Tomorrow the fifth edition of the Belgian Mountain Bike Challenge, in short the BeMC, will kick off in La Roche-en-Ardenne. During three days and 260 km covering 7800 meters of climbing over 500 participants from almost 20 different countries will fight for the final victory.
I’m currently sat in our accommodation with 2 nervous Brits, both pacing around wearing out the floor tiles, both checking the route profiles, looking at results from last year to see the times of stages, and tinkering with bikes. Maybe I should be nervous, after all this three day stage race is known as “the hardest mountain bike tour in the Benelux”. I’ve been here before, back in 2014 with Tim Dunford, we had a great weekend and I’m excited to get into that stage racing bubble.
The BeMC is the only stage race in the Benelux that is part of part of the UCI calendar as XCS S1. As a result the event attracts many top national and international riders. Top riders from Belgium include Kevin Van Hoovels who is aiming to go to the Olympics for the second time and reigning Belgian champion MTB Marathon Frans Claes.
Defending champion Sören Nissen, bronze medalist at the 2015 WC XCM Leonardo Paez, Andalucia Bike Race winner Tiago Ferreira, Nicola Rohrbach (second in this year’s Cape Epic) and many other international top riders will start.
In the women’s UCI race, defending champion and current number 8 on the UCI ranking Githa Michiels will have some tough foreign competition from among others multiple European and World championships medallist Sally Bigham, the Swiss former Andalucia Bike Race winner Milena Landtwing and the Serbian national champion Jovana Crnogorac. Also Belgian champion XCM Alice Pirard is ready for the battle.
Also in the open race it’ll be a close fight with several reigning and former national champions XCO or XCM at the starting line. Strong riders such as Kris Henderieckx, Arne Daelmans and Kurt Tempst are also ready to take the overall win back home.
The Ardennes are a great location to visit, both for the cycling and just as a tourist. La Roche en Ardennes has plenty of history with the town suffering severe damage in World War II. Having been taken over by the Allies in September 1944 the town was recaptured by the Germans in December during the Battle of the Bulge. The subsequent Allied bombing raids resulted in the town being liberated once more in January 1945, but left much of the town destroyed, and 116 residents dead.
Hiking, kayaking and mountain biking are amongst the popular outdoor pursuits available in La Roche en Ardenne. The areas main economic activity is agriculture.
Tomorrow’s first stage will start at midday in the centre of La Roche-en-Ardenne. With almost 2250 meters of climbing in only 67 km it looks like a hard start. On Saturday the race covers 95km and 2350 vertical meters of climbing but the main stage is no doubt the last one. A round trip to Houffalize on Sunday gives the riders 100km and more than 3000 meters of climbing to enjoy.