It was great to get back over to Belgium once again and what better way to finish off Rapha’s Festive 500 than to tackle yet another fantastic gravel ride.
With the forecast looking terrible, I knew that once again Belgium would throw all it could at me. The fact it had rained every day since November was a slight shock and had I known this I would have put mud specific tyres on.
That being said I could not have been made more welcome and Belgium’s do know how to put on an event.
With over 260 riders turning up from Holland, UK, Switzerland, Portugal and Colombia, including a large percentage of women, we were all escorted by the police from Allo Vélo where the ride started. The 100km route started several hours before the 50km ride with the aim being to all finish around the same time.
The Lumberjack started off as you could expect, splits in groups, folks having mechanicals and punctures while I tried to keep up and take photographs. Once we were out of the town we soon set off into the Hoge Kempen National Park.
The park which is mostly made up of gravel tracks, pine forests and heathlands had been turned to mud tracks and swamp in areas due to the nine weeks of rain and the heavy machinery of the real lumberjacks. I have to say this made it great fun, but like I said I only wish I had mud specific tyres on.
Various sections came and went, the views were amazing when it was not snowing or raining and when we hit the cobbles the group I was cycling with made sure it was all about fun. Chatting with each other, encouraging each other along and making sure none of us managed to get lost. For sure we were probably taking it a lot easier than the Belgium pros that turned up, but were they having as much fun…..who knows?
The feed stations were a welcome break and a good time to catch up with other groups. One thing I really like is the hot soup they serve, I have no idea why events in the UK don’t do this? Again Belgium’s are really clued up on how to make sure riders are catered for and not just give away some shit protein and gels. Real food is the way to go people!
As time went by it soon became apparent that riders were dropping out. At one junction the broom wagon had four riders in and the group I had been with was down to two guys.
Pushing on the mud became deeper and the last 10km felt like riding on an ice rink. Cyclists came and went all the while we pushed on. Once we made it back the party really started, especially with the beer supplied by Kwaremont. With the fires crackling, the beer flowing we soon warmed up and the feeling in my feet started to come back.
Even though the Lumberjack Gravel Ride was more of a frozen mudfest it is one of the best rides I have been on. It is worth keeping an eye on https://www.cafecoureur.cc/ as they plan to put on more events in 2018. I’ll be there for sure as they know how to ride and party!
Huge thanks to Erwin and Pauli for the extra photos!