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1903 Tour de France with Keir Plaice

Keir Plaice, a former semi-professional cyclist and 3rd year Bachelor Arts and Culture student, is embarking on a cycling ride of a lifetime. He is riding the route of the original Tour de France of 1903 and documenting his experience in his Le Grand Tour column in the cycling magazine Soigneur. Read on to find out more about Keir and his project!

Interview and photography: Brian Megens
Interview and text: Karissa Atienza

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Tell us about yourself.
I came to the Netherlands to race bikes for a Dutch cycling team in the summer of 2010. I’d rode for two years before that as a semi-professional cyclist in Canada. I wanted to try and make it to the very top of the sport, ride the Tour de France and the World Tour, but after a couple of years I realised that it wasn’t going to happen. I also met a Dutch girl that bound me to the country.

Why Maastricht?
After my cycling career, I realised that I better go to school and start a future outside of cycling. I’ve always loved reading. I really love literature and arts. I love going to museums and experiencing paintings. I decided that when I go to university I would study something purely out of interest and immerse myself in something I’m really interested in. I wanted to study something to do with art and literature in English. My choice was Maastricht or Groningen. Maastricht is a much more beautiful city than Groningen, especially if you’re a cyclist.

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

How do you experience combining your study with your other interests?
When I decided start university, I decided that that would be my first priority. At the same time, whenever I had the free time I would go for a bike ride. I find that they really complement each other. I think lots of people who are very ambitious with school get completely caught up with university. When I go on my bike, I don’t take my phone, I don’t take anything. You just have a couple of hours in the countryside where it completely clears your head and it re-adjusts your priorities. It really helps you when you’re studying cos you’re not stressed about things.

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

How did you start journalism?
When I was racing, I started keeping a blog mostly to let friends and family know how the races are going. After a while, I got bored saying the race grew hard after 25 km, I was in the second group, I suffered all day but finished 30th. So then I became more interested in conveying the experience of racing through words. Bike racing is something I was completely in love with and I thought it was a cool exciting, interesting experience but anytime you read anything in the newspaper or magazine, it just states the result. None of the experience is conveyed in the stories you read about it. I found that a real shame.
The cycling magazine Soigneur somehow found my blog and they really liked my writing and got in touch. I’ve been able to do several really interesting projects with them.

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Tell us about your project.
The project started early this year when Soigneur asked me for any cool ideas. As a cyclist, of course, the big dream for everybody is riding the Tour de France. It’s the holy grail for every bike racer. It was something I had always wanted to do. It was an idea where I could give a conclusion to my own cycling story, to have my own Tour de France. I’ve always known that the early Tour de France was really interesting. At that time the sport was just beginning
At the same time, I’ve always known that the early Tours were really interesting. Back then, it was completely new. Someone just had an idea of ‘hey, let’s race in France’ and the idea just took off. Now, it’s all very organised and it’s the same every year. The stages of the early Tour de France were also much longer so there was a more adventurous approach towards the sport as opposed to the racing today. It’s impressive what the guys racing in the Tour can do today, but at the same time, every aspect of their lives is completely controlled. Because it’s so competitive and everyone is so good, there’s absolutely no room for error.
So you miss some of those crazy stories of what used to happen where the guys would go for a 120km long breakaways, stopping for ice cream, pull over at a bar on the side of the road because they didn’t have enough water, hiding behind the bushes and let the peloton or whatever was left still think there were someone in front. Because it wasn’t at this super high-end top of the sport, of course, they were still very competitive, they had a lot of freedom.

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

What’s the plan?
I will ride the original route of the first Tour de France in 1903. So there are 6 stages, each between 270-470km. In total, it’s about 2500km. It’s basically the same programme as what they rode in 1903. Each of the stages is will be ridden in one shot. I’ll wake up at 4 ‘o clock in the morning and grab my bike and finish it. In between the stages, there are two or three rest days. There is a Maserati car riding with me for food, drinks, repairs and spare parts.

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

How did you prepare?
Apart from my regular riding of about 15 hours per week, I made sure to do a few longer drive of 200-250km range. A couple weeks ago I went to Norway to ride a really big race there called the Styrkeprøven. It’s 540km from Trondheim to Oslo. That was twice as far as I’d ever ridden in my life. I surprised myself and finished second place at 14 hours and 10 minutes.

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Follow Keir’s journey through France in the Soigneur magazine and the Maserati Cycling youtube channel and relive the first Tour de France! Watch Keir conquer the first stage of the Le Grand Tour from Paris to Lyon:

The 40 of Limburg

A group of UM professors, staff, students and relations opened the ’40 of Limburg’ route last Friday, which is a bike route through the hills of Limburg to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Maastricht University. The route is open for everyone so you can explore the hills in Limburg yourself!

The 40 of Limburg link

Here’s a piece written by sports journalist Robin van der Kloor who shares his experience in the peloton that opened the ’40 of Limburg’ route.

Text: Robin van der Kloor
Translation and Photography: Brian Megens

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Among Professors (in lycra)
What do you talk about when you find yourself solely among scientists on a bike, for example, during a bike ride through the hills of Limburg in celebration of the UM 40th birthday? Must one talk about the regenerative medicines when you want to start a conversation with a scientist, who is let’s say the Tom Dumoulin of the UM?

A peloton of professors, researchers, students, teachers and doctors, all of whom are riding in lycra. Last Friday, an interesting mix of ‘UM people’ or ‘UM related people’ rode on the small, beautiful roads of South-Limburg. Some of them were business relations, one of them a former governor, who is a member of the MSM board. That’s reasonable, but me? “What is your link with the university?” Uhm, I write articles for a newspaper and for some time education was in my portfolio and now I write on cycling a lot. Is that a valid argument? “Uhm, I don’t think so”.

At a break in Gulpen, a young man entered the inn heavily sweating. He had missed the start at UM Sport due to a tire that blew up and he had to chase our group for over 50k. A sort of hide and seek with the peloton as on every point he was just too late or had already left when we reached it. Luckily, he can push the pedals quite well, he almost made it to professional cycling and he is also a former world top youth darts player, good for him as elsewise he probably wouldn’t have survived his road to unification with our group. We call him ‘the Talent’.

The Scientist meets the Talent, who decided to ride on a fixed gear (he thought it was fun, but I could only think: why?), the conversation didn’t focus on muscle tissue recovery, but on ‘giving it all’, watts, 40-20s and its use. During the evening, the Scientist saw that he had managed to get 4 KOM’s in his age category. Whatever that might be. His Strava profile is impressive by the way. He tends to ride 250k on average a week, a true cycling fanatic.

Impressive was also the former governor, whom I had never seen on a bike, but soon I couldn’t imagine him without one. Entwined on his hybrid bike, attacking on his climb like it was his last. To me, I witnessed a transformation going from politician to a cyclist from the early days. During the ride his posture got rougher, his hair wilder, his chain dryer, and his eyes more red. For a long time he missed the mud to become the true ‘laborer of the road’. He changed that immediately by pulling his front brake too hard to safely land on the grass of the Molenberg. There he lied, our Wim van Est.

Every now and then it seemed to be a chaotic Friday afternoon, with people from all different sport levels brought together on a bike to ride the ’40 of Limburg’, that turned out to be only 14 for us. Due to the organization, the motards, the people of UM Sport, and above all special guest, Hennie Kuiper. Against all laws of physics was the former World Champion of cycling present at several spots in the peloton at the same time. While he was instructing the guys at the front, he was also giving tips to the slower cyclists at the back (hands on the brakes, switch gears before the hills not on it), while also showing his fans how to ride to the front of the bunch by using the motors. A person with a high dosage of self-knowledge and humbleness. A man that can talk about himself for over half an hour without it becoming the ‘Hennie Kuiper Show’.

Also the maker of the route (what a one it became) deserves compliments. His claims that the UM is a place wherein the strong drive the weak to improve is true. Although the American woman gave the impression of quitting after the first hill, also she rolled back to Maastricht 4 hours later together with the group. Partially, because of her Transatlantic perseverance, partially because of the help by students, who by the way had to leave right after the ride as they had a 175k relay run to do. A cohesion like this is rarely found among the average leisure cyclists.

“What are you doing here?”, is a question I got asked again, this time during the pasta meal where I saw the former governor serving himself pasta like he just finished Bordeaux-Paris, which in his perception he probably did. Yet again I did not know how to respond. “But who invited you?” I pointed towards the Communication guy, who despite the sun and 18 degrees was wearing winter gloves all the time, also during the pasta meal. Not really a credible alibi. Until now, although I had an amazing day, it is not clear to me why I was there, maybe to write this?

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

Robin van der Kloor

Origineel, Nederlands:

Onder professoren (in lycra)

Waar praat je over als je je tussen louter wetenschappers begeeft op een fiets, bijvoorbeeld tijdens een toertocht door het Heuvelland ter ere van de veertigste verjaardag van de UM? Moet het gaan over regeneratieve medicijnen als je met een onderzoeker, laten we zeggen de Tom Dumoulin van de UM, een gesprek wilt aanknopen?

Een peloton van professoren, onderzoekers, studenten, docenten en artsen. En dat allemaal in lycra. Een bont gezelschap zocht vrijdag de mooie, smalle, soms zelfs onverharde weggetjes op. Enkele zakelijke relaties waren erbij, vooruit. Een oud-gouverneur, die in de Raad van Toezicht van de MSM zit. Moet kunnen. En ik. “En wat is jouw link met de universiteit?” Ehm, ik ben stukjesschrijver bij een krant en had ooit onderwijs in mijn portefeuille en nu wielrennen. Telt dat? “Ehm, nee.”

Bij de pauze in Gulpen kwam een bezwete jongeman de herberg binnengewandeld. Door een klapband miste hij de start bij UM Sport en probeerde vervolgens vijftig kilometer lang onze groep bij te halen, maar op elk punt was hij net te laat. Het scheelt dat hij hard kan fietsen – hij had het bijna tot beroepswielrenner geschopt en is overigens meervoudig Nederlands jeugdkampioen darten, maar dat terzijde –, anders had hij deze tantaluskwelling waarschijnlijk niet overleefd. We noemen hem het Talent.

De Onderzoeker ontdekte het Talent, dat besloot mee te rijden op een fixie (vond ie leuk, maar ik dacht alleen maar: waarom?) en het ging niet over weefselherstel, maar over ‘diep gaan’, wattages, de 40-20’s en het nut ervan. Het Talent concludeerde: het menselijk lichaam kan veel meer aan dan we denken. ‘s Avonds op Strava stelde de Onderzoeker tevreden vast dat hij ‘vier leeftijdskommetjes’ had gepakt. Wat dat ook moge zijn. Zijn Strava-profiel is indrukwekkend, trouwens. Hij rijdt per week minimaal 250 kilometer. De Onderzoeker is een trainingsbeest, in wielerjargon.

Imposant was ook de Oud-gouverneur, die ik nog nooit op een fiets had gezien, maar die ik me al snel niet anders dan fietsend kon voorstellen. Gebeiteld op zijn hybride attaqueerde hij elke meter omhoog alsof het zijn laatste was. Voor mijn ogen zag ik de Oud-gouverneur transformeren van politicus tot coureur van de oude stempel. Gedurende de rit werd zijn houding robuuster, zijn haren wilder, zijn ketting droger, zijn ogen roder. Waar in zijn poging om de eretitel ‘slaaf van de weg’ te bemachtigen het slijk op zijn lijf lange tijd ontbrak, bracht hij daar eigenhandig verandering in door vlak voor het einde iets te rigoureus in zijn voorrem te knijpen en in het gras van de Molenweg te duiken. Verdomd, daar lag Wim van Est.

Bij tijd en wijle leek het een redelijk chaotische vrijdagmiddag, een berg los zand in het Heuvelland. De 40 van Limburg bleken er 14 te zijn, het niveauverschil was aanzienlijk en er reden wat exoten mee van wie je je kunt afvragen wat zij in dat mooie shirt deden. Maar er was voldoende lijm aanwezig: de motards, de mensen van UM Sport en bovenal Hennie Kuiper. Geheel tegen de natuurwetten in was de oud-renner op meerdere plekken aanwezig op hetzelfde moment. Tegelijkertijd kon hij de voorsten mennen, de onwetenden onderwijzen (“handen aan de remmen”, “lichter schakelen voor de helling, niet erop.”) en de wielerfans demonstreren hoe je tussen de motards naar voren rijdt. Bezitter van een zeer plezierige dosis zelfkennis en bescheidenheid. Een man die een half uur over zichzelf kan praten zonder dat het de Hennie Kuiper-show wordt.

Ook de routemaker (fraaie ronde!) verdient een pluim. Zijn bewering ‘bij de UM maken de beteren de zwakkeren sterker’ klopte helemaal. Waar de Amerikaanse al na een helling de indruk wekte te willen afstappen, rolde ook zij vier uur later Maastricht binnen, in de groep. Deels door haar transatlantische onverzettelijkheid, deels door de duwtjes in de rug van studenten die – hoe is het in godsnaam mogelijk – meteen naar Nijmegen doorreisden om een 175 kilometer lange estafetterace te lopen. Zulke cohesie kom ik bij wielertoeristen zelden tegen.

“Wat doe jij hier eigenlijk?”, werd mij opnieuw gevraagd, dit maal bij het avondeten waar de Oud-gouverneur pasta stapelde alsof hij zojuist Bordeaux-Parijs had gereden (had ie ook, dat kon je zo zien). Weer had ik geen passend antwoord klaar. “Maar wie heeft je uitgenodigd dan?” Ik wees naar de Communicatieman, die ondanks de zon en 18 graden de hele rit dikke winterhandschoenen droeg en er ook pasta mee at. Niet bepaald een geloofwaardig alibi. Nu nog, ook al heb ik een zeer plezierige dag beleefd, is mij niet helemaal duidelijk waarom ik daar was. Om dit stukje te schrijven misschien.

Coffee Bars in Maastricht: Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee

Maastricht is well known for its historical city centre, shopping and hilly surroundings. However, since the foundation of the University of Maastricht, a younger, more international generation has entered the stage. Inevitably, these new inhabitants have an impact on the city as they come from various backgrounds with different lifestyles, preferences and demands. A necessity for many students is a relaxed environment to study, and enjoy a good cup of coffee accompanied by homemade cake while keeping up-to-date via a WiFi connection. As quite a few international students come from a country wherein coffee is so much more than the traditional Dutch drip coffee, Maastricht’s entrepreneurs saw the opportunity and several coffee bars, where coffee is served with craftmanship and passion, enriched Maastricht. In this new column we will visit the many coffee bars that Maastricht has to offer and we will meet the passionate owners, hear their stories, show their place and of course taste their coffee! We’ll kick off this column with the ‘new kid in town’ Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee.

Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee

Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee

Located 50 meters away from the market, Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee is a spacious coffee bar where the love for bikes (you can stall it inside) and coffee comes together. Located in the Hoenderstraat (side street of the Markt), the bar is run by the couple Renske Tackenberg and Ruud van Loo together with Jack, their 2-year-old Australian Shepherd. Renske and Ruud both have a background in healthcare and switched careers as they opened Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee on June 6 this year.

How do you explain the rise of new coffee bar in the Netherlands?
Ruud: I think people in general never appreciated coffee the way they do now. They became aware because of the big companies who introduced new home coffee brewing machines that coffee can be in all sorts of tastes and that there is so much more than just the average drip coffee that is traditionally used in the Netherlands. Furthermore, people travel a lot more nowadays and visit countries where coffee is so much more than what they are used to. As people are discovering the diversity of coffee with their new machines at home, the restaurants and bars couldn’t stay behind and stepped (or still need to step up) their game in order to stay in front of the home machines. Just ask around, everyone can remember their first good cup of coffee and we try to offer the best!

What do you hope to bring in with your business?
Both: We hope to create a place where people can bring in their bike (Yes you can stall your bike inside!) sit down and relax, work, study or whatever they like to do while enjoying a quality cup of coffee and a nice piece of cake. For the future, we would like to create a community with people who share the same passion for bikes and coffee and organise events like: coffee workshops and bike rides.

Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee

Where does the passion for Coffee and Bikes come from?
Ruud: I started cycling when I was a kid, but soon I was more intrigued by the mechanics of cycling than riding itself. The passion for coffee came when I was in New York where I saw the diversity of the several types of coffee. I bought the little red machine and started to explore the world of coffee, what do I like, what type of bean do I need for the perfect espresso, how do I make a good espresso, cappuccino. In short, I started to experiment in order to master the art of coffee as best as I can.
Renske: Ruud dragged me into both and now I am as passionate about coffee and cycling as he is. For example, I never could imagine all the work and dedication that goes in a good cup of coffee and how much variation you can create when making changes to each step. Moreover, I am crazy about cycling as well and love to ride my bike.

Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee

Bikes, Coffee and Maastricht:
Both: The south of Limburg is well known as the cycling area in the Netherlands with its hills, attracting not only leisure cyclists but also professionals to this area. Moreover, one of the big cycling classics, Amstel Gold Race, starts in Maastricht on the Markt and brings the cyclists over all the famous hills in the surroundings. This race is also our favourite event that Maastricht has to offer. So one of the reasons to start our business here is that Maastricht is the centre of cycling in the Netherlands. Another is the university which brings a whole new international generation to the city that we hope to serve. Furthermore, Maastricht is well known for its restaurants, shopping and historical city centre, thus attracting tourists from various countries who hopefully feel like dropping by our place as well! As Maastricht is already notorious for its cuisine we feel that we (and some other coffee bars) can contribute by setting the bar on the quality of coffee higher. Furthermore, we also sell bikes to people who are looking not only for a reliable way of transportation but people that want a unique and special bike that they can cherish.

Alley Cat and students:
Renske: We would probably not have settled here when the university wouldn’t be here as it’s the university that brings young ambitious international people to Maastricht that changes the dynamics of the city. For example, last week there was a student from America that told me so much about the country that it almost feels like I’ve been there myself. However, we don’t only aim at students, we hope to become a place where students, locals and tourists mingle and where we can share our passion for coffee and cycling.

Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee


The perfect place to relax in Maastricht?

Both: After a long day of work, walking along the Maas, sun going down. You see people, sporting, relaxing BBQ-ing, just having a good time.

Maastricht in three words:

Both:  Diverse, cosy, vivid.

Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee

Verdict:
The place: as a coffee lover and former cyclist, I absolutely love the fact that both come together in a relaxed environment where you can just come in to study while being around such awesome bikes.
Coffee: I always drink my coffee black and prefer a good strong cup, I’ve tried a doppio (double espresso) and ever since, that is my standard order here.

Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee

Photography and text: © Brian Megens
More photos click here

Contact information:
Alley Cat Bikes and Coffee
Hoenderstraat 15-17
6211EL Maastricht

Our next interview in this series will be with KOFFIE by Joost & Maartje, stay tuned!