Team Utrecht finishes third in the Batavierenrace

‘If it wasn't for that milk truck, we would have finished first’

Batavierenrace Foto: Jonathan Juursma
Photo: Jonathan Juursma

The Batavierenrace is Europe’s largest relay race, covering over 175 kilometres from Nijmegen to Enschede, divided into 25 stages (16 men's stages and 9 women's stages. This was the 51st edition of the competition, which is organised for and by students from all over the Netherlands. Over 350 teams participate in the race, which means more than 8,000 students. There is a competition for universities and a general classification. This year, Team Utrecht, which consists of students from Utrecht University and the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, participated in the competition for the second year. Team Groningen, the favourites after several wins, finished first again, followed by Team Wageningen.

The start signal sounded on Friday, April 28, at 10:30 pm, at Nijmegen’s Grote Markt square. Accompanied by loud cheering, the first group of runners set off for the campus of Radboud University. Team Utrecht’s first runner was Cas Wille, a member of the athletics club Phoenix. As expected by the team, he won the first stage with a time of 17:37 minutes over a distance of 5.9 kilometres, during which he reached an average speed of 20.25 kilometres per hour.

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Cas after winning the first stage. Photo: DUB

This was the first time Cas participated in the Batavierenrace. “I loved it, “he told DUB afterwards. “At the beginning, there were still four guys running next to me but I knew right away that I was going to be faster than them. That’s why I pushed hard during the first kilometre so I could create a gap. “People cheer you on all along the route, you really get a boost from that.” At this point, the entire team was hoping to score a place on the podium and perhaps even win.

Most of the team members had already travelled straight to the campsite on the campus of the University of Twente, in Enschede, where the race would end on Saturday. They didn’t have to join the competition until Saturday morning or afternoon, so they hoped to get some sleep there. That turned out to be quite a challenge as two small parties were already in full swing on the campsite. On the campus of the University of Nijmegen, the party already started on Friday. As a matter of fact, most teams don't take the race all that seriously, they only participate for the fun of it.

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Live music on the campus of the University of Nijmegen, on Friday. Photo: DUB

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Playful warm-up ahead of the second stage. Photo: DUB

Organising the Batavierenrace takes a lot of work, and that also goes for the teams themselves. This year, a total of 320 teams joined the race, including eight teams from universities and universities of applied sciences. Since the race covers 175 kilometres, the teams continue running all through the night, as well as the next morning and afternoon. They don't get much sleep, therefore. There are 16 stages for men and 8 for women, and the teams have to make sure that runners are in the right place at the right time. That’s why there are vans driving along the appointed roads around the route: they take the runners to the exchange point. The runners' times are added together to define the winner.

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Members of the organisation make pancakes for the volunteers at one of the exchange points in Barchem. Photo: DUB

The first few stages went smoothly for Team Utrecht. They had an advantage of a few minutes on the second place but, unfortunately, in the middle of the night, things went sour at the exchange point from stage five to stage six. The van that was supposed to bring the runner to the exchange point got stuck behind a milk truck that was blocking the road.

“We weren’t moving an inch,” says Flo, who was going to run stage six. “Meanwhile, my stage had already started. So, I decided to change clothes and start to run, warming up along the road. Once I finally arrived at the exchange point, we’d lost nine minutes.”

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

A sea of vans along the route. Photo: DUB

“I was standing there, in the dark, just holding my vest and freaking out,” recollects Jelle, who ran stage five and was waiting for Flo on stage six. “I was trying to convince the members of the organisation that it wasn’t our fault, to no avail. According to them, chaotic moments like that are just part of the race.”

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Students take a nap in the sun after the morning shift, at the exchange point in Barchem. Photo: DUB

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

The organisers of Team Utrecht at the exchange point in Barchem. Photo: DUB

An exciting battle 
It was five o'clock in the morning when the team members running the morning shift had to leave from the campsite in Enschede to the exchange point. The exchanges went smoothly even though they were tired. When the afternoon shift started at 11:15 in Barchem, the difference between teams Wageningen, Groningen and Utrecht was only a few minutes. In the afternoon shift, that difference narrowed even more, so only a few seconds separated the top three teams after 21 stages. The runners got even more excited because of that.

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Team Utrecht in the van, on their way to the next exchange point. Photo: DUB

For a long time, Team Utrecht was second but they lost five minutes to Wageningen in stage 23, which made them drop to third place. Tensions were running high as there were only two stages left, one for men and one for women. But team Utrecht still had two trump cards left.

The first one was Marit, who got third place in the National Triathlon Olympics and qualified for the European Championship. The last stages for both competitions (the university one and the general one) ended on the campus of the University of Twente, in Enschede, where thousands of students were anxiously awaiting to see who would be the first to come around the corner. It turned out to be a woman from Utrecht, from a team that wasn’t participating in the university competition. Marit was the second one to come around the corner, followed by a runner from Team Groningen at about fifty metres. The crowds went wild when they crossed the final 400 meters along the grandstands.

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Crowds cheering during the final 400 meters at the grandstands of the campus in Enschede. Photo participants. Photo: courtesy of participants

In the end, she managed to gain some time on Team Wageningen, which came in third. Arne, the last runner from Team Utrecht, also finished before Wageningen, but after adding the times, they still couldn't gain enough on time, finishing third, three seconds behind Wageningen. "There was a pretty cold headwind. Finishing on campus is great, though."

Festive mood
Although there was a bit of disappointment in the air in the tent of Team Utrecht, they were proud. “This is only the second time that we compete in this race,” says Pieter, who was responsible for the organisation this year, alongside six other volunteers. “Last year, lots of things went wrong because none of us had any experience with the race. The runners had to drive themselves to the exchange points and I had to instruct them over the phone. This time, we had many volunteers who were well-briefed in advance. Apart from the milk truck incident, everything actually went well. I am so grateful to everyone who helped us."

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Camping site on the campus of the University of Twente, in Enschede. Photo: DUB

Batavierenrace Foto: DUB

Team Utrecht. Photo: DUB

Pieter ran a stage in addition to organising the event. Like many others, he did not sleep at all on Friday night. "I tossed and turned on Thursday too," he observes. "The plan changes a lot ahead of the race because a lot of people cancel their participation because of things like injuries. In fact, that is the reason why our team wasn't complete last year. We managed to do it this year, though. The progress is clear. Next year, we’ll go for the win." The award ceremony took place at 11:00 pm during the Batavierenfeest (Batavieren Party), the biggest student party in the Benelux region (Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg).

Batavierenrace Foto: Arnoud Stapelbroek

The award ceremony, which kickstarts the party. Photo: Batavierenrace

Hey, runners! Are you a man who can run 5k in 19 minutes or less or a woman who can run 5k in 22 minutes or less? Team Utrecht is looking for you to participate in next year's race. There are also spots left in the organisation team, in case you want to help Team Utrecht win that way. You can get in touch through the e-mail address or send a direct message on the team's Instagram profile. Their handle is @batautrecht.