Race Around the Netherlands 2022
That is a good question… The Race Around the Netherlands is a self-supported bicycle race around the perimeter of the Netherlands, plus some bonus loops, to get to a total of 1955km. About 150 participants started in the 2022 edition. Riders get the gpx tracks to use in their own GPS navigation devices, and with that, they are on their own. Organize your own food & lodgings, help yourself if you happen to have any bike troubles. All riders carry a GPS tracker such that supporters at home and along the route can see at any time exactly where each riders is.
How do you even begin to prepare for a 2000km race..? Well, you’ll need to do a lot of cycling (duh!). I’ve been in the habit of long-distance cycling for quite a few years now. In the year leading up to RAtN, I was averaging about 800km per month, and tried to include a 200+km tour at least once a month. Keeping this up throughout fall and winter obviously gives you a good start in the new year. Part of the longer rides was done as BRM-ride (Brevets Randonneurs Mondiaux, see https://www.randonneurs.nl/), officially certified long distance rides over 200km, 300km (and potentially longer). Besides those, I rode my bike to visit my Mom several times (Vaals – Steenwijk, 300km one way). Having completed several 300km/day rides, and not feeling completely wasted at the end of them!, gave me confidence that RAtN should be doable. Of course, I had no idea how my body would react to 6-7 consecutive 300km/day rides… Back in 2019, I rode Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), a 1200km ride in rather hilly terrain, which took me 85 hours, but also completely wore me out. I didn’t sleep much along the way, and didn’t manage to eat properly. For RAtN, I decided to stick to cycling during the day only, and getting a good night’s sleep every night. I believe this turned out to be a wise choice 😊
On long distance rides, there is only one option for me: my Challenge Fujin recumbent bike. No saddle sores, ever, no aching neck or shoulders. And in headwinds, the recumbent gives you a definite aerodynamic advantage. Disadvantage of the bike is its higher weight, probably some 5-6kg more than ‘normal’ road bikes. On flat terrain, this is barely noticeable, but in the hills of Zuid-Limburg (and also on the hilly terrain of PBP), it definitely slowed me down. But, it is a price that I’m willing to pay for the added long distance comfort.
In terms of navigation, last year I upgraded from a historic Garmin e-trex to the new Garmin 1040 Plus, which was a brilliant investment. I’m super happy with the ease-of-use, connectivity, robustness, and long battery life of this unit. The route is made available as gpx track (no signage along the way), so it is important to have a reliable GPS unit. Several other riders complained about their GPS unit intermittently malfunctioning – I had no such troubles at all.
On the topic of equipment: Just 2 weeks before the start of RAtN, on my final training ride, the rim of my front wheel gave up… It had cracked lengthwise over a significant stretch and was beyond repair. A 20” wheel with hub dynamo is not easy to come by on such short notice! In the end, Frank ter
Braak from the Eindhoven-based Liggende Hollander was kind enough to loan me the front wheel of his personal bike – my saving grace! With that loaner wheel, I was able to ride in RAtN.
Riders are responsible for themselves, you need to organize your own lodgings and supplies along the way. Since we have been a host address for www.vriendenopdefiets.nl (VodF) in Vaals, I decided to test the same but then as guest. This organization has a wide network of host-addresses throughout the Netherlands, and my experiences have been nothing but positive. The first few nights I had booked in advance, but later in the race I would just check towards the late afternoon: how much farther do I expect to get until about 21:00? Then check the VodF site for hosts in the area and give them a call. I never had to go farther than 1km from the route to find lodgings. And the hosts were gracious enough to prepare breakfast at 06:30 (unusually early for most) so that I could get off to a reasonably early start.
Food & Drink
I always set off with plenty of liquids – I typically carry 4.5 liters at the start, which lasts for about 150-200kms. A bit much perhaps, but it saves me time in scavenging for refills, and allows me to keep rehydrating generously. Over the course of my recent rides, I found that a 50/50 mix of mango juice and water works best for me, while occasionally switching to Isostar sports drinks. I had loaded all locations of free tap water into my GPS (https://drinkwaterkaart.nl/), so that I wouldn’t lose time looking for refills.
In terms of food, I stuck mostly to sandwiches, kokosmakronen (coconut cakes), yoghurt drinks, bananas. And, within constant reach, I had Haribo, licorice candy, and chocolate. This was one of the lessons from my PBP experience: try to eat very frequently! It worked perfectly for me. I never stopped to order food in a restaurant, simply because it would take too much time. Upon arrival at my lodgins I would have a pasta salad or instant noodles to compensate for all the sweet stuff during the day.
The actual Race Around the Netherlands!
Day 1: Amerongen – Hellendoorn, 08:00 – 21:15, 330 km
On Saturday, April 30th at 08:00 we set off, a total of about 140 riders. As I knew that would happen: day 1 was my fastest day, I rode at a pace that I wouldn’t be able to sustain for 6-7 days, but whatever distance I had covered was behind me, so let’s go! From Amerongen over to Flevoland province, cycling along the Flevomeer up to about Elburg, then turned south-east to cross the Hoge Veluwe. Near Elburg we had the first and, as it turned out, the only period of (light) rain of the entire week. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the rain, but it was short enough to serve merely as contrasting element to the otherwise perfect weather conditions.
While crossing the Posbank (the only area apart from South-Limburg where you’ll find hairpin turns…), I actually went way too fast into a sharp turn during the descent and couldn’t hold it. Luckily, I managed to stop safely by shooting straight into the shoulder while applying full brake power. Having escaped from an early RAtN dropout, I looked around and noticed that another rider was crawling out of the bushes a bit farther down – he had actually hit a tree, but said he could continue. I wonder whether he actually did…
Anyway, on we went – through Enschede and the Sallandse Heuvelrug to my first stop in Hellendoorn. Day 1 went according to plan! 330km in just over 13 hours.
Day 2: Hellendoorn – Usquert, 07:30 – 21:15, 291 km
A bit slower going on this 2nd day – in part, undoubtedly, because of the energy expended the previous day. But a slight headwind from the north, and a stretch of ‘bike path’ of exceptionally dismal quality didn’t help either. The latter was just before Bourtange, and added last-minute to avoid road works going into Bourtange – let’s hope it doesn’t stay for the 2024 edition. The sign said ‘Gevaarlijk Fietspad’, and that was an understatement… Navigating through loose sand with my recumbent turned out to be impossible, so I had to walk those stretches. Bourtange, on the German border, was a delightful small historic fortress town, where cobblestones and hoards of tourists competed in slowing down cyclists 😊. 10 min break for a quick bite, and pictures by Adventure Bike Racing, the organizing team. From Bourtange, the route went back west into Drente province, known for its excellent cycling infrastructure and beautiful scenery.
And then north to Groningen city and ultimately Eemshaven, the north-eastern most point on the route. From here on the route will follow the coast line pretty much for the next 800 km (!) all
the way to Vlissingen in the south west. Not today, though, my next scheduled stop was Usquert – about 5km out of the way, but worth the detour as my daughter lives there. It was a highlight of the day to look forward to! (Strictly speaking, it is against the rules to be staying with friends or family. I should and could have booked a room with strangers two blocks down the road… Which I didn’t. For me the challenge of finishing the ride within reasonable time was enough, no need artificially to make it more complicated.)
Day 3: Usquert – Warder, 07:20 – 22:30, 335 km
In my pre-RAtN optimism and enthousiasm I had decided that a 330km daily distance should be OK, so I had pre-booked lodgings accordingly. It meant a rather long day, but also helped focus on where I wanted to be at the end of the day: Warder, just north of Volendam in Noord-Holland province. As luck would have it, we had easterly winds early morning, shifting to the north just about the time that I turned south near Harlingen, Friesland. By that time I had opened and closed a lot (a lot!) of sheep-gates. Bicycle paths along the dikes would routinely be shared with sheep and their droppings, and the gates were apparently part of the deal. Not easy to navigate through with my long recumbent bike… Before I forget: another highlight was passing through the little village of Wierum, which features prominently – with its church and pastor – in the popular tv series Hollands Hoop.
One of the lesser exciting stretches to just get through was the 25km nothingness / polder dike leading to the former Zuiderzee island of Urk, now only recognizable by the fact that it is situated at a whopping 5m above the surrounding land
Today especially, so as not to arrive too late at my next host family, I tried to minimize stopping times. This is key anyway in long distance cycling: if you’re standing still, you’re not moving – simple as that. Therefore, I ate mostly while cycling, and didn’t take much of a break. All in all I still had 1,5 hours ‘downtime’ in my 15 hour day – all little stops (sanitary stops, shopping, sheep gates, traffic lights, etc.) do add up. On the upside: I got to ride through beautiful Noord-
Hollands Waterland during a mesmerizing sunset. Slightly later than intended (hoped), but still at an OK hour, I arrived in Warder. Very encouraging at this point was the realization that I wasn’t worn out at all – it felt like I could have gone on for another couple of hours. All the while, I was glad I could actually stop and recharge!
Day 4: Warder – Schiedam, 08:00 – 23:15, 293 km
If ever I had a bit of a low period during the race, then it was the morning of this 4th day. Going north against the wind under dreary skies, with rain seemingly imminent all morning – I covered only some 60km in the first 3 hours, which is way below my target. For the first time in the race I sat down somewhere to have a few cups of coffee, and then soldiered on. The coffee helped! Or just the fact that I accepted the slower progress and made the best of it. However, Den Helder was soon in sight, and that meant turning a corner and going south for a long time, with a bit of a tail wind. Quite the difference that makes! Cycling south along the coast offered some beautiful scenery in long stretches of dunes, colorful flower bulb fields, interspersed with one of the most polluting industrial sites – the Tata Steel mills in IJmuiden. Even though there was a slight northern wind, I didn’t progress as fast as I thought I might. Surprisingly long stretches of brick roads (comment from a Belgian rider: “Damn brick roads, laid by workers, one even more drunk than the other!”) which would rattle and shake bike and rider through and through. The upside of all this, though, was that I got to see the port of Rotterdam by night. Quite the sight, to be cycling along the Maas towards Rotterdam, with well-lit industrial sites left and right, sparsely lit vessels, and Rotterdam skyline getter closer and closer. Finally around 11pm I arrived in Schiedam, where I was able to stay at a friend’s house.
Day 5: Schiedam – Alphen, 08:15 – 21:30, 300km
At this time in the race, the participants are well spread out along the track with the first ones already having finished, while others were still quite a ways away from the half-way point (i.e., more than 1000km between them!). And yet, I continued to run into other riders. Just 5 minutes into my day, I found myself in the company of Hans and Johan in Schiedam. Hans I had first met near Enkhuizen, and would continue to meet along the track all the way to Heerlen. We happened to have pretty much the same speed and daily distance, just different breaks. Sometimes we would ride together for a while chat a bit, and then part ways again. Today’s ride offered a good view over the ‘Deltawerken’ – Dutch engineering ingenuity to keep the low-lying parts of the country safe and dry under all circumstances, and avoiding such flooding catastrophes as in 1953. Sunny skies and a light breeze – what more can you ask for? Around 7pm I checked the VodF site for potential lodgings – found something another 50-60km down the road in Alphen (“You still have to ride more than 50km??” The friendly lady asked incredulously) and announced my planned arrival for 21:30. And I was off by less than 30sec!
Day 6: Alphen – Sittard, 07:25 – 21:00, 247 km
OK, today we’ll hit the hills of Zuid-Limburg! I actually know all of them quite well as I live right there and normally love to include as many climbs in my rides as I can. But this time is different… with my heavier recumbent and 1600 km ‘in the legs’ already, if was more of a struggle. The Keuterberg with a short stretch of 22% grade I actually had to walk. On the upside – this being my home turf meant that at various points along the route I was being cheered on by friends, or even accompanied (thanks Heiko!) for some time. Since my home is at only 500m from the route, just down the Vaalserberg (where I saw both Hans and Johan once again!), of course I stopped for a short break. However, it was too early in the day to think about sleeping, and I wanted to minimize the remaining distance on my last day. So – check again VodF site and I found a (what turned out to be super friendly) host family in Sittard.
Day 7, Sittard – Amerongen, 07:30 – 17:15, 191 km
One of the nice things about long-distance cycling is that ‘distance’ becomes a relative thing. On this last day, I started off with the thought “only 190km to go!” which seemed like it would pass in no time. OK, it didn’t, but it was clear that I didn’t have to press on just to finish before dark. Just imagine: I allowed myself the luxury of actually stopping for lunch, just passed Nijmegen, with a view over the Rhine. From there it was only another 50km, and before I knew it, the start/finish place at bike-café De Proloog in Amerongen was in sight. I had done it! Finish the Race Around the Netherlands in 6 days and 9 hours! All in all I had covered 1982km, due to some small detours around road-works and to get to my daughter. One of my Strava buddies suggested later I should have made another detour to cover the remaining 18km to complete 2000. I’ll leave that to him, should he feel inclined to do this race at some point.
Final pictures: Start and Finish.