Euro City Cycle Challenge (Day 3)
Amsterdam to Breda
I feel quite sorry for day 3. Day 1 had the excitement of the Grand Depart, Day 2 was our first on the Continent and finished in Amsterdam, Day 4 would be an emotional finish. But, Day 3 was sandwiched in the middle and went to Breda. Breda’s most interesting claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Colonel Tom Parker (manager of Elvis Presley). So with day 3 already not having the most auspicious build up – it was not surprising it was the worst day of the trip.
As we were ushered out of the back door of the Amsterdam Novotel to our awaiting bikes it started to rain. At first it was only a light ‘misty’ type but it would get heavier as the morning wore on. As with the ride in to Amsterdam within a matter of minutes going out we were onto paths that were surrounded by trees and greenery as opposed to concrete and buildings.
Day 3 was a day that we would follow the node points for the whole day as opposed to Dave’s yellow arrows. Although I didn’t take one (as mentioned on day 2) Richard had the good sense to take sensible photos.
The cycle signs are a great idea for the network of paths round the country, but they assume a degree of common sense when in towns and an assumption that riders know how to get out of a town – quite clearly we did not have that knowledge. In the town of Uithoorn we were unsure of which way to proceed but a local lady on a typical ‘sit up and beg’ town bike told us which way to go. Ten minutes later, as we were yet again unsure of how to proceed, the same lady caught us up. We weren’t setting a pace that would trouble a Grand Tour but it would be faster than this mid-sixties Dutch female cyclist was used to. Clearly out of breath she explained that she had realised that she had given us slightly wrong directions and had raced to catch up and tell us. She said that she would have liked to cycle with us and help us on her way but only had time to tell us how old the church was and then get to work.
The ‘we’ of today was the whole of the group. It just seemed that the group sensed today could be difficult and all came together to help one another. I had thought that this challenge was a bit like ‘Big Brother’ meets ‘Coach Trip’. You put a group of adults together; some are related, others are friends but the majority are total strangers but all with the common theme of cycling. The melting pot has different genders, differing cycling abilities and you see how everybody interacts. (If any television commissioning editors are reading this – let’s get the deal done.)
It was only 17 miles to our morning stop but the rain was getting harder and we were having to stop all too often to check our directions. Of course the terrain was flat but it was open country and it was a strongish headwind. With 14 miles gone I could hear the distinctive sound of deflating rear tyre rotating. Again, not entirely flat I shot some air in and hoped to limp into the stop. Kevin had already had one front puncture that morning.
At the village of Zevenhoven the support van was waiting for us and Mim offered to help me change my tyre. I found a tiny thorn that had pierced the tyre and was still in. Having removed the offending article I decided on the belts and braces approach. I swapped the tyres from front to back and stuffed a foldable tyre into my back pocket. We had been told that we use the toilet of the Sports Club whose car park we were in. As I looked around the car there was nobody else in it but I could hear laughter from around the corner. It turned out that our support crew had asked if they could buy some teas and coffees from them as they had been held up in traffic leaving Amsterdam and hadn’t had time to get the kettle on. The committee would hear none of us buying anything and set up a table with hot drinks with cake and biscuits free of charge. One of them asked me if I wanted anything in my coffee and I asked for brandy; she was genuinely sorry that a rule of funding for the club was that they couldn’t have any alcohol on the premises (note to self – next time pack a hip flask).
In distance (26 miles) the ride to lunch was our longest stage but it was also to be the most arduous with the rain getting heavier and us all lost. There is no point detailing every time we stopped to discuss which way to proceed as there are too many to mention. But some of the discussions became quite heated and ‘splinter groups’ were being formed. We were heading for Gouda and one idea was to leave the green node point signage and follow alternative red cycle paths that headed to Gouda. One idea was turn left when the signs definitely said right. However, the day was saved when ‘nephew’ Nic and ‘daughter’ Christine put their respective heads together and worked out how to get us back on the right path albeit with a couple of extra miles cycling. Sure enough we found ourselves back on the right path. The right path was a joy for Ann who was on a mountain bike as for three miles we were on a rough dirt track and it was her turn to be on the right bike and us roadies fretting over fresh punctures. We weren’t the only ones having a bad day – I’m sure this lorry driver that was letting his tyres down to free himself from under the bridge had had better days.
We had been told that the lunch venue would only serve food until 2pm and with all the stops and punctures we were well behind schedule. It was a great relief when we turned and the wind was behind us and for ten glorious minutes the pace was turned up and I began to look forward to a coffee, some food and a change of clothes. The long, flat lane came to an end at a T-junction that offered two alternatives; neither of which were ones that we wanted. Nic and Christine were summoned to the front again and it was realised that we had missed a right hand turn a couple of miles back. We obviously had to turn around and pedal into the strong wind we had previously enjoyed on our backs. My spirits were deflated and I was one of the stronger riders so I could only imagine what the slower riders were feeling. Jane was soon off the pace and dropping off the back. I decided to give her some help and put my hand on her back and give her a push. The look on her face was a joy as we began to pass the others and make our way to the front of the peloton.
We arrived at Krimpen for lunch at 3pm. Luckily the venue had agreed to stay open for us. Along with the support crew was Jennifer. She hadn’t been able to cycle in the morning as she had had her handbag stolen in Amsterdam and been forced to spend the morning arranging a temporary passport. Sam took pity on us and got all our drinks on the company.
Thankfully the rain had stopped and I didn’t feel the need to get changed but I did dig out from the luggage van a warmer waterproof top. I offered my thinner one to Kevin but surprisingly for a Southern Softy he declined my offer and embraced the ‘warmth’ of his soaking wet sweatshirt. After lunch we had to use two water buses to get across a wide river. At the first ferry it was still fine but the clouds weren’t far behind.
At the second ferry jetty Kevin had another puncture. It turned out he had been carrying a thorn in his front tyre – luckily this time it was spotted but the tyre had to take place on the ferry as it ran a tight schedule and was not going to wait for us. I used the time just before the ferry came to dig out my bike lights as I had a feeling I might need them today. As we stepped off the second ferry in Dordrecht Hooikade the sun came out for the first time. Despite all the mishaps, stops, punctures and arguments we were still together as a group – we were still cycling on the Continent and now the sun was shining .
The next river crossing was on a bridge. Lizzie remarked how incredible it was to have a cycle path on such a large bridge – I said the Humber Bridge was far bigger and also had a cycle path but it was impressive nonetheless.
Pic 5 “bridge over untroubled waters”
There was no afternoon coffee stop as the van was again stuck in traffic. We had decided against finding a café as it was now early evening and the night’s hotel wanted to be reached before darkness set in. But there was to be yet another stop. As we were leaving the small town of Zevenbergen, Ann suffered a puncture. Half a mile back I had spied a Shell garage so I turned around and nipped into the adjoining shop. I bought 20 fags and 20 Mars Bars. I fancied an energy boost and I remembered the school rule was that you could have sweets as long as there was enough for everybody in the class. I handed them out to everybody but still had some left. It was explained that Colin had gone ahead with Jane and Ann to get them to the hotel a bit quicker and so the rest of us could put the hammer down (Frank speak) when the puncture was repaired. The support van pulled up alongside us and said that Dave was up ahead marking our final miles into the hotel. It truly was a beautiful evening and with everybody now ‘sugared up’ and assured of getting to the hotel I took the opportunity to get a bit of blood circulating and did indeed ‘put the hammer down’. Three miles from the hotel I caught the breakaway group of Colin, Ann and Jane. I gave out the remaining Mars Bars but Jane couldn’t accept hers. It was then that I realised just how much of a challenge this ride was for her. She explained that she couldn’t eat and ride at the same time as she needed to keep both hands on the bars.
We were all at the hotel for 8 o’clock and the light was just beginning to fade. The group who did the same ride two weeks before had not made it until 10. In all we had cycled 86 miles (seven more than scheduled).
Dinner and beers both tasted good that night.
Read about Day 4
Guest post by Francis Brogden