Rise and shine at 7am. The sun was out and half an hour later I was on my way to Chimay. This is a 1h30 car ride from Leuven. When I neared Couvin the hills were covered in mist. Still, no worries, I was about to embark on a marathon mountainbike raid over 100k so I was not exactly screaming for heat. Only dry weather would suffice because the extra warmth only adds to the exhaustion..
Around 9.30 I was at the inscription where I forked over 12 and got my number and a little card attached to a lanyard. This card was to be used for punching in the control markers at the feed zones along the ride. There were 5 feed zones evenly spaced out on this distance. Great, so let's go!
I had a possible riding time of 6 hours in mind when I started out, but things would evolve. Read on.
The first kilometers were relatively easy, the track was reasonably dry - small wonder after last thursdays' downpour, so I could settle myself into a nice and comfy pace. We were going through some fields and the sun had dried out the trails here . After a while, I was remeniscing my last outing here some 5 years ago , when all of a sudden the first uphill appeared. Steep and wet in an overgrown hollow road and I was too late to drop my chain on the small ring. So I had to grin and bear it. I made that hill but I would not forget to drop my chain the next time. At the top of the second big climb there was a photographer I think it was Denis Hardy, the organiser - taking some pictures. I quickly shifted onto the middle ring - looks better on the pics - and tried to look calm and collected.
After crossing the N99 , road that connects Couvin to Chimay, the real Raid des Sources was about to begin. We were entering the forests now and the height lines started oscillating between 200 and 350 meters. Things were getting serious quite quickly !
After 13.5k we had a first feed zone and after 25k the second. This was also the place were the 100k split off from the 65k distance. We were at the rivers edge here, so instinctively I knew a big climb was following . From here on I would ride relatively alone. Having started late and with most chrono riders going for the 65K distance, this is one of the great advantages of doing the longest distance. The extra loop started with a 27% climb on tarmac (thank God!) out of a village and slowly but surely I creeped into the forests again . At one point I was riding next to a big lake barrage du Ry de Rome - at 270 metres of altitude. After that, a small trail took me up to the plateau at 330 metres through some damp forest which reminded me of the Vosges. At the plateau the track was following a singletrail for several kilometers on end , green and lush landscapes galore. I had to look constantly for the best passage, since we were crossing mud-holes and little tricklets all the time. There was a fair amount of water and mud here, but due to only 75 people riding the 100K, the trail was not beaten to a pulp and fairly easy ride-able.
Far from easy were the descents, some rather rechnical with wet rocks and roots thus demanding the utmost concentration not to let the speed get up too high. I managed them all very well but I screamed a few times because I thought I lost it. Luckily my bike got me through . The uphills were typical of the Chimay region, steep - usually around 20% - and due to the wet floor pretty difficult to ride. My wheel was slipping all over the place with the sticky mud filling up the gaps between the knobs on the tyres and sometimes I just made the hill, sometimes I didn't and had to walk a few meters. About halfway through this 40k loop we encountered our 3rd feed zone and control point.
I was passed at one point by the eventual winner - Wouter Cleppe - and I was amazed at his speed and seemingly ease with which he was tackling a mean uphill. He rode the 100K in 4h29mins, which is quite amazing. After an amazingly beautiful but very tough loop we were back at the barrage where we had about 1.5K of tarmac to relax our muscles a bit. After that, an impossible climb had me walking up a crest and I was back in the rough following some forest trail again meandering through the trees.
With some 65k I was at the 4th feedzone (which was actually the 2nd - I had now completed my extra 40k loop) and I took my time eating and drinking. At this point the mental thing comes in. You realize that you would already have finished had you not chosen the longest distance. With still an average TT distance to go you have to keep your mind firmly on the right track. Furthermore the fatigue was making itself feel and the tracks were now worse due to the many riders having ridden over them. After that 4th feedzone there was a long climb taking us all the way up again. It was very steep at places and along the way I was passed by an enduro motorcycle of the organisation. I had seen him at the rest stop and he replied to my gentle wave with a Bonne Chance while he poured on the horsepower and rocketed upwards.. Yeah, I would need some good luck for sure! I was thinking how nice it would be if we could swap our bikes for a while but quickly let go of that tought when a mean downhill was announcing itself.
The relentless succesion of climbs and technical descents were effectively sapping the strenght out of my legs. I saw some riders standing next to the road, they were waiting for the organisation to pick them up wasted and dead- tired and probably having seriously underestimated the difficulty of 100K in this area.
Around 81K into the ride I came to the last feed zone. I had teamed up with a team-mate of Wouter Cleppe and we more or less rode together for a few kilometers. The track wasnt wide enough to ride next to each other but we managed to talk a bit along the way. The trail was now very muddy. Tough conditions due to the fact that all the distances had passed over this trail, effectively munching it into a brown splashy pulp. A few sections were really really bad, and I had to jump around from dry side to dry side to keep my feet out of the muck - the gullies were too deep to ride . Luckily we were sent onto some bigger forest tracks as well, so we could recuperate a bit between muddy patches.. This nearly was Trop is teveel too much of a good thing. Some 10K before the finish we came back onto field roads and the trails were dry now. I was feeling elated and actually found some hidden strength and started accelerating , enjoying the small tracks between the barbed wires. The last couple of Ks were on tarmac, having me zoom along at 30kph. After 6h36 of riding time and 6h57 actual time I was clocked off at the finish. Taking some pictures along the way and splashing out at the feed zones takes some time of course.
Got a nice finisher T-shirt and a one-litre bottle of Chimay. Rinsed my bike and got a shower before heading home again. It was 6.30pm when I arrived tired but satisfied after a very long day.
What I liked :
- Arrowing was flawless, both red paint markings on the floor/tarmac as arrows yellow/black panels.
- Plenty of feed zones , evenly spaced along the distance.
- Feed zones were well stocked with food and drink and friendly people.
- Great trails !
- Bike-wash was sufficient at 4.30pm.
- Shower facilities first-class.
- Danger signs at the really tricky descents and at the road crossings.
- Nice to get a t-shirt and a one-litre bottle of Chimay beer.
What I did not like:
- Bike-wash might have been busy before 4.30pm with only 3 jets.
- Damn mud !
- Dangerous passage in Chimay village at the end of the ride.
Clearly a very professional and well-honed organiser and team, with the 15th edition this year they clearly know their fantastic but unfortunately slightly underestimated - region and make the best of it, lacing together a 100k trail is no mean feat. Trails are tough and singularly beautiful , a combination most mountainbikers will appreciate. Succession of sometimes very steep climbs and sometimes rather technical descents and kilometers of singletrack , 80% through forest must be mountainbiker heaven. I did ask the organisers to consider moving their ride back to the 15th of August though, as it has been for all these years. That date has become a landmark in the calender so why change it?
The area of Chimay Viroinval Eau Blanche and Eau Noire - is a bit underestimated I feel and not well known to the mountainbikers in Belgium. The valleys are not as deep as in some parts of the Ardennes but the region is well compared to Houffalize . It offers a lot of trails I saw several marked routes along the way and as I already said, the hills are steep - to be compared with La Roche perhaps - and offer between 100 to 150 meters of vertical ascent in one go. But what really makes this area shine is the amount of singletrails credit has to go to Denis Hardy and his team for lacing them all together some next to the rivers , meandering up and down with lots of roots and rocks making them very technical at times. I particularly remember a trail near Bruly-sur-Pesche where I had to walk quite a few times due to the technicality of the track. Of course the rain had made it a lot wetter than it usually is. The only drawback this region has is that is not along any of the major highways in Belgium, which means that getting there by car is not evident.
The Bare Facts :
Ride Stats : 100K and 1650 heightmeters in 6h36mins
Hill Factor : 16.5
Mud factor : high
Organisers' Website : CLICK
Ride Profile : CLICK
Results of the 100k Marathon :
Video Footage from the ride: CLICK (copyright Cédric)
Google Earth Map of the 100k marathon :