The Netherlands

23Mar09

27% of it’s land mass and 60% of it’s population is below sea level.

Carrots used to be purple in colour until the 17th century when Dutch farmers began breeding carrots that were orange in colour. Apparently this proved to be much more popular.

Racing in The Netherlands is always fast, nervous and there is always wind. The 7.7km neutral zone of The Eneco Ronde van het Groene Hart proved remarkably relaxed. Now everything is relative but there were no crashes and we were rarely travelling over 40km/hr, which for a neutral in The Netherlands is extremely calm. Even when the neutral ended the pace was slow. The bunch was across the road and for whatever reason no one wanted to attack. We were so tightly packed that you couldn’t move up and thankfully you couldn’t move back either.

The race began to heat up after 10km or so and it was already evident that you needed to stay at the front otherwise the race would be over very early. It sounds funny but the number of roundabouts we had to go around and over and sprint out of was starting to take its toll on the pack. I was riding good position and when we hit the cross winds of The Netherlands for the first time the race shattered. I found myself in the second group, which at that stage meant top 40 as the first group had maybe 20 riders in it and the second group would have had no more.

This kind of racing means you are constantly at or near your limit, you are constantly fighting for a wheel and position in whatever group you are in to make sure you are saving as much energy as you can and making sure you are on the right side of any splits in the group.

An Echelon is formed whenever there is crosswind. To get a draft off the rider in front of you you have to sit to the side (away from the wind) and slightly behind him. This creates a diagonal line across the road. There is only so much space on a road and once you are out of the echelon you are riding in the gutter in a long line. Ultimately strong teams use this to break up a race by putting it “in the gutter.” When you are in the gutter riders start popping opening holes that have to be closed. Therefore the further up the line you are the fewer gaps you have to close and the less pace changes you have to deal with. Mind you it is hard to be in the first 20 when 200 people want to be there.

Echelons are forming as the groups only use half the road

Echelons are forming as the groups only use half the road

Gap thats not more than a minute but can be impossible to close

Gap thats not more than a minute but can be impossible to close

By the time we reached Amsterdam we had some tailwind but the front bunch was gone. The third group had caught us and even the extra numbers weren’t going to bring the first 20 back. By the time I crossed the line I was spent but happy that I had survived a day in the wind.

Now it is on to Dwars Door Vlaanderen (the mini Tour of Flanders) and racing with all the classics contenders.

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