By Jeremy Vennell
Before starting this story of these two races I will just try and explain how unique racing in Holland really is from every other country.
Firstly, and possibly the most important factor in racing in the Netherlands is that there is always wind! As soon as you drive over the border, the trees start to sway. It doesn't matter if you are at the back or the front of the peloton, everyone gets it and everyone has to battle with it all day. Wind is fine if it is straight in your face or up your butt but the wind in Holland is the devil wind straight out of hell, and will always be trying its best to make it tough. When riders finally crack under the strain, they let go of the rider's wheel in front and then the other riders behind also get left behind with him. This normally happens when the wind is coming from the side.
When the wind is coming from that direction, there is no shelter at all except a tiny bit behind the rider in front. But the lucky ones will be in the front in a diagonal line across the road, this means for a short time you will get a rest from the wind as you rotate to the front and then back along the line to the back. This way you only get a short spell in the wind and then a respite from the effort (this is called an echelon). The problem is the road is only so wide and the smaller the road, the fewer riders can fit in the rotating line. The doomed riders that are out of the line cannot sustain the effort of the other riders working together and thus crack and fall off the back.
This is called riding in the gutter, and you are normally trying to ride about an inch or less on the side of the road to get as much shelter as possible from the rider in front who is also trying to do the same. Things can get worse if you're really unlucky you can be behind a little Italian rider that barely come up to your knees and gives about half the slipstream as a big Dutchy. But being behind a Dutch rider can also be tough because they have been riding in the gutter before they can talk, making them very good at riding stupidly close to the edge of the road.
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