A Cycle tour to Utrecht
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The Netherlands really is the envy of the world when it comes to cycling and the cycling infrastructure that has been put in place. The Mecca for cyclists though has to be Utrecht and today we have an article from Giles Mockford, a Brit who loves cycling and realised one of his cycling dreams when he toured Utrecht in 2017 inspired in part by the tour Prologue held in 2015. Hopefully we will see Giles over again for the Vuelta!
A Cycle tour to Utrecht
In July 2015 something special happened, the eyes of the sporting world centred on the Dutch city of Utrecht. The city was host to the Grand Depart of the world’s most famous bike race. The 102nd edition Tour de France. Stage 1 opened with 13.8km individual time trial starting at the Jaabeurs heading out towards De Uithof before heading to the finish on the Croeslaan via the Maliesingel, Tolsteegsingel and Ledig Erf. The stage was won by Australian rider Rohan Dennis who also broke the record for the maximum average speed attained in a Tour de France stage. Day 2 saw a conventional day of racing, the peloton leaving Jaarbeurs, heading through the centre of Utrecht under the Dom Toren before heading around the north of the city and onwards towards Gouda and Rotterdam.
The following winter I was speaking with some close friends from my cycling club stating that I wanted to cycle to Utrecht, not only because I had a bit of an obsession with the Dutch city, but because it is a Utopia for cyclists, not in a racing sense but in an everyday commuter role.
If our town of Cheltenham only had 5% of Utrecht’s cycling infrastructure, we would still be miles ahead of any other UK town.
After a few pints in Cheltenham’s Jolly Brewmaster, a 5-day trip had been planned for September 2017 riding from Dunkirk to Hoek van Holland via two nights in Utrecht.
I’d recently learnt that my favourite bar in Utrecht, cafe Ledig Erf had its own cycling club. I contacted them to see if they had a ride on the Tuesday of the tour.
Unfortunately few cycling clubs run a Tuesday ride in the middle of the day but Fietsclub Ledig Erf were up for riding with us even if it meant some members took a day off work.
After 3 days of Crossing France, Belgium and Zuid Holland we arrived on the outskirts of Utrecht. in my mind I imagined our ride from Gouda to Utrecht to be straight forward, flying down the fietspad like a well drilled micro peloton.
What happened was, we hit Utrecht at rush hour. Having always stayed in the centre of Utrecht, I’d never had the experience of cycle commuting en masse. What ensued was several hundred bicycles at speed, lack of indication and a couple of near misses. It’s an impressive sight, but not when you’re going against the tide.
The following day was a far more relaxed affair,
Our tour guides from Fietsclub Ledig Erf were lovely and took us on a beautiful route out to Rhenen via a small few hills to a café on the banks of the Rijn for lunch.
On the way back from Rhenen, we were shown a masterclass in bike riding including how to ride on the flat in crosswinds at speed. It was certainly a different style of riding, however the lessons learnt have come in useful when caught out on the Severn Floodplains in the winter winds.
Tired, but with huge smiles on our faces we arrived back at Ledig Erf for drinks and a personal favourite bitterballen!
18 months on, it’s still talked about being one of the best days cycling ever.
For those who of the group who had never visited the Netherlands, they were in admiration of the laws and infrastructure built around cycling which in turn if people feel safe to ride their bike, they are less likely to take the car reducing pollution.
Utrecht is not only a fantastic city to visit for any type of holiday, it is a living study of good city planning. The city never resting on its laurels and constantly innovating ways to not just increase the number of people cycling but ways in which to make cycling safer.