A desire to wander, a week to spare and a £17 ticket to Dover via London, lead to me being accidently at the start of the World Cycle Race. I was backpacking light and heading for Belgium with no great plans after that.
Bike as loaded on train
I literally realised I could make the race start the night before and wanted to ride to Dover, so I joined in the Peleton of racers and supporters at Marble Arch then what followed was a great free cycling tour of the London sights.
Hampton court was the official race start and it was slightly disappointing to see there were only 3 starters on the line.
WCR Start line
It was fun being mistaken for the elusive 4th rider who didn’t even show, but I resisted playing along. The riders shot off, and as I had to get to Dover I literally chased after them. It was almost comical to catch them, it would have been rude to overtake. They honestly did not have a clue how to get to Dover, later news would show this wasn’t an isolated problem!
The ride to Dover meant a late ferry, so I hit a BnB (cheap and empty and breakfast was great) at the port and took an early boat after a great breakfast. Should maybe check out Calais beach next time. The weather was being kind and cycling out of Calais for the first time was a real exciting yet scary experience. A short distance out of the port gates, a left turn and it was a welcome surprise to be on great empty coastal roads and Belgium quickly appeared.
Belgium border food
The cycling in Belgium quickly changed into being almost exclusively tracks alongside canals. Nice and peacefull but not so easy for getting food and drink in early March.
The Burlycross with bikepacking bags was riding a treat, very comfortable on the halo 38mm tyres, making all the cycle paths fun. The red Alpkit stuffsac only had waterproofs and a warm top in, it was intended to go on the bars, but the Hope brake convertors made that a pain, so it got tied on the seat pack, I never did wear them.
Before I could get too hungry up popped Bruges. The hostel there had a whole shop to lock the bike in, then it was out to tour the chocolate shops and bars of the town. They really do sell some mad choc things. But where do you start, big kid cyclist in a sweetshop.
The bar with the wall of beers is ace, outside heaters make it a fun night whatever your group.
Too many beers and these stairs could be a neck breaker back at the Hostel.
Then it was off to seek the cobbles of the Flanders, the typical canalside track is a joy, and I was navigating with ease using the Knooppunt system. Basically every junction has a numbered sign, and directions to your next number. This one was 18 and is
Right to my choice 16. A superb web route system plots your route in numbers and provides GPX tracks, or number lists.
Heading South into a headwind the terrain got more rolling as the canals were left, then a few stretches of cobbles appeared. Now you watch the races, ride gravel tracks, and think they look easy. Oh boy, these things are huge, and the road camber and the gaps in between make them a complete ball ache to a loaded traveller. Try a 20mph descent on these, and its new fillings and reattach luggage time.
I intended to visit the Ronde museum, in Oudenarde but its shut on Mondays…doh.
After a nights BnB in a small village it was off to Antwerp. The municipal Hostel there is new and huge, bike locked it was time to pond the streets of this fantastic Belgium city, although they have their own Boris bikes. Don’t miss the view from the roof of the museum at night, the ladies in the windows and the crazy bike underpass under the river. Bikes on escalators is one bizzare sight.
With sore feet it was back on the bike for a long day into Holland, including a few small river hops. At one point the map looked like it was directing me to a motorway but it appears when they built the bridges they had to include a cycle path, who cool is that.
The Dutch bar culture is legendary, but I found a different kind. Quick snacks in the bars turned out to be a great excuse to stop often for a biere and omelette.
Another thing to watch out for is canal crossing bridges, you could be held up for a while. A great time to eat, and check out the cycling chique.
Riding to the Dutch coast was mentally tough, its a very built up country, but the delights of Delft took away the monotony, a cute place on canals.
Without warning the urban sprawl ended, a beach side cafe appeared and a great coffee and cake stop in the sun made for a great chill out. Watching many cyclists of all types pass by showed how different this country is, the ribbon of cycle specific tarmac through the dunes for 20 miles was a joy to behold, a true holiday moment. At one point I jumped onto the tow of a passing racer and desperately hung on as my days odometer passed 100 miles, just a great day on a bike.
That nights stop was at the hipster, hello I’m local Hostel in Haarlem, a very nice spot and another bonus of March travelling I had a 6 bed dorm to myself to spread out my washed clothes. The local Jopen ale was a great find, a much nicer place all round than nearby Amsterdam, and not far from the beaches at Zandvoort. Love the beach side transport.
Do they use bikes much here, check this out, the local college, avoiding school out time was essential.
Running out of time I’d like to return and carry on up the Dutch coast, but it was time to head home. Back on the Dune and beach side tracks to the Hook of Holland.
A brief 6 hour hop to the quiet ferry terminal, and a quick return to Delfh to kill time, and it was homeward bound on the smartest ferry I’ve been on for some time. A four berth cabinet with a lovely shower, TV and double bed, all to myself. I seriously recommend cycle touring in March over here, in fact I’ll be back next year.
In total I did over 650 miles and the weather for early March was great, bikes are ace.