Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amstel Race

April 18, 2010.

Today is the Amstel-Gold race, a one day spring classic that starts in Maastricht and ends in nearby Van Valkenburg. The race started at the Markt, just 2 blocks from our hotel. We carried out our plan of watching the riders start in Maastricht and then renting bikes and catching the race again out on the course.

The Markt Square was impressive, was full of people. Only one vendor was selling bike schwag, and I bought a miniature set of bikes with the Garmin logo for 5,50 Euros. We watched the introductions and sign ins, which was cool. Obviously the Dutch riders got the most applause and spoke the most during the pre-race festivities.

The weather today was even better than yesterday. Clear sunny skies, despite the volcanic activity in Iceland that poses a threat to our return flight. It had to top out at 75 degrees (F) or more, we regret not buying sunscreen.

We returned to Orange Bike in the hopes of renting the same steeds that we had on Saturday. All of those, the better bikes, we reserved. We settled for heavy three-speed bikes, but they worked for our needs. We headed out of the shop at 11:15AM and didn’t return until 4:00PM.

Out on the course we saw the race three more times. After the Maastricht start we pedaled to and saw the race at Sibbe, Berg and Bemelen. We met a nice couple at the Berg race point and chatted for about 15 minutes with them. They are at the end of a video that I will upload to You-Tube and link here when I get home. He was the one that pointed us to Bemelen, through a cycle and pedestrian-only road that only that started as on pavement, then turned to dirt, then became a downhill trail (2 meters wide) that Kay and Diane elected to walk down. It was a 4km pedal from Berg to Bemelen. We waited less than 5 minutes for the race to go through, and chatted with the British blokes. The riders went through exceptionally fast as that is where an 11% grade began.

After the race went through we pedaled on the same route as the race the 7km back to Maastricht. Diane fell behind a bit and we waited. One of the British blokes said that our “friend got a bit wobbly back there in the traffic, but she’s alright.” Kind of cool, nice of him to let us know. Diane rolled up about 30 seconds later. There was a lot of bike traffic of all ages headed back to Maastricht, and just a few cars (maybe 5% of the traffic at that point).

I will upload pictures and links to some cool videos later.

Amstel Tour

April 17, 2010 - Maastricht, NL

The Amstel Tour version is today. 9,000 riders registered within 90 minutes a few months ago when registration was briefly open. Needless to say, we did not get in but we intend to jump on the course for a bit anyway.

We rented bicycles from Orange Bike, just two blocks from our hotel The DuCasque). The guy that works there recommended their geared bikes because our destination was Van Valkenburg, about 10 miles away. The geared bikes were 3-speed city bikes, heavy and typical of the bikes that are found in the Netherlands.

We were off and on our way, although I got turned around and we ended up going the wrong direction. I figured out that something was wrong when we reached the Belgium border. Had I understood how close it was I would have planned on pedaling there anyway, so it was good that we got there by mistake.

Once we got turned around it was relatively easy to find Van Valkenburg. It’s a charming place that I’d enjoy staying in again, as was Houthem just to the west of there. The cycling in the Netherlands is great too. The roads with high car counts have separate bike lanes, and there were several roads today that were country roads with few cars.

We saw the Amstel Tour Version at several locations and joined the riders on a climb from Van Valkenburg to Sibbe. We were headed the wrong way and needed to correct our course, and it just happened to be on the Amstel Tour Version course. All of the bikes on the tour were high-end road bikes, with the exception of a few mountain bikes. We stuck out with our city bikes, urban cycling attire and no helmets. It was especially fun to pass a number of riders, sometimes while taking photos, as I made the climb on that heavy bikes. I got a number of looks from those that I passed, plus some cheers (in Dutch) from three women who were watching the ride from their lawn. It was a good time, and the weather was perfect (sunny, probably 70 degrees F.

Monday, April 12, 2010


We are off to Europe, the itinerary is Paris-Bruges-Maastricht- Paris. Here is what happened while we were in Paris.

April 8-9, 2010. We had a direct flight from Minneapolis to Paris CDG Airport. There was no drama on the flight at all. We were both able to sleep and we felt pretty good when we arrived at 7:30AM on the 9th. We met our friend Diane, who flew in from Chicago, just outside of the customs area at CDG. We jumped on the RER Train to Denfert Rochereau, then transferred to the 4 Metro line to the Alesia station. From there it was a 500 meter walk to our apartment at 8 Rue Furtado Heine.

Friday, April 9: We walked a ton on this day. We took in the Raspail street market, where Diane bought two scarves and I bought some olives. We walked through the Jardin du Luxembourgh, where there a lot people taking in the sunny day. There were a number of kinds with boats, and any more. From there we walked through the Cimetiere du Montparnasse, and then to our apartment. We decided to have dinner in, so we scored pizza from a nearby deli and tarts for dessert from the boulangerie on the corner near our flat.

Saturday, April 10: Today we participated on a bike tour with Bike About Tours, a local tour company that leads a 3 and a half our ride on Dahon bikes. The tour specializes in showing us hidden parts of Paris that we otherwise would not find. This included the oldest street, oldest house, house were Jim Morrison died, the original wall of the city, the Louve, Norte Dame, the Seine, the Arc de Triomphe. Our tour guide, a nice fellow from Amsterdam, had the code to get into a private courtyard in an elite section of Paris. This was also a pathway to the oldest street in Paris. We were told to be discreet, as he successfully opened the gate and opened the creaking door. A woman on here 3rd floor balcony spotted us and said something in French. At that point our tour guide instructed us that we needed to leave. We were kicked out, and I thought that was so cool.

After taking metro back the apartment and changing, we took the Metro Sacre Coeur to take in the view. On the way there we took in a street market where I bought a retro espresso cup for 2 Euros. We then took the train to Bastille to seek out another market, but we arrived too late for that. We struck out trying to locate a wine bar that the Rough Guide recommended, so we settled for Chimay at a bar in the Bastille neighborhood. We took in a Bistro for dinner, and ate outside under the outdoor heaters. From there we decided to take in the Eiffel Tower, especially now that it was dark. We had a little drama, in that we took the wrong train and ended up in the western burbs of Paris. We did recover just as quickly though, however we subjected to some juvenile behavior on the part of 4 suburban Paris teenagers. Ultimately we did see the Eiffel Tower, and ended up back at the apartment after midnight.

Sunday, April 11. Today is the Paris-Roubaix bike race, and we have a car reserved. The plan is to take in the cobbles at secteur 21, 22 or 23. After 5 hours of sleep, we picked up the car at the nearby Avis and were on our way. However today is the Paris Marathon, so we found it very difficult to get out of the city. Ultimately we did get out and on our way. Plans changed slightly, given the delay getting out of the city. It was probably 150km in the car each way today, which took some time. We ended up seeing the race twice. Once near Bertry on the D98c (captured that on you-tube) and the other time in the village of Solesmes. Solesmes was just prior to the feed zone. We were fortunate to meet up with the race twice, and neither time did we have to wait for very long. While the race fans made their way out of Solesmes, we had a beverage at Le Cameleon. We back-tracked to pave sectuer 24 after the race had gone through, and had a very personal moment for Diane, as well as Kay and I.

We drove back to Paris. I want to make note that the toll was 10,90 Euros northbound, and another 9,90 Euros southbound. The difference being the point that we entered the freeway, primarily the A1. That is about $30 American, a fair price to pay for the use of a smooth freeway, in my estimation.

After finding the Avis with a certain amount of difficulty, we returned the car. We made the long walk back to the 14e where the apartment is and had dinner at a nearby Bistro.

Monday, April 12. Today we shopped. First in the neighborhood where there are several so-called Stock stores that sell clothes at 40-50% discount. Typically its last season's fashions that are sold in these Stock stores. Thanks to a New York Times article, we had leads on a few chocolate makers. We decided to go to Le chocolat par Michel Chaudun at 149, rue de l'Universite. One of the specialties is Pave' chocolates, which were very good. Dinner tonight was at Cafe Denfer near Denfert Rochereau Metro. The food was exceptional and the waiter ran through the menu for us in English. Kay had Risotto with Asparagus, both Diane and I had Ravioli.