By Anthony Tan in Valkenburg
With Valkenburg the centre of attention for the second time in Tour de France history, Mayor Constant Nuytens has reason to smile. "Very, very happy," he told Cyclingnews. "The Tour de France will come for the second time, because in 1992, the Tour was also here. But now, to have it again, we are very happy, and it is a great honour for us organisers."
Not forgetting that the finish of the Amstel Gold Race is held on the famous Cauberg climb each year, and that Valkenburg also hosted the world road championships in 1998, which was won by Swiss rider Oscar Camenzind and also signaled the return of Lance Armstrong after his battle with testicular cancer, one could quite easily say this southern Limburg town is the centre of Dutch cycling.
Said Rabobank's Pieter Weening: "When you talk about cycling, it's the heart of Holland. The Tour is special, but Valkenburg is also special. It's a nice town, and the people all grow up with cycling... Amstel Gold every year, the national championships nearby - there are a lot of races around here, and the people like it. Everything is nice here; you can build nice circuits, and it's perfect."
Asked what's required to host a stage finish of the world's biggest cycling race, Mayor Nuytens first responded with a look that said, 'How much time have you got?'
"It's very difficult. But we have a tradition [of cycling], and we have also done it before. We have about five or six people who are very, very good, and they have spent about a year organising it.
"We don't have a big party for the riders, because coming here, the riders are tired and they go straight to the hotel [after the finish]," continued Nuytens. "And the next day, they start in Huy in Belgium - but for the people of Valkenburg in the region of Limburg and also for the people of Germany and Belgium, there are many events, which culminate in the finish of the Tour [stage]."
A cycling fan and keen rider himself, the softly spoken Valkenburg Mayor said he tries to ride three times a week, and has visited La Grande Boucle in France on many occasions. "Every year, we have an arrangement with [former TdF director] Monsieur Leblanc, where, for one hour, we can talk with him. Now, he is coming to us," he smiled.