Saturday, August 29, 2009

Theux Green and Blue and Red and Ninglinspo valley

Yes, this morning I took my Mazda and drove it to the Franchimont castle in Theux. My plan was to start on the Green, hop over on the Blue and then on the Red. On the Red I would then descent into the Ninglinspo valley, looping over the Blanches Pierres and the Tour Drouet, ascent along the Ninglinspo and then follow the Red again, hop over on the Blue and finish in Theux. At 10am I was ready to roll. It was fresh with only 14 degrees C but at least it promised to be dry. It took a little while to get back into Ardennes mode but once I found my rhythm I found my legs to be better than I expected. The tracks are rocky here, so I took care to add a couple of psi to my tyre pressure. Even with a full suspension bike, and especially on tough circuits like the Theux Adeps routes, a little bit more goes a long way. The tracks were surprisingly dry as I thundered into Polleur where I rejoined the Red route for a little while climbing into the outskirts of the Bois de Staneu. The Red then goes straight while the Green veers to the left for the first long climb of the day. I could do the climb on my middle chainring but after a while I decided it might be better to put it on the little ring in front. Better not tyre my legs unneccessary. Arriving on top I had to follow the tarmac road for a while before coming to the first long descent. A rocky number this one, and I had to change lines quite a few times in order to stay on the bike. But as usual, the Merlin did its magic and inspired me with the confidence needed when doing rides like this one on your own. Into the valley and hopping onto the Blue route for another long climb, back over 300 metres. Another descent and I was on the road to Spa. Crossing it and then disappearing into the forest again for the next - very rocky - climb. After a while you leave the forest and I noticed the sun was shining intermittently, just warming things up a little bit. The cool temperatures were great for my form because I was really feeling strong. Onto the Red route and slowly climbing up to the 400 metre mark.

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Just before reaching that I came to the edge of the Ambleve valley. Here I left the Adeps route for a descent into the valley I call dreamland. Descending towards the Blanches Pierres rivulet and on a big forest track making good speed on the 18% slope before arriving at the Tour Drouet, which offers a great view over the Ninglinspo valley. The Ninglinspo is a little river that drops from the plateau down towards the Ambleve river, some 270 metres deeper. I took a break at the Tour Drouet, some  26K into the ride. Having a bite to eat and taking some pictures, I notice som white constructions on the horizon. Strange, they look like big blocks, but what is their purpose? Time will tell for sure.
Deeper down into the valley and I was ready for the long ascent, following the little Ninglinspo river on its trail. Some 3K long and offering a height gain of 250 metres, this is a nice climb and especially today, when it was very dry and offering good traction to my Nobby Nics. I met up with a runner who was a local and was doing a 16K run in and out of this valley. Strong guy! When I arrived at the top I had already decided I would abandon my plan to get back on the Blue and follow that into Theux. I felt good and so I decided to follow the much more difficult Red route. This offers quite a bit more climbs, and some tricky descents, especially the drop into the Forges Thiry is to be treated with respect. As is essentially every descent on the Red route, which has its toughest section near the end.

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Near the end I was suffering on the last climb, a very steep number climbing from downtown Theux up towards the Franchimont castle. The slope is between 11 and 18% and even reaches 20% at one point. After 60K in this kind of terrain is a tough cookie. But i managed it and with some relief I saw my red Mazda standing still on the parking lot near the Franchimont castle. This combination of the 3 routes + the descent into the Ambleve valley is a nice ride, not for the meek I hasten to tell, the terrain is not to be underestimated and has surprises around every corner. A good bike and some experience in the Ardennes is a must on these kinds of rides. There are some sections that offer a bit of recuperation but - especially on the red route - most of the time you are either climbing or trying to ride one or the other technical downhill. I nearly lost it when my front wheel washed away over some stones in a corner whilst descending a 14% slope on a double trail field track. The tracks were narrow and extremely rockstrewn and only a quick reflex and possibly a combination of a good bike with good tyres saved me from a trip to the hospital. Things like that tend to happen near the end of the ride, when concentration is a bit less and fatigue is building up. But they might just as well happen in the beginning, when you underestimate the trail and/or overestimate yourself. So be warned, stay safe and keep the rubber side down.

Ride Stats : 63K and 1500/1550 heightmeters (Polar/Garmin) in 4h00mins

GPS Track on Garmin ConnectCLICK