Here again I took advantage of a football match (and even two football matches) to mix supporting and traveling for BIG. In September, we knew Nice would play in Arnhem the Thursday 7th of December, and I noticed immediately that three BIG were in the surroundings. A few weeks before this European Cup match, a League Cup one was added in Lille the week after, the 13th of December. So with a great enthusiasm, I decided to spend the 6 days between the two matches riding for BIG. It was a journey that looked memorable, as 48 BIG were in my schedule, in Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France. But, as I was preparing my trip, I couldn’t prevent myself for thinking that December in northern Europe was not the best period to do long bike rides, and well, it appeared that my fears were justified, as my program has been drastically shortened by the weather.
Anyway, I spent a lot of time designing my journey as, unlike in the mountains where the roads between BIG are generally obvious, I had to look at a lot of options to minimize the distance traveled. Finally, my program was ready: the three BIG between Arnhem and Nijmegen, then train to Maastricht. From Maastricht, I had the 7 remaining Dutch BIG before reaching Mützenich on the German border. Then I entered Belgium for 6 BIG between signal de Botrange and Stavelot, came back to Germany for two BIG, Krautscheid and Schwarzer Mann, and crossed Luxembourg riding the 13 BIG of the country. The next step was another train transfer to Aywalle and the 6 BIG between la côte de la Redoute and le Cheval de Bois, a relatively long stretch without BIG to reach Mont Saint-Walfroy and 5 other BIG up to Ry de Rome, alternating between France and Belgium, and finally the last 4 BIG along the Meuse, finishing in Huy where Lille was easily reachable by train.
The first part of the program was easily followed, as I took a train the morning in Nice and arrived at Arnhem at about 7:15 pm, having just the time to settle down and go to the stadium, the match beginning at 9 pm. My favorite team lost 1-0, but that was not important as they were already qualified for the following round of the competition. After the match we came back to town center under police escort. At this time all was quiet in Arnhem town, the hooligans were gone to bed so I came back quietly to the room I had hired.
In the morning, during breakfast, my hosts asked me what my program was for the days to come. They looked dubious about it, as they said that snow would certainly come my way. The weather issues had appeared to me while I was building my route, so I told them I was prepared to interrupt or shorten my journey at any time. Well, I wasn’t wrong, as my journey was interrupted very soon.
From Arnhem, I first took the direction of Posbank that I reached after a 11 km flat stretch under a light rain. The BIG is very modest, even though it keeps trace of the Giro d’Italia that climbed it in 2016. As I started the climb, the rain was turning into snow and the bushes around were all white. It was nothing serious though, so I came back towards Arnhem to reach the next BIG, Italiaansweg. The city center was not longto cross, and the trip continued on quiet lanes along the Lower Rhine. At this time the snow has stopped, the temperature had increased a little (from 1°C to 3°C) and I felt more optimistic. The Italiaansweg climb was soon over and I took the direction of Nijmegen for the last BIG of my ride.
I first crossed the Lower Rhine on a motorway bridge with a cycle lane aside. The weather was turning bad again at this time, with the return of the rain, but the skies looked brighter in the direction of south. Unfortunately this soon disappeared and the rain turned to snow again. I was still in the mood of continuing my trip, hurrying to finish the BIG and reach the Nijmegen station, before going to Maastricht and see how it was down there. But the snow kept on falling more and more and was totally covering the road when I reached the top of the Oude Holleweg. I had some difficulties arriving at the station, as I felt the snow under my wheels, that was smooth in the beginning, was freezing rapidly.
No need to say that once I was at the station, my bike and I all covered with snow, I didn’t think anymore of going on with the trip. I took instead the first train to Schipolstation, which is served by mainline trains. It was nearly 2 pm when I was in Schipol, so I didn’t hope much being able to reach Nice the same day, but it appeared to be possible, going from Schipol to Gare du Nord in Paris, then from Gare de Lyon to Nice. Like in April, I had a night ride through Paris before climbing in my last train.
Just a little word about trains. I’ve made this entire trip in high speed trains.In the past, I’ve often had problems with my bike insuch trains, but for this journey I used a very light bag (in fact a cover) that I had bought for this purpose. It allowed me to respect the trains’ regulations with a very little increase of my luggage, a very useful gear!
I was not too disappointed to finish my journeythis early as I was aware from the start it was a probable eventuality. Before my trip, I was wishing very hard to encountermild mid-December weather, but it didn’t happen that way. Anyway, I’m happy to have ridden these threeBIG, I discovered a new country with Netherlands, and I climbed the snowiest of my nearly-300 BIG. All in all, a short but nice BIG hunt.