Amstel Gold Race ‘Tour Version’

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.

2014-04-18 17.49.47

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.

Hour One

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.

The Rest

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!

sportograf-46842480 (1)

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.

2014-04-18 19.28.20

Garmin Connect:

23 thoughts on “Amstel Gold Race ‘Tour Version’

  1. There are certain UCI santioned events up here, but they are generally ‘cyclotourist’ events in the same format as what you experienced. So, I am guessing I won’t see you in Liège? Weather is supposed to be decent. I just learned that this year is LBL’s 100th anniversary (the pro race, of course), so I am starting to think crazy thoughts…

  2. Glad to see you are back at the blog and that dope’s decision to stop writing didn’t effect you for long. Sportives haven’t been invented in the States yet. We have races and we have untimed rides like centuries. There are a few sportive-like events such as fondos and my beloved Crystal Ride, in which cyclists start at the same time and have an official time, but for a great many of the participants it is not competitive and just another organized bike ride. To me, you’re racing when at least two people start at the same point and agree to try to beat the other to a known point. Anything else has some sort of footnote attached to it.

    I like the pics. You are either suffering nicely in the first shot or perhaps singing a song. Either way, it’s a good look.

    • Learning about your decision to stop blogging gave me a reason to drown my sorrows, so it wasn’t all bad.

      I think I need to get out more and experience these sort of events in other countries. The next time I go back to North America I am planning to time it with something. Maybe you’ll see me at the Crystal Ride. I feel I know it intimately already.

      Re the photo. I’m definitely not singing.

  3. Excellent, very fine last photo, of Bianchi … and you in the mirror. It caught me by surprise and made me smile.

    There are some rides … races or not … here that are said to be very fun. Let us know before you cross the big body of cold water.

    Agreed, it is the rider who determines whether or not it is a race.

  4. Be ready for ‘sticker shock’ if you wish to do a Gran Fondo…eg: CAMPAGNOLO GRAN FONDO NEW YORK 100 MILES 05/12/2014 — $299.00 (216 Euro) and a $14.95 reg. fee.
    Gran Fondo New Jersey: (107 Miles)
    $150.00 (108 Euro) with $9.25 reg. fee
    (Price Increases to $175 on July 1, 2014)
    because of the American love of trivial litigation, insurance jack costs way up. Also every little town council and law enforcement body want their piece. Its unfortunate, but there it is.
    I believe there are some less expensive out west, but still they are about $80. I think thats a lot of money for a bike ride.
    When I started racing, entry fees to races were about $8-20. Now, for example, the Tour of the Battenkills was $100 for a 65 mile road race.

    By the way.. the bike and you in the mirror…great image!

    • I don’t want to make the organizer angry again, but that GF is just ridiculous. What’s with forcing everyone to wear the kit, for one…?

  5. Hi guys,

    Just to clarify a few things:
    1) Registration for Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York starts at $199.
    2) That’s still a lot of money but someone has to pay for the $500,000 it costs to close roads and moderate traffic. Yes, that’s half a million dollars just for that.
    3) The mandatory jersey is a police requirements who requested an easy way to identify bandits who don’t pay for road closures and having the right of way throughout 100 miles.
    4) Insurance costs are not that high actually – unless you add cancellation insurance due to a terrorist threat which is en vogue since Boston 2013.

    Yes, it’s an expensive event to put on and, hence, expensive to get into. This will not change until the day policing the route will be free – like in Europe! – or a sponsor is giving $1,000,000.

    I for one find it highway robbery to charge $70 for a ride that provides nothing but a few aid stations. Or $150 for a “granfondo” where you have to stop at lights and stop signs and consequently don’t get timed start-finish.

    Our granfondo “GFNY Italia” ( costs 40 Euro to enter and provides everything we provide in NYC, right of way/policing/closed roads/timing/results, but we have a fraction of the costs.

    CEO Gran Fondo New York

  6. Thanks again for commenting on the blog, Uli. I feel a little guilty for ‘picking on you’, since this is the 2nd time we’ll commented on the cost of your Gran Fondo (I’ve got several friends who’ve done it, btw, and they never said anything about price). When we complain about costs, we are complaining about costs, nothing else. Like you said, it’s ‘a lot of money’. It’s probably the same conversation you have with your friends about how high medical costs are in the US compared to where you come from 😉

  7. Uli…Gerry is correct..I comment on the costs only, not the ride or race or intention of the promoter…. I find it sickening how uncooperative and money hungry the authorities are, but you know better than most..its the American way. Best of Luck with your GF

    • Thanks Gerry and Stephen. To some extent I understand that the events have to pay for the cost. Why should taxpayers pay for our hobby? The only argument would be public health.

      I think the intention of the promoter should not be overlooked. Why support someone who is clearly a money grabber? I personally do 20-30 events per year so providing the lowest possible entry fee is close to my heart.

      We’ll be at Haute Route Dolomites this year and many other granfondos so maybe I’ll see you on the road.



      • I think I’ll be doing that one next year, Uli. Would love to hear how the course is.

        By the way, I just discovered that you do drug testing at your Gran Fondo. I think that one would be worth spending a few extra dollars on. Good on you.

        • Thanks Gerry it’s quite the cost for us but here’s why we do it:

          I know the route of HR Dolomites/Switzerland. It’s beautiful. I look forward to see how they manage it (well from what I heard!). You should check out Schwalbe Tour Transalp. Also an impeccably organized raced. More competitive and bigger than HR.

        • Excellent article. Thanks for sending it over.

          I know of the Tour Transalp, but I’m glad to get a first-hand review of it. You’ve done it, I presume? I’ll do more homework before deciding which one to do next year. There seems to be a new multi-day event popping up weekly these days!

          HR had good organization, with a few hiccups that I detailed in my daily articles from last summer. I’d be very interested to hear how an event organizer like yourself experiences it.

  8. “I have now decided definitively that, call me what you wish, a ‘race’ happens when you decide it does.” Now that is quote buddy! Great write up too. Sounds like you had a good time. Suffering, and enjoying all at once!


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