Netherlands, One-day Road Race
|No Vos this year - but there'll be
plenty of other worthy adversaries
The Ronde, with its three ascents of VAM berg, suits the climbers; in the past the Novilon has featured four climbs but became more of a sprinters' race from 2012 - it now takes in VAM berg only once relatively early in the race before taking flat roads to the final flat, straight sprint finish. The schedule can be downloaded here.
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Coevorden is a municipality in the south of Drenthe; the city from which it takes its name is just metres from the German border in Euregio, a cross-border region in which Dutch and German authorities, enterprises and other entities have agreed to work together without regard to their different nationalities for the good of the region (Euregio was the first such area, established in 1958, and has been enormously successful; there are now a total of 74 similar Euroregions). Although it has the feel of a market town, Coevorden has held city status since 1408, at which point it was the largest and most important in the area. Since eclipsed by Emmen, its illustrious past is made evident by the large star-shaped fortifications in the centre of the city, designed by Menno van Coehoorn - the design will look familiar to anyone who has been to Besançon to see the Tour de France, though in fact Besançon's star-shaped fort was designed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. Right in the centre is the marketplace - not, it has to be admitted, the most attractive in the Netherlands, but it's from here that the race begins before heading north out of the city to De Loo, arriving there after ten minutes, then through the flat countryside - where the riders get their first taste of the wind that often characterises races at this time of year - to Dalen, birthplace of professional cyclist Karsten Kroon and home to several windmills. The N854 then carries the race toward Gees and, at 14.7km when they're on roads familiar from the previous day's Ronde van Drenthe, to the first cobbles. Situated in a damp forested region, these cobbles are made especially dangerous by slippery moss and may easily finish off any early breakaways - or, if a small group finds its lower density offers an advantage, serve to increase their advantage if the peloton is held up by a crash.
Once they're through Nieuw-Balinge (also familiar from the Ronde), the riders come to Drijber, a village that would fit several times over into the land occupied by its neighbour - the Essent-Attero waste disposal plant better known to cyclists and fans as VAM, site of the VAM berg climb. VAM berg, which climbs to 56m above sea level in 0.4km at an average gradient of 9.7% with one section as steep as 16%, is an attractive hill that appears far higher than it really is due to the flat surroundings but isn't a natural hill: under the grass and soil that was placed over it when it came to the end of its operational life is a vast rubbish dump (VAM was the name of the company that operated the site). It's another point at which a break might be reeled in and caught by climbers, though at this early stage in the race the peloton is unlikely to show much concern unless the break includes riders who might be able to stay out in front until the next ascent.
After VAM berg, the race turns back to Drijber and then to Mantinge, another village, before arriving at Meppen 44.8km into the race. The parcours now leads via Oosterhesselen and Wachtum back to Dalen, then to Dalerveen at 61.6km, Schoonebeek at 73.5km, Twist at 89.5km and Emmlicheim at 106.9km; at 108.3km the riders come to an intermediate sprint and begin to make their way back to Coevorden, 129.5km into the race. At 131.8km they pass over the finish line, beginning a second intermediate sprint and a final 9.3km section through the city then back out to Achterloo, returning on the Daler Allee road that ends at a roundabout where the riders continue straight ahead onto Stationstraat, marking 1.5km to the finish. Stationstraat ends at another roundabout; the riders again continue straight ahead onto Friesestraat, which takes them back to the marketplace in the centre of the city prior to the last 400m along the straight Kasteel (and past the kasteel, a pink fortified manor house now occupied by a restaurant).
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Like your bike races tough, just like the Dutch do? Well, here's some good news - in addition to "high" temperatures of just 3C (and lows of -5C), the riders are likely to experience some flurries of snow en route. It's not predicted to settle, but with conditions throughout north-western Europe becoming colder as next week begins it'll feel bitingly cold as they ride into it.