Blog: World Road Race Champs Limburg 2012

Paul Burgoine writes about his time in Holland at the 2012 World Road Championships

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Myself and my daughter Brittany are seasoned cycling fans and used to the European scene. On our trip to the World Championships, we brought along Brittany’s friend Jin-ho, a student from South Korea for his first taste of race watching.

Paul and a ‘friend’ from Belgium get into the spirit of the Worlds

Luckily for us, we had a fantastic camp site Mooi Bemelem, right on top of the Bemelerburg (or Bella Emberg for those who remember her). After pitching the tent and gazebo, Jin was straight out on the course for a ride around the finishing circuit, whilst me and Brittany stocked up on beer for them, and Chocomel for me.

On Friday we managed to lose Jin for a while or rather he got lost, so me and Brittany headed off to the Cauberg where we first met our ‘Tom Boonen keep on Rocking in the Free World’ friend then witnessed the fabulous Lucy Garner become Junior World Champion for the second time, sprinting to victory after a lead out from the junior World time Trial Champ Elinor Barker.

Jin had still not warmed to watching the cycling and seemed to be more interested in the bikes and books, but he was definitley coming round to the idea.

I got a call from my cycling club mate, Steve Wharton who was amazingly cycling to Limburg (Netherlands) from London, and was expecting to be there early evening. We decided to visit Maastricht for the evening. Once you get through the industrial areas to the pedestrian centre, it is very beautiful city – full of bars and cafes filled with people enjoying the evening. It was after 10pm when I got a text from Steve telling us not to wait up. He said he was in Dilzen (which actually turned out to be Bilzen), back over the border in Belgium. Apparently he was having some food in what he described as a ‘butcher’s shop’.

By the time we found him, it was well past 11pm and he looked like he needed a lift.

He had managed to get lost in a town’s industrial area, (which actually is an easy thing to do), so after getting his tent set up, we prepared for another freezing night of camping. I had now more clothes on in bed than I did during the day including Hi-Vis waterproof trousers. The following day, ‘Sat-Nav Steve’ went to the shop with me on the camp site to get some breakfast….I found him at least an hour later wandering around the Belemerburg, lost again…. Poor Steve was not having too much luck after suffering a crash on the tram lines in Gent the previous day and getting lost twice, but nothing compares to the story he told us about the time he went to watch the Tour de France and got knocked out by a pack of cards thrown from the publicity caravan and missed the race!

“I didn’t even want the cards “he told us.

Saturday we plotted up on the climb in a perfect position with a big screen in the camp site, complete with beer tents, a shop and toilets – what more could you want? The men’s Under 23 road race provided us with some great racing and with the circuit being only 16k, it wasn’t a long wait before they came round again and again. It was a great warm up to the day’s main attraction of the Elite Women’s race and the appearance of Dutch superstar Marianne Vos. Everyone was expecting a win from Vos, she duly obliged in spectacular style, and the party began.

In the evening we made our way down to Valkenburg; a quaint little village at the bottom of the Cauberg… well it would be quaint if it was not for the hoards of cycling fans, most celebrating Vos’ win and others just celebrating. The town was buzzing as we made our way through the crowds of singing and dancing fans and the oompha bands to a Karaoke Bar. That was most definitley ‘Rocking in The Free World’. Jin was not to keen to go in but when Belgium favourite ‘Sweet Caroline, Da Da Da’ was played, the whole place went crazy and it wasn’t long before Valkenburg had their own Korean Elvis blasting out Suspicious Minds.

This was one big party night with an amazing amount of people from many nations all celebrating together. Obviously people have allegiances to certain cyclists but not in the way football fans do. We met up with our favourite Boonen fan in the bar along with his comrade who treated us to a show of imaginary skipping, and was bizarrely good at it. Passing me the imaginary rope when he finished, the beckoning for it back when he needed it. Jin was now fully integrated into the Flemish cycling world after a 24hour Frite Fest and consuming copious amounts of beer and unidentified fried objects.

I was also given a big cuddle by a Belgium telling me he had seen ten Sagan fans in green T shirts and he knew them, as if they had landed from out of space. He informed me that if a Belgium didn’t win then it would be ok for Sagan to win, but not Voeckler.

No prizes for guessing who they support!

The main day arrived after another freezing night in a tent. I was up at 7.30 to stake our claim on the Belemerburg. Like the late Neil Armstrong, I proudly planted my London and Union flags by the road side. Thanks to Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and the charismatic Mark Cavendish, we have new respect in Europe. We also had three camping chairs, learning from our Belgium neighbours, but sadly no PA system like some of the Dutch fans had. The crowds gradually grew whilst the Junior Men were racing where Jon Dibben was a fabulous 5th.

In the Elite men’s race, as with all these races, the tension grows as the race go’s on and on but having the small circuit, the excitement was never ending. It became obvious early on that Cavendish, the outgoing champ was not up for it today, he was pulling the entire peloton into Maastricht, after doing even more work on the front when on the circuit he dropped to the rear and rode a lap off the back alone to rapturous applauds. I hope he noticed my flag as I quickly pulled it from his path.

The concept of watching bike races still baffles me but thousands do it and the excitement is second to none as the lead car and helicopters approach, then all your cycling heroes come thundering pass while you try and catch a glimpse of your favourites.

We spent the whole day on the hill luckily in pretty good weather and amongst great company and the racing was superb with a fantastic performance from Ian Stannard and of course the winner Philippe Gilbert, who launched a devastating attack on the Cauburg to everyone’s cheers. There could not have been a more popular or deserving winner nor someone who could bring Belgium together, Flandrians and Walloon’s alike.

This was the most fantastic weekend, I’m already looking forward to Florence next year.


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