160 plus riders all gathered together at 6am at Brasserie de Brunehaut for what was going to be an epic day in the saddle. As small groups of riders headed off I have to admit that riding over pavé in pitch black at that time of the morning gave me a whole new experience and it was only the start of what was to come; 254km of mud, climbs, gravel and more pavé.
Lights blinkering in the distance gave a false sense of security as to how far we might have come, but in many ways this made it more enjoyable. People tried to chat, laugh and say hello, but with the amount of concentration going on it soon fell silent.
Through small towns, country lanes and picturesque villages, we rode off as the sun started to come up and dawns early light became a bright and sunny adventure. Knowing that we had to hit each checkpoint on time made sure we kept a good pace. With this in mind, Andreas from LaFraise Cycles who was my fellow companion for the day and I tried to enjoy ourselves as much as we can.
It is great that other cyclists chat and encourage you even if they are having issues or struggling themselves at events like this. There is a sense that if I can make it you can make it as well. Looking back on the ride I know I loved the sense of adventure discovering new routes and places to see as well as the challenge of covering 254km off-road.
The route takes in some of the most famous climbs in Flanders, the Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg plus the cobbles of Roubaix which makes this one of the most interesting and historical ultra cx/gravel rides going. Add that to the amount of woodland climbs, unique muddy paths, single track and you get over 2200 meters (7220ft) of climbing, some of which I had to admit to walking.
As lunchtime soon came and went we soon came upon our next checkpoint. To which we were told that it is about to become even more difficult as the paths had turned to a sticky mixture of mud and clay…..great! This being said we were in high spirits and knowing we were not the last ones to come through gave us a sigh of relief.
Now maybe I had spoken too soon at this point as at the top of the next muddy climb an almighty bang occurred. First I thought I had a puncture but then I noticed the rear derailleur had come clean off the bike and the chain had wound itself up in the frame. F**K was my first thought before becoming rather annoyed that we were going so well and there was nothing I could do to fix it. Scratching our heads Andreas and I came to the clear conclusion I would have to abandon the ride as he carried on. Within minutes I was joined by another rider who had snapped his rear mech. It seemed like there were a few riders going down with troubles. Snapped seats, broken wheels, chains etc the list goes on.
With only 91 riders finishing out of the 160+ that started it proves that this is one tough ride. So I say congratulations to Bruno, Stefan, Nathan, Terry, Jeanne and Camille all of who made the podium. I also say well done to those that have taken part and made this ride what it is.
As the day came to an end I have to say even though I never finished the ride it was one of the best cycling events I have been to. So much so I have already spoken to the event organisers and I have booked my place for next year.
For more information go to https://www.maltenibeer.com/