Last Sunday I got up early and rode off into a misty Autumnal sunrise to take part in El Botroul, my club’s big annual mountain bike randonnee. The day was glorious and there was a lovely early autumn feel to the day after some rain during the week.
With an offer of anything between a 15km family route and a 65km hardriders with over 1000 metres of climbing the event attracts over 1000 riders from all over the area including Brussels and Flanders because it has something for everyone.
I opted for a 45km ride with 800metres of climbing and a bonus option of 3km of “technical” riding.
It was a treat, almost a complete menu of everything I enjoy about riding round here. There were lots of forest tracks and paths but we also climbed up on to the open plateau that forms most of the area and rode minor roads and farm tracks. This gave excellent views over the valleys. The light was beautiful for photography in the morning woods.
The rural architecture was glowing nicely in the sunshine and I enjoyed the first feed station in the front of one of the Brabant farm cottages that are typical of the area with its arched barn gate.
The so called “technical” section came as a great surprise, most of the ride didn’t require any particular bike handling skill, it was more of an off-road touring ride. Then suddenly we were offered an optional diversion for a full workout in an area of parkland near Ottignies.
It was obvious that at some point someone had gone to a lot of trouble to build something close to a trail centre in Bois de Reves which is a popular large park/woodland area. I have not seen mountain biking with drop offs, bridges and sweeping singletrack since I came to Belgium. It wasn’t the best maintained I have ridden but I got into the swing of it I started to enjoy it but it was initially a bit of a shock to be throwing the bike around again. I may well go back to check it out properly.
45km was about my limit, I must admit I had forgotten just how much harder than road biking mountain biking can be, I was quite legless by the end. Unlike road biking the fat tyres just don’t let you have 10 or 20km where you can just float along without any particular effort, even on the roads you have to keep it rolling the whole time. And it was another reminder that this part of Belgium is far from flat.
I must admit that is still a refueling option I struggle with after a harder ride. Its great during a touring amble around the countryside but when I have worked a bit harder I have this fear I will really feel the effects on the last big hill home. This fear is compounded by the knowledge that the Belgian beer I like is about 50% stronger than a English pint and can very quickly give me a fuzzy head.
What a brilliant day out. Great route, lovely countryside and really nice vibe around the riders who were not out for a race, chatting and laughing as they rode, soaking up the communal feeling of riding together. And – in particular for those who ride sportives and randonnees in countries like the UK and Australia – it was all done by volunteers for an entry fee of just €4, including unlimited food and drink at the two refreshment stops. Best value cycling events anywhere in the world? Could just be.