Sorry for the delay with this post. I’ve been struggling to find the right tone, not to mention trying to get over the shock of one of my favorite bloggers pulling the plug on his creative outlet.
After a 1000 km drive through 4 countries (or what would be around half a province in my home country), Shoko and I arrived at the Amstel Gold Xperience, Valkenburg, Netherlands, for some free non-alcoholic beer and to pick up my large-numbered bib (they went up to 16,000 or more, I was soon to discover).
The organizers were prepared for the inevitable with these minimalist beauties scattered at strategic points throughout the event. Painted yellow, like the Golden Arches, they make you want to go.
We stayed in Maastricht, just down the road from the start/finish of the Amstel Gold Race – Tour Version, which I would like to highly recommend to anyone who would like a little organization and logic to their urban planning, not to mention the ability to eat and drink at any time of the day (the city, not the event, by the way).
The following morning broke a bit on the fresh side, but it wasn’t raining and I was in Holland, so it was good. This ‘race’ was meant to be the main goal of my spring campaign, but I quickly realized that what I had entered wasn’t quite what I was expecting all those months ago when I clicked registreer. I also now understand why some riders get their padded knickers in a knot when I call sportives ‘races’. Let me explain.
Firstly, this event did not have a mass start, like every other sportive I’ve taken part in. There were no pens, no waiting, no red-lining off the start line. It was simply a matter of showing up between 7 am and 11 am and crossing the timing mat. The roll-out was painfully slow and NOBODY was riding hard. I didn’t really know what to do for about a minute or so, but I quickly decided that I hadn’t driven all the way from the Mediterranean to have my Amstel Gold experience turn into a recovery ride. So, I raced. Well, more like I time trialed, I guess, because for exactly 55 minutes I was simply passing an endless parade of riders, most of whom were fully kitted out and riding expensive road bikes that must have been begging for some speed. I was befuddled.
Then, miraculously, I heard the sweet sweet whirl of a train coming. A fast-moving bunch of 10 huge Dutch riders passed by me on the left and I jumped on with indescribable joy. The ‘race’ was finally on.
Things just sort of normalized after this and I spent the rest of my nearly 5 hours losing one group, finding another, hyperventilating while bridging gaps, finding ‘the zone’ on the short bergs on the region, finding my tuck on the fast, technical descents, wondering why I was putting myself so through much pain just to hold the wheel of a guy I would probably never see again, etc., etc.
In short, it turned into a very good day.
But back to the ‘race’. I have now decided definitively that, call me what you wish, a ‘race’ happens when you decide it does. The organizers can call it what they want, but the rider makes it a race or not. These organizers, by the way, certainly didn’t want it to be racy. I see that they have not even posted times on the site (despite having timing mats on all the big climbs, as well as at the start and finish), apparently because of an agreement with the local authorities. I can only guess that this is to prevent people from ‘racing’, and therefore endangering themselves and others, which, with 15,000+ riders on the roads, I can understand. Also, instead of the usual roadside food stations, they had giant fields, into which all riders who didn’t know any better (me, till I wised up) were funneled, definitely losing that race feel.
But at least they had the photographers out!
Notice the mountain bike behind me. It was just that kind of day.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Just observing. I am very glad to have done my first sportive totally outside of France (I’ve done ones that dipped into neighboring countries) and eager to do more. The Amstel Gold Race course (or the 150 km that I more or less did…I got lost near the end) is a real joy to ride and although it seemed like I was riding far and wide on those lovely little farms roads, the route is amazingly compact and would be seriously confusing to follow if there weren’t signs (look at the map on the Garmin link at the end) to follow. The pros do over 250 km and I’ll bet they are never farther than 30 km as the crow flies from the start, all day long. The climbs are not really climbs for the most part, but after a few hours of them the legs certainly feel it. I think the pro race had 34 of them. I have no idea how many I did, but it was pretty much up and down the whole morning.
I don’t know how I ‘did’ in Amstel Gold, but that’s somehow liberating as well. Then again, if anyone out there knows where I can get my hands on some times, I won’t be disappointed if you share.
Garmin Connect: http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/485144999