The Netherlands will change from orange to yellow this summer as Utrecht hosts Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France in July. After five years, the festive start of the famous cycling race returns to the Netherlands, marking a record sixth time that the race starts in Holland, more than any other country outside of France.
When asked why tour organizers seem to favor the Netherlands, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme cites not only the country’s geographical location, but its enthusiasm for the sport. This characteristic zeal was noted in 1954 when the first launch of the tour outside of France occurred in Amsterdam. L’Equipe, a French national newspaper dedicated to sports, wrote:
“All of the Netherlands seemed to have gathered on the roads…Tens of thousands of spectators in closed ranks, uninterrupted, for kilometers and kilometers, clapping, cheering for everything that had to do with the tour, the cyclists, the motorcyclists…[in this way] they made a triumph of the first stage!”
Le Grand Depart Travel Guide
The 2015 Tour de France is made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of more than 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles). The first two stages take place in the Netherlands, and is a great opportunity to show the world that there is more to the country than Amsterdam.
On July 5, the second stage commences, as the cyclists exit Utrecht, passing through Oudewater. Oudewater is famous for the Heksenwaag (witches’ scales), the weighing house for witches that offered persons accused of witchcraft an honest opportunity to prove their innocence.
This was in stark contrast to many other places in Europe where such trials were often rigged, and resulted in the burning or drowning of hundreds of innocent people. Oudewater is also notable for its city center, which has more than 250 protected buildings, including the town hall with dates from 1588, and the 15th century church and its 12th century tower.
The tour also goes through Rotterdam, where the last Grand Depart staged in the Netherlands in 2010 took place. Holland’s second largest city, and home to Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam boasts a burgeoning art scene, and modern architecture, such as Piet Bloom’s famous Cube Houses, the Erasmus Bridge and Euromast, giving the city one of Europe’s most distinctive skylines.
Lovers of cheese will be delighted as the cyclists ride through Gouda, the charming town that has given the world the cheese baring its name. Visitors should not miss cheese market, where farmers negotiate prices with traders every Thursday from April to August in front of the Waag (the Weighing House), and Gouda’s gothic town hall.
Hellevoetsluis is a small, fortified town popular with water sports enthusiasts and is being used increasingly for national and international water sports events. The fortress, which is the old town center, looks out onto the busy harbor and has plenty of bars and restaurants.
The endpoint for the Netherlands portion of the Tour de France is Neeltje Jans in Zeeland, an artificial island constructed in the middle of the Delta Works that allowed for further construction of the dams. The island is now a nature area that provides a breeding ground for many species of bird.
If you are want to experience the tour live and in person, here a few tips to help make the experience more enjoyable:
- Though the grand depart isn’t going to have the suspense that other stages of the tour, you will find lots of excitement and merry-making, with music, food and entertainment. This will also be a good opportunity to see the cyclists up close, get autographs and pictures.
- When deciding where you want to watch the tour, it will be helpful to check the race website or a local newspaper in advance for information on the route and road closings.
- Don’t limit yourself to one spot, however, be prudent about the spots you choose. You have a better chance to get a good look at the cyclists at climbs, turns or switchbacks than you will on wide, flat roads and descents where the cyclists will be whizzing by at top speeds.
- Be prepared and wear/pack appropriate clothing, as well as some food and drink. Folding chairs, as well as something to read or other distractions are also a good idea as there is a lot of waiting, which is part of the experience.
The Tour de France is 4 July – 26 July
Le Grand Depart www.tourdefranceutrecht.com
Utrecht Tourism www.visit-utrecht.com/en
Oudewater Tourism www.visit-oudewater.nl/en
Museum de Heksenwaag www.heksenwaag.nl/web/en
Rotterdam Tourism www.en.rotterdam.info/visitors/
Cube Houses www.kubuswoning.nl
Gouda Tourism www.welkomingouda.nl/en
*This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 Access Magazine.