Today’s race is one of the most manic competitions of the year. Whilst the Tour of Flanders has its bergs and Paris-Roubaix has the pavé, the Amstel has… street furniture.
A collection of traffic calming measures, from sleeping policemen to chicane filter points to curb extensions to traffic islands, footage from this race should be made available to municipal authorities around the world. The Netherlands is the most dense country in Europe with 393 people per square km, and by some way. In second place comes Belgium (337/km²), Holland is more than 50% more dense than third placed Britain (244/km²). Holland has loads of people crammed into a small place, meaning there’s little real countryside and every small village has a suburban feel to it, complete with traffic calming measures.
One other thing to note is the course. It looks like someone’s dropped a bowl of spaghetti on the map, it twists and turns and includes repeat sections. It makes for a technical race, riders are constantly turning left and right and this makes it hard work. Anyone not in towards front of the bunch in the second half of the race is going to sprinting out of every corner just to keep up.
Holland does have hills. Look at the map and that little finger of land to the south reaches down from the flatlands and right into south. It’s only 25km from the finish today to Liège, home of the hilliest classic going. Now we’re not talking mountains but they are enough to make a difference after all that twisting and turning earlier on. Robert Gesink is a candidate to win after all.
The Dutch love their bike racing. As I pointed out above, it’s a crowded country and so there are lots of people on hand to watch the race go by. But add on the fact that the race is sponsored by a brewery and you have a recipe for fun in the sun. The crowd on the Cauberg can get especially lively but in a nice way, there’s no hooliganism, just people draped in orange, often with their face painted in the colours of the Dutch flag with faces getting ever redder.
All in all, it’s my least favourite spring classic. I don’t like a major race repeating sections of road and the course has nothing special going for it. But I won’t be harsh on the race, the Dutch are great cycling fans and the race is hard fought. It makes for good TV too. But my thoughts are already racing ahead to next Wednesday’s rendez-vous on the insane Muur de Huuy.