I never paid much attention to the Amstel Gold race. It’s one of the races I knew existed on the Spring Classics calendar but had you asked me, where in Holland it took place, I would have passed. Maastricht had never been on any of my travel routes, and I had heard of Limburg, but once again would have struggled to point out the exact geographical location of the area. Cycling will put Limburg on the world map in September as it will host this year’s World Champion. And already we saw the Australian and American women’s teams making themselves familiar with the course.
We drove into the area late Saturday night because it had gotten late leaving Amsterdam and Alberto’s cousin, who we visited there. His typical Brazilian warmth and hospitality had been overwhelming. And Amsterdam itself, of course, is always worth staying an extra few hours. If it had been for me, I had stayed another five days. Maastricht appeared very industrial in the fading evening light. We planned to stay at a camp ground because we needed urgent laundry to get done. But for that night it had to be “side of road” camping because it was past nine and too dark to find anything. When we woke up the next morning, it was freezing cold. And! We had ran out of LPG gas. No coffee, no heater… and priorities change very quickly. Forget about watching the Amstel Gold race, forget about laundry! We needed coffee. Urgently!
TomTom lead us into Maastricht for a petrol station but LPG gas was hard to find on a Sunday morning. Instead, we came across team busses, cyclists and race support cars. Priorities change even quicker at the sight of Pro cycling action. We parked the Hymer, tore down the bikes from the rack and rode into Maastricht and to the start area. It was nine thirty and the team presentation was in full swing. Caffeine withdrawal as well! There were hundreds of people, the market square was packed.
All sorts, slim, fat, young, old, road bikes, mountain bikes and people with no bikes at all but big cameras, or just big smiles, or an air of importance. It was interesting to watch the bustle but my mind was set on finding coffee. Priorities! When we squeezed through the tightly packed market square, I got stuck. Stuck between a huge guy with a big camera and a giant air of importance and an unassuming skinny kid in some professional team kit on a road bike. I was on my road bike as well, but in big fur-trimmed ski jacket and jeans and runners. Track stand is easy when squashed and held up by big guy and skinny kid but because I wasn’t trusting the happy equilibrium pre-coffee, I tunnel-visioned on getting out alive. Imagine my surprise when Alberto told me minutes later, while we were watching the Trek-Leopard-Radio Shack stage presentation on big scene across the market square, that the skinny kid had been Andy Schleck.
We got some coffee. Bad one but – alas – it was the much needed caffeine fix that jump started my lust for life again. Once we had seen the race off, we headed for Mechelen. I have been in contact with Leslie from Travels with Tin Donkey for several years now and there was an opportunity to finally meet. He had ridden the Amstel Gold cyclosportif the day before and hence was staying in the area. The Amstel Gold race was going right through Mechelen so there was also the opportunity to see the Pros climb pass on one of the Schweiberg, then grab some lunch in Mechelen together and see the race go pass two more times after that.
Our plan was executed to perfection and at the end of the day it hardly mattered that we still hadn’t organised gas. It was freezing cold, dinner consisted of bread, cheese and wine… but the head was spinning from all the impressions. The next morning we were again hunting for gas. A quick dip into Germany to the 15km away Aachen solved the problem. An hour later two happy campers were equipped with enough gas on board to cater for the coffee needs of an entire peloton. We found a perfect little car park behind a little church in a little village near Valkenburg and it was finally time to ride some of the Amstel Gold course.
Equipped with only the hand-written point to point names of villages along the race course, we fiddled our way along a mix of the red and green loop.
This part of Holland is very pretty with little old village perched between green hills, tips of church towers sticking out here and there, and black and white cow sprinkles decorating green grassy hill sides. The roads meander as grey asphalt bands through the country side, connecting church tower with church tower over some steep but sealed bergs. There are no more cobbled climbs to be found in this part. We pushed up the Gulpenberg, descended into Gulpen, followed the race course through some tiny but very picturesque villages and made our way to Valkenburg and the Cauberg with the finish line at the top.
The Cauberg with it’s 1000m length and 7.5% average gradient is not the hardest climb I have ridden here but it’s still tough. Especially near the end of an 80 km ride with over a 1000m of climbing in total. Get it out of your head that Holland is all just flat. I can only try to imagine, how much harder it must be to race up to the finish line of the Amstel Gold race at the end of the race. The Cycling World Championship in September will follow a similar route to the Amstel Gold race and will also finish on top of the Cauberg, but some 1500m behind the finish line of the Amstel Gold, a long way to maintain any gap and advantage one may have gained at the Cauberg climb. Eighty kilometres later we rolled back to our motorhome and I thought that this was the best ride of my life. Just like Alberto keeps telling me that he wants to live in every single town we stay, I keep saying this after almost every single ride we do.
After uploading the ride to Strava, I was stoked to discover that my time compared reasonably well to Trixi Worrack and Ina Yoko-Teutenberg. They probably just cruised that day, or they had already 200km in their legs but inspired nonetheless, and very spontaneously, we returned to the Valkenburg loop and the Cauberg the very next day and I had a chance to even better my time by 30 seconds and from 8th to 5th place.