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Behind THE Barriers Director’s Cut: Slingers

Sam Smith:

It’s the day after the Tabor World Cup in the Czech Republic and we are now driving to Prague for a day of fun and sightseeing. Yesterday was a very successful day for Rapha-Focus, with Zach McDonald getting a top five U23 result, three of the four women in the top 15 and Jeremy making history with seventh place in the elite men’s race. That’s the highest placing for an American elite man in a World Cup.

In addition to all these great results, I had a moment of triumph myself: I scored the best sausage I’ve ever had at a bike race. I’m not talking about one of the best sausages; I’m talking the best. Ever.

It was nice and plump, reddish in color, juicy, a little bit greasy and a little bit spicy. They gave it to me on a flat piece of white cardboard with a huge dollop of spicy mustard on the side. I expected it to come on a bun, but instead it was just placed on the cardboard, bunless. Then, the sausage slinger placed two slices of hearty, fresh bread right next to it. That was the brilliant part. This left the sausage pure, and presented the flavors unhindered by a cheap, flavorless bun. For me, it was out of the ordinary and exciting, but for the sausage slinger it was just business as usual.

This is one of the things I love about making “Behind THE Barriers,” and being involved in bike racing in general — tasting and experiencing all of the local food and drinks of all the far-fetched locations that we visit. Today is one of the rare occasions that we get to do some real, hardcore, touristy sightseeing. Most of the time, we’re overwhelmed with the bike racing thing and all of the logistics surrounding it. Usually, we don’t even get to see all of the local must-sees. But eating is a necessity, and you have to make time for meals. So we always put the effort in to eat well, and hit at least a few of the local hot spots. All of those local foods that are business as usual for the people who live there, are blowing our alien minds.

Since we’re here in the Czech Republic at the moment, I’ll mention a couple of my favorite local delicacies. Of course, there’s Pilsner Urquell, which is widely considered the world’s first and best pilsner beer. We went to the brewery in Pilzen last year, and we are planning to go again later this week. You can get Pilsner Urquell all over the world, but people always say it’s never as good as when you get it on tap at the brewery, or in the surrounding area.

I never really put any weight to this claim until I went and tried the stuff. It has a sweet, crisp flavor that I wasn’t used to with any pilsner. I think I got used to a slight bitter skunkiness with all the other pilsners I’ve had. Getting the Urquell straight from the source was akin to the feeling those old Poland Spring commercials gave, where you saw a bear cub scampering past the snow-cloaked spring where all of its luscious water was supplied.

Then there’s the Becherovka. Already being a huge fan of green Chartreuse and Fernet, I fell in love with this herbal liquor when I was turned onto it last year. I wanted to bring some home because I heard it was kind of hard to find in the States. I didn’t get around to buying it until I was at the airport killing time before my flight home. I went right over to the Duty Free shop and picked up a big bottle. The woman at the counter asked for my passport. “Oh, no, no, no!” she said, “you are from the U.S. You cannot buy this. You get this one.” As she picked up a nip-sized bottle from the counter. Turns out no other country in the world has the stupid 100ml liquid carry-on rule. But since the U.S. does, us Yanks aren’t allowed to buy tons of booze in the airport.

The one other bit of Czech food I’ll mention is the crazy potato dumplings. They make these dumplings that are encased in potato and have ham inside of them. Then they serve them with sauerkraut. They are incredibly rich and delicious. I think they are a pretty big mainstay here, because I saw them in the frozen food section at the grocery store just the other day.

It’s not just food in the Czech Republic, either. All I’m going to say about the beer in Belgium is: too good, too cheap, too many.

The wild thing about race food in Belgium is that they sell “Hamburgers”. But when you actually buy one, look at it, and bite into it, you realize its not actually a hamburger that you’re familiar with. It’s more like an oversized Spam patty on a bun. I think they interpret the “ham” part of “hamburger” more literally over there.

When we’re going to races in the States, I have a couple standout food items. The fried cheese curds at The Old Fashioned in Madison, Wisconsin, are great. I can never resist the unlimited variety of bourbon in Louisville, even though nice bourbons do horrible things to my body chemistry. It’s one of those things where I wake up the next morning in an almost feverish state thinking, “is this worth it?” Apparently it is, because I continue to sample every year we go.

Even though it’s my hometown, I have to mention how much I love fried seafood and lobster when I’m in Gloucester. And if you’re ever at the Providence race, don’t forget to grab a “coffee milk” at some point. (Look it up, I’m not even going to try to explain it.) Then there’s the races in the Pacific Northwest like Bend, Oregon, where we always end up talking about gooey ducks. I’m not really sure why we always end up talking at length, and with endless fascination, about these weird giant clams, but then never eat them. Maybe it’s just because they’re weird giant clams!

The last thing I’m going to mention is something I consider a local secret, and I’m not sure I even want to give it away. I guess I’m not completely giving it away, because I remember what street it’s on, but I don’t remember the name of the place that serves it. The place is on St. Laurent Street in Montreal. It’s a little hole in the wall diner that stays open late for all the drunk kids. I go out of my way to stop here whenever I’m going to the Mount St. Anne World Cup. Two of the most iconic foods in Quebec are poutine and smoked meats. Both are ridiculously good on their own, but get this: at this place, you can get poutine with smoked meat slathered on top of it all. I bet that would impress even Geoff Kabush.

This episode of “Behind THE Barriers” comes to you from Providence, Rhode Island. I didn’t drink any coffee milk while we were there. To tell the truth, I don’t even like coffee milk.

Enjoy the episode!

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