We're in need of some live entertainment, and instead of catching a show at the theatre or a soccer match, our preferred format is motorcycle racing. And it just so happens that there is a World Superbike race in the Netherlands this weekend! In North America, WSBK only comes to California so I've never seen one live, just on TV, so I'm super excited to see all the racers in person!
Rolde, our village where we're staying at
It's only a quick 2 hour ride from The Hague to Assen. We're staying a few kms away from the track at a campsite in a quaint little village called Rolde.
It's been so long since we camped!
Our campsite is filled with seasonal residents who make this their summer home. We made friends with our neighbours and one afternoon, while we were standing around our bikes eating our lunch, the elderly Dutch couple across the way felt sorry for us that we had not packed any camping chairs and lent us a couple of theirs.
We were very thankful, but this ranks up there as one of our most "feel so homeless" moments... :(
Later on in the evening, we hung around the dining lodge typing away on our laptops and eating soup from the can. At around 8PM, all the residents from the campsite streamed in on their bicycles to join us. They were all senior citizens and this was their game night! Although they seemed to be engrossed in their board games and cards, we caught many of them giving us surreptitious glances, their curiousity being directed at this "homeless" non-Dutch couple who had ridden into their tiny Dutch town on their motorcycles.
Some exotic sportbikes at the local restaurant in Rolde
There are a lot of sportbikes in the Netherlands! We made some observations about the differences in attire though. In North America, the sportbike uniform is normally a leather jacket, jeans and sneakers. In some parts of the Southern US, it's a wifebeater, shorts and flip-flops...
But there is a distinct sportbike "look" in the Netherlands that's very different from what we're used to. I used to read a lot of British Sportbike magazines while in Canada and I marveled at how much protection all the "blokes" riding around the British motorways wore, clad in their full leathers with their fanny packs (or "bum bag" as it's called over there) around their waist. It's the exact same culture here in Holland!
This was our daily ride to and from the Assen TT Circuit through the village of Rolde
Assen TT Circuit parking lot, our GSes stick out amongst all the sportbikes
The Cathedral of Speed!
Assen is one of those fabled tracks - the MotoGP event here is like the Wimbledon of motorcycle racing. While other circuits have appeared and disappeared from the MotoGP calender throughout the years, there has always been a GP race here at the TT Circuit since the world championship started in 1949.
But why am I talking about MotoGP when this is World Superbikes? Because a normal MotoGP event at Assen typically draws 100,000 fans packed to the gills on the rafters and spilling onto the grass. By comparison, WSBK only draws around 30,000 people which makes it much easier and cheaper to get tickets!
Practice sessions throughout Friday and Saturday
Unlike MotoGP, which is prototype racing, World Superbike is a production series which means you can buy the machines you see zooming around the racetrack at the local motorcycle store. That is, if you have €300,000 to spend on exotic Go-Fast-Parts to actually make it competitive...
There are practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, so we spent those days walking around the outside of the 4.5 km track, taking pictures of the riders as they tuned their bikes for the circuit and the weather and track conditions. Neda doesn't watch WSBK at all, so the pre-race practices gave her a good "crash" course on who the top riders were and how to identify them based on their colours.
I don't have €300,000 lying around, so this is the closest I can come to riding a Superbike around the Assen TT Circuit
Just like in real life, I was very slow around the track and crashed a few times...
I downloaded the race later to see if there were pictures of us on the televised feed. There was!!! :)
What I like best about the WSBK series is that our tickets were general seating, which meant that we got to sit in the Grandstand - which we are never able to do at MotoGP races because $$$$$. Even walking around the track, there was a more relaxed attitude about access and security. It felt more like a track day than an international sporting event!
Grandstand seating gave us a good view of all the pre-race activity
Local Dutch rider Michael van der Mark has an indigenous Netherlander umbrella girl
Umbrella girls get a lot of flack from the feminists, but it really is a lot of hard work making sure your rider is shielded from the sun, all the while looking as beautiful as you can for the camera. I know this because:
Failing at looking beautiful *and* keeping my rider shielded from the sun...
Leon Haslam (UK) is one of my favorite riders on the current grid. His dad Ron, who he's talking to, was a famous GP racer back in the day
Racing is a family affair - Leon's wife Ollie is his umbrella girl
Pole-sitter Tom Sykes (UK) mentally preparing himself for Turn 1
World Superbikes should really be called World SuperBrits. The top four riders in the championship are from the UK
Intense concentration - seconds till the lights go out (race start)
Watching a motorcycle race live is a bit like watching a one-sided tennis match. Your head snaps from right to left as the racers zoom past you and then you wait a minute and a half for them to come around again. It's lucky we had a huge video screen in front of us to catch the rest of the action.
Still, there is nothing like hearing the roar of these 1,000cc race engines and smelling the race gas wafting through the air. There is a palpable excitement in the minutes leading up to the start of the race, and it was such a treat watching the circus of crew, umbrella girl and media activity on the grid.
Local hero van der Mark is close to the front the entire race. The crowd is ecstatic!
Every time Michael van der Mark's white Honda came round the stadium, the crowd got up on their feet, yelled and threw their hands up in the air to cheer their local hero. It felt exactly like the Misano crowd in Italy last year cheering on Valentino Rossi. This is van der Mark's first year in WSBK so I didn't really follow his career before, but I found out he was last years World Supersport (600cc) champion. So it wasn't a surprise when he followed two Brits to the finish line, ending up in third. The celebrations at Assen were so boisterous, it was as if he had actually won the race!
Jonathan Rea, another Brit, is currently dominating the 2015 season. Here he is crossing the finish line first
JRay is milking his victory lap around the stadium
Although JRay takes the top step in the podium ceremony...
... the crowd cheers for this 22-year old youngster. He is the first Dutchman to ever stand on the podium
in the history of World Superbike championship. And to do so in Assen...?! Crazy!!
Half-time event: Ducati stuntguy
Such a great time at Assen!