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21-04-2022 | Wouter Fioole

L’Étape Rotterdam recon PART 2

Yesterday we kicked off with part 1 of the course exploration of the Netherlands' only road gran fondo: L'Étape Rotterdam by Tour de France which will take place on July 16 this year. Today it's time for part 2.

3. The wind

According to the organization, those who want to win the official yellow jersey of the Tour de France must master the art of riding in echelons. I think this - provided there is enough wind, of course - is going to be true. While it's never really wide open for very long and the wind will come at the riders in full force, there are many more strips where the wind can really become a factor.

The first is the already discussed dike along the IJssel. Thanks to the new asphalt and the fact that it's still early in the race, it'll be really fast there anyway. But if the wind is right, the first echelons will be formed. However, I think the biggest fan danger comes when we turn off the dike. In Moordrecht the course makes a right angle turn and that is the moment that everyone's personal echelon alarm should go off. From there it is almost 10 km straight to Moerkapelle. An easterly wind like the one I had today would be technically excellent, full in the side. Also a good southwester should do the trick here.

I'm not quite sure whether the wind will be really decisive. I think the segments are always too short in one direction. The course zigzags after 2 or maximum 3 kilometers through a right angle to another direction. In addition, it is never really open. Especially the greenhouses and trees along the side of the road form enough protection, I think.

Echelons or not. The wind will really play a role during the ride. It is open enough that it does really bother you when you sit with your nose full in it. Riding alone makes little sense is my expectation. Let yourself drift along in the wheels and, especially against the wind, eat the other person's plate first would be my advice. This will also give you more energy to enjoy the beautiful Dutch landscape.

4. The sprint

On the Emmastraat in Monster, the organization has built a sprint segment. The person with the fastest time on this separately timed strip of "a few hundred meters" gets the green jersey at the end of the day. To be quite honest, I had imagined all sorts of things with this, but you shouldn't do that. It's really like the intermediate sprints during a Tour stage. At a seemingly random place in the course where the road is "a few hundred meters" wide enough, the line for the intermediate sprint is laid. In this case after about 88 kilometers on the Emmastraat. Nothing further to tell. Just a flat random road of which 70 have just disappeared under the wheels and of which about 40 are still to come. Indeed, I don't count all of them because on a winding path it's asking for trouble.

To be honest, I don't expect the leading group to be very interested in this sprint. If you're there after 90 kilometers, I'd rather be high up in the general classification than shoot an extra arrow here. Of course, it could just be that my own sprint is nothing and I wouldn't bother. If you're already lost, it might be interesting to find a group of people who are willing to pull the sprint for you.

There are still two interesting sprints in the course. The first is the one at the start. As already discussed in the first part, from kilometer 0 I really expect an image like cows which, after a long winter in the stables, can finally go back into the pasture. Including all the crazy antics that go with it. Sprint up the Erasmus Bridge, sprint after every right-angle corner, sprint up the Willemsbrug and sprint down after the 180-degree turn. Then sprint to get or stay in the right group until things calm down a bit.

The final sprint is much less exciting in that respect if everyone just keeps their line. With 5 kilometers to go, the course turns into Spaanse Polder, an industrial area at the north of Rotterdam. There is a first faint bridge where you can try to avoid a sprint. With 4 kilometers to go there is the last - well turning - right angle turn onto the last bridge. Although a climber wouldn't even call it false flat, this one is just a bit longer and just a bit steeper and you could still mount an attack here with really strong legs. At the top, you can see the finish line 3 km away. A small descent and then perpendicular to the airport to the finish. A little bit of wind and a little bit of doubt in the group and you can make it. If the wind is against you, you will fall down mercilessly. Good timing is a must, but with a wide road and a finish that you can see from far away, this will be very difficult for many. I wonder who will end up wearing yellow. It will certainly be a rider with a very good final shot.

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5. The final verdict

The final verdict of the reconnaissance is that it really turned out to be a beautiful lap. I'm really looking forward to the start on the Coolsingel. I hope it will look a bit like the start of the marathon. If you're really going for a result it won't be very noticeable, but the route goes through beautiful nature. Real Dutch landscape along the IJssel. Between the Pollard Willows. Along ditches, canals and ponds. In my opinion there are few dangerous points in the route.

The four spots where you can stop seem to be well chosen and offer enough space for everyone. If you want to stop there of course, my plan is to finally get my girlfriend to stop by the side of the road with a water bottle.

It's still a bit of a question how closed roads will really be. Especially in the beginning the route goes through a few village centers where parked cars make the road very narrow. Hopefully they will be asked to park elsewhere, but given the scenes in Dutch professional races I have a hard head in that.

The course itself will eventually end up with 125 kilometers of real racing and 8 kilometers of neutral to the city hall. The gravel roads that are announced on the site of L'Etape are actually only one gravel road. The bridges are magnificent, but are mainly in the first 10 kilometers. And the 353m of climbing are very ambitiously counted. The route on my Garmin only shows 135m+ and my reconnaissance lap comes (after having used the correction function of Strava) to 207m+ (and that's including having cycled from my house to the route). Whether this means that climbers are immediately out of chances, I dare not say, the world record holder virtual Everesting also won the Münsterland giro which does not have many more elevation. It will mainly be the strong riders who finish in front.

However, I can't wait for Saturday July 16th!

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