The cycling clubs here in the Netherlands are remarkable. Each has a grounds with a racing track and all the facilities you could need for showering and changing, washing bikes and the like. These clubs are true cycling hubs with a club house at their centre. These are the most intriguing of places. Inevitably, the walls are lined with photographs, trophies and plaques depicting teams and accomplished racers from years gone by. Commonly, you will see a name from the magazines here on the walls, though looking altogether more fresh faced and youthful than you might recognize and kitted out in the colours of the club instead of those of the professional teams in which they became famous. You will also find a small dining area and a bar, usually lined with older gentlemen sitting, drinking, and swapping stories. Racers come and go through the clubhouse, quickly filling up their bottles or picking up a coke or piece of cake to fuel their ride. Amongst all of the hub-bub these gents hold the fort, deliberating which obscure champion so and so reminds them of or whether such and such a racer might have any prospects in the upcoming classics season. Otherwise they are probably debating whether or not the weather will hold for the next weekday criterium or weekend classic they have planned and form, in accumulation, the rich cycling calendar of this country. These clubs are the lifeblood of Dutch cycling, in them are the roots of all levels of the sport and racers are proud of their colours. It is not uncommon to find professionals of the very highest level out on club training runs and everyone is aware of where they have come from.
In cycling there are a few races that exist on an entirely different plane. While exceptional parcours, racers, and feats are essential to these events, it is elements far beyond simple sporting that make these races truly special. Decade after decade has entrenched these events in the psyche of their locale and placed them at the pinnacle of the cycling calendar. These races form the ambitions of the greatest of champions and the dreams of every aspiring cyclist. From a small town in northern Ontario I poured over magazines, viewing pictures that seemed so foreign, striking, damn cool and distant from my world that I knew that I had to do everything in my capacity to reach that stage. They call these races the monuments and it is here that champions are made. Perhaps, the most momentous of all of these is the Ronde van Vlaanderen. This year, I will have the chance to play a part in this incredible race. Mind you, I will be competing in the edition for beloften (U23), nevertheless the term excitement hardly does justice to how I feel about such an opportunity. In April, I will be participating in a project with the national team centred around a series of .Ncups (Flanders, Cote de Picardie, and ZLM Tour) but also including Belgian national races and kermesses. My motivation is sky high. Is Flanders the race for me? Who knows… however, you can rest assured that I will go into it with every ounce of enthusiasm and strength that I have in me and will fight like never before. I owe that to myself and to such a race.
Dutch TV (I’ve been watching a lot of it… hopefully I will absorb some of the language) keeps going on about sneeuwchaos which is pretty funny considering the few inches of white stuff on the ground. They have a hard time driving in the icy conditions and each morning the traffic map is a web of red signifying the jams on the countries roads. Fortunately, the train system here is bloody fantastic. I have come to Utrecht for this weekend to stay with Alex Bhogal, a fellow Canadian racer, for some team training and racing. My journey across cost me a grand total of 12 euros including the cost of bringing my bike, it was simple as heck to do as well.
There were a couple days there where I had to train inside as the roads were icy and temperatures well below zero. Soon, all the bike paths were cleared however and I have discovered that if I head towards the coast it seems that the conditions are significantly milder. That being said, it is damn windy out there (not that the rest of the country isn’t). Riding at 18km/hr into a headwind for an hour is well worth it when you turn around for home. I’m not sure that there is anything more fun on a bike, then flying along at 45km/hr through the sand dunes south of Den Haag on a winding bike path.
I am settling in well here in the Netherlands, finding some good training routes and very much liking the dutch way of life. The best riding in the area seems to be along the canals or by the north sea. Last Saturday we drove to Utrecht for my first training with the team, there were à bunch from other squads as well totalling probably close to 40 guys including a few from Vacansoleil, Rabo and the like. It was the best group ride I have experienced, 40+km hr the whole time and with every single rider at à very high level. There is so much traffic furniture and so many changes of direction and road surface riding here it was pretty fun just flowing through it all as part of such a good group. Your head surely has to be on straight and awareness always sharp when racing through it all. After the training there was à club race on this circuit they have, about a km point 5 long and somewhat akin to à gokart track. I jumped in à break of 3 early which drove pretty hard and actually managed to lap the field. In the end they had just us three do extra laps for the win and i ended up second after losing the sprint which im pissed about. The race was à small affair but à race is à race and i will take it as à good start to the year. The directors were there so if nothing else it should have made à good impression to get selected for the important klassikiers. Going for àn easy spin with à local elite rider this arvo and otherwise spending my time in the coffee shop. I think i will see if i can get my hands on à home trainer to manage à midweek power training session when its soaking wet and hovering around freezimg.
I am safe and sound in the Netherlands… the last few days have been a bit of a blur. Travel went well, I had chosen a good itinerary and had an excellent experience with Icelandair after the short hop in Air Canada’s tin can to Boston. If national airlines are to be bastions of their country then ours leaves much to be desired, Iceland’s on the other hand was incredible. I was greeted in Amsterdam in by my host for the duration of my stay. We went straight to Utrecht to meet the director of the team, an older Dutchman that has obviously been involved in the sport for ages and ages. He showed me a Dutch national champion jersey that he won sometime in the 1950s. I was a little overwhelmed and sat there relatively dumbfounded as everyone else talked excitedly in Dutch, which I understood basically none of. I did manage to get all the questions that I did have answered and after an hour or two we were on our way. The town I am staying in is Vlaardingen, essentially on the outskirts of Rotterdam. My host lives in a typical townhouse with his son who is about my age, he is very friendly and helpful and knows a lot about cycling. I have been out for a few rides now, boy is it different training here. There are so many roads and lanes going every which way, unfamiliar with them all I spend a lot of time figuring out where the heck I am and how to get to where I want to go. I am beginning to get a better idea of where is good for training and where is hopeless. It is seriously amazing how many people ride bikes here, not racing cyclists so much, but general townsfolk getting around on city bikes. There are bike paths upon bike paths going everywhere and every road has a bike lane. Otherwise, it is chilly and has rained everyday. I finish each ride and my bike is filthy. I have found a really good bike shop nearby though so I know where to find anything I need. Vlaardingen is a beautiful town on a canal, I will try to post some pictures soon but do not have internet at home so won’t be so connected. Tomorrow is my first training with the team and we are finishing with up with a bit of a club race. There is a race track that the club has for this, a few kms long with quite a few bends, I am looking forward to seeing how it goes.