Belgian Mountainbike Challenge is billed as the toughest bike race in the Benelux but I was left wondering if it’s actually the toughest in the World!? The Ardennes is a famous location for road racing and has a rich history of mountain bike racing with the town of Houffalize hosting the UCI MTB World Cup for many years, it became one of THE legendary venues. For the last 6 years the BeMC stage race has taken place in the town of La Roche en Ardenne and is now attracting the world’s best mountain bikers back to the area. La Roche is a popular tourist destination with outdoor pursuits and historic sights aplenty. The town was hit heavily in WWII with 90% of the town being destroyed and 114 inhabitants being killed, many more were injured.
There are many stages race where you look at the profile and you can break down the route, perhaps you have 2 or even 3 mountains, you get in a rhythm and grind your way up them… ok 1 climb left. You look at the profile of any BeMC stage and you’ll see a jagged saw like profile which will scare any cyclist, perhaps 20 climbs on the route each day! Steep climb, steep descent, steep climb, steep descent, repeat… Rough terrain, technical trails, very little rhythm, not flat, much pain, a real racing battle but so much fun!
The event is a UCI S1 categorized race which helps attract some of the world’s best mountain bikers including World Marathon Champion Tiago Ferreira. Each year the event also attracts a strong contingent of cyclocross riders, this year that list included the 2015 World Champion Mathieu Van Der Poel who’s already proven himself as a class act on the mountain bike. Even Maarten Wynants, pro road cyclist for Lotto NL Jumbo joined the fun after completing the classics season on the road. In the women’s elite race last year’s runner up Jovana Crnogorac, Stefanie Dohrn, Christina Kollmann, Alice Pirard and Hieke Elferink were the favourites. In total 600 riders from 21 countries took the start line ready for 260 kilometres of racing.
It turns out cyclocross riders are very good at mountain biking, when we see mud we brake, when they see mud they speed up! They can climb too. Mathieu Van Der Poel had enough uphill and downhill speed to win stages 1 and 2, and the overall classification. Dutch Cross Country Champion Hans Becking won stage 3. Former winner Sören Nissen rebounded from last year’s disappointment where he suffered illness and material failure at BeMC, this year taking the 2nd step on the podium for the overall. World Marathon Champion Tiago Ferreira and his teammates suffered many punctures over the 3 days but Tiago recovered to an impressive 3rd place overall. Frans Claes and Wout Alleman round out the top 5. In the women's elite race Jovana Crnogorac took the overall victory with a sizeable lead over 2nd place. The next 4 places were tightly contested, the order being Christina Kollmann, Alice Pirard, Bettina Janas and Stefanie Dohrn.
It was my 4th visit to BeMC, it’s a race and area I thoroughly enjoy visiting. I was happy to finish 16th considering the competitive start list and the bad luck that's followed me so far this year. Going into the event I was just hoping to get 3 days of hard marathon racing in my legs, I felt surprisingly good considering I’d trained so hard in the days and weeks leading into the race. To achieve the result and get some UCI world ranking is more than I’d hoped for.
As a cycling coach I find myself recommending events to clients, Matt who I’ve been coaching since late last year decided that with his Transalp partner Duncan they would join me on the trip and race BeMC as part of their preparation. It was great fun having the 2 of them along and seeing the enthusiasm they both have. This was only Matt’s second mountain bike stage race. Duncan is an experienced road racer but had never ridden or raced offroad like this before. Hopefully we’ll all be back in La Roche en Ardenne next year.