Diekirch - Valkenswaard 2009
Diekirch-Valkenswaard is a 250 km long annual cycling race, which this year we would be cycling for the 3rd time. Last year we finished in a good time and we hoped to do even better this time. We took a bus from Valkenswaard, in the Netherlands, to Diekirch, in Luxembourg.
At 1:00 at night we were given some food and started waiting until our bikes could be loaded in a truck. As soon as we entered the bus a man said, without saying hi or anything else, 'Boys, this cold is going to impact your legs tomorrow'. We reclined our chairs and tried to get as much rest as possible. The bus ride went smooth and we arrived in Diekirch around 5:00. There was no-one else there yet. Our bikes had been loaded first, so they were taken out of the truck last. We decided to try to improve on that next time.
As soon as we had our bikes we headed to the start. It was about 6 o'clock. It was very could and still dark. There were only 20 people in front of us. Last year, the man behind us had cycled the first 150 km of the race with us. After having a moment of silence for someone who's name we couldn't hear we were on our way. There were again many people who left without waiting for their first stamp, which were required to obtain a medal at the finish line. During the first 40 kilometers we over took more people than had officially started before us.
Last year it was pretty warm after the first hour, now it stayed cold. We were in a fast group right from the start. One of them kept cycling in pole position. He kept asking us to do the same, but every time we did he would overtake us 30 seconds later. At the Thommersberg everyone cycled uphill in about the same pace, except me because I didn't have a small gear small enough. I went twice as fast but probably also got twice as tired.
At the first checkpoint we quickly got our stamp and a slice of orange. The hills continued and there were many sections that we still recognized from the last two years. That helped a lot on some occasions. Bart's parents were at the second checkpoint and followed us from there on.
The second checkpoint
The second checkpoint
Refilling our water bottles
We slowly descended after the checkpoint until the other cyclist in our group caught up with us. It became less hilly and we took a wrong turn at some point. Back on the right route we mostly passed small villages. Bart and I did most of the work, riding up front.
The group we were in
After I had ridden in pole position for a few kilometers Bart took over for a while. Besides one other cyclist nobody else wanted to go up front. Bart got angry so told them they were lazy idiots and cycled off. I knew that if I would follow him the rest would just follow me and nothing would change. That's why I held back until the other people started putting in some effort to catch up with Bart. In Visé we crossed a river.
At the 3rd checkpoint we again stopped very briefly. We had left the large group. Together with someone in a Cervélo shirt we rode ahead of the rest. After a while the group caught up with us. By then it was time for the notorious Hallembaye hill. We remembered climbing a steep hill on our way back from our cycling vacation to the south of France. That turned out the same one. Bart and I were used to climbing the large hills in south Europe, so even though it was steep, the 900 long climb wasn't too difficult.
Climbing the Hallembaye
We looked back and noticed we were pretty far ahead of the rest of the group. We decided to continue by ourselves After a kilometer the Cervélo man joined us. The rest of the group was still nowhere to be seen.
Descending the Hallembaye
De Cervélo man caught up with us
The three of us kept alternating cycling in pole position. The terrain kept getting less hilly. It would be really nice if we would be able to finish together. Around the time we reached Belgium we overtook another man in a black cycling shirt. He had been with us in the beginning, but had apparently cycled alone for the last 70 kilometers. He was tired but did his fare share of work.
Our group of three
The cyclist in the black shirt
I had successfully tried to 'empty my bladder' while going downhill. Bart want to try as well, as we didn't have time to stop. Just when he was ready to start his mom and dad drove by to take a picture. Only then we realized they had been behind us all along. His mom told us they had thought I was sitting on my bike rather odd. I was glad I hadn't peed all over their windshield.
It was about 20 kilometer until the last checkpoint before the finish. We didn't expect the big group to catch up with us, as we had consistently been the fasted three cyclists. Suddenly four cyclists passed and the big group was right behind them. The four cyclist weren't part of the race, but from the same club as many people in the large group. They had been waiting to help their friends out during the last 50 km. As Diekirch-Valkenswaard is officially not a race this was not illegal, but it certainly felt like cheating. They were also really annoying as they were constantly shouting for no reason and almost took a wrong turn. They also used a bunch of made up hand signs. One started waving his finger in loops, which we interpreted as them wanting us to continue rotating in pole position. As a result we sped up and tried to get in front. Apparently the signal meant 'stop a car is coming', so we were nearly driven of our bikes. Bart and I got really pissed. We knew about a shortcut over a grassy field to reach the final checkpoint before the finish. By not telling the rest we managed to get back in front. Without taking any food we quickly continued.
The last checkpoint
We cycled as fast as we could for the last 25 km. After 5 km the larger group still caught up with us. Fortunately the fake contestants went away a few kilometer before the finish so we were able to quickly cycle to the front of the group again. There was still one fake cyclists trying to help his friends. Bart was really angry and asked him if his bib number had fallen of. At first he pretended like he didn't hear him so Bart shouted it again. The man said he didn't have any, but still didn't go away.
The last kilometers we just tried to stay in front. I was really angry which helped me to cycle fast. In the last hundred meters Bart pushed out a final effort and caught up with me. Eventually we finished ahead of the rest of the group, in 17th and 18th place overall. Even better than last year.
At the finish
Me at the finish
Quickly getting the last stamp
Quickly running over the stage
We each got a medal. At the back of the bar we met everyone we had been cycling with. The man with the orange ribbon on his helmet, the Cervélo shirt guy and a few others. My parents gave us roses and so did Bart's girlfriend. Then it was time for a cold beer.
Me in the bar where we received our medals
Behind the bar
Bart was almost dead
We were still able to smile
We had finished at 15:03, in 17th and 18th place. Last year we were 24th and 26th, then we had finished at 15:05.
Our finish time plotted against the number of participants, we are indicated with red lines