Warm weather was forecast with only a slight chance of precipitation. A perfect day for a solid Ardennes ride. Meeting up with the KBC MTB club at the Theux railway station around 8.45am and just before 9am we set off on the Longest Downhill. As regular readers know, this is a ride that consists of 2 parts. One part is the uphill from Theux to Signal de Botrange. I have been perfecting this part for a couple of years now to include as much offroad as possible. In the days when the Downhill was published in O2 Bikers - issue #59 to be more precise - the uphill part was as good as ignored. I did publish a first part of what was a long tarmac uphill followed by a roadbook from Le Petit Normand up to the Signal de Botrange in 2001. But I was not satisfied with all the tarmac between Theux and Le Petit Normand, so I set out with 1:15000 scale maps to find a more suitable and mountainbike-worthy uphill. As it stands now I am pretty pleased with the result. Arriving at the Signal de Botrange you have around 750 heightmeters under your belt and have passed some nice singletrail sections on the 32k stretch.
Taking a rest with the group at the restauration/cafe up on the Signal, the figures on my GPS speak for themselves. During the uphill we had split up in 2 groups, each with a rider having my GPS track from 2 days ago on a Garmin Edge. I was leading one of the groups, taking a more leisurely pace upwards. As usual I stopped at the Passerelle Michel Thorez for a snack. Even so we only arrived 10 minutes after the faster group. Hearing the remarks at the table it looked like they liked the uphill bit very much. And the best part was yet to come - the famous "Longest Downhill in Belgium" .
The Longest Downhill is a mixture of everything that make riding a bike offroad in the Ardennes so special. Starting in the Fagnes, we take in quite a bit of doubletrack before arriving at a small track with a river crossing. Then, arriving at the Vecquee, things turn wet and soggy forcing us between the trees to negotiate hundreds of roots. A very stony downhill follows, taking us close to the river Hoegne. Another very difficult downhill, with lots of stones, small rivulets of water and gullies, takes a victim. One flat tyre, from the looks of it a snakebite. Then we zoom down again towards the river Hoegne. A section with a couple of river crossings by wooden bridges, forest tracks interspersed with roots, rocks and small puddles, a little uphill section through a river, a fast singletrail downhill, its all there. During the downhill at one moment the group split up in 2 parts, unfortunately exactly at the spot where I had foreseen a very interesting singletrack. A singletrack out of the 2007 World Championship Marathon circuit in Verviers no less. The second group had taken a right turn where they should have gone left. My fault, I was assuming the group was more closely together. As it stood, I had no option but to leave the singletrack be and take my part of the group after the runaway members. We found them 1.5K further, waiting at the end of an offroad section not far from Neufmarteau.
Near the end, reaching Polleur, there was an option to return by tarmac, as the original O2 bikers version did. But being mountainbikers and - it must be said, the level of fitness and technicality was very good in this group - we all choose for the offroad version, even if this means climbing two more hills - one with an 15% climbing grade. Near the end, the forward running GPS rider misses a turn and we are sent to Theux via a very, very steep downhill ending at the famous steps near the Lycee. Checking my GPS data after the ride, I found it to be a 24% grade at its steepest. Ouch.
I had been looking for this particular downhill for a while now and I'm glad we found it, a lucky accident one might say. It also features in the Ardennes Trophy, a marathon race held every year and starting in nearby La Reid. Here it is an absolute crowd-stopper because of its inherent level of danger.
Arriving in Theux we are offered a bite to eat and drinks to go with that, courtesy of the KBC MTB Club. I hope they all enjoyed our day out - I certainly did. The weather was perfect with 17 degrees up on the Fagnes, nearing 24 degrees when we where back in Theux, some 550 metres lower.
Ride Stats : 66K and 1045/1090 heightmeters in 4h10mins
Theux-Signal de Botrange-Theux (scenic route) at EveryTrail
Map created by EveryTrail: GPS Trip Sharing with Google Maps
19-09-2009, 00:00 geschreven door Big Bad Wolf