Of course we (me and Bart) would again cycle Diekirch-Valkenswaard this year, this would be the 5th time. Although we both cycled a good distance to school (36 km / day) we hadn't trained much on our speedbikes, only about 400 km since the winter. The most important preparation had been our cycling vacation in Spain, from we had returned 3 weeks ago. The weather predictions were bad. It would rain hard at the start in Diekirch (Luxemburg) and more along the way.
On the Friday before 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 the entire 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 met Geert, Bart's acquaintance. He said he would try to keep up with us this time.
Around 5:30 we arrived in Diekirch, we both practically hadn't slept the entire night. For a change we prepared well 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. From 6:00 to 7:00 we waited in the rain for the starting gun.
Right from the start we were cycling upfront. Just like last year we initially cycled in 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 dangerous due to the wet roads. As our brakes were wet we couldn't really stop properly either. We were glad 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. A man with thick tanned legs and a blue shirt rode upfront nearly the entire first 100 km. We were in a fast group which we could barely hang on to. 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 a race as this.
We descended along the Maas river. Then it was time for the last hill, the Hallembaye. The road went uphill with up to 12%. 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 before us. 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 head wind when entering in 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.
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 cycle as fast as possible.
After 10 kilometers we reached the last checkpoint. There were hardly any people. 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 hard near impossible to keep this lead for another 30 kilometers. We cycled as fast as we could. About halfway someone I knew drove by on a motorcycle, he said the group was about one kilometer behind us.
After Leende it was just one 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. There was no point in slowing down for him so 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 stamps. Bart had been overtaken about 50 meters for the finish, but because one of them fell when getting of his bike he still stayed ahead of them.
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. Today ended up being definitely one of my toughest ever.
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 (although 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 cyclists 100 would have finished. The first people had finished at 15:15, while normally that is an hour earlier. It was clear that this year's edition was tough. This was because of the weather, the garbage that had flushed on the road, and 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 fastest edition 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 then we will take it a bit slower.