After a brew (having the cooker on board is such a great idea) and some breakfast its a 6.30 start, pretty slack by race standards but this country is a lazy starter so there’s no rush. I meet Erik on the road and the pee stop, clothing removal, leap frogging begins. This section skirting the German border is fairly unmemorable and the almost complete lack of places to stop for the morning ritual becomes annoying. It takes 4 hours untill I cry enough and go off route into Emmen. I have a Subway store to myself to get washed and stocked up, and check on the world. The boys Ash and Stephen are already 100Km ahead of me and Hippy is challenging for the lead, good on them.
It had become clear that The Netherlands is an expensive place compared to the UK, and my standard subway order confirmed this at being 30% more than I’m used to. It is also a pain that this country only accepts Maestro cards at all but tourist outlets. I ask the owner about this he replies “Visa and Mastercard screw us man” Well this might be the case but I certainly spent less because of this restriction.
It starts to rain, just drizzle but this cold start to May is a constant drain on your body. The Garmin 1000 touchscreen is a bloody nightmare in drizzle, and this happens at a point where navigation becomes hard and I can’t zoom in on the screen. The route takes us straight into a super tourist attraction called Fort Bourtange, a spectacular Star shaped moated fort. I got hopelessly lost here on the super rough cobbles going round in circles, crossing and recrossing the wooden bridges over the moats, it should have been a fabulous part of the trip, but I was wet, blind and just glad to escape its clutches.
From here the route skirts Assen, I have never been to this legendary Moto race circuit and is was tempting to go and search it out. The distraction here comes from riding through another National park woodland, very tranquil with small sandy tracks totally away from the roads. The rain stops and I stop for a picnic and forget the race to celebrate the ton done for the day in 8 hours. After yesterday it has quickly become very lonely on the roads, one rider passes while I eat, I think the first sighting of Bas Scherpenisse.
My philosophy on these long rides has always been that I can do a Ton (100 miles/160Km) in 8 hours, so two in 16 hours leaves 8 hours to have a sleep stop. This is actual time, auto pause and just riding time mean nothing for these events. My tip; take auto pause off your Garmin/Wahoo. In Holland I was to find I’m no longer good for those distances.
Heading North now it was the first true meeting with the cold Northerly wind. Grinding along on the drying tracks there were differing levels of fresh tyre prints to practice bike hunting skills. In most events you can tell how many riders are close by as you all follow the same route, but even here in the Netherlands countryside the level of cycling is still huge for day to day life, with all the locals tyre tracks it proves impossible, loving it here.
The first really big city on the route Groningen is hit in the mad rush home from work and college, it’s brilliant. Yes you get stopped a lot at traffic lights but overall the cycle tracks speed you past the busy roads, and it’s a great chance to observe the cycling culture, so different from home. It’s noticeable how you stand out as an Alien among the throng of normally dressed cyclists, not least that you’r the only one in a helmet. We have a lot of catching up to do in reducing the stigma of bikes as transport and making our bikes more practical with luggage and mudguards for daily family use.
Nobody fights you to get away from the lights quickly, there’s almost no point as you will regroup at the next set, but the e-bikes will get you every time. Following a confident local can teach you how to navigate better but eventually there will be a raised bridge and relax….I tried racing this barge up the dyke and lost, two ten minute rests it is then.
Heading into the evening and the knowledge that after Spijk you are on your own for perhaps the next 12 hours of riding. Social media posts from other riders told of killer draining headwinds and already some of the leaders had quit. I was a bit disorientated and stopped earlier in Appingedam going off route and luckily struck gold in an Esso service station with a hot delhi.
Petrol stations here sell Fuel, so this was a rare stop at a place that is generally the mainstay of my big ride feeds. Some fresh bread, a full water load, and a few cans of coke in the back pockets I was ready for a long stretch. Note: I think a market in Spijk on the route is your last chance if your ride this in future.
The full force of the North sea wind hits you at the North East corner of this trip at the Eemshaven power stations area. As a Generation engineer I’m intrigued how they have bunched stations together here in this desolate area. All types, even a new build big coal fired unit, and of course tons of wind.
I find a rider on the road, well I mean super wide cycle highway, it’s been a long time. René had a Nord Cape-Tarifa race backpack, we chatted for a while but he was stronger and soon rode away into the increasing wind. This section was quite frankly hell, featureless there was nowhere to hide from the head wind.
Heading into the evening, there was one small bunch of high trees sheltering a house. Stopping here whilst hiding from the wind to make a phone call, oh look some tulips. I bet every rider remembers the brief shelter that Oasis of trees gave them. I think four riders passed me as I stopped and later riding and chatting with a few, it seemed everyone was going a fair way off the fixed route to find accommodation.
The rain started, I was way inside my intended distance but started scanning for anywhere to provide a sheltered Bivy stop, there was nothing. Turning onto a Coastal road through a gate barrier I realized the only people that would use this section tonight would be racers so I could stop anywhere and not be bothered. On the edge of a Military zone, there was a flat area surrounded by bushes, soft sand and the Zpaks shelter made for a nice cosy night.
Stats: 183 Miles, 13hr:49 moving, 16 hrs total
There was no rush to starting today, much of the start was following the coast and the wind was still cold and howling. After Lauwersoog there is an impressive lock barrage you ride over and this viewpoint “pod” over the inland lake would have been a pretty cool bivy spot, it’s covered glass at the end.
Pretty soon after this you hug the coast riding behind the barrage keeping the sea back, its a small battle with gates, sheep poo and rough surfaces, nothing too taxing but no great views to distract you.
After several dull hours, I was missing views of the sea and spotting something interesting on the horizon climbed up the dyke off route to check out this lady. Its called “waiting for the tide”, and apparently another one, her slimmer partner should be joining her soon. This should should be a photo checkpoint Michael.
On reaching the entrance to the, now closed to cyclists, Afsluitdijk dam I reflected on being disappointed in not being allowed to cross this marvel of engineering. This had meant a late change to the event route, and an extra distance but oh boy 32Km of super exposed headwind up there. I think I would have jumped off to end it all. There was a bus service that took 15 bikes over and some riders short for time did just that as an option (not allowed in 2020)
There is very little in resupply points on this Northern section, you do skirt some towns though and diving down backstreets can find a small market shop.
At Makkum the first bigger place, the lure of a sit in the sun for the first time this trip was too inviting to miss. Some glass shields helped in the illusion of warmth and it was a welcome relief from the ear bashing noise of the wind. Chips and a long rest for an hour, in which time I didn’t see any other riders, we seemed well strung out now.
From now on the route goes all the way around the shores of the IJsselmeer which is the biggest lake in Holland. It used to be the Zuiderzee (South Sea) and was closed off by that huge dyke, the Afsluitdijk. After Stavoren which is a pretty place with a seaside town feel the ride turned West, YES, a tailwind, oh heaven and suddenly you felt warmth in the sun and oh the relief for the knees and legs, it had been a long time.
Unfortunately it didn’t last too long, the lasting impression of rounding this lake lined with wind farms is that it was a headwind in every direction you turned. There are miles of exclusive cycle tracks with great views and here I caught up with Bregt or was it Bas? and we spent time getting to know each other, another Dutch lad Eric appeared at times, much faster than us but he wasn’t very time efficient.
I have to admit at this point I didn’t have a clue what direction or where in the big picture I was. Some wonderful old Tall ships at Lelystad had me thinking that I was on the edge of Amsterdam, the rain returned and then the dyke of hell came into play. A long elevated dead straight section with water on both sides was just what you wanted as the rain got heavy direct into the strong headwind. Still on wonderful cycle paths, the lights of Amsterdam could be seem across the bay in the gloom, but boy it was grim. When this ended my route then stopped dead at a major construction site, getting lost just added to the fun, this was turning into a full melt down.
Approaching Amsterdam was surreal, the route spends some time going through two very green areas of park cum wasteland, adding some mud into the mix. Only the thought of the interest shown in the Facebook group of a cycling shop, Madmen Bikes was keeping me sane, at least it would be some rest bite and a hot coffee.
The small shop seemed the most unlikely stop over point, but the cool owner was soon telling tales of the leaders (except Hippy) stopping here last night. It was early in race terms but with the offer of the chance to sleep here, I was going no further. It was a great chance to get to know Bregt and Eric and Bas better along with sharing a beer or two with Rene taking Nordcap and Transiberica with another future racer.
Mad men are fixed/messenger riders and the owner entertained me into the night with tales and video of his pro track exploits. Riders slept in a garage next door while I grabbed a space on the floor, it was a mass of bodies. The interest and generosity of the guys here was fantastic and all unofficial so if you do it next year don’t expect or demand help, but if you do stay then buy lots and lots of Pizza, coffee and beer from them.
The Rain and Wind made this a cut short day, way under what I expected, but without the Oasis of the Madmen shop it would have been a very bad night. Stats Day 3:
160 miles over 15Hr16 min Elapsed time, a rolling average of 12.2 mph . stoppage time 2Hr05 . It seems my new default speed including stops is 10mph, something I started to include in my planning on how far I expected to ride.