Backpedal, From the Library: The Belgian Hammer...

You may notice a few of these Backpedal, From the Library posts over the next few days/weeks, as I attempt to bring the new From the Library tab (over in the right column) up to date. This one was originally posted at the Claremont Cyclist in April 2012.

"The Tour de France may be the pinnacle of cycling, but Belgium is the sports greatest and most grueling classroom."

Thus for years the United States has been sending many of its more promising racers to the small nation in northwest Europe in order to gain international experience and test themselves against the worlds best. Many of the young men and women go as members of USA Cycling's National Development Team, while others have gone, and continue to go, on their own. 

The author draws some from his own experience racing in Europe as a young American in the early 1990s, but the vast majority of the book follows the current crop of neo-pros and hopefuls from the United States, both men and women. If you have at all followed the course of American racers in Europe you have likely heard of the USA Cycling house at Izegem in Belgium, originally managed by Noel Dejonckheere with his wife Els. Less well known are the other, similar "houses", such as the Cycling Center in Oostkamp, or the Chain Stay in Oudenaarde, places where young racers from around the globe have been able to set up a base of operations as they challenge themselves and attempt to find their place in the professional peloton.

While Europe may be the arena in which these racers realize their full potential, the story does not end there, as the author follows the paths of Phinney, Holloway, King, etc, back to the States where all they have learned in Europe is put on display before the home crowd. It is an often harsh story, there are no easy breaks, no smooth paths. All who undergo the trials realize their potential in one way or another, successfully or otherwise. The Belgian Hammer is an interesting, and quick, read documenting a lesser known aspect of the sport.

Lee, Daniel  The Belgian Hammer: Forging Young Americans Into Professional Cyclists  Halcottsville, NY: Breakaway Books, 2011