Racing, WWII, & Belgium
I met Bernie about a year ago on a club ride. It was a mish-mash of strong local riders and racers determined to tackle 70-miles. The pace was brisk and it didn’t take me long to notice Bernie. Smooth, fluid pedal strokes propelled him uphill with the grace of a gazelle.
Although I’m late to the sport of racing, I grew up (figuratively speaking) training with racers so I’m drawn to those whose power, cadence and form are a thing of beauty. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s an art form. So it was no wonder I noticed Bernie that day; his bike handling skills were that of a seasoned pro.
As fate would have it, we met later that summer at the oddest of places: touring a WWII B-17 bomber. He was there to take a ride in the old bird and was as giddy as a kid at Christmas. Prior to his flight, I learned about his love for WWII history and his Belgium heritage. When he shared tales of his father aiding the Allies during WWII, his face beamed with pride. Being a WWII junkie myself, and knowing that cycling greats like Eddy Merckx hail from Belgium, my curiosity about Bernie was piqued. So I asked him for an interview…
How long have you been cycling?
“I have been racing bikes for 47 years.”
What discipline are you?
“Road racing and track (velodrome.)”
What is a highlight from your early (perhaps) “glory” days?
“Trying out for the 1976 Olympics.”
Wow! Okay, so what happened?
“I raced for the Schwinn-Wolverine team in Michigan.”
Was this part of the Olympic development group?
“No. Just a local amateur team. Our coach (Mike Walden) produced many world class cyclists during the 70’s including Frankie Andreu.”
And what happened aside from (I’m assuming) not making the team?
“Correct, I didn’t make the team. There were qualifing races and you had to place 5th or better to get to next round. I placed 7th. I was attempting for the 4000m pursuit on the velodrome, which we had in Michigan.”
As an “over 50 cyclist”, what has impacted you the most in your training: longer recovery time? Loss of fast twich muscles? Weaker immune system?
“Longer recovery between hard efforts”.
What do you do to counteract this loss?
“More hard intervals, shorter rides, more lifting weights. Also choosing the right food to increase testosterone levels.”
Okay, so I’m afraid to ask but what foods do you recommend?
“There are many. Oysters, lean beef, brussel sprouts. You can research on-line. Also stay away from the T killers like sugar and alcohol.”
I know you have Belgium roots as well as family history per WWII. How have these impacted you as a cyclist?
“Yes both of my parents were from Belgium. I grew up listening to stories from my dad about how the Nazis overtook Belgium and the struggles of WWII. I also listened to stories about all the bike races and racers. My father didn’t now anything about American sports, such as baseball , football, basketball, etc, so I didn’t take an interest in them either. I believe my parents taught me how to suffer on the bike. Cycling can be cruel at times. You can only make it easy by working hard and being dedicated and making no excuses. Like riding in bad weather. Belgium has a lot of rain. If you only rode when the sun shined, then you would probably only ride 5 days per month. My moto is ‘There is no bad weather, just bad clothes.'”
Thanks, Bernie, for taking the time for this interview and providing the pictures.