My visit to Europe was only going to be brief but as usual there was much to extract from my time in Holland for the 50th anniversary race of the Amstel Gold.
There were many highlights, the standout, participating in the Amstel Tourism ride. I chose to do the 150k as I still had some form from the Otway Odyssey. The 200 or 250km options were not even considered.
I was staying in Valkenberg and kitted up, I arrived at the start line to find I was riding with number 1 on my back. Having had a beer the night before with other previous winners also riding the event this was pretty humbling, especially considering 5 time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault was also joining the ride and even more so when I caught up with a mate at the departure point who was number 17000 and something, in fact there were over 20000 participants.
I get to experience my fair-share of these rides but this was unique. The ride was due to start at 7am. I picked up my number at 8.00 and still had to have my breakfast. The old racer in me was starting to fret that I would be chasing all day, but unlike other events there was no sense of urgency, no pushing or nervous energy, all seemed pretty relaxed and civilised the good folks riding just simply rolling out when they felt like and there was time for another coffee.
This is the Netherland’s biggest cycling participation event and it follows the labyrinth like course of the Amstel Gold Race which twists and turns back and forth this hilly part of Southern Holland. I heard someone say that over the entire day the furthest point you are from the start is 25km.
This is Holland, bikes and paths are part of the transport infrastructure and there were sections when the route took us through bike only areas. The rest was on roads that weren’t closed and there were no exceptional privileges other than riding with a very experienced mob.
At intersections we would have to stop to give way, sometimes waiting for a few minutes. The crowd of riders would grow into the hundreds while other road users were waved through. Everything flowed wonderfully, no ducking under boom gates and no attitude. The aggravation that I have witnessed in other community events was never evident. No pushing, shoving or riders coming through who insist on screaming instructions like “stay left” ,”coming through”, “slowing” or the best of all “UNCLIPPING”.
The only time I saw an incident was in the final 3k on the Cauberg and there was an English lass who found the last kicker a little more than her fitness level provided. She was pretty emotional having had to get off and walk but that is cycling and I’m sure will return next year with renewed vigour, the ascent the Cauberg her goal not unlike a very shattered Michael Matthews.
I crossed the line and shot down to receive my finishers medal just like everybody else before I was whipped into a large VIP area complete with a sportif buffet and of course plenty of Amstel Beer. What a treat! After a bit of a feed and accompanying hydration I sadly had to part ways with my buddies as duty called. I could have made myself pretty comfortable till the wee hours. The stories were rolling out like the free-flowing beer on tap. Couldn’t get much better.
It did, race day dawned. The race is now a story that has been told. I spent quite a few hours in the race organiser Leo Van Viliet lead car, so close to it all, the action, the adrenalin, the break and the chase, nothing has changed for me.
On my final night in town – the crowds gone and ceremony’s finished I settled in for a dinner with the only other old timer left. Joop Zoetemelk was one of my heroes and a few years senior to me. He won Le tour when I first turned pro, came second about 6 times and was swamped if he poked his nose out the door. I had a great night with perhaps Hollands greatest ever rider, what a champ.
Up early for a run over parts of the course that are embedded in my memory, I returned to my room and opened a souvenir program from the 50th anniversary race. There was a photo of a young Phil Anderson riding on the Berg, where I unleashed an attack on the final survivor of the break for my first classic win, the 1983 Amstel Gold cup. The other rider in the photo was Joop.
I will be sure to return again next year and make it an annual visit.
Written by Phil Anderson