2019 Amsterdam to Strasbourg
On a cold and rather wet day in early October, 30 riders gathered in Rapha Amsterdam, where our previous year’s ride finished. We were honoured to be joined by Hannah Ludwig, the youngest member of women’s cycling team Canyon-SRAM, who took time out of her professional training to ride with us on all 4 days. After a quick round of coffees and local pastries, and some panic purchases of rain jackets, gloves and shoe covers, we headed out over the canals of Amsterdam, admiring the bike skills of the locals, deftly cycling one handed, an umbrella in the other. This was meant to be the easy day, 192k but flat, destination Maaseik, Belgium. But the rain and the wind were relentless, and we had to stop frequently for warm drinks and tried in vain to dry out our kit in bathroom hand dryers. By the time we arrived at our hotel for the evening, our bikes and our kit were in a rather sorry state, but our spirits were lifted when our lovely mechanics offered to clean our bikes. Thank you Max and Guy!
The theme for Day 2 was Up. A slightly shorter day, but punchy - 169k, with over 2,500m of climbing. Thankfully the weather had lifted. We were in the Ardennes, an area of great historical significance in both World Wars. Our destination was Bastogne, site of the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive on the Western Front. But before Bastogne, a number of challenges awaited us. This area is home to some iconic cycling races - Amstel Gold, Liège-Bastogne-Liège (LBL) - and has hosted the UCI World Championships and stages of the Tour de France. We tested our legs early in the day on the Cauberg of Amstel Gold fame, before hitting the vicious ramps of the Côte de Saint-Roche, one of the key LBL climbs. At an average of 11%, the climb winds up for just over one kilometer through a small residential street in Houffalize. The climb seems manageable at first, until you reach a section of a nearly 20% gradient. Having made it up the climb, we then faced a long section of rolling hills, before reaching Bastogne at dusk. Thankfully the team at Velusso had a selection of local beers at the ready on arrival to ease the pain.
By the next morning, the appalling weather had returned. Rain, wind and an added bonus - fog. Today’s route would take us through three countries - Belgium, Luxembourg and France - but sadly the stunning vistas were barely visible. Our lovely custom jerseys designed by Maria Olsson, remained hidden most of the day under multiple layers of gilets and rain jackets. The support crew worked hard to find us sheltered stops for lunch and snacks - a tented clearing in the forest and a McDonalds in an industrial estate. The McDonalds staff were rather bemused by the onslaught of 30 sopping wet cyclists ordering copious quantities of fries and coffee, the cleaning staff less so thanks to the pools of water we left behind. Our hotel for the evening was a stunning monastery in Pont-à-Mousson, France. As we rode across the vast courtyard and took in our surroundings, we couldn’t quite believe our luck. A perfect end to another epic day - and a testament to ride organiser Reeta’s abilities to find the most unique places to stay.
Day 4. The last day. Another long one - nearly 200k, heavy showers and rolling roads but no steep climbs. By this point, the physical toll of 3 tough days on the bike was becoming apparent. Knee braces and ibuprofen were the order of the day - we were the pedalling wounded. We traversed the Vosges, taking in the delightful Col du Donon, which has featured on the Tour de France seven times. After a long stretch of canal path, and dodging of local cyclists, we arrived at the finishing point, the Cathedral Square of Strasbourg. After team photos - and a few tears - it was a mad dash to the hotel to pack our bikes, and get changed for our much deserved celebratory meal.
Looking back on the ride, and the appalling conditions we had to endure, it could have an absolute disaster. But this was cycling at its best. We arrived in Strasbourg, all in one piece and still smiling, thanks to both the amazing support provided by Velusso and the camaraderie displayed by everyone. The bad weather brought out the best amongst the groups- we saw people lending not just their wheels but the kit off their backs and pushing their teammates up hills when they just couldn’t pedal anymore. Some riders had to take breaks in the van due to injury or sickness, but they were still there with us all the way, cheering us up the climbs, welcoming us at lunch stops and even memorising songs to entertain us when they rejoined the group. It was an absolute pleasure to share the road with this amazing group of generous individuals, and we look forward to the next instalment.