While we couldn’t actually ride this years Dirty Boar it is great to have a couple of like minded folks take on this epic gravel ride in one of the most stunning areas of Belgium.
In it’s third year, The Dirty Boar has provided lock, stock and barrel when it comes to gravel rides and in almost every weather condition imaginable.
If you are thinking on taking on the event read on and see what you might be missing out on.
Beginning of September! And with it comes what is now becoming a yearly trip to Belgium for a ride through the Hautes Fagnes with the Dirty Boar. Last year was a spectacle of sunshine, whereas the first edition had the boars plowing through mud and rain all day for what’s becoming known as a rather epic edition. What’s in store for this third edition?
On the Friday evening arrival, signs are looking positive around Ovifat with the familiar Bombtrack, Ridley and Lauf presence visible and a welcoming campfire by which to enjoy a cool Redoutable Tripel. The evening looks promising, and there are even kids racing carts down the ski hill slopes and using the rope tows to climb back up and start again. The forecast promises a mix for Saturday however when checking it while downing the great beer. It wouldn’t be Belgium if the weather wasn’t variable…
Come Saturday morning, the prediction does ring true, and the variable weather comes with it. Maybe not as wet a start as the first edition of the Dirty Boar, but it is a foggy sendoff with no lack of puddles in the mud to splash through during the first portion of the day. On and off it will be from here.
In many ways, this might be where portions of the 170kms course shine however. Boars do get like it messy after all! That’s where some of the portions get slick, and it’s time to pay attention.
As the route runs on towards the first feed station, a welcome pause and a slight break between the clouds. As part of the prep prior, the organising crew sent out feeding on nutrition from Bye Nutrition who have some of their goodies to sample for the riders. A good top up and onwards to the next portion of the course further over the German border.
Further on, back in the forest, a few descents further before the day’s climbing really begins. The back portion of the course brings with it the bulk of the uphill meters. Important to leave something in the tank for those later uphill meters…Getting to those is suddenly complicated this year however. In a slightly slick pebbled descent, a surprise is pending – front wheel slips, and down we go. Oh no! Luckily things look to relatively okay however. A few scrapes and bashes, but nothing a bit of time won’t heal away. A further surprise is in store however – Looking over towards the bike, a broken shifter. This will be rather difficult to address given context. It very much looks like the day has been cut short.
With little to no options to continue, only one recourse remains – to put to use the number the organisers had shared as recourse. Definitely preferable to never have to exercise the request for help, but nonetheless, some circumstances dictate. Luckily, the Dirty Boar team once again show their organisational skills. Once details of what happened are given, plans are quickly made, and a meetup arranged. Need to make it back out the forest, which involves some hiking with a damaged steed, but there on exit, is the van with with crew waiting. We aren’t alone in having needed a ride back, and the consensus between those affected is that in difficult moments this crew knows how to take care of people. Chapeau!
Once back, there is a silver lining to missing the tail end of the course – we are there on time for the first arrivals, and it’s worth it. The day in part started with our being told it was not a race. The strength shown by some of the first to arrive is truly impressive though. Particularly entertaining is the second in, who stuck around in the rain and chill unaffected and pondering going back out to meet his girlfriend still at the third feed stop. Strong stuff and a delight to see before enjoying the burgers, Belgian fries, and beer to wrap up the day.
Looking forward to next year! Every edition has been different thus far adding to the joy, and there’s unfinished business that will need taking care of!
Alarm goes off at 5.00 although I’ve been awake on and off for the last hour. It’s been raining all night, forecasted and not unexpected even though the day before was hot and dry. Typical Belgian weather. Still dark, time for a coffee and breakfast, wake the others and a final check that everything is in the frame bag. Pump, inner tube, sealant, tools – check. GPS unit charged and with the correct maps, check. Just after 5.30 and we’re off, still dark we make our way to Ovifat from our base in Stavelot. 30 minutes later and we’ve stopped at the red light on the dam just before you get to Robertville. We’re entering Dirty Boar country.
Arriving at Ovifat we’re guided into the temporary car park, Lots of gravelista’s prepping their bikes and making their way to the start. There’s light rain and the darkness is receding. The air’s filled with anticipation and good humour, time for a final bike check and some coffee whilst checking out the variety of bikes – there’s a lot of XC hard tails, some full suspension bikes but mostly gravel bikes. Funnily enough there’s only one single speed, belonging to Jim who drove down with me, it’s his first Dirty Boar but coming from Yorkshire he’s used to hills.
We’re called to the start. Due to the amount of riders and to prevent a queue at the end of the road we set off in stages. And we’re off, there’s no point in racing, just find your rhythm and get settled in. All around there’s the squealing of disc brakes, the first km is on the road, then a sharp turnoff with a slight downhill and we hit the first gravel section. Unlike last year there’s no queue at the first big puddle, Jim speeds off, he’s hoping for a good time and that’s the last I see of him.
The terrain is mixed, lots of gravel, wet from the rain. It’s getting lighter but still raining, luckily it’s not too cold. The groups start too thin out as we ride through the mist laden landscape of the Haute Fagnes. As with any gravel race we pass plenty of tyre casualties, at the back of your mind you’re thinking lucky it’s not me. Fast single track, gravel sections and some asphalt, lots of mud. Jade who I’m cycling with is spotless thanks to her mudguards, me and pretty much everyone else is covered in mud. The light rain stops and we hit the first of many fast downhill sections interspersed with some climbs through the Eupen forests.
Finally we hit the first feed station under a towering wind turbine but not before being held up by a herd of cows being walked down the road. Grabbing some sugar laden waffles we’re off again. The rain has stopped, temperature is warm but the skies still grey. The riding’s fast, again lots of mixed terrain, more down hill sections to bomb down and some pretty steep climbs. The groups have definitely thinned out and we’re starting to pass and get passed by the same riders. We hit our first German town, the one with the small single track down hill with a tight turn down some steps. Screeching of brakes and exclamations from riders not expecting it. There’s some single track forest sections interspersed with climbs, the riding is varied enough to keep you on your toes.
The second feed station, mud covered faces, everyone with big grins. Top up with water and more sugar waffles, there’s still a bunch more riding to do. Over the dam and another climb and we’re back in the forest. There’s more light rain and the legs are starting to feel it, over half the ride’s been done but all I can think about is how much elevation is ahead especially that last winding climb up to Ovifat. I follow Jade up a climb as she passes groups of riders clocking her choice of bike – It’s the one she tours with, steel with 30mm tyres and those mudguards that are doing their job – a large rack on the from for her water bottle and tool bag. Another queue as we wait for another group of cows to clear the road and we’re off again. I pass another Fairlight rider and say ‘nice bike’, I ‘d clocked three by the end of the ride. We’re back in the Haute Fagnes and the terrain is staring to look familiar, not much further now.
The last feed station and there’s macaroni, cheese and hot dog sausages. Only 20 or so miles to go but now at the forefront of my mind that last section through the forest with some gnarly off-road tree rooted single track, a couple of river crossings and that final climb. At least it’s stopped raining and the sun’s out. Back on the bike and it’s one final road section and then back into the forest and a long climb, I can see the riders up ahead snaking their way up and over the hill. We keep passing the same XC rider – we’re better on the climbs but she passes us on the down hill sections. More single track and then the first of five river crossings, this is where it gets interesting,. Some passing walkers cheer us on as we cycle through a gavel strewn river bed and then we hit that climb, the one that sucks the last bit of energy out of your legs We’re riding alongside the XC rider but Jade’s had enough and decides to go for it and leaves us both behind.Slowly grinding up the climb, one last tight bend and then it’s the final bit of single track up past the ski slope. It’s easier than I remembers it but by this time my legs have completely gone. I grit my teeth and just go for it, thinking of the bier and frites at the finish line. One last corner, that final section of asphalt and that’s the Dirty Boar done. Both my bike and I are covered in a fine layer of mud, legs aching but with a smile on my face. Back next year? Definitely!
Huge thanks to Phil & Andy for their words.
Additional photography Sam Gui & Gaëlle