After the inaugural cycling race held last year in Norway, this year our colleagues in Holland decided to host the second edition of the cycle race in their hometown along with with a few of their key customers for company.
Having just had a baby boy 3 months back, I wasn’t sure if I could find the time to train, let alone go for the event in Holland. But thanks to a supportive wife and with the promise to take her on the trip as well, I started training early mornings at around 5 am.
With only a total training of around 600km I knew I wasn’t in the best shape to compete in the race. My only consolation was thinking that thankfully I will be riding on the ‘flat’ lands of Holland, so how hard could it be anyway?
But this myth was about to be shattered in a big way!
Come race day, the weather was cold and overcast and the temperature would not rise above 10 degrees until mid-afternoon. I think this has been the most unprepared I’ve ever been for a race as I didn’t carry any warmers and the initial ride from the hotel to the start line was a chilly ride and I realized I couldn’t feel my fingers due to the cold.
We reached the start line and there were rows of tents full of bananas, waffles, energy bars and cake, as well as plenty of water and different flavoured sports drinks. I fueled up and was told by the ride captain that we will start now. I rolled over to the start line, where the timing system recognised my chip and I was on my way.
Since this wasn’t a mass start event with all 15,000 riders starting at the same time, there was a bit of safety ensured as riders doing the 150 km (which included our group) could start between 6.30 and 9.30 am.
With the ride well underway I knew that I had to survive for atleast 6 hours. I was making sure I didn’t push myself and burn myself out in the start. This meant that at some point I knew the group would break away and I would be by myself.
Within the first 20km the hills were making a frequent appearance at about every 5-7km and the going wasn’t looking easy. I was already looking at the miles covered on my watch, 20km done, 130km more to go, it felt like I had been riding forever, my body was crying on the inside knowing there were a tough few hours ahead for me.
At the 50 km mark was a feed station, where we were directed off the road and into a field where tents had been set up, with more food and drink, toilets and service areas with mechanics fixing bikes for those who needed help.
I gladly took the opportunity to refuel and hydrate. We set off again with our group, I was happy thinking I made it one third of the way with the group.
Spring was underway in Holland and the ride couldn’t have been more prettier and scenic than what we encountered. The morning clouds were clearing, and a mild but bitterly cold headwind blew all day. I concentrated on the tarmac in front of me, taking it easy and just ticking off the kilometers. But immediately after the first pit stop I had my first mechanical failure as my chain came off trying to navigate a big hill by going onto a low gear. Thankfully the problem wasn’t too big and I could get on with the ride after putting the chain back onto the ring.
Since my group was already slightly ahead they missed me and I was now on my own.
The ride started getting more tough for me with frequent hills which meant more climbing. At the halfway mark of 75km I decided to take an unscheduled pit stop to rest and fuel up. I looked at my watch and I had been riding for nearly 4 hours. I was dreading the next 75km wondering what was in store for me
At the 100 kilometre mark was another feed station and another compulsory but welcome stop. My few weeks of training in Dubai on flat roads had not done enough to prepare me for a 150 km hilly ride. At the pitstop I had a few colleagues cheering me for making it this far.
With only 50km more to go it was a relief to know that I’d made it this far. But my body was really just crumbling now and I just couldn’t find the will to go forward. Every pedal was getting more difficult and at one point I cramped on both my legs making it impossible to pedal and I just had to throw myself off the bike onto a grassy patch on the side of the road. I just took this time to recover and just enjoy the scenery on display. I decided to pull myself together and make a final push for the final leg of the ride where I knew the biggest climb was yet to come. I mentally prepared myself to actually get off the bike and walk if need be. The famous keutenberg climb had arrived. To get onto it you had to go through a narrow corridor which also steadily started to get more steep. I felt like I was going to collide with the other cyclists as there were just too many bikes too close together passing through this corridor trying to make the steep incline. I decided it would be safer to get off the bike and walk, but it was too late I was already in the stampede and I didn’t want to create any untoward incident. Having crossed the corridor and now onto the keutenberg climb, this was where I pre meditated to get off and walk. But when i got there, I didn’t want to. I wanted to see how much my body could push itself and make it through this climb. I decided to take it slow and was pleasantly surprised with myself tackling almost half of this climb while a few others beside me walked from the start of the climb itself. Halfway through the climb I knew this was it as I cramped again and had to walk it off. But I was proud that I conquered half of it especially at the steepest point.
From here on it was a short ride to the finish line. But there lay one last hill called the Cauberg. But it didn’t matter I was just pumped to know that I had reached the closing stages that I tackled this section with ease.
Reaching the finish line was the best feeling bringing a tremendous sense of achievement.
This had to be the most physically grueling event ever for me.
But in the end I could only finish it thinking of my son who I want to inspire to never give up no matter the odds.