Thursday, July 18

Headwind Cycling Race Called Off Over Too Much Wind

One of the most eccentric sporting events on the Dutch calendar was canceled this week over safety concerns as Ciarán, a deadly storm, brought heavy rains and winds over 85 m.p.h. to parts of Western Europe.

The irony is that the quirky competition — the Dutch Headwind Cycling Championships — requires a significant amount of wind.

This event is held, when wind conditions are just right, in the southwestern province of Zeeland, on the Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier. The route is 8.5 kilometers, about 5.3 miles, on a narrow strip of land surrounded by water. Winds can be strong enough to halt riders in their tracks altogether.

Thursday’s race, which would have been the eighth one, would have been the “dream edition” with the strong winds brought on by the storm, said Robrecht Stoekenbroek, one of the original organizers who also takes part in the race. But the municipality that granted the permit had rescinded its permission over safety concerns as the seriousness of Thursday’s forecast became clear.

Storm Ciarán battered France, Britain and other locations this week. At least six people died, including one person in the Netherlands.

The Dutch national weather service had issued one of its highest alerts in parts of the country on Thursday, and warned people to stay off the roads. At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, airlines canceled or delayed hundreds of flights.

Thousands of people tried for one of the 300 spots in this year’s headwind cycling competition, Mr. Stoekenbroek said. Participants have different fitness levels, from professional athletes to former cycling professionals to “postmen with strong calves,” he said. Contestants use simple bikes without gears and with backpedal brakes instead of hand brakes.

At the end of the day, though, “it’s a friendly competition,” Mr. Stoekenbroek said. Winners receive a special jersey.

And winning that jersey is tough. Mr. Stoekenbroek advises the riders to remember how they used to cycle to high school (a typical commute for Dutch teens) and to channel the feeling brought on by mornings and afternoons spent hunched over their handlebars.

This was not the first time weather has affected the race. In 2020, Storm Ciara’s gale-force winds forced organizers to end the race early. The Associated Press described that year’s event as “anything but simple, even for experienced riders. Organizers provided vomit buckets at the end.”

The first race was held in 2013 as a marketing strategy to promote sustainable wind energy on behalf of the Dutch energy supplier Eneco, which sponsors the event.

Even in a country where cycling is one of the most popular modes of transportation, many might wonder why anyone would submit themselves to cycling through such treacherous weather conditions.

“I wonder that myself sometimes,” Mr. Stoekenbroek said. “There’s a group of people that likes to suffer.”

But the surroundings, he said, are dramatically beautiful. So breathtaking, he added, “that you forget you’re doing something very stupid.”