As Dutch as Dutch can be: the Headwind Cycling Championship
The popular Dutch cartoonist Theo van den Boogaard never cycles into a headwind – he either takes the train on the way in, or he takes it on the way back. It all depends on the wind. Clearly he’ll never participate in the Dutch Headwind Cycling Championship, which may be the most insane challenge in the history of the nation. “It’s true that you have to be a bit crazy to participate,” says organizer Robrecht Stoekenbroek.
It is a distance of just 8.5 kilometers, the bizarre torturous itinerary across the Eastern Scheldt Dam in Zeeland. Many of the cyclists, who are required to brave the elements on a regular bike with a back-pedal brake, regret their fateful decision after they’ve cycled a single kilometer. “It is truly awful,” said one of the exhausted riders after crossing the finish line last year. “You can hardly breathe and there is so much sand blowing into your mouth.”
The man who conceived of this Spartan event participated three times. “I’m often in luck because I have to talk to the press and provide ongoing services around the event. So I have a way to avoid the whole thing.” Because you have to be a bit crazy to participate? “Yes, I really think so. It is the world’s hardest event because it is so hard to prepare, so last-minute, so uncontrollable. It’s really something only tough men and women undertake.”
As the ultimate cycling nation, there are lots of cycling events in the Netherlands. It is also one of the world’s best countries for cycling, but Stoekenbroek claims this is something else altogether. “The wind has no mercy. There is water to the left and right of the road, the wind is completely unhindered. It’s torture. But if you win, you can count on eternal fame!”
Vomit area and Hurricane Orchestra
The fastest rider takes about 25 minutes to get there, earlier editions have shown. The last (wo)man cycling needs nearly an hour; they don’t exceed ten kilometers an hour. The big question is, why would people participate at all? “Some people are looking for adventure and have fun doing something crazy. And we are seeing more and more cycling fanatics who love the sportive challenge. We make sure there are new spectacular objects every year. This year, we have a vomit area for the first time so cyclists can throw up as much as they please. There is a stand with belts for spectactors to tie themselves up in 75 km/h winds while the Hurricane Orchestra provides the music.”
The date of the exhausting event is always announced shortly ahead of time. The organization waits patiently for the right storm. “We ride from north to south or from south to north, depending on the wind.” And if the wind hits the dam from the side? “In that case, we don’t ride.”