Steven Rooks Classic
Rooks, along with his side kick Gert Jan Theunisse, took the mountains
by storm in the Tours de France of the 80's. Second in the 88
Tour, along with a win on Alpe D'Huez and the Polka Dot Jersey in the
same year, gives Rooks legendary status in the flatlands of his native Holland.
As can be seen from the 5000
riders that turned up to support the fifth running of an event that
unlike some with "Classic" in the title, is truly deserving of it's
pretensions. The mythical, legendary and leg breaking Redoute
climb came at 97 kilometres and wasn't even the second hardest climb of
The beauty of this event is
that it is held on May 1st each year, which in 2008 in case you forgot,
was a Thursday. Unlike the UK, May Day is still
a holiday in most of Europe, whenever it falls. So, you get to
stay in a luxury four star business hotel on a day when it would be
empty at a price that "normal" people can afford. Clever
marketing and making best use of resources all rolled in to one.
At "just" (if I stand up straight) six foot, I'm not small.
But queuing for the breakfast at the NH Hotel (race HQ and event start)
I felt like Jimmy Krankie in an episode of the Land of the Giants.
The Dutch are so tall.
And skinny. Almost every single one of them had the physique of a
pro racer; and don't get me started on the men! I've never seen so
many women at an event. There were literally hundreds of them.
Many in full blown teams; same kit, same bikes, same blonde hair, long
legs, etc, etc.
The organisation, from
getting our numbers, to the military precision of breakfast, to the
event start and the road marshalling and feeds was absolutely beyond
reproach. Top marks all round.
show the draw of Steven Rooks and his event you only had to look at the
start list. There were loads of teams, from all over the low lands
of the surrounding countries along with the pros, Martin Tjallingii, Aart
Vierhouten and Max van Heeswijk. Obviously along for a training
ride and to show us mortals the level of art form to which bike riding can
If I had a Euro from every person that told me
Holland was flat, I could by a brand new Colnago with all the trimmings.
This was going to be a long day with over 3000 metres of climbing and
almost a 100k before we get to La Redoute. Today will need some
circumspect pacing; flat it ain't. If you count the uphill
bits on the profile may you'll see there are 51; that's fifty one!
The first 10k are used to get
you out of Maastricht and heading towards Limbourg. No sooner are
you off the cycle paths than you're climbing a short 1k leg stinger
that's not even registered as a climb! After 10k you begin the
long, long drag to Limbourg. Which starts with a 10k monster that
ends with the additional twist of the 600 metre 17% climb to Rullen and
it is as steep as it looks in the photo.
At 39k we get to Limbourg,
the first feed and the first cobbles. I give the feed a miss, as
usual and clamber to the front for the cobbles. It's the only
place to be.
Dianne's 110k ride leaves the
cobbles and heads to Heveremont in one direction and we take another. So far it's been
a mass of cyclists, climbing in respectful unison but with very little
chatter. I was soon to understand why.
Time to Redefine Big
Ville Haute climb passes by almost without registering and as we drop in
to Heveremont we get a very short, sharp, cold shower. The heavens
open and the temperature drops. Luckily we have the 2 kilometre
climb to the dam at Lac de la Gillepe to warm us back up again.
When you get to the top of
the dam, to ride across it, you get to see the 300 tone, 17 metre high
Lion that sits on one of the oldest dams in Europe. I've seen big
statues before but this is jaw droppingly big. You can get a
perspective of it's size by clocking the people on the lookout gantry at
It's a very impressive site
and takes your mind off the terrible rutted forest road you've climbed
to get there. It even takes your mind off the massive climb you realise
you have to make to get out of the valley. But not for long.
Three hundred metres of flat across the dam top, where it's eat and
drink time, then it's avanti once more.
Onwards & Upwards
So we're 60k in and already we've had warm early morning sun shine and
freezing mid-morning rain. Still only 100k to go!
After what seemed like 30
kilometres of climbing or descending, mainly climbing we reached the top
of Stourmont and the descent down to the Viaduct de Remouchamps.
As you would expect with 5000 riders, you're never alone on this ride.
But as we reached the
fabulously long, 2k sweeping descent to the foot of La Redoute it began
to hail. Not one to miss a chance, I went to the front of our 80
strong group and disappeared, without braking, down the road to get a
run-up to the climb. For the first time today there are no riders
Hail La Redoute
La Redoute being one of the two timed climbs of the day, rather than do
anything daft (we're still only half way remember) I decided to stay in
the saddle and grind up to save energy. No racing, no honking, no
But when the road hit's 21%
(which someone kindly painted on the road at the steepest bit) and still
covered in slippery paint from the previous weekend's Liege classic,
mixed in with the still wet roads and falling hail; staying in the
saddle wasn't an option.
With front wheel coming off
the ground, I had to get out of the saddle to keep the nose down.
Only for the back wheel to start spinning up the hill! I got to
the top in 9 minutes 34 seconds, four minutes behind fastest man Max van Heeswijk!
At the top and the second
feed it was a quick bottle refill and a blast back down the equally
steep side rode of La Redoute to Trasenter.
Dive! Dive! Dive!
After the 1700 metre 21%er of La Redoute, the Trasenter is a "kick a man
when he's down" climb. Four thousand five hundred metres long,
clinging to the side of a valley with sustained gradients of over 15%,
on roads you wouldn't take your average Chelsea tractor.
If you check out the
promo-vid, it's the bit where you focus on three climbers then
zoom out just as another crawls past the lens. It was a cruel,
cruel, unrelenting climb that submarined the morale as much as the
glycogen. There were many walkers...
The next "classified" climb
is the Cote de Drolenval, 1.2 kilometres at an average of 11%, with two
thirds of it between 13-15% and the last bit at the top at 20%.
We're at 115k, a normal
Saturday road ride for me at home, and one I get home from feeling
fresh. But today I'm riding with my chin on the stem. And
there's still 50k to go. The back's cracked, the legs are like
jelly and the vision is beginning to get blurred. It's one of the
best day's cycling I've had in a long time.
Three more climbs hit us
before we get to Fouarge, which to add insult to injury is cobbled.
The speed I fly over them, making up loads of places brings some sort of
encouragement. I begin to get a second wind as we head for the
Cote de Waides; which is just as well because it's the second timed
climb of the day.
kilometres out from the Waides, it's a gel down the throat, a swig of a
drink and an attempt of some sort of composure.
At the base you can see a
long way up the climb. I select a gear in the middle of the block
for the 2500 metre ascent.
With sections of just 14%.
It's 800 metres longer than La Redoute but not as debilitating. I
climb it well and claw back 30 seconds on van Heeswijk who takes only
three and a half minutes out of me. He must be tiring or soft
To keep things interesting
there's a mad horse on the road, that spooked itself on the timing mats.
And it's all
caught on film, the poor thing.
On the descent I pick up a
group of around 20 riders and we fire back towards Maastricht. In
Holland, you have to use a cycle track if one is available and just
because you're in a classic event doesn't make it any different.
The last 10k are all on cycle
lanes shared with the public. Everyone behaved themselves and we
all sauntered back in state of self imposed neutralisation.
A fitting end to a fine day. We meandered back across the trading
estate to our finish line where a warm welcome greeted us. You
hand in your timing chip and you get a polka dot bidon in exchange;
along with a welcoming smile.
It's in to the underground
car park at the hotel, load the bike in the van, back to the room to get
changed, then back outside for the food and the goodies. Just as
we got our chips, sausage and mayonnaise the heavens opened as though
the Lion's Dam had burst. How luck are we?
This is without doubt one of the hardest days I've had on a bike.
Take away the first 10k flat bit and the final 20 K return and we have
over 3000 metres of climbing in 130k of riding. At least 60k
of the ride was done climbing. This was as hard as any alpine sportive I can
Looking at my power stats, I
had 157k, in 6:17:23 with an average speed of 25.0kph. My peak 2
minute power output was 329 watts, well down on my training levels of
The Training Stress Score was
418 at an Intensity Factor of 0.816. Last year's
La Pyreneene scored a TSS of 410 with a
0.740 IF, for 7:30 with the three monster climbs of the Tourmalet, Aspin
and La Horquette.
This is an event well worth
doing but don't go there thinking it'll be flat and prepare yourself
physically and mentally for the hardships ahead. Having said that
the hotel and restaurant were absolutely first class and made the whole
experience a very enjoyable.
having doubts before the season start Dianne entered the event anyway
and said she would decide on the day.
Even as I left she wasn't
sure and agreed she would ride herself in to see how she felt.
Anyway, to cut a long story
short, because she can't remember the names of the climbs, she completed
the monster 110k ride that left us at Ville Haute, did a fair few robust
climbs of their own, then joined us back at Fourage.
She completed her ride in 5
hours 47 minutes with 1280 metres of climbing. And still had a
smile on her face when she got back! Once more she managed to
avoid the photographers but her Garmin trace proves she was there.
It's ironic that a Dutch
Classic event is held mainly in Belgium, but when the roads and climbs
are this good, does it matter where they are? Probably not.
So it's to bed early, a
second night in the NH Hotel, a good night's sleep and begin our
preparations for La Ble D'Or on Sunday.