Dutch Veld Dispatch: My Roller Romance – Andrew Juiliano

Dutch Veld Dispatch: My Roller Romance (AKA Euro Bike Racing)
Words by Andrew Juiliano  and photos by Tomás Montes

Tien…negen…acht…zeven…

I hear the pitter patter of tiny feet and look out the window.

Zes…vijf…vier…

A little girl runs around the corner and crouches behind the car.

Drie…twee…één!

She locks eyes with me, and holds a finger to her lips. I don’t need to speak Dutch to understand the universal sign for “Don’t blow up my hide-and-go-seek spot, bro!

Not that I’d give her away anyway. I’m tucked inside a Dutch farmhouse, between the radiator and the latrine, spinning away on the rollers at 92 RPM. The rain outside has soaked the green fields and turned the goat pasture into a mucky stew. It’s that celebrated flahute weather–the conditions where legends are born, when the hardest of men and women ride into headwinds and driving rain, toughening their bodies and minds to unthinkable levels. Bullshit.

Only the kids get to play outside on a soggy weekday. Not me. Not the even Belgies. They’ll opt for a cozy living room, drooling away on Zwift. I’ll be in some cold barn, or basement hallway, spinning my way toward the weekend’s races. No need to eat cow splatter off the roads. No need to soak in the Low Country winter. No need to battle the elements and sanity. Believe it or not, the latter is the right fight to pick. 

At least, that’s what I tell myself during the third roller session of the week.

Rain drums on the roof and wakes me on race day. I’m lying in the farmhouse loft, two feet from the sloping ceiling. It’s pitter pattered off and on all night. Normally, that would mean another day spinning and staring at some wall. But not today. Today is the final stop of the 2018/2019 Cyclocross World Cup in the southern Dutch town of Hoogerheide. The night of rain will the normally fast and ripping track into sloppy, slippery mess. A proper modder, one for the ‘cross romantics.

We stuff three bikes, ten wheels, two cameras and four humans into the back of the van, and set off through the flat expanses of Holland. The green fields glisten with the rain that keeps falling from the grey, sad sky. We wind along the farm lane that will take us to the larger motorway and Hoogerheide, 20 kilometers away.

“Twee minuten…” a Dutch accent booms over the loudspeaker. “Two minutes to start, laaaadies und gentlemen.”

I take a deep breath. The starting sprint will be furious, even more so than normal since the track funnels into slippery muddy turns after 45 seconds. A minute later, the mud will be ankle deep as bikes and bodies flail and shove to maintain position.

“Een minuut, one minute!”

Off come the jackets. I reach down adjusting the crank angle and the pedal, so the cleat will click in perfectly.

“Dertig seconden. Thirty seconds! Start will come at any time.”

The crowd is silent. No one makes a sound. All we hear are the heart beats (played over the PA system to add some drama). Thump, thump. Thump, thump. The start lights are red. Still red. Stilllll red. GREEN. I kick into the pedal along with 70 others and unleash that week’s worth of rollers into each stroke. Play time at last. Liberated, off we sprint toward the mud, that glorious, gloopy goo of romance.

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