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My Dutch Treat: a truly international brevet - 14 April 2012

by Geoff Farnsworth

geofffarnsworthIt all started with Howard. I'm attempting a Year Round Randoneur Award, so during my March ride I casually commented to Howard that April was going to be a challenge, as I was committed to two weeks overseas for work.

"Why don't you do a ride while you're away" suggested Howard. "Indeed" I thought, "why don't I?"

I planned to be in Europe during my first weekend away, so checked what was happening in the Netherlands, and England. I found that the Dutch Audax Club (ERN) had a 200km ride organised for 14 April. There was a UK option too, but the Dutch ride took my fancy.

On offer was a ride from the town of Ossendrecht, in the south of the Netherlands, close to the border of Belgium, in the Brabant region.

dt_mybikeI sent the organiser, Bob Leduc, an email, mentioning that I was interested in doing the ride but needed a bike. Bob is the President of ERN and as I was later to find out, President of the PBP Veterans' Association. After a few days I was a little disappointed not to hear anything. A Dutch friend in Amsterdam offered to help out and he contacted Bob. It turns out Bob speaks no English, but that I was able to do the ride and he would try to find me a bike. Nothing much happened over the next couple of weeks but the indications were positive. I booked accommodation in Ossendrecht, and began to plan in earnest. I was due to visit Amsterdam, so would need to hire a car. Hmm, never driven in Europe, on the "wrong" side of the road. Quite an adventure, I thought.

Driving in the Netherlands (with the aid of GPS) is a breeze. I arrived in Ossendrecht on Friday afternoon, and as arranged contacted Dirk de Mourik, the Secretary of the Association, to collect my bike for the ride. Dirk spoke some English and a Colnago was produced. Things were looking up.

So on the Friday night before the ride, eating on my own in the Hotel restaurant (and very fine it was, too) I mused about how I came to be where I was. Audacious, I thought.

The ride started at 9am the next morning, from Cafe de Vreide. 20 or so riders turned up, with me the only native English speaker. Several riders knew enough English to say g'day. Oh, and I had lost my voice the day before which made communication even more challenging.

dt_bikepathAs you would expect with Audax, you wouldn't find a nicer bunch. A typically Audaxian combination of gritty old diggers (one of whom rode the whole way without gloves), and "young guns" (with two or three recumbents thrown in, and something that looked like a cigar on wheels that went like sh*t off a stick).

We rolled out at 9, by which time it was quite light. It being daylight savings there the time limit was 13 hours, which meant it didn't get dark till late, so no lighting required.

I was somewhat trepidatious. The ride cue sheet was in Dutch. I didn't have the course in my Garmin (which I had taken) so I figured I needed to ride with someone about my pace, who know the way.

The riding itself was a delight. The area is largely agricultural. Lots of cows; manure; goats; free range chooks and a surprising number of small horses, Shetland-style. The country is dead flat, and mostly on segregated bike paths. Despite best endeavours, I found myself in a reasonably slow bunch (some of the guys I intended to ride with took off from check-points without warning). No matter. I took long turns on the front; speed was not the object. I could have averaged 28km/h comfortably, but came in a tad under 27kms, average. My legs were fine and I could have done another 100kms, particularly on paths like that.

dt_checkpointIn many respects, the conditions couldn't have been more different from my recent riding in Sydney. Hot and hilly, often on questionable roads. By contrast, the max temp was 14 degrees; the ride was dead flat and the surfaces a dream.

What caught me by surprise a little was how hard they went out, from the beginning. I guess that is the traditional Flanders style of riding. No need to keep anything in reserve for the hills.

The other thing that made the day memorable was that ride criss-crossed into Belgium, making this a truly international Brevet. There can't be many of those around (though Singapore does ride into Malaysia, I guess).

After the ride I swapped jerseys with Dirk, and also ended up with an ERN pennant, key rings, pens, a cap, and a jersey from his local Club. Quite a haul.

It won't be everyday that such an opportunity presents itself. I can't speak too highly of the fine folk of ERN. If you ever get the chance to ride with them, grab it with both hands.


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