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21-04-2022 | Wouter Fioole

L’Étape Rotterdam recon PART 1

Mostly when a gran fondo is coming up I spend a lot of the weeks before on Strava, and sometimes even Google Maps. Figuring out exactly how the routes run. But above all trying to estimate where the real difficulties are. How steep is it really? Are there descents in the climb that make the average % misleading? What is the road like in the descents? For the only Dutch gran fondo in the calendar, this is not necessary! I just get on the bike and the great exploring can begin.

1. The start

The depart fictional is at the "end" of the Doenkade at the very north end of Rotterdam. It is the road along the airport and where the finish will be as well. There is plenty of room to organize all kinds of things and with the local cycling club RWC Ahoy next door there are plenty of facilities.

From here it's just under 8 kilometers in parade to the Coolsingel for the real start. Exactly in front of the City Hall is kilometer 0. It is inevitable that everyone who has ever seen the start of the Marathon of Rotterdam is already starting to itch. Atmosphere guaranteed! If your heart rate isn't already up due to the healthy tension and the warm-up you just did, it will be because of the adrenaline that will be coursing through your body. Coolsingel has just had a complete overhaul, so it will be bang on gorgeous tarmac.

This is where I think the first danger lurks. In several flatter gran fondo's I've seen enough accidents due to "stupidity", self exaggeration and inexperience with riding in a very large peloton. The danger of crashes is something I unfortunately see again now. From kilometer 0 we ride straight to the Erasmus Bridge. Not much of a climb, of course, but here the differences in speed between participants will be quite large. Then a few sharp bends to hit the Willemsbrug, in my opinion the most beautiful bridge in Rotterdam. For people who like city views, this provides really beautiful panoramas of the port city. But the main thing for the peloton is to keep their eyes on the road! After the Willemsbrug a complete turn back and onto the Maasboulevard towards Capelle a/d IJssel.

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The start should really be one of the highlights as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't get much better than this in Rotterdam. The people who really want to finish in front, should use the neutralized kilometers to get in front. The rest of the participants should have enough self-knowledge and find a place where you will end up anyway.

2. The gravel roads

The route includes a real gravel segment, although it is certainly not a very difficult one. It is a 3 km long stretch which - at least when I rode it - is perfectly doable on a road bike. However, when it is wet that can be very different. Moreover, at the moment there are still large holes at the beginning of the road. So it could be three long kilometers where you probably won't win the race, but could lose a lot of time.

Most remarkably, I only rode on roads that were really very doable. Or over roads that were closed off because they are laying new asphalt there. After the start the route goes over the dike along the river IJssel. I was a bit skeptical about this beforehand. I ride over this dike more often, but then I imagine myself to be on the (easier) cobbled roads in Flanders or on the flint roads in Drenthe. The asphalt was sagging, ribbed and cracked in many places. Not a place to send a just-runaway gang of cyclists over. To my surprise, right after Capelle a/d IJssel, the road was closed off due to road works. They'll be finished in May, just in time.

So there are a lot of strips where the road has been replaced, smoothed and provided with beautiful black or red new top layer. Only the Bonnenweg, which you enter after almost 98 kilometers on the counter, is in bad shape. That's a bad place to be.

Morning we'll be back with part 2 of the course reconnaissance!

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