I’m starting to learn that Belgium’s really know how to put on an event. From CX to MTB not forgetting gravel and bike packing.
Last year I was lucky enough to have been invited to attend the first Strada Campina hosted by XC Bikers vzw. Based in Turnhout an hour from Antwerp you could not have asked for more from a route which takes you to Noorderkempen (Turnhout) and Zuiderkempen (Westerlo) regions in the north of Belgium. With 126 riders, amazing weather and km’s of gravel, single track, country lanes and Belgium beer what better way is there to spend a Saturday?
Having been in Belgium on and off for the past three months it was great to catch up with people I had met at other events. (I’m starting to feel like it is my second home……anyone knowing of a job for me out there drop me a line.) Over a coffee before the start, we chatted and soon noticed that half the cyclists had gone. This was probably due to there being no mass-start and a very chilled atmosphere throughout the day, something which allowed Phil and I to find an outstanding Abbey, Cafe with amazing local beers and oddly rack up km’s which were on neither of the planned routes. (At this point I have to say thanks to Phil for being able to order the beers in multiple languages and for heading up a rather sandy hill first so I could take a photograph. Which annoyingly didn’t come out).
Throughout the day we bumped into other cyclists who had stopped for icecreams, beers or to just step back and take in some of the amazing scenery. This time of year seems to be especially good to visit Belgium as it feels like there are fewer tourists and the weather wasn’t too hot. Once you get out of the cities it is amazing how easy it is to find your way around the canal paths, tracks and lanes to which I would simply say go and do it. I’ve never found anyone who has not been willing to help if I have been lost, had an issue or simply just wanted to offer me a beer.
Anyway back to the ride…..
As we came up to the second checkpoint where fresh coffee was on the go and Belgium waffles (other treats were available) both of which gave me a little pick-me-up. The forest was a welcome break from the sun, but I was itching to get back on the bike and explore more. Knowing we had finished the main part of the ride meant Phil and I could chill-out a little and take it easy.
At this point we hit a rather sandy section. I have to admit I did come a little unstuck while I tried to take a photograph and managed to fall off. But all I can say is that thank god it was dry. I had seen some photographs of the route in the rain and it looked very muddy indeed. This is where we bumped into two fellow cyclists Sebastien and Julien who had been struggling after what I can presume was a large lunch, or better known as fine Belgium beers! But saying that knowing that there was a cold beer at the end pulled us along for the final km’s as we rolled back into Turnhout.
I have to say that this was an amazing ride and with this years event looking bigger with a 200km route planned. If the weather is as good, I’m guessing there will be an even bigger turnout. I’m just hoping for a mass-start this time so I don’t miss half the bunch leaving while I was chilling out with a coffee in the sunshine.
For more information visit http://stradacampina.blogspot.com/