Each year I set myself something to achieve on the bike. It needs to be tough, out of the ordinary, special. A big climb or a long distance ride. 2019 was definitely the year of the mountains so, for 2020, it’s back to the Spring Classics. What is special, for me, is that this Classic is in the Netherlands, my home for just over 20 years now and the place where I got infected by the cycling disease. My first bit of cycling insanity for 2020 will be the Amstel Gold Race. A stiff challenge.
The Characteristics of the Ride
The Amstel Gold Race takes place in mid-April and marks the switch from the Cobbled Classics, such as Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, to the climbing classics including La Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The latter races are in the Ardennes region and, for some reason, the Amstel Gold Race is seen as the start of Ardennes week of cycling racing, Odd as Limburg is not actually in the Ardennes.
Not actually in the Ardennes but very similar in terms of hilly terrain.. The course, which is yet to be fully finalised but which will start in Maastricht and finish in Valkenburg, uses those hills to the maximum. Several climbs, mostly short calve wrenchingly steep. Keutenberg, Cauberg, Eyserbosweg. Not long but with sections that can reach an eye-watering 20%.
Of course, I have faced a much higher percentage in The Alto Adige. Something like 40% on one of my rides, according to Strava.
I did get off and walk though…..
The Amstel Gold Race has not always been such a hellish tour of the Dutch Highlands. The first, in 1966, started in Breda after planned starts in Amsterdam and Rotterdam were aborted and was 3o2 flat kilometres. The crosswind heaven that I have gotten used to, something very fun on light carbon wheels. Only in 2001 did it move to Maastricht and take on a hillier character. See the Wikipedia entry for more history.
Despite that history I’ve got to admit that it never really appealed to me that much. I watched the professional race on TV. The public version always looked enormously busy and usually in terrible weather. Who would want to do that? No, thanks. No, Liege-Bastogne-Liege twice was enough, No more Classics, not for me.
Then a friend said it may be fun and would I do it. The gun was at my head, I pulled the trigger. ‘Yeah, great idea!’. Four us entered the lottery to take part, the tour version being limited to 15,000 (!) participants. And we got lucky!
As written above I thought that, after Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2018, I would never do another Classic. Too busy, I don’t like descending, lots to organise, range of excuses. But I changed my mind, I wanted something fresh for 2020 and the Amstel Gold Race will be a new experience. It’s also something that many friends have undertaken and enjoyed and is a big thing for the Dutch. When I mention to friends that I am taking part the response usually ‘oh, wow’, even among those who are not cycling fans. It is big in the Netherlands.
And that’s an important part of the reason why. I have lived in the Netherlands for over 20 years now. Most of my adult life. It’s in Holland that I came, at the late age of 38, to the hobby of cycling. It’s now more than a hobby. It’s something that I am sure has helped me keep my MS at least a little in check. Despite my carefully irreverent attitude the sport of cycling is something which has given me so much and improved not only my fitness but also my mental condition in the face of something that can be a little terrifying sometimes. Cycling has kept me strong, improved so many things for me, I am sure of that.
Having stumbled in to this a little, a Dutch Classic as one of my challenges for next year seems so right. Paying a little respect to the country that is my home through a mad bike ride. Not quite perfect symmetry in the logic but…… what the hell!
The Coming Months
Of course I will need to get myself in condition before April. Plenty of time, perhaps, but I need to use it correctly. The base will be good as I still cycle regularly through the winter and in most weather albeit at a lower tempo and over shorter distances. I will start to build on that base after a little fun over the Christmas Period.
After Christmas the diet will become a little more sensible. No beer, serious cut in chocolate (God, it’s good……), less ‘junk’ food.. Not painful but sensible. Boring as well. ‘I’ll have a Gin and Tonic but without the Gin please.’ I feel sorry for everyone around me.
The training will also kick in. The rides will start to increase in tempo in February and will follow the pattern first tried out for Mont Ventoux in 2016. Two high-tempo rides of around two hours during the week and a lower tempo, longer ride in the weekend. The target for the latter will be 150km in one ride by the end of March. Not much climbing is possible around here but I will build endurance at least.
Something I am learning about is the value of activities besides cycling to cycling. Physio for my back, loosening massages before the big rides, workouts to improve my upper body strength and balance. A lot to consider but necessary to really make April 18th a memorable day in the saddle.
That’s the most important target, though. Get out and enjoy it. There will always be a fear of busy roads and descending but Stelvio, whilst not my best ride, helped me learn that I can deal with such circumstance. I may fall, as in LBL2018. It’s possible I could wake up and have one of my bad days when the brick wall of tiredness makes most things difficult, let alone riding a bike for 150 kilometres, There are so many ‘mays’ in life. I may also have an absolutely fantastic day. That’s what I’ll be preparing for. And that’s what I am looking forward to.
At least, I think I am looking forward to it…..