Saturday, July 16, 2011
The Tour de Ruhr
Following a very successful Lost Boys Tour of Europe (full report with lots of great photos to follow shortly), I was thinking that perhaps my legs did not really need much more climbing practice. But since the Austrian Alps are now just a memory and I am now energized to ride more seriously since my efforts to lose weight this year have been pathetic and I could feel every extra of the many extra kilos, I have resolved to do as many rides on the weekend as I can, weather permitting.
And the weather today was permitting. I checked various forecasts yesterday and they all seemed to suggest it would be a good day, albeit with some wind. Rain is forecast for Sunday so I gave up my The Only Day You Can Shop on the Weekend in Germany and instead headed off to Gevelsberg on the S-Bahn to participate in the 3rd Tour de Ruhr.
The good thing is that the S-Bahn runs every 30 minutes and I do not have to transfer on the ride from Düsseldorf. As well, my monthly local commuting pass on city public transit is good for taking me and my bike pretty far out on weekends in Nordrhein-Westfalen. The bad news was that I could not find anyone to do the route with me. On longer rides it is always much more interesting to be with someone else, not only in case there is a problem but for the company (and the slipstreaming into the omni-present headwind). But I figured that I would find a group riding at my pace during the event and not have to do a solo time trial all day. On the other hand, a solo time trial is probably a good way to work off the weight!
The weather did not look very good and I left home half an hour later than I had first planned since it was very cool and overcast. As I rode by my greengrocer, the cashier waved and said to watch out for rain. But I pressed onward and arrived at the S-Bahn station at Gevelsberg-Knapp at 8:30 after a one hour train trip and rode the 4 kms to the very impressive sports facility at Schilsede, with a big soccer field and changing rooms and a restaurant and everything. Registering was quick and easy and I headed out onto the well-marked route. Not well enough marked, I guess, as I immediately made a wrong turn but someone pointed me in the right direction.
It was the right direction but began with a sharp climb up the cobbled streets of the town. Ouch! But after that first painful beginning, the road went steadily downhill. There was not much traffic at 9:30 on a Saturday morning (Germans are late sleepers on the weekend) and I made steady enough progress as I came to a nice vista of the Ruhr at Alt-Wetter, a little city whose name translates, strangely, to “Old Weather.” The Ruhr region was once Germany’s industrial heartland and in Wetter the first industrial workshop, which produced steam engines and gas light equipment, was established in 1819. During my day of riding, I was to pass many sights related to Germany’s Industrial Revolution, and there is a marked Route of Industrial Culture which actually looks very interesting.
I rolled eastwards, passing north of Hagen and hitting some climbs at the 22 and 25 km marks of the ride. The region, which is Westfalen, is hilly and although the climbs are generally not terribly long they can be steep. I find the constant up-and-down more wearing than doing a single big pass or two each day, as I did in the French and Swiss Alps in the past.
The first rather modest food stop was at 28 kms and after eating some banana and checking what else was on offer (energy bars mainly), I pressed on. I did not see very many riders, which I attributed to a start time that went from 9:00 to 11:00, so the participants would have been spread out. In addition, there were routes of 151, 111, 71, 41 and 25 kms, so after some of the splits I would have seen even fewer people, although there were probably two hundred participants, judging from the cars at the sports centre.
The Germans are pretty serious about these RTF (Radtourenfahrt) organized rides and unlike a century ride in the States or Canada nobody said anything when they passed me or indicated that we might work together. At two points I discovered I was leading out some other riders when I set a nice pace on the hills but when we reached the summit they just overtook and passed me without saying anything. I did talk for a moment with a lady on a tri-bike but when we reached the summit she waited there for her friends who were further back. The first part of the ride was going well but 111 kms is a fair distance and I was very worried about the headwind on the way back. The forecast was for 30 km/h winds, gusting to 50! At least it was sunny...
At Witten we rejoined the Ruhr after our climbing session. I had passed an amazing iron railway bridge but did not stop to photograph but while crossing over the bridge into Witten I saw a good view and went to the other side for a picture. This was awkward as there was a high wall between the road and the sidewalk as there was a bus lane and I could not get over it. After taking the photo, I discovered the traffic was so heavy I could not get back onto the right side of the road and had to wait quite a while. The Germans were all up now, obviously.
Shortly after this, the route took me past an interesting industrial location, the Zeche Nachtigall, a coal mine that was in service from 1895 to the 1960s. This is now operated by the LWL, the Westfalen regional government, as a museum and event location. The parking lot was packed, so there must have been something unusual happening.
We travelled now on a fairly busy main road, No. 43, but the shoulders were wide and pretty clean. Although I was using the map on my GPS (still not completely figured out yet) and watching very carefully for the RTF signs the Schilsede club had put up, I missed a turn, only discovering this after a nice downhill run. Several other cyclists also ended up with me but as they rode west towards Hattingen, which was not really on the route at all, I turned around and backtracked until I found the turn. The GPS map is not really detailed enough but I only added a few kilometers to my ride anyway.
I was concerned that the route on my GPS was now looking quite different from where we were going so I just followed the RTF signs. At one point after the second food stop I took a break for a photo and a gentleman walking along the road came over for a chat. He was about 50 and told me that he had once been a very serious cyclist, putting in up to 25,000 kms a year! He had given up racing and super long rides, although it sounded to me as if he was still pretty ambitious on the bike as he said that he and his wife do big tours riding directly from their house in Soest (a village I need to see as it is supposed to be one of the prettiest in Germany) and were planning to ride to Switzerland soon. He asked if I was Danish and was surprised that I was a Canadian and an English-speaker to boot. My accent in German confuses people but he paid me a monster compliment by saying that my German was very good and that he was a German teacher!
There is an issue with downloading routes on the Garmin and I think it simply cut off part of the route in order to go directly back to Schilsede. At the third food stop, at the 90 km mark, I asked if I was in fact going the right way. At this point all the routes (except the very short one) were already back together so it was only 19 kms to the finish.
This was easier said than done. The wind was blowing at the forecast 30 km/h and there was still a bit of climbing. At one point I began to feel my right inner quad cramp and I immediately poured down everything still in my bottles. I had been drinking quite steadily for a change but with the sun I was probably dehydrating. The drinks helped and I made the last part of the ride with no further incidents.
There were still a lot of cars at the sports club. I turned in my number and got my 2 Euro deposit back, which I then gambled away on two tickets for the club lottery, winning nothing. I did get a little flashing light from the ladies on the registration desk, which will nicely replace the one I had on my fitness club backpack and which I broke.
I rode back to the train station (all downhill) and included this distance in my ride as the club’s advertised 111 kms was a bit on the short side. I rode around 115 km in all at the unimpressive average speed of 21.5 km/h, although I did hit nearly 67 km/h on one of the downhill sections. I would have had more fast descents but I was surprised by how bad the roads were in many sections of the route. The route is a good one, although it does have some stretches not only of bad road but also boring bits through suburbs. But there is an impressive amount of green space in the Ruhrtal and I enjoyed some forest rides as well as seeing the river. There is a Ruhr bike path and we rode a short stretch of it today; I have ridden another section further to the west near Essen. It would be pretty flat but probably busy on weekends as the area is heavily populated.
Getting out at the Flingern S-Bahn station, I was home by 4:30 pm and was able to watch one of the exciting mountain stages of the Tour de France while enjoying a big cold beer (alcohol-free Paulaner for the time being). The Ruhr region not only offers very good cycling but looks like an extremely interesting place from an historical perspective as well. Many of the RTF routes can be found on-line, so I am not sure I need to pay 7 Euros (well, including two lottery tickets!) for some bananas and the opportunity to ride all by myself. Once I shed the weight, I will try for the 200 km+ Radmarathonen so at least I will get a medal!