In June 2015 TSC spent the weekend in Valkenburg, Netherlands cycling on the route of the cycling classic Amstel Gold Race, an event won by names such as Merckx, Raas, Hinault and Gilbert. Heres a review of our weekend!
Having chosen to cross the water using the Hull-Rotterdam ferry link provided by P&O, the team did not need to leave their Durham HQ until 16:30 ahead of the 20:30 crossing. A steady drive down to Hull saw refreshments cracked open on arrival and the lads met up with their cabin-mates AJ from the Netherlands and Heinz (like the ketchup) from Germany. A bonus of this ferry was the option to save money by going in shared cabins. Any plans for an early night were thrown out of the port-hole when all the cans were empty and an evening was spent listening to the ships ‘entertainment’. The crossing cost us £120 per person return, but saved us 4hrs extra driving and £200 in diesel for a trip down to Dover.
Arriving into Europort at 9am, the 220km drive saw the bus role into Valkenburg at 11:45 and immediately picking their spot at the Den Driesch Campsite about 300 metres from the town centre. The site offered a Motorhome Overnight tariff, costing just €20, while still allowing the use of campsite facilities as well as free entrance into the local swimming pool. A quick lunch was had before the team went down to the Amstel Gold Race XP building about 500 metres away. The café is the base for 3 fully signposted routes out of the town and following the route of the Spring Classic race held in April each year. The 3 routes are varying in length and difficulty, and the café is open until 7pm. We wanted to enjoy a few post-ride refreshments before closing time and so opted for Route 1 – 75km with around 6 climbs – which saw us get back to the base by 5:30pm. The route was OK, and extremely well sign posted while mostly using cycle paths and some country lanes. The climbs were nothing too severe, certainly not in comparison to those on offer in Flanders for example. The route was quite mixed in scenery, with quite a lot of industry on show and not too many stopping point options for a mid-ride snack or drinks top up. At the start we registered for timing chips (free) and at several points throughout the ride you are timed up a climb with your time displayed at the top of the climb on a digital display. After the ride we had several pints of Amstel before hitting the town!
A full (veggie) English breakfast was enjoyed before the team headed back to the Amstel Café and re-registered for timing chips and took maps for Route 3, a 79km loop taking in the routes toughest climbs. (The Route 2 that we did not complete is 112km in length) This route was also superbly signposted with non-stop beautiful scenery and country lane cycling around the Limburg region. The route started by going up the Cauberg and went through many small towns and villages with lots to offer in the way of restaurants and pubs for lunch, and we seemed to be constantly in the company of other cyclists following the route, much like being on an organised sportive ride. We chose to eat our lunch in Mechelen at the 49km point, and during the last 30km after lunch we took in the hardest 5 climbs of the weekend, ones that easily match those of Flanders! The Gulpernerberg (15%), Kruisberg (17%), Eyserbosweg (16%) and Keutenberg (22%) really tested the legs and the gears! After the ride we enjoyed some refreshments and Frites back at the café before heading back to Rotterdam for the 20:30 ferry. Once onboard use was made of the €2 for a bottle of Miller offer.
We really can’t recommend this region and facility enough! We have enjoyed the very similar set up in Oudenaarde for the Tour of Flanders and can say for sure this Amstel Gold one is every bit as good, while actually offering more in the way of camping options and activities in the town centre. Comparing other trips away we have enjoyed, Mallorca is the only other real competitor. The staff at the Amstel XP Centre could not have been more helpful, the routes were easy to follow and the roads we perfect for cycling on. At less than 3hrs drive from the likes of Calais, Rotterdam and Zeebrugge ports its a no-brainer for any cyclist wanting a good weekend away. Go! Our photos can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.849275705186063.1073741869.183834381730202&type=1