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I spent a 4-day holiday in the Netherlands taking part in the Amstel Gold Race, which is without question the country’s most demanding and prestigious one-day cycle race. The formula mirrors that of all the classic races of the north: on Saturday you can ride the same course as the one to be tackled by the professionals on Sunday.

Apart from the race, which I will tell you all about in this article, the really remarkable thing about the Netherlands is how bike-friendly it is.

Cycling in the Netherlands is a breeze, for three reasons:

  1. The cycling lanes are free-flowing, interconnected and safe;
  2. The bicycle is regarded as a true means of transport in the fullest sense. It therefore has a road system of its own and can also be used by tourists (for example through bike sharing);
  3. The majority of premises and inhabitants are equipped for the use of bicycles.

Some practical examples of this are:

  • Many commercial premises allow you to inflate your tyres with pumps provided outside the building. These pumps are often branded – for a business, therefore, they’re an excellent way to get noticed. A green, useful and brilliant solution;
  • Some shops provide a rack with padlocks for parking your bicycle, securing it with the padlock key and enabling you to access the shop quickly and easily;
  • The bike-sharing system is easy to activate (you just have to download an app) and the bicycles are in perfect working order, so it’s very easy to get about using different methods (for example bicycle + public transport).

Returning to the race, the Amstel Gold Race is unique on the racing calendar. It is held every year one week after the Paris Roubaix and one week before the Liège Bastogne Liège . It represents a point of overlap between the classic pavé and mur races (Roubaix and Tour of Flanders), and those of the côtes (La Flèche Wallonne and Liège Bastogne Liège). The Amstel is one of the few direct clashes between powerful racers sprinting over the cobblestones and agile climbers battling through the Ardennes.

Although the course is not highly demanding in terms of altitude, it nonetheless requires huge concentration: the roads often narrow, and sudden turns and continual climbs and descents call for a very high level of focus throughout the race.

I did the long course: 236 Km with around 2,500 metres’ elevation difference. This route goes up all the major climbs of the professional race and is almost entirely run on cycle paths, another practical example of the country’s bike-friendly credentials.

It’s a race I’d recommend to everyone, above all for the special atmosphere of the Netherlands and the simple friendliness with which all cyclists are welcomed. This culture should be encouraged more widely in Italy to make the most of the enormous potential of cycling, both as a sport and more besides.

 

Pietro Peyron

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