Friday, 25 May 2012

De Omloop van Aalburg

Click to enlarge
Official site

Local rider Marianne Vos was favourite to win this one - after all, it goes right through Meeuwen, the village in which she lives and takes part in various cycling workshops for the local children, so she'd have been certain of massive crowd support - but since the Dutch superstar crashed and broke her collarbone at Valkenburg, the race could be anyone's; though if Annemiek van Vleuten, Roxane Knetemann, Liesbet de Vocht, Tatiana Antoshina, Rebecca Talen, Lauren Kitchen, Thalita de Jonghand Iris Slappendel are going, as the official start list says they are, another Rabobank victory is very possible (but then, as anyone who follows women's cycling will know, the riders on any race's start list and the riders who actually take part in the race are very often entirely different people). The complete start list is here.

It's one of those very friendly-feeling races, which isn't the only thing it has in common with the Energiwacht Tour - it also takes place on a similar parcours with several long stretches around the pancake-flat countryside. Like Energiwacht, it'll probably end in a sprint too. It begins on the tree-lined residential Bergstraat in Aalberg, then heads west for 3.3km before turning south to Genderen - a village that has been rebuilt since 1944 when, situated on the line between the liberated south of the country and the Nazi-occupied north, it was almost entirely destroyed by Allied shells. The riders then continue west to Eethen, which suffered as much damage as Genderen, then south again to Drongelen on the banks of the Bergshe Maas canal before continuing north-west to Meeuwen. Just north of the village is Kasteel Meeuwen, actually a large and not-very-impregnable-looking manor house that, along with some earthworks, is all that remains of the real castle that once stood here. There was once a clog factory; nowadays, the village's only claims to fame are the castle, an animal feed business and the fact that Marianne Vos has chosen to make it her home.

Click to enlarge - this is not a race for the climbers!
The parcours heads north past the castle, then east to Babyloniënbroek and past the village "castle," even less like a castle than the one at Meeuwen - it's little more than a large country cottage (though not at all bad to look at). When the race reaches Veldstraat, where it earlier turned south for Genderen, the riders turn north and cross a bridge over the N267 trunk road and, a little way ahead, turn east to head into Veen before following the roads south back to Bergstraat in Aalburg. This loop is completed three times - on the fourth passage from Bergstraat, the riders will turn north towards the N267 instead of south towards Genderen and complete three laps of the smaller circuit.

High temperatures of around 24C are pretty much the ideal for most people and the 24kph easterly wind won't do anything to reduce it - though on such a flat parcours, it may affect the riders on the open sections. Rain is extremely unlikely at any point during the day, making it perfect weather to go and watch the race.

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