Last weekend I travelled to the border of a Belgium and Holland to attend the 2nd Eroica Limburg.
After a long drive across Europe in Friday afternoon traffic I arrived at the camp site in Schin op Guel. I am always amazed at how much better campsites are in Europe. This one had flat pitches for tents, power supplies, wifi and a pub/restaurant. All for 20 euros a night.
I had programmed my Garmin edge to take me to the festival site and after missing the turn initially I soon found myself cycling through a tree lined avenue in the grounds of a chateau before emerging into Valkenburg town itself and the start/festival site. The festival (unlike Eroica Britannia) is open to everyone and a mixture of cyclists and locals were enjoying some of the local “brand pilsner”.
After quickly registering and obtaining my ride numbers and pack I purchased tokens to enable the purchase of food and drink. As I was in Holland my dinner of choice had to be a cone of frites with a big dollop of mayonnaise on the top washed down with a local beer.
50s music was being played from a Cadlliac by a suitably Elvis lookalike DJ next to a vintage merrygoround.
My Holdsworth Les West Autograph edition was getting a few looks as most of the bikes there were Raleighs (Raleigh had a Dutch cycling team in the Tour de France) or Italian exotica.
Holdsworth Les West Autograph edition – Eroica Limburg
As the mornings start would be 8:00 am for the 100K route I thought it best to head back to the campsite to get some rest.
At 4:00am I awoke to the pitta patta of rain against my tent which then turned into a terrential down pour. The weather app on my phone was predicting heavy rainfall all day. At this point I was wide awake and considering abondoning the ride and calling it a day. Luckily my Dutch friend recommended a weather radar website for the Netherlands and this showed the worst of the rains would be through by about 7:40 (never trust weather reports). At 7:40 I donned my wool jersey and cycling shorts and headed outside into the drizzle. Halfway to the start of the ride the heavens opened and the bike and I were soaked through.
At the start there were just 3 other riders, I assume the others had either abondoned or had the good sense to start after the down pour. A brief respite came after entering into a series of caves with a light show, this was quite fabulous although a bit chilly. We were soon out of the cave and into a steep climb. My rear Mech was skipping into the big gear so I could only maintain cadence by holding the bar shifter down in one arm and the handle bars with the other whilst chatting to a Dutch father and son. I very nearly missed the first turn if it wasn’t for the Son shouting to warn me. This was to be a problem the whole ride as the sign posts were quite small and you really had to hunt them out.
After about 15k I came across a fruit stand offering fresh pressed juice and peaches. Alongside the stand stood two working horses and country gentlemen standing in the wet. I must say the fruit juice went down a treat as I missed the opportunity to grab a coffee or a cup of tea at the start. I then hooked up with an English rider living in Holland who was riding his fathers Claud Butler which only had about 2 working gears. He quizzed me on my Holdsworth and my Brooks gear and I was quite ashamed to say with the exception of the bike all of the accessories were not vintage.
The next stop was at a castle and friendly ladies served up beautiful fluffy cherry pancakes. Also a chap was offering black pudding and caramelised apples. All local delicacies. As my breakfast consisted of a Belvita biscuit this was VERY APPRECIATED. The coffee was pretty aweful but the caffeine did its job of waking me up.
By now we had done quite a bit of off-road work along farm tracks that were now getting quite rutted and muddy. The bike was coping well despite the grime and the rain. In places despite the rain the countryside was quite beautiful and I could see why the organisers picked the route as it reminded me in some ways of Tuscany. As we passed through villages the smell of freshly made waffles would linger in the air.
We took a ferry to cross the river Meuse. On the bank on the other side a line of geese zig zagged their way down to the key to great us until a local dog chased them into the river. Once on the otherside we were in Belgium and cycling along cobbled streets. In my mind I was Sean Kelly riding with the pleton to win another Paris Roubaix.
We followed the river Meuse before heading up a steep hill alongside a massive cement works and into a forest before heading back down the otherside. Once again I found myself lost and without any other riders around so I backtracked and found a small sign pointing to a track across the grass that ran through a water mill.
After crossing back over the Meuse and onto a steep climb, my friend with limited gears did a great impression of Contador and surged ahead dancing on the pedals. Meanwhile I chatted to a French rider and we both waived goodbye to my English friend as he headed off on the 160K route, though soon we were lost again having missed another turn across a farm track. That would teach us to talk about bikes!
At the lunch stop I took on board some warm mushroom soup and noshed a lovely fluffy tart made with rice. I did not want to hang around too long for fear of a) getting too cold and b) not wanting to get back on my bike!
In the town there were signs going every direction so I took a bit of a guess as to which direction to head and followed one of the signs. Once again I found myself completely alone and cycling along next to a cherry orchard. It’s a little unnerving being in a foriegn land and not quite knowing where your heading.
After a while a few other riders joined me, Eduardo an Italian from Giaole in Tuscany (home of the original Eroica), his friend and a Belgian rider. I quickly discovered that I was now on the 160k route. I decided to try to keep with these guys and Eduardo and I chatted about Holdsworth bikes. He was keen to know more as he was working for Steel Vintage bikes in Berlin who assemble new build Holdsworth bikes. I also chatted to a Belgian who spoke fluent Italian. I was about spent before we hit the next stop sponsored by Red Bull. I opted for freshly made pancakes with syrup and a proper freshly made coffee. God bless the lady of Club Diana (apparently a high class sex club and the the double decker bus was visited by many a tour rider for a massage).
Club Diana Bus
Best pancakes ever!!
Again I didn’t want to hang around and as the road split decided to stay on the 160k route as I didn’t want to risk double backing on myself. Once again the signs disappeared and I found myself unsure if I was on the correct route. I then bumped into a bunch of guys exiting a farm field who were also wondering where to head to next. Apparently they were on the 100k route. I began chatting to a Canadian rider (appropriately as it was Canada day) and we headed back to the Finnish line together having scrambled up a steep muddy incline not suitable for a mountain bike let alone a vintage racer.
Holdsworth Les West or mountain bike?
Across the finish line we were greated by two lovely ladies and handed our medals which were also beer bottle openers! A souvenir photo was taken inside a photo booth and that was that it was over.
I was absolutely starving so quickly polished off a hamburger and another cone of fries with a couple of beers in celebration. After all the wrong turns I had cycled 120K in pretty nasty conditions. Mud was splattered everywhere, my feet wre soaked but I had a great time and despite the rain loved Holland/Belgium.