Headwind cycle race canceled due to too much wind | ET REALITY


One of the most eccentric sporting events on the Dutch calendar was canceled this week over safety concerns when deadly storm Ciarán brought heavy rain and winds of over 85mph to parts of Western Europe.

The irony is that the peculiar competition, the Dutch Headwind Cycling Championships, requires a significant amount of wind.

This event takes place, when wind conditions are right, in the southwestern province of Zeeland, on the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier. The route is 8.5 kilometers, about 5.3 miles, on a narrow strip of land surrounded by water. Winds can be strong enough to completely stop cyclists.

Thursday’s race, which would have been the eighth, would have been the “dream edition” with the strong winds caused by the storm, said Robrecht Stoekenbroek, one of the original organizers who is also participating in the race. But the municipality that granted the permit had rescinded it for safety reasons when the severity of Thursday’s forecast became clear.

Storm Ciarán hit France, Britain and elsewhere this week. At least six people died, including one in the Netherlands.

The Dutch national weather service on Thursday issued one of its highest alerts in some parts of the country and warned people to stay off the roads. At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, airlines canceled or delayed hundreds of flights.

Thousands of people tried to get one of the 300 places in this year’s headwind cycling competition, Stoekenbroek said. Participants range in fitness levels, from professional athletes to former professional cyclists to “mail carriers with strong calves,” she said. Contestants use simple bicycles without gears and with coaster brakes instead of hand brakes.

However, at the end of the day, “it’s a friendly competition,” Stoekenbroek said. Winners receive a special t-shirt.

And winning that shirt is difficult. Stoekenbroek advises cyclists to remember how they used to cycle to high school (a typical trip for Dutch teenagers) and to channel the feeling they get from spending mornings and afternoons hunched over the handlebars.

This was not the first time the weather affected the race. In 2020, hurricane-force winds from Storm Ciara forced organizers to end the race early. The Associated Press described that year’s event as “anything but simple, even for experienced cyclists. “The organizers provided vomit buckets at the end.”

The first race was held in 2013 as a marketing strategy to promote sustainable wind energy by Dutch energy supplier Eneco, which sponsors the event.

Even in a country where cycling is one of the most popular means of transportation, many might wonder why anyone would subject themselves to riding a bicycle in such dangerous weather conditions.

“Sometimes I wonder too,” Stoekenbroek said. “There is a group of people who like to suffer.”

But the surroundings, he said, are dramatically beautiful. So impressive, she added, “that you forget you’re doing something very stupid.”

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