The abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren, racing bikes in Belgium, and PED’s

Last night, I got a chance to try a beer that very few people in the world have had. The Trappist Westvleteren 12 is one of three beers brewed by the monks of the Saint Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren, Belgium. Trappist beer is revered by beer aficionados around the world, and Westvleteren is often regarded as the best beer of them all.

It isn’t easy to get your hands (or mouth) on a Westvleteren beer. Much has been written about the lack of commercial availability. Even the Wall Street Journal featured the abbey in a 2007 story. The monks eschew marketing and the beer is only sold at the abbey, one case at a time. My good friend, Thom Reid, is a passionate beer enthusiast and a passionate cyclist. He made a trip to Belgium this past July with getting a case the primary objective. I loved the beer, as did Thom and our friend, Arthur Roti. We concluded that it was worth every mile of Thom’s trip. Several entrepreneurs have tried to profit from the exclusivity of the monk’s brew. There are websites where you can order by the bottle. These folks game the system like a scalper does, by buying the beer through the traditional method and then reselling it. I know that is capitalism in good form, but I think it is still lame.

I was excited when Thom invited us over to watch some cycling videos (which I rarely do) and enjoy the fruits of his travel. He has been researching Trappist beers for years. I was happy that he had a great trip to Belgium. 15 years ago, I spent the summer of 1994 in that country. It was a tremendous experience for a college kid at the time. I rode my bicycle 3500 miles that summer and raced 18 times around Belgium in their classic style race, the kermesse. I got a rude awakening about the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs in the sport of cycling. All of the busts in recent years are just media hype. Drugs have tainted the sport for as long as winning has been important.

My view of the sport has never been the same since that summer. One race in particular, was the tipping point for me. Before the race, I was relaxing in the changing room, which was set up in the detached garage of a local Flemish family. I watched a top amateur rider open up a “tackle box” full of pharmaceuticals while his soigneur rubbed his legs down. He popped a few pills and tossed aside a needle kit as he fished in his box. I asked what that was for. He said, “to clear the lungs” in broken English, and referred to some sort of asthma like condition. Sure, I thought. In the race, this guy’s eyes were ready to bug out of his head. He was an animal in the main break of the day, which I made with 15 other riders including this dude. I took all my pulls but suffered some serious abuse as the locals rolled through. There was an Irish guy in the group with me and he encouraged me to hang on, but every time I cycled through the paceline, the Belgians were slapping me on the back, banging elbows, and even smacking me on the helmet. They screamed at me in Flemish as if I knew what they were saying. Was I gapping them? Was I pulling too hard? Was I not riding close enough? I had it after 30 minutes of this. I didn’t want to go down. I dropped back, giving up the best chance I had to place in a kermesse that summer. No regrets. I ride for fitness and fun, not for the bouquet of flowers. That night, we had more than a few beers while discussing the state of the sport. Cycling with these whackos on amphetamines was no fun.

All of those memories came back last night while I sipped my Westvleteren 12. I remember 1994 like it was yesterday.

We enjoyed our beer while watching the 2009 World Cyclocross Championships. The race was held in the Netherlands, but the race was dominated by who else…the Belgians.

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I crashed out of the Singlespeed Championship @renocxnats (on the dreaded off-camber) but not before having more fun. @artroti43 raced on the frosty course ❄️ at day break. 🚴🏽 We met a lot more @horsteng #crossspikes customers. I hung with little bunny hopper 🐰 Miles, the Junior 11-12 year old Silver Medalist.🥈I cheered for Nic, who represented @the_ccap in the Junior 15-16 age group. @sportstert and Iva came down from Tahoe to cheer LOUDLY for me. 🎺 I got my badly sprained ankle taped and iced. I had a beer. 🍺 I’m even looking forward to my red eye flight home ✈️ . Best of all, I’ll see @trailrunningmom and the kids on Sunday. I can’t explain the sensation, but despite the pain, I’m ready for next #Cyclocross season to begin... after some rest. #teamhorstsports #cxnats #horstengineering @parkavebikeshop #crossisboss #lifedeathcyclocross #crossiscoming You could say that at least for this week, I’m married to my #bicycle - - -

@renocxnats #cxnats @seven_cycles #sevencycles #teamhorstsports #horstengineering #crossspikes @horsteng #chapelofthebells #Cyclocross #lifedeathcyclocross Good day representing @horsteng at @renocxnats in the 45-49 age group. It’s a great course. The wind was blowing hard, but the sun finally came out. I’m happy with 37th place but should have made a move to get to 29th, which was 30 seconds ahead. That’s a long way when you are going flat out and cramping. 4,500 foot elevation was a factor. I’m disappointed that they cut one lap of my race when I wasn’t close to getting lapped by the leaders. You train this hard and come all this way; and you want to get the most racing for the $ and time invested. They only let 25 riders do the full six laps. The only positive to come out of that was that I watched fellow New Englander @adammyerson execute a perfect final sprint to win the Stars and Stripes again. Teammate @artroti43 had a good ride too. 
@seven_cycles #sevencycles #horstengineering #teamhorstsports @bicycleseastct #crossspikes #cxnats #renocxnats #Cyclocross #crossisboss @therichardsachs didn’t have the race he hoped for but it was still great to see him @renocxnats and “pit” for him. He said he officially started his second off season, but first of 2018. @artroti43 and I played soigneur/mechanic for 90 minutes, but minus the massage! atmo #renocxnats #richardsachs #teamhorstsports @horsteng #crossspikes #hauteframebuilding #Cyclocross #crossisboss #lifedeathcyclocross I previously hadn’t published this image, but it recently received an Honorable Mention in the 2017 @appalachianmountainclub Photo Contest for the People Outdoors category. Check out my blog (link in profile) for the interesting story of his photo (shot with this iPhone 6s), a trip report from this amazing Maine adventure, and past contest history. I love this image of two of my favorite women. I’m barred from submitting images to the 2018 contest, but I’ll be back in 2019. #appalachianmountainclub #baxterstatepark #katahdin Congratulations to Master Park, the Park Family, and the entire team at Park’s U.S. #Taekwondo at the Grand Opening of the new facility in the former VFW building. Our kids love it! So much better than being next door to the pawn shop and liquor store.😊#tkd 🇺🇸🇰🇷 This morning, the @trinitycollege Main Quad was bathed in beautiful sunshine ☀️but it was frigid and the wind was blowing! ❄️ The chapel was packed with an overflow crowd to celebrate the (shortened) life of a lovely friend. She will be missed. #circleoflife 🌏 #Repost @horsteng
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