Of course Bart and I would again cycle Diekirch-Valkenswaard this year, this would be our 5th time cycling the 260 km race from Luxembourg to the Netherlands. Although we both cycle a good distance to school (36 km/day) we hadn't trained much on our speedbikes. The most important preparation had been our cycling vacation in Spain, where we had cycled 3400 km and from which from we had returned 3 weeks ago. The weather predictions on race day were bad. It would rain hard at the start in Diekirch (Luxemburg) and more throughout the day.
On the Friday prior to the race I woke up at 7 to cycle my usual 18 km to school, from which I returned around 17:00. I tried to get some rest but basically had been busy all day until Bart and I took the bus to Diekirch at 2:00 at night in Valkenswaard in the south of the Netherlands. There we also met Geert, Bart's family friend, who said he would try to keep up with us this time.
Around 5:30 we arrived in Diekirch, we both basically hadn't slept during the past 24 hours. For a change we prepared for our wait at the starting line. Last year we had spent 1,5 hours waiting in shorts and a t-shirt while it was nearly freezing. This time Bart wore leg warmers and we both had shirts with long sleeves. It was raining though, so we definitely weren't comfortable.
At 7 the start sign was giving, we were immediately cycling upfront. Just like last year we initially cycled in a large group. Because of the bad weather and lack of sleep my legs weren't properly warmed up and felt exhausted just 10 km in, I also threw up. The first 20 kilometers went slowly uphill. In previous years we would see the sun coming up at the end of this section but not today. The first descent over small roads was pretty slippery due to the wet roads. As our brakes were wet we couldn't really stop properly either. We were happy when we reached the bottom.
At Dasburg we took a right turn and started a long and steep climb. As usual that's where the large group fell apart. We continued in a much smaller group near the front. A man with thick tanned legs and a blue shirt rode upfront nearly the entire first 100 km. We had a hard time hanging on. Instead of the usual climb at Baraque Michel we now had to climb 3 only slighter smaller climbs. We alternated riding in pole position, during which we often averaged around 45 km/h. Cycling fast for long periods of time is one of the best things about races like these.
We descended along the Maas river. Then it was time for the last hill, the Hallembaye. The road went uphill at up to a 12% incline. At the top there were only 7 of us left. At the second checkpoint we heard there was a group just behind us and only about 5 cyclists us in the entire race, which had over a thousand participants. The next section was nearly completely flat. In Herderen we reached the second to last stop. There were only 6 of us left of which 3 or 4 alternated riding in pole position, include us. We had a strong headwind when entering Belgium. Because of the wind we were markedly slower than in previous years, two years ago we averaged 32,5 km/h, now it was around 30,2 km/h.
After the last hill the man with the tanned legs got cramps from riding up front the entire day. I also struggled immensely to keep up, but Bart started cycling in front of me and made sure we all stayed together. We were heading towards the last checkpoint before the finish. One of the people cycling with us got a flat tire so there were only 4 of us left. The two other people were clearly faster so Bart and I ended up together. It was pretty cool that we were in 8th and 9th position, but we still had 40 km to go and there was a large group on our heels. We had no choice but to continue cycling as fast as possible.
After 10 kilometers we reached the last checkpoint. There were hardly any people there, because we were so early. We were cheered on by the organizers. Bart's neighbour was also there and said that a group of about 30 people was about 10 minutes behind us. As we were only with the two of us it would be near impossible to keep this lead for another 30 kilometers, but we decided to try. We cycled as fast as we could. About halfway someone Bart knew drove by on a motorcycle, he said the large group was only a kilometer behind us.
After Leende it was just a long straight road to the finish line. Normally there was a sign saying 'Valkenswaard 5 km', but not this year. Bart had been driving in pole position for quite a while so I took over. While I overtook Bart I saw the group of other cyclists only 200 meters behind us. I cycled as fast as I possibly could. Bart, tired from cycling up front, couldn't keep up. I felt bad, as Bart definitely deserved finishing before me after riding in front for so long, but there was no point in slowing down for him now. I kept going with the absolute last bit of energy I had left. At the finish I jumped off my bike and basically drove my bike into one of the people giving out the last of the stamps required to finish. Bart had been overtaken about 50 meters for the finish, but because one of the other cyclists fell when getting of his bike he still stayed ahead of the group.
I quickly got the last stamp, I could barely stand up straight
Bart was happy we arrived
Arrival in Valkenswaard
Receiving our medals in the bar Old Dutch
We had been covered in mud, but that had rained off
The medal and the stamp card
In the bar we showed our stamps and received the medal. In Valkenswaard the sun was shining so we got a beer. We stood there for over an hour, during which only 30 more people finished.
I couldn't wait too long though, because I still needed to work at my weekend job in a supermarket. After being awake for nearly 24 hours before even starting the race, and then cycling 268 km, I now had to cycle another 17 km to work from 19:00 to 2:00, before cycling 8 km home. This day was definitely one of the toughest I had ever been through.
Bart's medals from the past 5 years
Later Bart and I learned I had finished in 8th and Bart in 14th position, out of 1081 contestants (without Bart I would have surely finished at the end of the group that caught up with us). We arrived at 15:55, while normally already over a 100 cyclist would have finished by then. The first people had finished at 15:15, while normally this happens roughly an hour earlier. It was clear that this year's edition was tough. This was because of the weather, the rubbish that had flushed on the road, and not least because this edition was 268 km instead of ~255 km. This is an overview of the finish times over the last 5 years:
The arrival times (y-axis) against the number of people finished (x-axis). This year many people finished after 8 o'clock. Normally that meant you wouldn't receive the medal, but this year they made an exception.
As there are more people competing every year the above graph gives a skewed view. By plotting the percentage of finishers against the time the comparison becomes more fair. This is done in the graph below. We didn't compensate for people who stopped during the race.
Time versus the fraction of people finished. In the past 5 years people finished increasingly later. In 2007, 60% of the contestants had finished by 18:00, in 2011 that was only 16%.
Our fast finish time is easily visible in the graph below, this was our best Diekirch-Valkenswaard race yet.
Our time and position are marked in red, we finished at the front of the first large group.
All combined it was again fun to join this year. Next year we likely will join again, maybe we will take it a bit slower then.