Sunday, 15 April 2012

Amstel Gold 2012

The race is the Netherlands' largest professional race but is frequently criticised for the danger of its course. The Netherlands is a densely populated country and the race runs through many suburbs and villages. With pressure on land being so great, many Dutch houses do not have garages and cars are left parked in the street. There are also many traffic-calming obstacles such as pinches, chicanes and speed humps, and further obstacles such as roundabouts and traffic islands. Crashes are not uncommon in the race.

The course is tough and selective, mainly because of the 31 hills that have to be climbed, some with angles as steep as 20% (Keutenberg). The Amstel can be confusing for first time riders, because the course features a lot of turns, plus some spots are visited more than one time during the race.

Velonews summarized the race in 2009 as follows:

This is the mack-daddy race on the Dutch calendar. It’s Holland’s most important event and Dutch [teams do their] best to try to dominate the demanding, 258.6km course... Held in the hilly Limburg region in southern Holland, Amstel Gold often gets bundled with next week’s Flèche and Liège races to create what pundits like to call “Ardennes week.” Though geographically distinct than the nearby Belgian Ardennes, the Limburg region serves up a similarly endless menu of steep, narrow climbs. Any race named after a beer should be a big party and tens of thousands of beer-guzzling Dutch fans turn up to line the endless string of bergs and clog outdoor beer gardens to cheer on the pack as they ply treacherously narrow roads. The course starts in the main square at Maastricht and, since 2003, ends atop the Cauberg climb just above Valkenburg (site of another huge party). The route map looks like a plate of spaghetti, with four loops tracing back and forth over deceptively steep climbs. An endless string of 31 climbs are wickedly steep, with Keutenberg featuring ramps as steep as 20 percent. Coupled with the narrow roads, strong winds and the danger of crashing, Amstel is one of the season’s most nerve-wracking races. The addition of the Cauberg finish dramatically altered the race dynamics. The finish used to be on the flats alongside the Maas River, giving teams a chance to regroup after the last climb and position their sprinters for a sometimes-large group sprint. [It now favors whippet-thin climbers and hilly course specialists.][1]

Attempting to explain the difficulty of the course Peter Easton recounts a mathematician's calculations:

...applying logic to overcome a sense of incomprehension is the key to understanding this race. And there is truth in numbers. Six of the climbs come in the first 92 kilometers - one every 15.2 kilometers. The remaining 25 come over the final 165 kilometers. That’s one every 6.6 kilometers. Breaking it down further, the final hour of racing has eight climbs in 42 kilometers. Now we’re down to one every 5.25 km. At 40 km/h, that’s one every 7 ½ minutes. Not overly funny, and definitely all business. [2]

The current hills in the Amstel Gold Race are

Monday, 2 April 2012

spring cycling

The sun was already out by 8 a.m. but the temperature was still nippy (about 10C) (it's always 10 here, I swear). We enjoyed totally empty bike paths. We rode north to Zandvoort, which is 40 km away. I saw grazing horses, cattle, and rabbits. The dunes were still damp, which intensified the color. However, what I was supposed to be looking at was R's wheel. And staying in the slip stream.

He is an excellent coach. Firm and directive but not annoyingly so. He doesn't make me feel like I've disappointed him (well, only that once when I stayed fat). He pointed where I was supposed to ride to be able to draft. He kept aware of where I was and called obstructions (people, runners, cyclists, posts). I drafted when it was really windy. He pulled forever without complaining. When I fell off his wheel (not that often), he collected me by slowing down. Told me not to cycle in such a high gear, to get out of the saddle more, spin faster. Trust him enough to stay close. At one point a herd of spandex riders passed us, and we jumped on the back of the train. I couldn't quite catch up, so he pushed me so I could get up with the group - made me start laughing - a firm hand appeared on the small of my back and I just accelerated. We kept up with the group for quite a while. I worked really hard.

I was having trouble eating and drinking enough. I brought honey packets as an experiment. Better for aerobic rides, I think, because 50-50 glucose fructose. This was definitely heart-pounding anaerobic use-it-all-up and then some.

We started poking around into the bulb fields when we got up to Zandvoort. Lovely stripes of pink, yellow, purple. Overpowering fragrance (choking really). There was a lot of wind, so my eyes watered for four hours, making me look very tough - like I had been sweating. Really only crying.

Sometimes we rode two across and talked and talked. He talks a lot. And I am a good listener. But probably talk more than he does. When I ran out of gas we stopped at a little "ëat cafe" and had apple pie with whipped cream (that smelled of coconut oil) and I had a big coffee. He had tea. We sat outside and it started to rain lightly. He is quite lean and got cold. I suggested he should be fatter like me and he'd stay warmer. We refilled the water bottles and booked it towards home.

It took a few minutes to warm up. Once the sun went in, the temp dropped. Thankfully, it didn't rain in earnest. Actually, the sky just forgot about raining and contented itself with wind. More bulbs in bloom on the way back. It's early for tulips, but I saw some. And water birds (canals of course). My quads were toast. Totally empty. every time I tried to stop pedalling and rest they cramped. So I kept going. R encouraged me. He's good at that - calling out and persuading me to dig a little more and give a little more. I didn't give up. there were a lot of times towards the end when I passed 70 km, 80 km that I wanted to just fall over on the ground and rest. Or sleep on a bench. But I said out loud I'm not giving up. he's the rockstar though. He lives 20 km away from me and rode to our meeting point, so tallied 140 for the day.