Friday, July 25, 2008

On World Championships Trails

Today I had made an appointment with Albert Dumont (aka Berthold on some mtb forums) to ride the first part of the 2007 World Championship Marathon trails in Verviers. We decided to meet in the little town of Banneux. Albert knows these trails like the back of his hand and if that should fail he also had a GPS with him. The complete World Championship track is downloadable from the O2 Bikers site. We decided to ride the first - and most intense - part of it.
The weather was great , sunny and luckily also a nice breeze was blowing . The trails conditions would also prove to be very favorable. Dry with only the occasional muddy patch.
From the Banneux church we quickly made our way into the forest on a descent into the Bois de Tancremont. Albert adapted an easy but steady pace which would prove to be ideal during the ride. I knew this was going to be a tough ride and the first downhill plunged me with both tyres into Ardennes reality. Mind where you are going, the trails are beautiful but very treacherous. We quickly dropped from our 300 metres high starting point to a mere 130 metres where we crossed a bridge over one of the many small ruisseaux - little rivers - that feed the river Vesdre. Into the Bois de Tancremont we had to climb all the way back up. The tracks were tricky, and the climbing very steep. Yep, this was going to be a tough ride. After crawling our way up again we crossed the N666 and in Tancremont we had a beautiful overview of the region with Theux and Juslenville among the visible highlights. We were ready for the plunge towards the Forges Thiry although before that we had to conquer a very steep singletrack through some brambles. The track then takes some broader paths than the Red Adeps route of Theux for the descent , but they were steep nevertheless. Albert and his 29er Specialized Stumpjumper seemed to float over all the rocks and roots and through the gullies . All I had to do was try to follow. This kind of track is hard on man and machine and I could hear the Moots groan from time to time. Other than the special sound of my Chris King freewheel and the crickety-crack of my worn out XTR bottom bracket I heard some clangs when a rock was thrown against my spokes or frame. The Moots is a great climber even though the climbs were a tad too steep to be really comfortable even on my 26/34 smallest gear combination. Perhaps a 24 or even a 22 smallest chainring would have been more suitable here. The climb along the ruisseau de Sohan - with some muddy patches as usual - brought us to the Chateau de Sohan. Here we stopped at a stone in memory for the people who were executed by the Germans in WWII. Now there would follow an amazingly beautiful singletrack around the western side of the Bois des Nids d'Aguesses. After that a steep climb on tarmac had me and my bike grunting. The sun was hammering down as well and I was glad to see the top of this hill. We had a little bite to eat and then dropped down again to complete the loop back towards the Chateau de Sohan.
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Of course we had to climb again, this time towards the Chateau de Maison-Bois. We could see the valley of the Vesdre now to our left and after a few more thrilling trails we were in Ensival and ready for the drop into Verviers. I wanted to refill my drinking bottle so we took some time to look around for a place where we could buy something to drink. Another snack to keep up our strenght and then we made the connection downwards to the start. This is situated at the Ardennes Outlet Centre . We crossed the river Vesdre and began a long climb on tarmac towards Tribomont. Before long we were back offroad and were following an exciting singletrail on the slopes overlooking the Ruisseau de Fierain. At times we were riding on pure bedrock so I was very happy it was dry. These things can get very slippery when wet. For now they were only very steep and proved to be quite a challenge. I had to walk a couple of times due to the sheer steepness and the roots which were protruding left and right of the track making it very difficult to remain riding upwards. Great challenges. At this time I could also start to feel my legs. During the long downhills they settled into some kind of recovery mode but each time the next climb announced itself the muscles protested and would only yield after a few hundred metres. And the toughest bit was yet to come !
Between Tribomont and Cornesse the track didn't drop as low into the valley thus making it more or less the easier bit of the ride. Take this with a grain of salt though. Even the easy bits are tough here !
Then a downhill towards the Vesdre announced itself and it was "Hail Sweet Mary and Joseph" time. Descending in a narrow gully filled to the brim with loose stony rubble demanded the utmost of my concentration. The bike bounced from left to right over and between the stones, my disc brakes were running hot and dropping for almost 2 kilometres in length this was one hell of a downhill. And, alas, instead of crossing the Vesdre at this point , we had to ride all the way up again. On a very steep, narrow and at times very technical trail. This is one of the best and most difficult climbs of this ride and I enjoyed myself despite the pain and the fatigue in the muscles. At the top of this climb - in Goffontaine - we had to drop down again for some 2 kilometres towards the river Vesdre - again along a very technically challenging trail. Wow, this was mountainbiking in Belgium at its very best ! We had a little break at the bridge over the river Vesdre to look at the last challenge that awaited us. The long climb into the Bois de Fraipont - Albert calls it "BanneuxJoch" - back towards Banneux. This proved to be quite a tough nut to crack and yes, we had a "schiebe' passage as well. The track was very eroded and just too steep to ride at one point, making us push our bikes upwards. 2.5K of climbing squeezed the last bit of strength out of my legs and I was glad when I made out the Chateau de Banneux between the trees .
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Well, what can I say, this must have been one of the most intense rides I've done in Belgium. We had 52K in the end but you can easily subtract 3 K from that because we had to ride to and from the trail in Banneux and we did an extra loop in Verviers looking for something to drink. That makes it a 49K/1475hm ride and that is a Hill Factor of 30.
I knew the Theux - Pepinster region was among the most beautiful of Belgium and todays' ride certainly did confirm that. I must thank Albert for his excellent guiding and his thorough knowledge of all the places we passed made it somehow easier for me to remember where we have been .
The local flora and fauna also has no secrets for him. Thanks Albert for a great day out !

Ride Stats : 52k and 1475 heightmeters in 4h12mins
Ride Profile

Hill Factor
: 28.4 for the complete ride, 30 for the trail only


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ronde Van Vlaams Brabant

Today the "Ronde van Vlaams Brabant" passed right before my door. Time to take the trusty Nikon out and snap some shots while the peloton speeded through. Not easy when they make 50-60kph but at least the little twist into the Lijstersstraat made them slow down a little bit. The weather was glorious - not a cloud in the sky and since it is July it was hot - and a bit windy which was fine. Don't know who won but if you want to know click HERE
_AHS1722 _AHS1727 _AHS1736 _AHS1744 _AHS1753

In the evening I joined the KBC MTB guys for a quick spin around the basic loop of our annual organised ride. This takes place on August 17th starting from the Sports Centre in Haasrode. It's a great ride so keep this date free. We went rather fast and I could feel my legs protesting. This was due to not having recovered from yesterdays' fast ride. Luckily someone had a flat tyre which allowed for a few moments of rest. I also had to get used to the Litespeed again after having enjoyed the comfortable fastness of the Moots for the last couple of offroad rides.

Ride Stats : 42K and 425 heightmeters in 2h04mins


Sunday, July 6, 2008

16th Meerdael Classic

Left home at 7.10am to ride the short distance to the start of the Meerdael Classic, 16th edition. This traditionally takes place at the Football terrain of the 'Zwarte Duivels' in Oud-Heverlee. I was pre-inscribed for the 100K - the golden distance - so I was prepared for 5 hours of fun and enjoyment on my bike.

The Ride
At 7.30am I was ready to roll. The track was in the opposite direction from previous years and they also promised some new sections. It started out easy going down towards the Zoete Waters and then ondulating into the Kouterbos towards Sint Joris Weert. Here a nice singletrack section was waiting for us before we made our way towards the Kluis area for a first climb where the chain had to go on the lowest gear. As usual I started out easy to get a good warmup and feel how the legs were. After the climb followed a tricky downhill - on the Blue BLOSO route towards Nethen. We crossed the road and made our way towards the Bois de Beaumont, again via a narrow track, this one between two fields and very demanding because it was slightly offcamber and sported some ruts. Following the railroad track towards Pecrot we were in for a nice treat here. First uphill towards the Chapelle Robert, zoom down into Pecrot and then the famous railroad singletrack was ours to experience. At the end of this track we had to climb all the way up to the plateau again, only to turn twice to the right and come down again, this time via a nice bermed trail the local freeriders use. After this we crossed the railroad down at Florival to make our way towards Ottenburg. Here they surprised me a first time by offering a track roughly following the river Dyle back to Pécrot. It was a little wet here but not muddy. All was very well manageable, surprisingly good even after yesterdays rain. Then we rode in the direction of Sint Agatha Rode for an easier part of the loop taking us all the way to Neerijse. Making our way towards Huldenberg we were offered some nice tracks - some very steep ones as well - taking us up on the Smeysberg. I was just beginning to wonder whether I missed the first rest stop when I spotted a sign telling us it was only 1K away. Great, but after 31K that is a bit on the long side.

From the first reststop we dropped down a sandy road - with danger sign - to make our way into the Sint Agatha Rode bos. First via a nice singletrack between the meadows and later up on another track I didn't do before. Steep, narrow, wet and slippery and with barbed wire at both sides the preferred direction here is uphill. Which we did. We then made our way up to the little Chapel where we turned right - crossed the road towards Ottenburg and made our way down another fast singletrack only to climb steadily back up towards the Kouter. This part was on the Overijse BLOSO routes , but in the reverse direction. After Kouter, the 100K turned right towards the Vetsaart and further on into the Sint Agatha Rode bos again, where a steep downhill crowned a very nice passage through this protected area. Then it was time to make our way towards Ottenburg. A great and very difficult climb - I made it the last time but this time it was too slippery - over stones scattered freely and offering hardly any grip. Steep as well of course. I don't think a lot of people made this. After that we made our way towards the Noir Epine where we turned left again for some field roads taking us back towards Ottenburg where we were treated to a great descent along the BLOSO route - again in the reverse direction - and further along the edge of the field towards the second rest stop.
After this the long climb up towards the Tomme made us quickly digest our food. Great downhill towards Gastuche and back towards Archennes via de Chateau de la Motte. In Archennes the technical climb up the Hézidelle tested us on riding technique uphill. The sand was wet though so it was possible to make the climb without too much trouble. We know made our way towards Bossut for what would turn out to be an easier part of the ride. Less climbing, more field tracks but with still some nice challenges along the way. Amongst others a tricky downhill north of Grez Doiceau and a technical climb over roots leading into the Bois de Linsmeau. Then we looped back towards Bossut to find a thrilling descent over cobbles taking us to the 3rd rest stop just south of Nethen . This one was very crowded - possibly because all distances passed here. I had upped my speed with the passing of the kilometres and was now actively trying to follow faster riders that passed me. This took my average speed up suite nicely. We were now taken back towards the Meerdaelwoud for a passage along the Warande Ponds and after that the crossing of the Naamse Steenweg and a climb up towards Valduc. Here the 100K riders would split off from the lesser distances for a loop taking us more or less around Beauvechain. This also proved to be a loop offering not too many heightmeters, which obviously was good for the average and also clement on the legs for those who were starting to feel the fatigue. At the little Chapel in Nodebais a 4th and last rest stop was offered. Manned by women, this was obviously my favourite. I asked and received some oil for my chain and took a last offering of banana, cookies and sports drink. With a full stomach I set on for the last 16K. The drop into Meerdaelwoud offered another patch which might be called muddy but then we rode back in over the Mollendaaldreef and the Weertsedreef. So no more challenges except for the part in Vaalbeek and an ultimate little loop along some narrower tracks before rejoining the starting area. An Alpro drink was gladly received and I went into the Canteen to collect my T-shirt. The Moots had to wait in the garded bike park for a few minutes.

The Lowdown:
What I liked:
+ Great trails, with attention to lesser visited tracks
+ the region and the use they made of what is offered
+ emergency numbers provided
+ dangerous downhills and road crossings well marked
+ distance splits well marked
+ arrowing impeccable
+ 4 well-stocked rest zones - lots of choices
+ very friendly people at the rest stops
+ free T-shirt when entering the 100K with pre-inscription
+ all this for only 9€ (10€ if you don't have a licence)

What I did not like:
- nothing really except perhaps the section around Beauvechain not providing any challenges

A very good ride, the first half certainly being more demanding than the latter part. Although this was demanding too, depending on the speed you made. Some very interesting new tracks I learned today. They could have made it tougher if they had descended south of Grez instead of opting for the loop around Beauvechain. But perhaps this would take them too far from the Meerdael area and this IS the Meerdael Classic after all. Arrowing was flawless all along the 100K, splits were very well marked - before AND after the actual split.

The weather was great as well - 18 degrees average temperature, sunny and just a bit of wind on the plateaus coupled with the amazingly rich biking regions we crossed today provided the right ambiance for a great couple of hours on your bike.

The Bare Facts:

Profile of the Ride
Map of the Ride
Organisers Website

Ride Stats :
Meerdael Classic: 100K and 1155 heightmeters
total distance today :
110K and 1245 heightmeters in 5h22mins

Hill Factor of the Meerdael Classic: