Since the Moots would have to stay over at Filip Sport for a few days - getting the bottom bracket out proved not to be that easy - I took the Merlin out for a spin around the Meerdael BLOSO routes this morning. The weather was still hot and moist with a remote chance of thunderstorms. I checked the pressure in my shock and forks (105 and 105 psi) and they were still unchanged from the last time I rode this bike. Cool, so the seals are airtight. I started out very easy although with a bike like the Merlin Works 4.0 you have a tendency to go fast. It rolls very smoothly - I credit the DT Swiss 240s hubs for that - and the terrain around Meerdael is just too easy and accomodating for a bike like that. So taking it out here was a bit overkill but I overly enjoyed it nevertheless. Taking everything the trail throws at you with a big grin is just the mutts' nutts. There were quite a bit of bikers on the trails and from time to time I injected a little extra section - usually more technical stuff and/or an extra climb or downhill. Just for the fun of it. The Merlin does that to me. It makes me try that more difficult side of the road or jump that berm instead of riding around it. I discovered and Enduro track dropping down into Sint Joris Weert, unfortunately the last bit is blocked by trees. Would have been a nice alternative to the normal downhill in the hollow road, which, in itself is not easy also. But the trails were perfect. Dry or just a little bit moist where the sun didn't reach the forest floor.
Met up with someone from work and we had a little chat during the short time our paths ran parallel. I'm not looking forward to go back to work again, but then again, the 2008 Tour de France is finished and I have had my fair share of rides these last 3 weeks so going back to work is not that bad. During the last 10K of the ride I was overtaken by a guy from Heverlee. I upped the speed a bit and we rode the last 10K together. Very fast pace and he only had to let me go on the more technical bits. Had a very satisfying ride today, even though my legs were still feeling tired from last fridays's ride. But looking at my average speed it seems like I had one of my better days.. or is it that magical Merlin that gave me wings?
Today I had made an appointment with Albert Dumont (aka Berthold on some mtb forums) to ride the first part of the 2007 World Championship Marathon trails in Verviers. We decided to meet in the little town of Banneux. Albert knows these trails like the back of his hand and if that should fail he also had a GPS with him. The complete World Championship track is downloadable from the O2 Bikers site. We decided to ride the first - and most intense - part of it. The weather was great , sunny and luckily also a nice breeze was blowing . The trails conditions would also prove to be very favorable. Dry with only the occasional muddy patch. From the Banneux church we quickly made our way into the forest on a descent into the Bois de Tancremont. Albert adapted an easy but steady pace which would prove to be ideal during the ride. I knew this was going to be a tough ride and the first downhill plunged me with both tyres into Ardennes reality. Mind where you are going, the trails are beautiful but very treacherous. We quickly dropped from our 300 metres high starting point to a mere 130 metres where we crossed a bridge over one of the many small ruisseaux - little rivers - that feed the river Vesdre. Into the Bois de Tancremont we had to climb all the way back up. The tracks were tricky, and the climbing very steep. Yep, this was going to be a tough ride. After crawling our way up again we crossed the N666 and in Tancremont we had a beautiful overview of the region with Theux and Juslenville among the visible highlights. We were ready for the plunge towards the Forges Thiry although before that we had to conquer a very steep singletrack through some brambles. The track then takes some broader paths than the Red Adeps route of Theux for the descent , but they were steep nevertheless. Albert and his 29er Specialized Stumpjumper seemed to float over all the rocks and roots and through the gullies . All I had to do was try to follow. This kind of track is hard on man and machine and I could hear the Moots groan from time to time. Other than the special sound of my Chris King freewheel and the crickety-crack of my worn out XTR bottom bracket I heard some clangs when a rock was thrown against my spokes or frame. The Moots is a great climber even though the climbs were a tad too steep to be really comfortable even on my 26/34 smallest gear combination. Perhaps a 24 or even a 22 smallest chainring would have been more suitable here. The climb along the ruisseau de Sohan - with some muddy patches as usual - brought us to the Chateau de Sohan. Here we stopped at a stone in memory for the people who were executed by the Germans in WWII. Now there would follow an amazingly beautiful singletrack around the western side of the Bois des Nids d'Aguesses. After that a steep climb on tarmac had me and my bike grunting. The sun was hammering down as well and I was glad to see the top of this hill. We had a little bite to eat and then dropped down again to complete the loop back towards the Chateau de Sohan.
Of course we had to climb again, this time towards the Chateau de Maison-Bois. We could see the valley of the Vesdre now to our left and after a few more thrilling trails we were in Ensival and ready for the drop into Verviers. I wanted to refill my drinking bottle so we took some time to look around for a place where we could buy something to drink. Another snack to keep up our strenght and then we made the connection downwards to the start. This is situated at the Ardennes Outlet Centre . We crossed the river Vesdre and began a long climb on tarmac towards Lambermont. Before long we were back offroad and were following an exciting singletrail on the slopes overlooking the Fond and ruisseau de Fierain. At times we were riding on pure bedrock so I was very happy it was dry. These things can get very slippery when wet. For now they were only very steep and proved to be quite a challenge. I had to walk a couple of times due to the sheer steepness and the roots which were protruding left and right of the track making it very difficult to remain riding upwards. Great challenges. At this time I could also start to feel my legs. During the long downhills they settled into some kind of recovery mode but each time the next climb announced itself the muscles protested and would only yield after a few hundred metres. And the toughest bit was yet to come ! Between Tribomont and Cornesse the track didn't drop as low into the valley thus making it more or less the easier bit of the ride. Take this with a grain of salt though. Even the easy bits are tough here ! Then a downhill towards the Vesdre announced itself and it was "Hail Sweet Mary and Joseph" time. Descending in a narrow gully filled to the brim with loose stony rubble demanded the utmost of my concentration. The bike bounced from left to right over and between the stones, my disc brakes were running hot and dropping for almost 2 kilometres in length this was one hell of a downhill. . And, alas, instead of crossing the Vesdre at this point , we had to ride all the way up again. On a very steep, narrow and at times very technical trail. This is one of the best and most difficult climbs of this ride and I enjoyed myself despite the pain and the fatigue in the muscles. At the top of this climb - in Goffontaine - we had to drop down again for some 2 kilometres towards the river Vesdre - again along a very technically challenging trail. Wow, this was mountainbiking in Belgium at its very best ! We had a little break at the bridge over the river Vesdre to look at the last challenge that awaited us. The long climb into the Bois de Fraipont - Albert calls it "Banneuxer Joch" - back towards Banneux. This proved to be quite a tough nut to crack and yes, we had a "schiebe' passage as well. The track was very eroded and just too steep to ride at one point, making us push our bikes upwards. 2.5K of climbing squeezed the last bit of strength out of my legs and I was glad when I made out the Chateau de Banneux between the trees .
Well, what can I say, this must have been one of the most intense rides I've done in Belgium. We had 52K in the end but you can easily subtract 3 K from that because we had to ride to and from the trail in Banneux and we did an extra loop in Verviers looking for something to drink. That makes it a 49K/1475hm ride and that is a Hill Factor of 30. I knew the Theux - Pepinster region was among the most beautiful of Belgium and todays' ride certainly did confirm that. I must thank Albert for his excellent guiding and his thorough knowledge of all the places we passed made it somehow easier for me to remember where we have been . The local flora and fauna also has no secrets for him. Thanks Albert for a great day out !
Ride Stats : 52k and 1475 heightmeters in 4h12mins Ride Profile : CLICK Hill Factor : 28.4 for the complete ride, 30 for the trail only
Today the "Ronde van Vlaams Brabant" passed right before my door. Time to take the trusty Nikon out and snap some shots while the peloton speeded through. Not easy when they make 50-60kph but at least the little twist into the Lijstersstraat made them slow down a little bit. The weather was glorious - not a cloud in the sky and since it is July it was hot - and a bit windy which was fine. Don't know who won but if you want to know click HERE
In the evening I joined the KBC MTB guys for a quick spin around the basic loop of our annual organised ride. This takes place on August 17th starting from the Sports Centre in Haasrode. It's a great ride so keep this date free. We went rather fast and I could feel my legs protesting. This was due to not having recovered from yesterdays' fast ride. Luckily someone had a flat tyre which allowed for a few moments of rest. I also had to get used to the Litespeed again after having enjoyed the comfortable fastness of the Moots for the last couple of offroad rides.
Because the 2nd leg of the "Ronde van Vlaams Brabant" passes right before my door tomorrow , I obviously couldn't resist riding the loops . As it turned out I rode the big loop twice and the small one once. Had a bit of interval training on the finish climb with my legs burning nicely by the third time I passed there. Good average as well, I always tend to ride a little faster when I am on an official race circuit. But of course I had to take care at the crossroads and respect the red lights. Even then I was pretty fast today.
It had been a while since I did some road riding so today I took my Hilset out for a ride along the Ludo Dierckxsens circuit. Noticed they displayed a F104 Starfighter near the side entrance of the Beauvechain 1st Wing Airforce base. Of course I couldn't resist taking a picture. I remember when I was 14 or 15 years old I used to climb in the tallest tree in our garden to watch flocks of F104's flying over. Obviously, since then the amount of jet flying done by our Airforce has strongly diminished plus the F16's have moved away from Beauvechain to Kleine Brogel. Still, this bird brings back a lot of memories. Nice.
I followed the rest of the route, adding an extra loop up towards the Bercuit Golf course - featuring a 14% slope, who can resist that ? I also added a little climb towards Ottenburg. Even though I stayed well into LSD heartrates my average speed was quite good. Nice weather too, with the last of the rain moving out last night and only a bit of wind in the first 2 hours of my ride.