Amstel Gold 200
By Nick Westwood
As a self confessed middled aged man in lycra etc I have been riding for about two years and set myself a few challenges as you do and of course living in suffolk where a speed bump classes as a hill I decided to enter the 20127 maratona, and in training for this and browsing the net I found the entry page for the Amstel gold sportive, so as only a “Mamil” with no knowledge of cycling history does I decided that Holland equals flat and a nice run on the flat would be ideal preparation so I entered the 2017 tour version which runs is 60km 120km 200km and 240km routes around Valkenburg (hint the only town in Holland with a ski lift !) I plumped for the 200KM route and together my my long suffering wife decided to make a long weekend in Holland.
We took the overnight ferry from Harwich and drove down to our hotel about 20 mins from the start, we arrived at the registration and I had my first panic attack, the entire town of Valkenberg was basically full of bikes everyone was definitely a Pinarello dogma at least, and my basic Forme axe looked liked a it should have had a basket on the front, I also found the Cauberg the little 13% climb at the 201KM marker, at which i had my second panic attack and convinced my wife I couldn’t do it, I picked up my registration pack and found that there is about 10,000 riders over all the distances over the weekend and they were all in the amstel gold bar consuming bibilical amounts of, well Amstel.
In my state of shock we turned up at our hotel and found the carpark looking like a alladins cave of posh bikes, I was only person in the hotel that left my bike on the car overnight in the hope it would get stolen and put me out of my misery, Only in Europe would you see grown men taking their bikes not to the secure bike lock up, oh no but up to their bedrooms, a little
spocky if you ask me.
We set off the next day for the ride I was planning on an early start, and in common with all the other hotels in the area ours had put on breakfast at 5am purely for the riders. We drove to Valkenburg even though the hotel had little maps showing special routes to get to the start on your bike, plenty of special parking and I rocked up at the start and headed of for my 203KM which was the longest I had done to date. I started at about 6.30am and the rain started at 6.31am for which I was totally unprepared, Its not a closed road route until you come into the final 5km, but frankly with the number of riders and the dutch road priorities it may have well have been, a nice ride warm up though town before the first short little 8% rise, and then into the ride proper, the route in on those narrow cycle lanes/roads and basically I discovered early on the elbows and pushing are part and parcel of passing on such tracks if your are either dutch or belgium, by the end of the first 30KM I had sharpened my elbows unto the continental standard, the rain was easing slightly and I had a long straight road too myself lovely ideal I was enjoying this as the road reached a lovely little castle on a wood, and I relaxed as the road turned right up a nice little 9% climb up cobbles, I was more afraid of something falling off me rather than the bike but got to the top.
The first feed station was reached and mobbed but loud music plenty of drink and food gels etc and we started off again, the route is basically a huge figure of 8 around valkenburg and I headed back into town and started the second 100KM loop, feeling a little better little warmer and confident, thats when it really started raining just like being at home.
The last third of the route joins up with the shorter routes and it was easy to tag onto groups for a tow for a while you think your heading home and things are looking up but as you swing down into valkenburg, you turn away from town and head to the keutenberg climb which is again a steep little hill form about 2km but the big problem is its on all the routes and again on the narrow type lanes, so you turn a corner hit a hill as well as quite a few walking staggering walking overtaking other walkers, its bedlem ! you have people staggering in front of you stopping getting off, its the ultimate obstacle course on two wheels, a few choice words in that universal language helped clear my path and I made it without coming off or being knocked off ! You then run into the final straight down hill into valkenburg and then turn a corner up the Cauberg ! steady little climb but the road is wide and the crowd is huge and I actually found it did help, especially as I could hear my wife shouting out support at the foot of the climb, by now I was running on pure thrill and you hit the 1KM marked and I found I still had 37KMH in my legs, long wet cold and a stunning day, washed down in the party tent with lashings of frites and Beer!
The funniest thing was when we got back to the hotel there was a stream of dirty muddy bikes being taken upstairs in the hotel and on the sunday morning only sparkling clean bikes came down at breakfast, and not a murmer from the hotel staff !
Recommend Yes doing again yes doing the 240Km in 2018 hopefully if I can overcome my appalling bike envy.