Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pavé, Pain, and Pesach: Paris-Roubaix 2009

Like many pro cycling fans, I look forward to Paris-Roubaix the same way an American football fan looks forward to the Super Bowl. My whole day was about anticipation leading up to this ultimate bike race, and excitement in preparing for it.

However, unlike most pro cycling fans, I'm an observant Jew, and since Paris-Roubaix this year falls on Chol HaMoed Pesach (the interim days of Passover), I had to curtail, or at least, customize my race-day party in order to fulfill the dietary restrictions of the holiday.

Luckily I'm married to an awesome cycling-supportive spouse, and in celebration of this classic race and in accordance with Pesach, we prepared kosher l'Pesach steak frites, matza pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil, and in lieu of a fine Belgian Ale (beer is not kosher for Passover), we sipped a nice, crisp kosher moscato. No, I don't think this is how they celebrated at the legendary Cafe de L'Arbre.

As for the race itself, Paris-Roubaix is something special. It's the race I saw in 1985 which first transfixed me and made me a cyclist. It's the race which inspires legions of cyclists and fans alike. It's a race which ignites national pride, especially amongst Flemish Belgian. Whether you know it as "The Queen of the Classics" or "The Hell of the North", the very visuals of this brutal race over the worst cobblestone roads in Europe through the barren farmlands of northern France, through the maddened throngs of fans and a backdrop of merciless rain, wind, mud, dust, crashes, and pain captivate us and draw us back year after year.

And it's what draws back men like Belgian Tom Boonen, who survived the merciless cobbles and stomped his way to an awesome third victory in a race which dates back to 1896. With the rare exception of men like Boonen, Paris-Roubaix is a race which favors nobody - the cobbles are blind assassins, but as Boonen himself has said: "You must be willing to suffer, suffer, suffer, and whomever suffers the most wins the race". Boonen knows how to suffer, but he also has that rare Belgian trait, which allows him to have a finer sense when racing at top speed on harsh surfaces in harsh conditions. And now Boonen has three wins, one away from tying the record of four wins by Roger De Vlaemick, though for right now he enjoys the company of great men like Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Looy, and Johann Museeuw.

Monday, April 6, 2009

De Ronde van Vlanderaan: Great Excuse to get rid of some Chametz

It's spring, beginning of April to be precise, and for Jews, that means only one thing: Pesach is coming. Pesach, better known when incorrectly translated as "Passover", is a week-long holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Israeli people from slavery in Egypt. The holiday has many factors, but the main one is the dietary angle, where leavened and grain products are completely avoided. This kind of food is known in Hebrew as "Chametz", and Jews the world over are commanded to completely remove all chametz from their homes and their possession. The result is a major round of "spring cleaning" prior to the holiday, where Jews go through their homes with proverbial fine-tooth combs searching out every last piece of chametz to either eat, throw away, or sell to a non-Jew.

April is also the start of the Spring Classics, a month where we see the hardest, most epic one-day bike races in the world, and the first race is always the Ronde van Vlanderaan. For those of you who don't speak Flemish (a prerequisite to being a real cyclist), the Ronde is simply "The Tour of Flanders". And of course, the Flandrian countryside is in Belgian, the spiritual homeland of cycling (kinda like cycling's Israel). So of course I was watching the Ronde, and watching Stijn Devolder ride away to his second straight win, and as is compulsory with watching pro cycling in Belgium, I had to drink a Belgian beer. In this case it was Leffe Blonde, which doubles as my official Shabbat beer.

The whole point of this post is this: I got to enjoy watching the Ronde, and in the process of finishing off my beers, which are chametz, I was both supporting my sport, supporting a Belgian Brewery, and doing the mitzvah of ridding my house of chametz prior to Pesach.

Jewish Cycling indeed!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cyclocross World Championships on TV Today!

Universal Sports TV, broadcast by NBC Television, will be showing the World Cyclocross Championships this afternoon. If you live on the East Coast on the United States, it will be aired from 5-6 PM. Local MABRA/MAC cyclists and cyclocrossers that subscribe to Comcast can find Universal Sports on channel 207. Otherwise, check channels and times on your local affiliate.

BTW, the Worlds happened back at the end of January in Hoogerheide, and pretty much all 'crossers know who won, but for all cyclists and non-cyclists, this is an awesome event to watch. However, don't forget to get your Shabbat preparations done, since right after the broadcast is over, it's gonna be time to set your lights and get dressed and ready to head out for mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 Lance Armstong Reveals He's Jewish!

...Actually, no he's not.

His real name is not really Levi Aronovich, he doesn't use a non-Jewish body double to race on Shabbat and Chagi'im, and Mellow Johnnys will not be opening up a shop in Tel-Aviv.

I've been getting smacked around all day by cycling-related April Fool's posting on the interwebs that I felt obliged to do one myself (Jewish-theme, of course). However, since today is a busy day for me, I did this post in, like, three minutes.

Here's a much better job of an April Fools post. This one is good also.