Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dinner with the Piil Family

Let me start with apologies. I don’t mean any disrespect in rushing my reports on the Saturday events. My schedule became crowded with obligations and I could not sit and write as I had hoped.

Let me follow up with a comment on modesty. I do not fall for the fanfare of Mario Cipollini for his accomplishments, although he earned every degree of them. What has stunned me is the humility of cycling compared to the bullshit braggadocio of crappy American athletes – high school football players who win things like state titles only to poop-the-bed of real professional athletic tests at the top level. I don’t begrudge them for that, but I tire of cycling heroes who do things such as win a stage in the Tour de France and never consider themselves worthy of much praise.

And yet here I encounter such people who have done such things yet feel as if they have accomplished nothing……..This is sad. I’ll detail this later.

This day would end with a fantastic family dinner with my new best friend from Denmark, Peter Piil. He’s my announcing colleague. Super professional and proficient in Spanish, Danish, German, and history and art and sport and travel….We’re practically soul mates.

I’ll fill you in later on meeting Paul, his 80-year-old father in law who continues to ride 12 km each way every day and remains sharp as tack and thin as a rail. The entire family comes and goes by bicycle.

Americans cannot fathom this. As people wish to leave, they do so individually. It’s really, dare I say, an American concept. But in America people are stranded by the car in which they are attached. Everybody at this table – and we had perhaps 10 people – could go in and out of the dinner party as needed because most were traveling by foot or by bike. We sat on the ninth floor of this apartment, with all of Copenhagen beneath us, smearing fois gras on toast, devouring roast beef, and enjoying fresh melon. I got an overview of Danish history – from 800 AD to World War II – and a great deal of conversation, which I dearly craved. He is not just a wonderful announcer, but a TV personality in the making who wants to avoid the hype.

He is complimenting me incessantly about how I have “inspired” him. But after discussion I learn as a television reporter Peter has done the Olympics several times, W

We had finished the day with the junior men and the elite women’s road race. The junior men’s event would see a remarkable finish with Pierre Henri Lecuisinier – I know, sounds like expensive kitchen equipment, pounding away in a late move and outlasting Martin DeGrave of Belgium and Steven Lammertink of the Netherlands.

And then we had the women’s event, an exercise in patience. This would go from being one of the cruelest slow races to one of the most savage finishes I’ve witnessed in decades of watching women’s cycling.

This thing started so poorly I had to walk around to get oxygen. This was curb-to-curb rolling about, with Judith Arndt riding dead-freaking-last for the first 80 km. I could not feel anything but pity for Emma Pooley of Great Britain, the only one to animate the event with attacks early on. But Arndt insulted her by remaining last. When I explained the term “DFL” to the Malaysian official she laughed for about 20 minutes.

Humor is in short supply in Malaysia.

After six of the dullest laps of racing ever witnessed, the attacks began. Arndt advanced. Linda Villumsen, a Danish native riding for New Zealand, tore off the front and sounded alarms. All the favorites put out the fire and then Clara Hughes of Canada countered. She opened up a massive gap quickly and held a 30-second margin with one lap to go. Farther back there would be crashes that took Evelyn Stevens out of the contest. Then came wave upon wave of leadout trains. With just two kilometers left they collected the brave Canadian. And only in the final turn, with 600 meters to go, did the Italians appear with 2010 champion Giorgia Bronzini in tow. They fired uphill to the line and put Bronzini perfectly in place to outsprint Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and Ina Teutenberg of Germany. The result nearly matched 2010, with Vos scoring her fourth consecutive silver medal in the event.

From there I headed back with Philippe to the press office and sat around with a bunch of friendly French guys. Up walks Sean Kelly, speaking perfect French with an Irish brogue (strange, eh?). Next to me is Charly Mottet, who works as a technical delegate for the UCI. And we drive back with Philippe Chevalier. I would later learn in another drive with him that he was a rider but “not a champion”…..And then he notes that he rode with Greg LeMond for Cyrile Guimard’s Renault-Gitane team. Afterwards I learn he won a stage in the Tour de France, but he modestly describes himself as “not a champion.”

Eeeesh…. The humility of it all.

I arrive to the hotel to find Peter. He drives me across town to his in-law’s apartment. En route I learn that in Denmark cars are taxed at 180 percent of their value. But as a result of that the prices of cars are so low that people will travel to Denmark, purchase a car, and ship it home at a huge savings. People that do own cars own tiny ones.

We arrive at the apartment and use an elevator that is no larger than a phone booth to get to the ninth floor. Two average Americans could not fit in this thing.

We arrive to this splendidly compact home that overlooks Copenhagen at night. There is a table set for 10. This would be the only meal I shared with another person the entire time in Copenhagen. Announcing for a straight week requires a lot of quiet time alone. That and I don’t know anybody, so the dinner invitations do not come to me.

But I adored this family as they splashed between Danish and English for their guest.

I had no idea what to expect for food. We started with a loaf of fois gras and toast and jam. This was followed by cole slaw and roast beef and potatoes. We finished with fresh melon.

Quietly at the end of the table sat Paul. We had wine; he had good Danish beer.

Peter engaged me in a Reader’s Digest edition of Danish history, which is first written in 800 AD. The Romans never got close to these people and they did a lot of ass kicking over the years. These are the folks that put the Saxon into the Anglo-Saxon. Only then did they integrate our alphabet into theirs.

But in 1940 the Nazi’s swept in and occupied them on their way to Norway and Viktor Quisling’s attempt to match Hitler in both politics and haircut.

Paul was 10 years old then. He can recall assorted horrors of the war, notably when the Allies screwed up a bombing and destroyed a school.

The cool thing about Danish Resistance is how it involved bicycles. Every day the King of Denmark would ride about on horseback. This promenade became a daily declaration of Danish sovereignty. The citizens would escort him on bicycle. Each day became this massive bicycle celebration.

Peter and I hit if off fantastically and I dearly hope to return the favor when he and his wife, Charlotte, return to the US.

The only concern I had that night was stretching my voice the night before the elite men’s race. He drove me home in his compact Fiat through light drizzle, pointing out assorted landmarks.

I got into bed before the biggest day of my announcing career.

Thanks for reading. Two more dispatches after this!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you liked Denmark! I spent some of my youth there and go back occasionally to visit relatives.

    Boston, MA