Hammer Series: The rich history of bike racing in the Netherlands’ Limburg province
In June, a new chapter in cycling history will be written when the first-ever Hammer Series race takes place at Sportzone Limburg in the Netherlands. HammerSeries.com takes a look back at the rich two-wheeled tradition of bike racing in Limburg province:
The province of Limburg in the Netherlands has been immersed in the history of cycling ever since September 1869, when Maastricht hosted the country’s first-ever bike race.
Competitors raced on wooden vélocipèdes back then, a different world from today’s ultra-light carbon machines. There have been plenty of changes since – not just to the bikes – but local passion for the thrill of a cycling race remains unchanged.
Many of the sport’s icons have raced and won in Limburg, a fiercely proud cycling province; Eddy Merckx, Marianne Vos and Philippe Gilbert among them. (Gilbert will be back for more at Hammer Series, as part of a strong Quick-Step Floors squad.)
No fewer than six editions of cycling’s World Championships have been held in Limburg. In 1967 the legendary, all-conquering Belgian Merckx won the first of his three world titles in Heerlen.
Most recently Merckx’s fellow Belgian Gilbert won the 2012 world championships with a final climb of the Cauberg (pictured above), with Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Norway) and Alejandro Valverde (Spain) making up the podium places.
Five World Championships have in fact been decided on the iconic Cauberg climb in Valkenburg – more than anywhere else in the world.
Founded in 1966, the Amstel Gold Race has become a key fixture of every Spring Classics campaign, with trademark ascents of climbs like the Cauberg and Bemelerberg providing a thorough examination for the finest one-day racers.
Belgian Gilbert proved strongest in the 2017 edition of the Amstel Gold Race, defeating Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) in a two-man final sprint.
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) will race on home roads at Hammer Series in June
Along with the racing, countless professional cyclists have been born and bred in the Limburg region: in the current pro peloton, Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Wout Poels (Team Sky) originally hail from Limburg. Following the 2017 Giro d’Italia, Dumoulin will be racing on his home roads for the first-ever Hammer Series event.
The Eneco Tour – renamed the BinckBank Tour in 2017 – is another significant date on the calendar. Belgian Tim Wellens triumphed in 2014 and 2015 before Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors Pro Cycling) came out on top last year. Wellens will ride for Lotto Soudal at the inaugural Hammer Series in June, with German sprinter André Greipel.
The Volta Limburg Classic and Holland Ladies Tour are yet more established races to feature in the fabric of Limburg’s cycling heritage – and the heritage of cycling globally.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, three Tours de France have also visited Limburg: most recently in 2006, when Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile Team) triumphed on Stage 3 after attacking on the Cauberg, dropping Gilbert and powering away alone.
The Vuelta a España also paid a visit in 2009. New Zealander Greg Henderson won Stage 3 from Zutphen to Venlo for T-Mobile Team, and Stage 4 from Venlo to Liège, across the border in Belgium, was won by Greipel, then riding for Team Columbia-HTC.
There is an almost endless list of famous races and famous names featuring in the rich and varied history of cycling in Limburg province. In June, with the first Hammer Series event, another chapter will be written.