Tour De Trump?

When the race ripped through central park in NYC I patrolled through mechanics areas for old tubulars that were tossed and I found the jackpot. I ended up with some sweet tubulars that had maybe a little tiny nick in the tread but were otherwise perfect: Pro is being able to take a 100 dollar tubular after only 15 miles on it and toss it...I even ended up with a few that were busted that I opened up and patched...what a great day for a 15 year old...It was highlighted with seeing super Honch Lemond take a wiz in the park at the side of the road during the race. It was there that I understood what I considered fast was a stroll for the boys.

strangelife said...

Lavit Warm-up oil...that's hard-as-nails cycling in a bottle.

I remember some of the older guys used to make their own...witchhazel, baby oil, isopropyl alcohol, and I forget what else.

Anonymous said...

franc = a complete and utter jerk off!

Great post, keep up the good work. This site is great for the cycling juices, even when the sport is taking a drubbing.

Olefonzie nailed it this time.

Again, keep up the great work guys.

Mike said...

Leg warmers are for training.

Embrocations mean race day! Even if it's 100 degrees in the shade.

-- TrueBlue