• Nathan

Maastricht Cycling Adventure!

Smiling big near the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. Using a mix of Specialized, Oakley, Castelli, and Skratch Labs gear and riding a Koga bike, I felt like one of the eclectic local riders out for a fun ride. Surprised to see an American flag in the Netherlands? Dutch and American flags were scattered around the countryside in remembrance of the American forces liberating the Netherlands during World War II.

Earlier this year, when I interviewed pro cyclist Katie Hall prior to the Tour of California, she was sitting in a hotel room in Maastricht in the southern tip of the Netherlands. She had raced Amstel Gold a few days earlier with her Boels-Dolmans team and was taking a well-deserved rest after a training ride. Throughout the interview, Katie praised Maastricht and the surrounding area for its great cycling roads and even better bike culture. She told me about the cycling cafes, rabid fans, and how every morning the bike lanes are filled with future Anna van der Breggens and Tom Dumoulins on their way to school.

I’d been to the Netherlands a handful of times over the past few years but work always consumed the trips. I never got to see much of the country beyond short walks on my way to dinner. But after hearing Katie’s excitement for Maastricht and the Limburg region, I was so inspired that I promised myself that my next trip to the Netherlands was going to be different. So, when I had the opportunity to visit Maastricht last month, the first thing I did was rent a road bike and reached out to Katie Hall for tips on favorite routes.

Cycling in Maastricht was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I knew that there would be hills when I biked along the Amstel Gold route, through Flanders, and around Belgium, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. When I cycle on the backroads near my home in Minneapolis, the hills I ride are short and sharp (like the old Stillwater Criterium). The “big” climbs in Minnesota never have an elevation gain of more than 130 feet. The Dutch hills are so different! During one ride, I climbed 800 feet in less than 10 miles; the hills kept going and going and when I thought that I had finally made it to the top, I’d make a turn and realize that I had only reached the halfway point. The locals told me that I wasn’t climbing mountains, but it sure felt like I was!

It was an incredible riding experience; a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can see why USA Cycling sends its development riders here to train. Riding in Maastricht makes you strong in ways that the pancake flat American Midwest never can. The roads are narrow, rough, and ancient. The landscape is rolling and unfamiliar. The roundabouts are fast and the bike paths are cobbled. It’s an experience that every cyclist should have at least once.

Here are the rest of the trip's highlights!

I rented a bike from Cycle Center in Valkenburg. I was hoping to get my hands on one of their Merida Reacto aero bikes but ended up with an exotic aluminum frame made by Dutch manufacturer Koga. There was some crash damage on the crankset and it was a hulking beast next to my carbon road bike back home, but it was more than enough to have a blast exploring new roads. Next time though, I might need to bring my custom Specialized Tarmac and see what I can really accomplish in the Dutch countryside.

As I made my way back to Maastricht from Valkenburg, I accidentally found myself on Amstel Gold’s legendary Cauberg. It was the toughest climb I’d ever attempted; I can’t imagine how riders like Katie Hall and Kasia Niewiadoma seamlessly glide up that treacherous incline. Photos don’t do it justice.

It’s always nice when a hotel gives guests a flavor of their city; my hotel, the NH Maastricht really delivered. E-bikes are in the lobby for guests to rent and signed World Tour jerseys line the breakfast room. The only thing that could have made it better was if they had a signed jersey on the wall from the local, Women’s World Tour mega-team Boels–Dolmans!

If you’re going to go cycling in the Netherlands and Belgium, you have to track down some bumpy cobblestones to ride on. In Maastricht, that means you’ll inevitably find yourself riding through the old town. Be sure to stop in the square outside the Maastricht City Hall and take in the view. Then zip around the corner to grab a drink and a snack at the Alley Cat cycling café. Visit during the race season and you might even run into Coryn Rivera!

Even though I live through Minnesota’s frigid winters every year, whenever the weather drops, I always chicken out and stay inside on my trainer. But in Maastricht, it didn’t matter how chilly the fall weather was, I was still going to ride as much as possible! Finally, a chance to put my Castelli cold-weather gear through its paces!

During one of my favorite rides of the trip, two Dutch friends took me on a ride from Maastricht into Belgium and Flanders. On the way, we ran across the Val-Dieu Abbey in the middle of a forest. It’s a favorite spot for locals to buy beer brewed by monks.

The rolling fields surrounding Maastricht are surrounded by manicured bushes and trees that are still green, even in October. Intersecting the fields are bike path-sized roads that are only a car and a half wide. Somehow the cars and cyclists get along in the tight confines; I’ve never seen such courteous drivers!


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