2015.. Fixed crit racing was booming. Since the success of Red Hook Crit in NY, more races and race series were popping up in Europe. Oakley was launching a work/event space in London and the ECMC (European Cycle Messenger Championship) were going down in Milan. Up to this point, most of my trips over the pond had been confined to long race weekends in a single city. But with all of these amazing things going down at the same time I “planned” a rather epic European tour. Paris to meet up with my buddy JT and trade him one of the newly released MASH/Cinelli for his #49 LEGOR track frame ( I still think I got the better deal). From Paris we planned to race a couple of the NL Crit races (now one of the largest fixed crit series in Europe) before I headed south. Back to Paris, then a long train ride to Milan for the ECMC, followed by a short plane flight up to London for the opening of the new Oakley space. Crit racing, messenger racing, planes, trains and automobiles, all on a new (to me) frame, it sounded like a great time!
JT has had the same flat, equal distance from Gare Du Nord and Gare Du L’est, in the 9th District for years. It was always the base of operations for every adventure. This trip was no exception, many a jammer and beer’s were had on this balcony. A fresh baguette for 1 euro was merely a walk down the stairs to the corner bakery.
Mattia, from Legor, built JT a track frame to be displayed at NAHBS 2011. It was frame number 49 and it involved a cross country road trip with JT, Crihs, Mattia, and Dave Trimble (another story). Now after a Monster track win and more than a few RHC’s JT had Mattia build him a more modern track frame (tapered head tube, thicker tubes). Not wanting his old frame to go unridden, JT traded me the old LEGOR for a freshly released Cinelli/MASH work frame (that I still don’t think he ever built up).
Couriier crew at the old old office with the Jeepsy bike!
Waking up late, hungover, with only minutes from when your train leaves would be a recipe for disaster in America.. but in Euro it’s no big deal. Rush to the train station, remove wheels, stuff both bikes and wheels in an oversized duffle bag, stuff them into the baggage area and pass out. From couch to blissfully sleeping through the French country side in 15 minutes.
Rolling up to the first race of the weekend in Rotterdam, it was great to see the familiar faces of my dudes Paulo Bravini and Alessandro Bruzza of the Cinelli/Chrome team. This was the first year of the Cinelli/Chrome project and I knew these dudes from racing RHC Milan in the past. It was rad to see them in their new colors.
Kermesse racing has been a huge thing in Dutch racing and around Europe in general. It finds it’s origins in races held the same day as a town festival, a perfect opportunity for local amateurs and traveling pro’s to race in front of a cheering crowd for cash and glory. Today Kermesse races generally mean a weekend criterium race centered within a town or city. Races happen like clock work every hour, and a fixed gear race is wedged in between the masters and pro categories. The courses are closed to traffic and the locals set up shop in their front yards and along the sidewalk to cheer on the racers and take in the crowds.
There is cash on the line for the podium but also for prime laps (designated sprint laps during the race). This keeps the pace high but also allows racers to earn train fair and beer money! I’m a sucker for a cash prime and all weekend I made it my goal to make as many euros as I could, needless to say there was plenty of beer money all weekend.
I guess you don’t need to stand on the podium to get a kiss from the podium girls. It was a bit weird as I see podium girls as being a rather sexist aspect of cycling culture. But here in the heart of the Low Countries, tradition is alive and kicking so “when in Rome.”
As with RHC the racing scene in Europe finds it roots in street racing, and after the Criterium in Rotterdam we followed some locals to an alleycat starting at a nearby tiki bar. Too tired after a day of chasing euro’s, JT and I heckled at the start. There was even a waiver for racers to “sign their life away” in case anything went sideways.
From Rotterdam, we stayed at our friends Tonguy’s house in Brussels for the evening before heading to Antwerp for the 2nd race of the weekend
The LEGOR is a ripping criterium frame!! Built before the idea of a “fixed gear crit bike” was born. Mattia build a fast handling track bike with a low bottom bracket. JT used to complain that he scrapped pedals all the time in alleycats, but when racing a crit the low and fast geo was a blast to rip on! I drew on these ESSOR carbon wheels right before I left on this trip and they looked so sick at speed!
JT was “off his form” but that didn’t stop him from sending it almost every lap just to mess with people, nor did it stop him from drinking all my beer.
The casualness of these crits was amazing, they were fierce races no doubt. But everyone just rode in from the train station, flipped their wheels and swapped pedals and started racing.
There are a lot of familiar faces from the RHC circuit looking young and concerned about JT’s attack in this photo. These smaller races prepared scores of racers for the bigger international events to come.
Two days, 2 races, countless beers, and we were on a train back to Paris for a “recovery” ride the next day.
Once back in Paris, JT rounded up his local crew and we went on a rip through the countryside to shake the legs out. Then on to Milan the next day!
The train ride from Paris to Milan was an eye opener for me, I had never traveled more than a few hours by train.. so to spend 10 hours through multiple countries and mountains was amazing. Makes me wish we had the transit infrastructure to travel this way back home in America.
Straight off the train to some liquid refreshment, as with most cities the easiest way to find a messenger is hang around the local bar/coffee shop until one appears. That Yashica T4 served me well for years, if only I could find the film photo’s of this trip LOL.
It didn’t take long before a courier whom I had never met rolled along. Spotting my messenger bag and bike correctly surmised I was in town for the race and instructed me to follow him on his last few deliveries before the the alleycat start. Not one to argue, I watched his bike as he cleared up his last few drops then we rolled to the opening race start!
From the train to alleycat start in only a few hours, I found myself ripping around the central district of Milan trying not to lose the locals or my wheels.. When people say cobble stones you think smallish square stones. In Milan they are the size of skateboard decks with huge gaps between them, left over from when they built the city center 700 odd years ago! Milan has a series of ring roads that circle the center of the city so navigating outside of the rings can be hectic. After a few minutes I gave up trying to figure out where I was and just followed the locals in a never ending string of cutty alley dips and turns.
Photo’s proved you made it to the checkpoints.. I was a bit dazed and confused when I took this at one of the many Memorial Arches listed on the manifest
All good alleycats end at a party.. and this was no normal alleycat! This was the opening race of the 2015 ECMC’s. Everyone who is anyone in the European messenger community was there racing, drinking, passing out, waking up, building their bikes or losing money in dice games.
The next morning, too bright and too early, my good friend Andrea who lives in Milan invited me out for an “easy morning ride” with our mutual friend Frenk Martucci (of RHC fame) who was in town to try his criterium legs at a messenger race. This spirited jaunt through the farm land surrounding Milan work up my legs and burnt the remaining booze out of my system.
I had been to Milan 3 times previous for RHC, but it was always in October and the weather, while tolerable, was never nice. This trip however it was the peak of summer! It’s amazing to see a place you have been countless times in a new light! Andrea has always been a beacon of the PMA and stoke, and his JETLAG rides are infamous for punishing the unsuspecting traveler fresh into town.
A large part of messenger championships is getting to know the course before you race, memorizing the locations of all the checkpoints so in the heat of the race you don’t have to reference your map to route yourself. I took no chances and attached my map for easy reference…also it meant I could goof off while my friends Toto and Ras from Copenhagen did the hard work.
Right before qualifiers I was coerced into racing the Dispatch Race as part of the “wildcard international team".” A dispatch race is run on the same closed course as the championships. But rather than allowing a racer to route themselves, a dispatch race is a team of racers directed by one central dispatcher. The dispatcher is handed an enormous number of “jobs” to be completed at the beginning of the race and it is up to them to route their “couriers” in the most efficient way. Needless to say our star studded team was lead by none other than the International Party Dude Matt Savoia, directing myself, CMWC Champion Austin Horse and Fuego from Paris!
Fuego is owner/operator of Couriier , the sister company of TCB (RIP) in Paris. He has been a close friend and race buddy for years!
After the Dispatch race there were qualifiers for the finals the next day, with hundreds of racers vying for only 80 starting places in the final race the qualifiers were a ripping opportunity for the quickest couriers in Europe to show what they could do. You are gridded for a LaMans style start based on your performance in Qualifiers.
Checkpoint to checkpoint during Qualifiers with my dude Handsome Charles from Paris, we both made it into the final race.
A quick flip of the rear hub and a pedal swap got the LEGOR into Messenger race mode. The race course was 1/2 local park and part city streets, all closed off to minimize any home-field advantage. Checkpoints simulated offices where couriers can pick up and drop off packages. Racers are given multiple manifests of jobs to complete, then set loose to route themselves in the quickest way possible.
I met Austin Horse in NYC 2008, I was stopped on a street corner in Manhattan looking at an upside down map totally lost and he took time out of his work day to show me how to get where I was going and the best hot chocolate in Midtown. We have been racing around the world ever since, most recently going 1 and 2 at the Cycle Messenger World Championship in Melbourne Australia a few months before. Austin had also won the NACCC (North American Cycle Courier Championships) in Denver 2015… he would go on to win the ECMC in Milan and become the first person ever to win all 3 championships in one year!
Once racers get their manifests they have to route themselves on the fly, one of the reasons I prefer a track bike for messenger races is you can route and race at the same time without worrying about hitting your brakes, maybe not the safest option, but it works!
Post race you PARTY and then you party some more!! Racing is a very important part of any championship, but the real reason we all get together is to drink and trade stories about #messlife around the world. We may speak different languages, carry different packages and ride in different cities but the job unites us all.
The Swedish Drinking Team was in full force keeping the party going all night long, there are 6 or 7 countries worth of couriers and drinks in this photo!
Hangovers are best cured with Kebabs.. and when you can’t find a Kebab some Kebab chips will do, VIVA THE KEBAB
RAS, TOTO, LALO, ME - shredders from around the world .. who loiter hungover outside soccer stadiums..
A good friend of mine Camilla Candida Donzella lives in Milan, in fact the first time I came to Milan for RHC 2011 I stayed on her couch. She started tattooing and the night before I left I got some good luck to take home with me.
Some people hate on Milan as a dirty industrial city, favoring Florence, and Rome as the “real” Italy.. But to me this will always be what I think of when I remember Italian summers
A quick plane flight and the bike is back together. This time in London for the launch of the Oakley #inresidence space. I had been out to London a few times the year before to help design the space and programs, it was rad to see the finished project!
No big deal, hanging out with some legends of professional cycling trying to act like I fit in.
If you can’t fit in, teach them your tricks. Kind of blown away that Victoria Pendleton was down for a hardstyle.. but then again she is a total badass so it makes sense.
The next day I hopped on a plane home, criteriums, alleycats, championships, tattoos, new friends, old friends, pro racers, too many beers and kebabs to count, 5 countries, 13 days around Europe in the best way possible. The places a bike can take you are amazing, buy the ticket, take the ride.