Well that was a shock to the system!
The first stage of the BeMC Cup turned out to be every bit as tough as I thought it was going to be and more. The field on the start list was a bit stacked and then as we were having a coffee in town prior to the race start (yes we were early – I have literally no idea how that happened) Pauline Ferrand-Prevot walked past and I had a complete star stuck moment. She appears to have signed on at the last minute to do the race, presumably for a bit of MTB training prior to the first XC World Cups.
Thankfully they gridded her second despite her late sign-on low number. The last I saw of the front of the women’s race though was on the first climb before they, and I, were swamped by the Masters and Fun racers riding through from behind.
Climbing was a definite feature of today. I felt like we went uphill for around 90% of the race and then when the trail did turn downwards it was crazy steep and all the people around me bombed past at insane speeds. Yep, it was a definite baptism of fire.
Then there was the mud. Thank goodness I had done as much cross and riding cross bikes as I had this winter. Compared to the descending I was relatively more prepared for the mud and was able to let go and let the bike choose a line with a bit more contentment than the guys around me.
From the mouth of Chris Pedder:
So there we are folks, that’s what it feels like to do a stage race when all of the racing you’ve done since last September is a bunch of one hour blasts around muddy fields. Unfortunately, there are still two days to go…
In a country that is synonymous with tough man’s early-season classics, featuring steep, rough climbs, hair-raising descents and cruel weather, the BeMC stage today didn’t disappoint. Heavy rain overnight turned what have doubtless been several weeks of dusty dry trails into a slip-sliding affair. The terrain in the Ardennes is wild in a way I had never imagined, with viciously steep walls of rock to grunt your way up. And like Rachel, I was totally outclassed when the trails turned downwards – the locals can really ride!
The stats for today’s ride (a mere 67km, and 2225m of climbing) don’t really tell the same story my stair-fearing legs do. Perhaps chasing (and never catching) eventual women’s winner Githa Michiels was what did it? Maybe it was the determination not to use granny gear again. Whatever, I’m seriously hoping today was an anomaly, or it’s going to be a very tough 48 hours!
1. 1. Soren Nissen
2. 2. Sebastien Carabin
3. 3. Frans Claes
4. 4. Alexey Medvedev
5. 5. Joris Massaer
1. 1. Githa Michiels
2. 2. Milena Landtwing
3. 3. Petra Mermans
4. 4. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot
5. 5. Laura Turpijn