What a start! Three different countries on the first day of the tour - Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. With the Cauberg we face one of the best-known Spring Classic summits.
Now, on Monday morning, after two days of Tour fever, our own Grand Départ
is the next thing on the programme. We fight our way through the usual big city traffic, but after relatively few sets of traffic lights we cross the Rhine and we're on our way to Paris. On the flatlands of the Lower Rhine we can get up a real head of steam, working our way westwards through the Mönchengladbach suburbs. The further we go, the more rural the landscape and we can really start enjoying the flow of the bunch. At around kilometre 78 we cross the border into the Netherlands, where the characteristics of the route change almost immediately. Because our neighbours are strict about using cycle lanes, we turn off onto superbly-surfaced rural trails. With their many narrow bends it may take some getting used to, but this is how they cycle here. And now we hit the cycling Mecca of Valkenburg where, at kilometre 100, we face the first hilltop sprint - the Cauberg, most familiar from the Amstel Gold Race. Here our route turns south, and we soon hit Belgium, where it gets far more hilly and where the Ardennes come into view. With the Côte de la Ville-Haute and the Côte des Bansions, the schedule has another two little hill trials for us before we roll into our ****-hotel in Spa where we have more than earned a little pampering after this long stage.