Flags and Emblems

Lots of people find cycling coverage available in the United States to be overly nationalistic – and with good reason. I, too, would rather read a first or second interview with a Ballan, a Chavanel, or a Gilbert rather than an eighth with Vande Velde, a tenth with Zabriskie, or a 300th with Armstrong. Extend nationalism to linguistic brotherhood, and we’re in an even deeper hole. Look, I have British and Australian friends. They’re terrific people, and after a few hours of auditory acclimatization, I can even understand them. But can we spring for a translator every now and then?

Nothing against our fellow Americans and friends from the Commonwealth, we love them dearly, but variety is good, no? Don’t get me wrong, this inward focus is not confined to our shores – read the Belgian papers, and you’ll get far more coverage of Nico Eeckhout than Fred Rodriguez. That’s just the way the world works. But there are occasions when even I would actually argue for flying the flag a little higher, and this is one of those: Cole House wins the U23 GP Waregem. (Results sheet here.)

Photo courtesy USA Cycling

That Wisconsin native House made the 20 man break in the classically Belgian (read: cobblestones, cold, wind, rain) race in the heart of Flemish bike racing country is impressive on its own. After all, of 220 starters, only 38 made it to the finish of this mess at all. House’s victory, taken in a sprint over a final selection of 13 riders, is even more notable when you look at the composition of that break. For one, he was the only non-Belgian of the bunch – for an idea of how tough a situation that can be, look at Heinrich Haussler’s plight in Dwars Doors Vlaanderen, or read Joe Parkin’s excellent A Dog in a Hat. Suffice to say we ain’t the only ones with some nationalist leanings.

Second, House was the only representative of the U.S. Development team, which wouldn’t be as much of a concern if the break wasn’t stacked by the PWS Eijssen team (four riders), Wielergroup Beveren 2000 (three riders), and a couple of guys from WC Soenens-Yawadoo. To win in that situation takes more than great legs – it takes a good, calm head, a valuable asset that’s much harder to train than power or endurance. So if House has the wherewithal to keep his head during the late-race fireworks and uncork the sprint at the right place and time, he may indeed be the next U.S. classics contender in the making, as noted in his trade team’s (US-Swiss ProContinental BMC squad) dispatch. Even better, House is only 20 years old, meaning he’s winning tough races when he’s not even in his waning years of U23-dom. BMC is understandably excited about having snapped up that prospect, especially given that they’ve recently shoved their foot firmly in the door of Paris-Roubaix, which I’m told has cobblestones and occasionally unfavorable weather.

"House's victory is a big satisfaction and it confirms all the confidence we had in him and his abilities," BMC director John Lelangue said, adding that he has a few other young’uns in the spring classics hopper as well. "I am very happy with the way Ian McKissick has been fighting to improve on the cobbles, even though it might not be his particular area of specialization. And what we have seen from Chad Beyer and Brent Bookwalter all year is also very encouraging; these three riders along with Cole House will definitely do some very good things not only in the next years, but in the next weeks."

Photo Courtesy BMC Cycling Team

Finally, House has one other thing going for him – his name is Cole. And if you have a name that could conceivably be attached to a male soap opera lead – like, say, “Lance” or “Levi” – you’ve got a good shot at making it big time.

All that said, it’s probably not a good idea to hang too many hopes on a U23 win – there are plenty of guys who have those trophies on the shelf at home, but are working in offices or painting trucks instead of winning classics and grand tour stages. But having a look down the list of previous winners at Waregem, you’ll see some pretty familiar names, like Dirk Demol (1981), Marcel Wust (1994), Stijn Devolder (2000, 2001), Leon Van Bon (2002), Andre Griepel (2003), and Wouter Weylandt (2004). For House, what will be, will be, but that's not bad company to be in now, is it?