Questions for and answers from Ard Oostra, our June 2019 Super Big Laureate:
1. What are your feelings about reaching the arrival?
Satisfaction, proudness, relief.
My objective in the last years was to try to reach the Graal around age 50, in
which I succeeded this year by climbing my last 3 Spanish BIGs (and as a bonus
Pico Veleta once again) and the Icelandic BIGs. A nice destination to finish the
2. Why and how did you begin to cycle and why and how did you begin the BIG
In the Netherlands almost all children learned to cycle at young age, for fun and
going to school and activities. At age 9 an adult Belgian neighbour took me for a
Sunday ride across the Dutch-Belgian border some 15kms away. That day I
discovered my bicycle would give me autonomy and had the potential to take me
wherever I wanted it to go. When I became adolescent I bought my first racing
bike and joined a cycling club. I participated in cyclosportives and during holidays I
would go for weeks on end for bike trips, first in Holland and then further and
further away. Around age 15 I discovered the more serious climbs in the Alps. And
since I was a relatively talented climber (they called me the “berggeit” in the club)
my passion for climbing got a real boost. During my international studies I had
some quieter years, cycling concerned. In 1997 I started living in Switzerland and
continued to discover the country’s mountain passes. After reading an article
about BIG in “Fiets” magazine in 1999, I immediately realized that this would be
my thing, and enjoying my passion would be guaranteed for many years to come.
In the first years of being a BIG member I concentrated myself on climbing BIGs in
an around Switzerland. Not really systematic and the yearly score was influenced
by professional and family life. Around 2008 I started to plan more holidays
focussed on climbing BIGs. Only after my separation in 2012 I got seriously into climbing many BIGs, around 50 to 80 per year.
3. Which one of the three criteria (Media, Sport, Tourism) attracts you most?
I’m a nature lover and a big fan of landscapes and wide views, something that you can see in many of my photos that I published on the BigCycling website
over the last 10 years. I guess this is part of the “Tourism” criteria.
4. Was there someone who motivated you in the beginning?
My Belgian neighbour, cited before, initiated me during my teens in cycling longer distances and made me discover the first hills (“molshopen”) of which
the Rode, Zwarte, Kemmel berg in the Flanders. Later on (1985-89) I got a mentor for some years, Mr Wil Faassen, former cycling professional that after his
career in business picked up the racing again. He became a couple of times senior (vice) world champion in Sankt Anton in Austria. Also he organised
cycloclimbing trips in the Alps and participations in the international cyclosportive Classics for a club in Lier (B). He got me involved in many of these
activities as participant and also as his “coequipier”. From him I learned for example a lot about climbing techniques but also about (self) motivation and
perseverance. As far as the BIG challenge is concerned, in the beginning the lists (e.g. Passacol paper versions) were my main motivator, later on – as
“sticker manager” and during the Meetings- I also learned to know other passionate members which increased my motivation. Most of them not living in
Switzerland, by the way.
5. At which moment did you think: "I'll reach 1000"?
In June of this year during my climb of BIG no. 1 Hrafnseyrarheidi on Iceland which was to become my 1000th BIG of the Super list. At that moment I said
to myself that I really was going to reach 1000…. I definitely have confidence in myself, but as unexpected events and experiences in life do teach us, you
are only there when you are really there…
6.About your score evolution, were there events in your private life that increased or decreased it?
Yes, definitely. The construction of my house that I did myself, the birth and care of my children (I had full custody for some years) put a limitation in time
and resources to climb BIGs. Only in the last years I could prioritize more the climbing of BIGs, which I partly did as a means of finding a balance in my
7. What were the countries where you found more difficulties to cycle?
Each country has its challenge(s). Probably, weather related factors gave me some
difficulties, such as often many more wet days as expected in Austria and Italy, the
sometimes very hot weather in Spain, the windy parts of Great Britain and Ireland, the
cold in the summer season of Iceland and parts of the Nordics. But what annoyed me
most were the unexpectedly bad surfaced roads (such as in Ukraine and Italy) and
especially the (wild) unattached dogs (such as in southern Italy, Greece, some Balkan
8. What are the most beautiful sceneries (landscapes) that you met?
From my point of view, almost every BIG has some beautiful or typical landscape to
offer. This said, the higher mountain ranges such as the European Alps often offer
magnificent scenery. I think that for example the BIGs that go through / along canyons are impressive and beautiful. But what delights me most, and
for that reason I often linger around on the summit before I dive down in the valleys again, are the views on the surrounding landscapes and winding
roads from high above. Ideally wide 360-degree views with hundreds of kilometres free range. In Europe, for instance (at random) La Bonnette, Mont
Ventoux, Mont Tendre, Tourmalet, Stelvio, Tron, Blaho, Dalsnibba, Pico Veleta, Roches Muchachos. Outside Europe, Mount Evans, Le Maido, Doi
Ithanon, Atacama highway. Likely, the landscapes in the Alps, Scandinavia (Norway), Iceland, the Rocky mountains, New Zealand, Chile and all the
views from volcanic islands summits and other mountain summits plummeting above lakes, seas and oceans, have impressed me most.
9. Did you often think: "I put my wheels where professional racers put theirs" or "where other BIG members put theirs”?
Not really. Climbing is a personal discovery and experience. Obviously when climbing in the Alps or elsewhere when I see monuments for Coppi,
Pantani, Simson or (in Bretagne) Hinault, etc. It’s great to realize that famous names have passed there before. But I always found more exciting the
idea to be the first or among the first BIG members to climb and claim a (remote) BIG such as in Greece in 2004, in Scandinavia, the Acores islands,
10. Was / is there a final competition or race between those at the end who were near the Graal of 1000?
Every member that seriously is in the pursuit of reaching the Graal discovers sooner or later that basically a general ranking doesn’t make sense from
the point of view that a fair comparison between members is not possible. A comparable ranking should be based on a multi criteria analyses (age,
gender, physical condition, available resources such as money, material and free time). And even if this type of ranking would exist it doesn’t make
much sense since there is still no verification of proof of the claims and we are aware that not all members have the same approach or appreciation
to climbing according to the rules of our club. This said, personally I can admit that the ranking was one of the motivators for me to try to reach the
1000. And I’m sure that to a certain extend this is / was the case for most members high in the general ranking. I’m proud by having become the
fourth Super list finisher.
11. What are your best souvenirs of relationships sharing in the BIG world?
From the beginning onwards I have contacts with the founder and main drive behind the BIG, our President Daniel Gobert. This gave me a good idea
about his philosophy, and the strategy he has in mind with the BIG. The history and evolution of BIG is highly interesting. I organized a meeting in the
French-Swiss Jura on behalf of Daniel. As sticker manager some years ago I had contacts with a number of volunteers. I met some members by
coincidence during a climb, for example Luigi Spina and Cecilia, in Italy. Memorable, because it happened at two different occasions with them. Also
with others I shared many rides and trips, such as Heiko Linnert and Wim van Els. The 3,5 week journey in Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkans with
Wim in 2017 was an adventure. Heiko made me discover and becoming a fan of Norway. In the last years I also participated in some Cross roads and
official Meetings such as Crete, Georgia, Thailand and the Adriatic’s. Many BIGs I’ve climbed individually over the last 35 years, which has some
advantages. But overall, the shared experiences with friends whether they are BIG members or not, family and partners are the most enriching.
“I also have permanent souvenirs on the PJAMM Cycling website (https://pjammcycling.com/) because they documented many of my climbs over the
past 2 years and are creating a special page for me that will highlight my 1000 BIGs.”
12. What are your worst souvenirs inside the 1000?
I tend to forget negative experiences in life, but honestly I don’t think I have really bad souvenirs. I guess that extremely bad weather during rides,
mechanical problems, mad dogs or other unexpected disrupting encounters are just part of a decades long challenge that takes place all over Europe
and the globe. Overall, thanks to open borders, Internet, improved infrastructures and cycling material, some aspects of the travelling and climbing
became less difficult in the last 10 years. There is one thing that I can describe as a sort of deception for myself. I’ve always taken the BIG as
something serious that I tried to be perfectionist with: climbing according to the rules, from bottom to top. Not always 100% possible because of
incorrect data or unexpected events happening during a climb. Plans sometimes had to be changed and BIGs postponed. Naively, I thought that all
members have the same perception of climbing BIGs and the rules as me. But I realized in the last years that our challenge with its mostly highly
motivated and talented climbers is still a representation of our day-to-day society with its enormous mix of personal ethics and behaviour. I guess one
has no other choice than to accept this and as I’ve heart saying some of our members at certain occasions, “just let it be”.
13. The several languages used in the BIG Cycling World: is this an additional interest or a real problem for you?
This is of additional interest for me. The international and multi cultural aspect of the BIG is one of its characteristics that I appreciate a lot. It’s very
enriching to learn to know persons with a shared passion but with whole different backgrounds and lives. For me the language barrier – I don’t speak
Spanish for example- never has been a serious communication problem within the BIG world.
14. Do you think that your kind of passion is very similar to the majority of the other members that you met?
Every member of the BIG lives its passion in his own way. Some focus on the “BIG hunting”, as many and as quickly as possible. Some take it easy,
collecting some BIGs around their holiday destination. Some are highly talented sportive racers, others enjoy the cruising mode (for as far that’s
possible when climbing steep grades ;-). Some use their car between BIGs, others don’t. Some are individualists, some climb mainly because of the
Myself concerned: During my “cycling career” until now I touched probably on all of the ways cited above of living the passion of climbing BIGs. With
many members I share the passion of trying to climb each of the 1000 BIGs of he Super list. BIG motivated me to discover many new countries and
regions where otherwise I would not have travelled. BIG also allowed me to meet other climbing passionate persons. BIG gave me a long-term
objective and balance in my life. But with or without BIG I always would continue to travel in order to discover new mountains, be in the nature, enjoy
amazing landscapes and also would continue to stay physically fit through cycling and other sports.
15. Had you a good feedback inside your country when talking about the BIG?
When I talked with friends or acquaintances living in Switzerland about the BIG, most would listen with interest. Some have inscribed themselves as
member. And a couple of them have become permanently active members. Globally, the international identity of BIG is not of much interest for the
typical Swiss (sportsmen-women), it’s a quite self focussed society. As Dutch citizen with still many contacts in Holland I’m aware that the BIG has
much more potential there than in Switzerland, despite its lack of mountains…..
During my climbs or upon arrival at summits I met other cyclists from all over the world. Very often I would refer to BIG, and for example show the
stickers with the Internet address on it. Quite some of these random encounters have led to new BIG members.
16. What do you think about the Ironbigs and the NATACHAS?
The idea of the Ironbigs is nice. It for example allows members that do not want / cannot travel far away to create themselves a palmares anyway. I
decided to become godfather of two BIGs near my hometowns that I often climbed during my trainings (Marchairuz and Jaman). I’m more puzzled
about the Ironbig general ranking. It doesn’t make sense to me. Climbing a number of “Posbank” type BIGs 25 times is not exactly the same as
collecting a bunch of “Mortirolo” type BIGs that were each climbed 25 times. Also my personal opinion is that there can only be one godfather per
BIG. From the technical and “scientific” point of view the development of the National Challenges is a step forward for the cycling community. It
increases the online databases. Obviously its data should be correct and reliable, the verification and updating is a permanent task. The question is
how many (members) are significantly interested in these national challenges. Looking at the general rankings of the NATACHAS, only few members
(except from Hungary) are active in proportion to the total number of more than 6000 BIG members.
17. Among your 1000, what are the most difficult ones with the slopes?
This is a difficult question that I can only partly answer. Each of the 1000 was an adventure…. I guess the long steep climbs that I climbed in more
recent years were the most difficult, such as Zoncolan and Angliru. But also climbs such as Kitzbuhler Horn, Col du Grand Colombier, Mont Tendre or
even Tour de Madeloc pop up from my memory as being difficult for the reason that at the time I climbed them I was on a bicycle with an incorrect
gear ratio…. Apart from that, some of the short and very steep British climbs (Lake district) made me suffer as well, even some of the Belgian
cobblestone paved climbs such as the Kemmelberg in the 1980s. Some of the long and steep unpaved climbs, whether I did them with road bike or
MTB also were particularly difficult, for example Chalet Hotel des Cortalets, Lammersdorfer berg, Blaho and Pasubio. Also steep BIGs climbed during
extreme heat such as Artezamendi and Alto de Gamoniteiro (above la Cobertoria) made me suffer. For many years I did a yearly chrono on Mont
Ventoux, so this quite unique climb also left some traces of mental and physical suffering in my memories ;-) If I have to choose which country had
the most difficult BIGs with the slopes, this would be Austria.
18. What do your family and friends think about this passion for cyclo-climbing and going to 1000?
Family and non-cycling related friends never fully understood my passion. However, most of them respect me for my endurance and perseverance
and realize that it’s a unique personal experience that shapes a person. Some of my partners assisted and supported me in my passion and related
travels for various reasons and I’m grateful to them for that. Others considered my passion as a competitor with them, which ultimately played a role
in ending the relation. I’m convinced that in comparison with many passionate sports men, I’ve always managed to find a reasonable balance
between (and integration of) the cycling passion and private / family life. As for my sports friends: between BIGgers we understand each other, why
we are passionate and even crazy about climbing all over the world. The majority of my non-BIG cycling friends don’t really see the interest of BIG.
They prefer just to bike for fun without specific objectives or participate in the commercial sports events / popular competitions and “cyclosportifs”.
19. Do you have any bad or sorry feelings somewhere about all these years used to build your score in BIG?
No. Of course I could have used the time and massive amount of energy invested in BIG differently. But when I discovered the BIG in the late nineties,
cycling already was an important part of my life. BIG gave me a specific long term goal and became increasingly decisive in planning travel
destinations for many years. BIG helped me to cross (my) boundaries and expand my vision of climbing by bike. Thanks to BIG I had the opportunity to
get to know like-minded cycling passionate people. Cycling and travelling shapes my life from young age onwards; climbing the 1000 BIGs was a big
chapter in it :-).
20. How do you see your future in your cycling practice?
For the moment I’ve no specific goals. I’ll continue climbing by bike because it allows me to stay in shape, be in nature and find mental relaxation. I
enjoy the long climbs to higher altitudes in the Alps. Some BIGs I’ll climb again (from other sides) and I’ll continue to illustrate BIGs with my photos on
the website. Depending on my family life, I’ll come up sooner or later with new ideas and plans for climbing by bike. I definitely have dreams left and
some are meant to become reality.
21. What do you want to say to those who begin the BIG now and want to go as high as possible?
At first, define the number of BIGs already climbed before having become member. Depending on your age, physical condition, available resources of
which time, you’ll be able to have an approximate idea about the quantity of BIGs you can make yearly. Thus, you’ll have an idea for how many years
you’ll have to invest in BIG to reach the Graal. It shows your theoretical chances to get to the 1000. This already tells you if MAYBE some day you’ll
make it to the 1000 or whether you’ll not get there. If it’s the latter, no problem of course, you can aim for half finisher for example or focus on the
parallel challenges. BIG is a tool that can be used in many different ways, varying from an aid / database in (occasional) cycling to a real drive /
motivator to get to the 1000. For getting to the 1000, motivation, focus, perseverance and an excellent physical condition are required. It’s a life style.
If your cycling activity is not only driven by the ambition to become a BIG finisher but also by other reasons / motivators (such as enjoying travelling,
meeting new cultures and people, sharing it with your partner, staying fit, liking to “compete” with other cyclists, wanting to be outdoors and feeling
free in nature, combining it with another hobby – passion (photography in my case), or another higher goal) than in my opinion you increase your
chances to get as high as possible.
22. Can you sum up BIG in one short sentence?
The BIG is experienced in its best way when it becomes a life