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A Brit in Luxembourg.

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Peter_Nichols

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It’s been a long time since I made a post to the team website and even longer since I last rode with i-team in the UK.  I joined i-team not long after it was formed in 2004 and its good to see a good number of the original members still riding in the club.

When I joined, I was living in south London and had just got back into cycling, I wanted a cycling club that worked for me, one with no obligation to turn up for a club night on a Monday and i-team offed that and that was something that was very unique back then.

Back then I rode a few Surrey league races and I really enjoyed riding with team mates who I’d been talking to via the team forum.

 

In 2006 I relocated to Luxembourg where I’ve been living with my family ever since.  Nowadays I  just hold associate membership to i-team and first claim membership with a club in Luxembourg ( more of that later )

As I no longer belong to British Cycling (apparently you can’t be a member if you don’t have a uk address) I have to make a bank transfer to pay my annual subscription. This year whilst Guy was chasing down memberships (shame on you if you didn’t pay on new years day, there is no excuse) I let him know that I’d transferred the membership and we got into an email conversation and he asked if I would write something about cycling in Luxembourg.

So sitting on a long-haul flight I thought I try and put virtual pen to paper.

Ok, so where to start, when I was living in the UK and going to France on vacation or visiting my wife’s family in the Jura , I used to think “wow, wouldn’t it be great to ride on roads this good all the time;”. My point of reference was south London which didn’t necessarily set the bar that high. Richmond Park was my Truman Show version of being in the country side. Nowadays my view has changed slightly. When I visit the outlaws I’m thinking, err well these roads are not so great.  I’m not necessarily talking about the tarmac but that does play a part. Its more the volume of traffic.

This is where you need to understand the demographics of Luxembourg. It’s a very small country 80km long by 50km wide with a population of 670 thousand people of which about half a non-Luxembourgish. As a financial centre the working population swells considerably with cross border workers   and as such it has a good network of roads to support the traffic.

Roads are kept in incredibly good condition and at the weekend the traffic is fairly light. I remember a couple of years ago I went out on a Sunday morning and rode about a 100km and I decided to press the lap button on my Garmin every time a car passed me. When I finished, I think I had something like 37 laps recorded.

The terrain is flatter in the south of the country and a little more hilly in the north but nothing mountainous. Apart from the great roads there is also a good network of cycle paths spanning the country which either come from repurposed railway lines, dedicated agricultural roads (bikes and tractors can use them but not cars) , purpose built ones and lastly sectioned off cycle lanes in the city.

What we also have here is a very healthy cycling scene. When I left the UK it was pre the London Olympics cycling boom and cycling was still very much a minority sport. This was easily measured in the fact that you would only ever see a maximum of five people on Box Hill on a Sunday and one of the was sure to be a staff writer for cycling weekly.

In Northern Europe, France, Belgium, Netherlands it has always been a bit different, cycling has always been ingrained in the culture. Public buildings are named after sporting heroes and are inevitably on avenue de la liberté. Luxembourg is no different and for it size it has produced a very successful stream of cyclists, Nicolas Frantz, Charly Gaul, Kim Kirchen, Benoît Joachim, the Schleck brothers, Bob Jungles, Jempy Drucker, Ben Gastauer , Laurent Didier plus a whole raft of others you may not have heard of.  I-team’s Rob Hayles old roommate from Confidis was a Luxembourger called Tom Flaming who now has a bike shop and commentates for RTL, He still rides and has just won the Luxembourg masters cyclocross title.

Not only do we have the local guys but there are always foreign rides based here including Jakob Fuglsang , Kim Andersen, Bjarne Riis who used to live here. It is therefore very common to see the guys out training together or in the airport.

Road races are relatively easy to organise here as  it is easy to close of the roads at the weekends either fully or on the rolling basis and no one really has a problem with it. I don’t think the police even charge to provide moto cycle outrider support.

 In addition to the roads we have  trees, loads of them, making some big forests and hence the mountain biking here is really good with loads of well-maintained trails.

Unfortunately there is no velodrome the last one was demolished in the 1920’s . There is however a plan to build a new one in Mondorf which is the home town of the schlecks. It going to be very interesting to see how that gets used but I for one will be keen to give it a go.

If you’re a leisure rider we have something here called Randonnée’s often shortened to rando’s. These are basically cycle tours organised by the local clubs which offer multiple routes. You turn up pay your 8 to 10 euros and follow the marked course. They usually offer multiple distances say 60km  or 120Km with multiple ravi’s or feed stations on route. They will all have a massed start time, so you end up riding with a large group which will typically start at a reasonable pace which gradually increases until the first climb where a significant number of riders will get blown out of the back.

There is a calendar of these published on the FSCL ( Luxembourgish equivalent of British Cycling but much much smaller ) website and many of the clubs have been promoting the same rando on the same weekend for years so you generally know where to go and when. This took a bit of time to decode when I first got to Luxembourg.  These Randonnée’s are important as they typically represent a significant portion of club funds.

They are normally named after the club’s best rider of yesteryear so the Randonnée would be called something like the 23 edition of the Charly Gaul however people would just say are your riding the Charly this weekend.

It is not uncommon for the rides to have 300 plus entrants, so I guess they are a bit like the sportives that have taken root in the UK but a lot cheaper.  Typically, they turn into fairly big burn ups with a fair percentage of riders looking fairly pro and riding bikes that would not be amiss atop a team car.

The Randonnée’s in the hilly parts of northern Luxembourg are my particular favourites and many a great day out on a bike has been had riding these.

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It not uncommon to find the former pros riding these things which is always good fun. Question, how do they stay so skinny??

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Once done there will always be a beer and grill and there is usually one good one per weekend.

In fact, a Dutch club comes down each year and runs one in Luxembourg which is always fun as it is always well subscribed. There is always some Dutch rider who is unprepared for the climbs. It’s not really surprising in a land where a motorway bridge is considered a major strava segment.

 

When winter comes people switch over to VTT’s ( that’s MTB’s to the Brits )  and the rando’s take place in the forest. This gives a nice cadence to the cycling year.

These things have been the mainstay of my riding here in Luxembourg for years and I’ve always ridden the road events in my i-team kit.

Whilst you do get to know people you really need to be in a club to get inside the culture. For years I didn’t bother, I knew enough people and you would either start Randonnée’s with friends or simply rock up start and meet people on the road.

A couple of years ago I finished a rando called the Lul Gillan and inside the sports hall where this one started there was a guy with a nice Cannondale tandem. I didn’t know if he was selling them as quite often shops will have stands to showcase their wares.  Anyway I got talking to him and he explained that he was on the committee of a new club that was being setup called Les Tandems de la Vue with the objective of getting partially sighted people riding.

Anyway I signed up and the club has progressed to the point where we have a good mixed membership of fully and partially sighted riders. We have some fairly handy rides including a tandem pilot who represented France at the Paralympic games in Barcelona and a former Luxembourgish national champion.

We currently have 10 road tandems which have been funded by charity events and local sponsorship.  When we started riding the fully sighted riders trained together with the stoker wearing a blindfold. This was all done on cycle paths but I can honestly say that being on a bike and feeling it lean over but not being able to see is a very scary and odd feeling. Your natural inclination is to keep your body upright and fight it. As a pilot you are suddenly responsible for someone else and as such you need to call out the turns, how long until the top of a hill and when you going to stop including putting you foot down.

There is one other thing that you need to be aware off and that is that it is very much like riding a fixed wheel. You are linked chain set to chain set and you can feel when the stoker is not putting in the effort and conversely you can also make them work harder than they would want to. The bike chain between the chain sets becomes a form of communication.

In addition to the preparation on the bike we also had to do a basic first aid course in order to be able to quickly assist should an accident occur.

When we ride the tandems, we will always have fully sighted members of the club riding solo with us. As a solo rider your job is to either ride behind the tandems or upfront stopping traffic at junctions so the tandems don’t have to stop and the riders have to put their feet down. This generally involves putting you bike in the middle of the road and putting you hand up to stop any oncoming cars (try doing that in the UK !!! )

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We typically have a club ride on Saturdays and ride Randonnée’s on the Sundays. We have a club calendar so you can opt in or out of riding and in that way, you don’t miss out on the fun of a good burn up.  We have also progressed in terms of transporting tandems from our service de course (rented garage).  Initially, a couple of us had bike racks or big enough cars where you could put a tandem in with the wheels off.

Now we have a modified trailer which can take three tandems and other bits of kit.

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The great payback to this branch of cycling has been seeing guys who have not been able to ride bike since losing their sight, regain the freedom and the love of cycling. When we started all the stokers were all wearing trainers but now confidence and ability has grown, and everyone is using SPD’s. General fitness has also improved, and much weight has been lost.

Like any club we have our activities on and off the bike. We have a annual mass ride and dinner where some of our stokers did their first 100Km rides. That is impressive given that these guys are not in the position to just get on a bike whenever they want.

We are quite well known locally now, partly because of what we do and partly because our kit is so bright. It’s no coincidence that it is the same basic colour as safety wear, we need to be seen and therefore we don’t look like we have just cycled in off a Rapha advertisement.

Local papers and television have done pieces on us. I remember last year we had to push a journalist for the latter part of a ride because he was simply not fit enough to keep up. After that he didn’t have much choice but to write a good piece about us given that we had pushed him for twenty km’s to get back to his car.  

We have also taken part in various events such as a back to sport endurance event at Luxembourg’s goodyear test track. Unfortunately, we were beaten into third place by the pesky recumberents.

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So next time you are driving through Luxembourg flying down the A6 on your way to the south of France. Just remember that there is plenty going on bike wise in that little country you have just driven through in 30 mins flat.

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Excellent description of the cycling world in Luxembourg... and good to see life is good for you...

I look forward to more Tales from Luxembourg during 2020

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