If you’ve ever been to the Podium Cafe, you know that it shares a space with its soulmate operation, the Podium Frituur. Sure, not every bar needs a source of freshly-made frites in house, but we like to keep it first class here, and if our (possibly imagined) Belgian Cred is going to survive any scrutiny, good frites are the key.
Now, I’m not one to lecture anyone on how to make the perfect frite; I do OK but I live in the US where the standards are set by McDonalds. We’re working on it. Hell, if I were a top frite chef, I’d be filthy rich because every US city is crawling with people who would love to throw down $5 on some hot, crispy frites at 2am on a Saturday night, if only they could find some. But I’m not, so they can’t, and on it goes.
Sauces, however, that I can handle. I don’t hate people who put ketchup on fries, but I do feel a bit sorry for them. Mayo on frites is catching on, and Belgian style pubs might even venture out into the flavored mayo that makes a true Frituur a can’t-miss experience. Back on the old country, the frituur is as ubiquitous as Starbucks (bleh), and the true brick-and-mortar frituurs are known for long lists of mayo options. Wikipedia lists a couple dozen sauces, from classic aioli to sweet stuff to the spicy pepper varieties, and a few regional specialties in between (like Joppiesaus, or Sauce Lapin made with Sirop de Liege, prunes and god knows what else).
My go-to sauce has been Samourai Sauce, from day 1. The Belgificated spelling plus the ingredients (Indonesian chili and mayo) are all just pure magic, even if I’m pretty sure it’s zero percent Japanese. The internet tells me that it’s got an even more convoluted story, whereby it’s made with Tunisian pepper and came from North Africa along with many of the immigrants you meet on the streets of Ronse. But apparently there’s also an Algerian Sauce which is maybe distinct from Samourai Sauce. Clearly my degree in Frituur Studies from Zottegem University has not served me as well as my parents hoped. But I plan to return to Belgium soon to complete my master’s thesis.
Anyway, I thought it was time that the good folks at the Podium Frituur help out with race coverage, being good cycling fans. So we have collaborated to create, right now, the Sauce Awards, as follows:
Sauce Andalouse: a classic flavor (mayo, tomato and bell pepper) for the classic competitor, the rider of the hour, probably the winner of the race.
Samourai Sauce: the strong stuff for the strongest rider in the race.
Sauce Americain: Named for a country that is not known for its frite sauce acumen, and befitting of the race’s most disappointing rider.
This week we had three races. I watched two of them, missing out on K-B-K due to overconsumption of some very nice local whiskey and a general need for sleep. So I will turn over the Sauce Awards to you guys for that one. But for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Le Samyn, I’ll go with...
Sauce Andalouse: Zdenek Stybar, always threatening, sees his hard work pay off with a well-timed jump to a solo win.
Samourai Sauce: Greg Van Avermaet. Outfoxed in the finale but the Belgian strongman was as good as advertised.
Sauce Americain: Sep Vanmarcke. Went to hit the gas on the Molenberg and got a response not unlike punching the accelerator of a 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser filled with diesel fuel. Considering the former Omloop winner was coming off his first and second victories in three seasons, fizzling out early on was a shocker.
Sauce Andalouse: Florian Senechal. Local(ish) boy makes good on promise. Senechal is from Cambrai, in France but an easy ride to Dour, maybe 15km or so, where Le Samyn finishes. Senechal finished off a small-group sprint for his first Classic win.
Samourai Sauce: I’ll go with Niki Terpstra, the defending winner, although I could be talked into Stijn Vandenbergh, who rode like a beast to set up the Wolfpack’s winning move.
Sauce Americain: Lars Boom. The Roompot man, looking for a win to reestablish his credentials following some lean years, had it all there for him, only to drop the sprint in the very last few meters. Why? Not sure, but it may have had something to do with an attack from the select leaders’ group by Tim Declerq, which put the DQS rider under the Flamme Rouge alone as Boom gesticulated at his approaching teammates to do something. Eventually Elmar Reinders and Jesper Asselman arrived and got Boom back to Declerq, but you can’t help wonder what could have been if they’d more smoothly executed the task of covering (incredibly predictable) DQS attacks. No way the Wolfpack has their man screaming for help in the last 2km of a classic.
Singing the Blues
The perfect start for Deceunink Quick Step raises an important question: are they the New England Patriots of cycling, or are the Patriots the Quick Step of American Football? It’s a debate that has been roiling sports metaphor scholars around the world for a while now, and is at its boiling point. The two ultra-successful franchises share a style of dominance that is both pervasive (maybe even nauseating) and rooted in boring stuff like attention to detail and long-term preparation. They share an eminence grise at the helm who has so many successes to his name that people have stopped praising his admirable ambition and turned to speculating more darkly about his cruel intentions. Something has to give, one of these days, only it never does.
Recently Tom Boonen, the former god/rider and briefly a consultant last year for DQS rival Lotto, has talked about how the Wolfpack always seem stacked for the next classics season, by targeting riders years ahead of time, knowing who would be moving out. Senechal was targeted a while back, having briefly been a stagiare for the club in 2012 before going to Cofidis for some prep time, then returning back when he was ready to win. Most teams have a spot open up and start looking for someone who can fill it, but DQS, with their rock-solid Belgian brand, can not only count on top riders for those races giving them consideration; it’s probable that they’ve been linked to the club for years, like in their development days. Hiring young Senechal was a good way to ensure that he’d come back for his prime years. Oh, and Boonen’s role at Lotto fizzled after what he called a roster overhaul at the team, which the classics star had not signed up to take part in. The Quick Step-to-Lotto transition is a rough one most times...
Moar Cobblz Plz
As the peloton decamps for Italy and France, the cobbled races take a back seat, but next up is Nokere Koerse on March 20, and the course has supposedly gotten an injection of cobbles. Not only will the Nokereberg continue to be the last feature, but the final lap, completed I think four times total?, will include the cobbled stretches of the Lange Ast, Klosterstraat, Lededorp, Wannegem-dorp, and the famed Huisepontweg, the prettiest stretch of cobbles in Flanders. The end result is expected to be a peloton that has been scattered to the (cross) winds after being ground down by so many stretches of cobbles. This has been known to work, I may add.
OK, enjoy your crostini and cacio-e-pepe for the next week. Shit gets real right after.