James Lipton, pee stains and taking the short way home. An incomplete recap of this year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

After last week's post about my recent visit to Belgium, I realized that I still had some pictures I'd like to share, as well as some thoughts (I think calling them "insights" would be overselling them) about the trip. Here they are.

The short way home
Not long ago, I wrote about the fact that during last year's Tour of Flanders, I saw an Euskaltel rider making his way through a country road far, far away from the race. He'd clearly gone down at some point, and appeared dazed. He was riding through a non-descript Belgian town, and was probably riding to the finish in what he thought was the quickest way there after having abandoned the race (though local hosts told me it most certainly wasn't). It was hard to watch a professional who had been completely broken by the race, and as a result I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of the unusual event.

Well, imagine my surprise, when during this year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, I once again saw a small orange dot up ahead, as we made our way from one spot in the race to the next. Was it another Euskaltel rider? Nope. This time it was an Accent Jobs-Williems Veranda rider. Like last year's Euskaltel rider, this guy looked dazed and exhausted. Also like the Euskaletel rider, he refused our offer to give him a lift. Seeing this once again, and realizing that it's clearly much more common occurrence than I originally realized, I got my camera out, and made a note of his race number. It still felt wrong to do so.

 Sjef De Wilde. #223.

Be like a pro and look like a pro by doing what the pros do
Many have previously written loving soliloquies about every single aspect of how professionals dress, behave and act. In some cases, these things are noted in an effort to mimic their behavior. So for those who want to act and try to look like professionals, here are some observations.

At the start of the race, I noticed just how many riders like to wear their legwarmers over their shorts (no doubt to make it easier to remove them once the race really gets going and they warm up). I also noticed numerous pairs of legs that were brilliantly shiny, though many had not been shaved in a week or more. But perhaps the most interesting thing I noticed is what may be a rising trend among professionals, so those who seek to emulate them should take note: pee stains, sometimes massive ones are a hot new trend.

While professionals don't have a monopoly on the pee stain department (they are common in amateur races and group rides too), the sheer number and size of them has led me to believe that this is the newest part of professional aesthetic that amateurs will be imitating. So remember, if you want to be cool, you have to pee yourself. Tip: blue shorts seem to excel at showing these off. Just ask riders from Saur-Sojasun.

For obvious reasons, I couldn't bring myself to purposefully photograph any of the big pee stains I noticed. By mere chance, I did come upon a less than impressive one in the background of a picture I took though, and I present it here merely as proof.

What turns you on?
Sometime ago, Stevil from All Hail The Black Market visited the HTC Highroad team presentation. Once there, he tried to ask professionals a fabulous question from Chuck Klosterman's "IV" (you can read the question, and the rest of his post here). Clearly influenced by Stevil's choice in line of questioning, but undeterred by the not-so-great reaction that he received, I chose to proceed in a similar fashion. In my case, I tried asking professionals who I met the same questions that James Lipton asks of actors on his TV show. I did this in the spirit of good fun, while hoping to uncover what professional journalists refer to as "a few choice nuggets", or "nuggs" for short. In my mind, these interviews would be amazingly funny and insightful, and would provide great content for the blog.

As you can already imagine, however, this didn't go well, particularly when I arrived to that most awkward question, "what turns you on?" With the slight language barrier, what is already an odd question turned brutally confusing for most. After only approaching four riders, I decided to bail on the idea while still managing to retain some dignity. Needless to say, the audio recordings of me asking these questions will remain sequestered for all of eternity, and will never be heard by anyone again, me included, because the long uncomfortable silences are simply too much to bear.

Gravely ill
While I'm clearly not an industry insider in any way, my trips to Europe have allowed me to speak with, and overhear conversations among people who are legitimately involved in both the bike business, and in bike racing. Those moments make me feel a bit like I'm a child who is suddenly thrust upon the adult table during a holiday meal, and thus overhears things not meant for his young and tender ears. Chief among the conversations that come up are serious rumors of doping, and ongoing investigations, as you might expect. 

Even with that topic aside, it's clear that many of these people speak about cycling with a despondent and resigned tone, much in the way that you'd speak about a family member who is gravely ill, in a coma, and still in the room when you are discussing him or her. There's a fatalist tone, one I couldn't place at first, until one person in particular put it plainly. "It's almost like the sport, and many of those involved, are daring us to still love it and follow it." I myself don't necessarily share this opinion, but was overwhelmed by how common it appears to be. This, in turn, appears to feed an overall feeling of "us versus them", meaning that we know the inner workings of the sport (and are faced with that reality), and the fools in the campers with the flags are clueless. Hmmm.

Did you ever wonder if a director sportiff might consider making a friendly bet on the outcome of a race? Well, I'm here to tell you that they will, but would also like to add that the five euro they put down will more than likely not be on a rider in his team.

Sound the alarm
Three years ago, while walking down the last climb of stage 7 at the Tour de France with my brother, I heard a high-pitched, almost girly, nasal voice coming up behind me. It was Levi Leipheimer, speaking with a teammate as they both made their way downhill after finishing the stage. This year at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege start, I suddenly heard a similarly high-pitched, almost girly voice. The culprit? Fellow American Chris Horner. While I often have trouble identifying some riders due to their glasses and helmets in person, Horner unwillingly announced who he was by sounding an alarm of sorts. Another reason to like the guy.

Standing around in the freezing rain in Remouchamps (Philippe Gilbert's home town) you realize just how much people there love the guy. Many have custom screenprinted jackets, umbrellas and flags...all of which have a logo that is surprisingly similar to that of the American window company Pella.

Another interesting aspect of Gilbert fans is how they can run out of space twice while making one sign (see below). I also noticed how Gilbert's impressive season last year managed to push back riders who motor home owners previously supported. Consider, for example, the smaller Maxime Monfort sign in the camper's window. I saw many other similar examples, were mostly French riders had been pushed into the background, and their signs had grown smaller as the likes of Gilbert and Voeckler took center stage. This, I propose, is how the UCI should track points, not by victories.

Before the race, I spoke with and then gave quick respective man-hugs to both Uran and Henao. Even as a small Colombian, I was amazed by how tiny their upper bodies were, and instantly felt like I was hugging tiny mosquitoes. I say this, of course, in the most oddly flattering way possible. It was clear that these guys have whittled down their bodies to the bare essentials. Like the crew from a boat that's taking on water, they have chosen to throw cargo overboard that seemed valuable at some point.

And on the subject of Colombian riders, if you're going to post pictures of your Colombian teammate/roommate while he's asleep, at least learn how to spell the name of the country. It's ColOmbia, not ColUmbia. Come on now.

And now, here are the remaining pictures of my trip, which reminded me of the things I just shared with you.