People in fine suits were sitting together in the well-heated room, nursing a glass of red wine, while the dishes from the main course were being cleared. Moscow, November 2013. Michael Gerling (EHI) had just finished his animated and witty presentation on the retail trends of the future at the EuroShop press conference when suddenly I heard some surprising news being announced: “Because Elke is a cycling enthusiast who travels countless kilometres a year on two wheels, I’m sure she’ll be riding her road bike to the next press conference. Maybe not to Moscow but perhaps Holland ....”
Interesting thought. Why not, actually? It was three years till then anyway ….
But when people all around kept pestering me with this idea, I decided to accept the challenge. I discreetly tried to steer my colleagues toward an early 2016 press conference in Holland, e.g. one in September. Usually these dates fall into November. The destination was already known: Zwijndrecht near Rotterdam. Finding a cycling-compatible time wasn’t quite as simple as it might seem.
Foreign reps and our fellow members of the press presented unbeatable arguments speaking for 22 November 2016. I had nothing to offer in opposition. Not really the best time to ride a bike! With word getting around fast that I would cycle to the event, I soon reached the “point of no return”. Plans were made. I would have to cover approximately 240 kilometres, divided into two stages. Uli Spaan (EHI Retail Institute) organised and managed the support team. In proper style, they would be driving a branded EuroShop vehicle. When we were done designing the EuroShop cycling jacket, I knew our basic planning was complete. A press release promoting the event spoke of a “Tour of EuroShop”, which really ratcheted up the pressure I felt.
Tour of EuroShop
My Cycling Diary: Start
The first cycling stage from Düsseldorf to Eindhoven set for 20 November 2016 was drawing closer and closer. We studied the weather report in minute detail, trying to find the silver lining. Right before my departure, this became nearly impossible – even for optimists like me. Storm warning with severe gale-force winds! Heavy rainfall in the west due to Nannette, a low-pressure system so nasty it got a name. But there was reason to celebrate, too: temperatures climbed into the double digit Celsius range. If that hadn’t happened, the late-November precipitation could have easily been coming down in a different form.
My Cycling Diary: Day 1
20 November: I started pedalling at 8:44 in the morning, buoyed at first by a nice tailwind. After three kilometres, I felt the wind turning into a headwind; heavy rain set in. Well, that’s just great! Forget the stylish EuroShop jacket. We completely wrapped it in decidedly non-trendy plastic, covering every conceivable body part with rain jackets, trousers, hoods and booties. After an hour or so, the wet stream of pressurised liquid hitting me sideways finally stopped. I was still in a good mood, even though water was dripping out of my shoes now. Didn’t matter, on I went. When I crossed the Dutch border, a feeling of happiness overcame me because I had conquered the first significant portion and was greeted by a few rays of the sun in the land of perfect bicycle paths. Regrettably, though, the stopping of the rain was accompanied by a further strengthening of the wind (I hadn’t thought that was possible). The wind, storm, hurricane – at least that’s what it felt like – kept blowing at me from all directions. But now my ambition came to the fore. Ignoring the sympathetic gazes sent my way by people in cars, I courageously kept on pedalling westward. Somewhere between Venlo and Eindhoven the wind got so ugly that I sometimes had to resort to getting off my bike in order to prevent an accidental change of direction – sideways, towards one of the canals (which are everywhere in Holland). And so, out of breath but beaming with pride after 120 kilometres, I made my great entrance by cycling into Eindhoven somewhere around 3:30 in the afternoon.
My Cycling Diary: Day 2
21 November: When I checked out of the hotel in the morning (of course my cruddy road bike was always with me; the serious cyclists among you will understand), I was sent into a panic when I suddenly noticed a relatively soft front tire. Might the countless branches on the streets and paths yesterday have damaged the tube? It goes without saying that I, a natural-born optimist, hadn’t brought my floor pump along. All the bike stores in the area were still closed, and no service appeared to be available anywhere before 12 noon at the earliest. All I could do was hit the road with my “comfort tires”. Uli, the always-perfect organiser and driver of the service car, located a “Fiets Specialist” right along my planned route, about 20 kilometres from the start. So that’s where I headed. Wordlessly but expertly, a helpful lady gave me the “air refill” I needed. I was ready to push forward, now on my reinstated sports tires. On a day with much less wind but also absolutely zero sun, I made my way through countless little Dutch villages and towns. My view all day: greenhouses, pastures, fields, dykes and cows. Some of the bicycle paths went on straight for kilometres on end paralleling a motorway, but every single one of them was perfectly built out, sometimes even featuring multiple lanes and dedicated traffic lights. Most of the riding surfaces were great, apart from the musty layers of leaves that weren’t just unsightly but also as slippery as a bar of wet soap. Curves had to be taken with extreme caution. After about 65 kilometres, my support team forced me to make a pit stop. A hot cup of tea (which I didn’t really need now that it was 14 degrees Celsius) and a dry piece of pizza bread provided me with the sustenance that carried me the remaining kilometres to Rotterdam. I had to negotiate some less beautiful portions with excellent views of the motorway, but the approaching finish made up for all that and set free powers I’d never suspected I had. After precisely 113 kilometres, I could see the finish line in the centre of Rotterdam, signifying the end of my self-imposed “Tour of EuroShop". Trekking 233 kilometres in about 11 hours of pure riding time with zero crashes, tons of fun and not that many sore muscles, it was a success, once again proving our credo: EuroShop gets things moving!