Dutch organisers of the short Tour de France loop into the Netherlands today are ready and happy to welcome the Grande Boucle. The Tour caravan will cross the Belgian border this afternoon in stage three, and pursue for another 33,4 kilometres on Dutch soil until the finish in Valkenburg. There will be three Cat. 4 hills to climb, all of them well-known to the cycling world as they are also included in the itinerary of spring classic Amstel Gold Race: the Loorberg, the Trintelen and the Cauberg in the city of Valkenburg itself.
This last climb will of course be the most decisive one with its 12 percent gradient - and spectators are sure to abound. "It's the Alpe d'Huez of the Netherlands!" said one of the organisers, Bennie Ceulen. Valkenburg mayor Constant Nuytens expects at least 400,000 people from the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to come to the streets and watch the event, but on the sides of the Cauberg main street climb, only 40,000 fans will be admitted.
"Entrance is free, of course, but once it's full, it's full," said Nuytens. The Cauberg will also feature two VIP-tribunes and four still cameras, and there is no space for camper vans like there is in the Alps or the Pyrenees. Dutch railways have increased up the amount of trains going into Valkenburg to 12 per hour for today, in comparison to two per hour normally.
The Tour de France visits Valkenburg for the second time in its history: in 1992, 600,000 people gathered to watch the race on the roadside. With beautiful weather announced for today's stage 3, and temperatures expected to rise well above 30° Celsius, the streets will be packed, many fans hoping to see Michael Boogerd or Erik Dekker win on home soil.