With its sawtooth route profile Belgian Mountainbike Challenge (BeMC) is known as one of the toughest events on the calendar. The UCI S1 stage race over 3 days takes place in the beautiful Ardennes region starting in the host town of La Roche en Ardenne. The event attracts many top mountain bike pros and lots of cyclocross riders looking for some summer entertainment.
BeMC has become one of my favourite events on the calendar despite its tough nature. Stage 1 takes place over 84km and 2450m ascent, stage 2 over 100km and 3050m ascent, and stage 3 over 67km and 2300m ascent. The numbers only tell half the story, these trails are steep and rough and with strong competition the pace is high. It’s hard work but a lot of fun, lots of climbing means lots of descents and there’s some real gems to put a smile on your face and bring misery to your overheating brake pads!
Clients enjoying breakfast and discussing the day ahead.
This would be my fourth time racing the event and it’s an amazing experience each year. The event always offers fantastic trails, a great atmosphere, stunning scenery and tasty beer. Ben Thomas Coaching was running its first Race Camp offering clients the opportunity to experience life as a pro and tread the start line with some of the very best mountain bike racers in the world. The client’s experience began early Thursday morning when we loaded up the van and headed for the Eurotunnel. 7 hours later we were in La Roche en Ardenne, the host town of BeMC. It was great to see so many other Brits had made the journey including new mum Sally Bigham who was making her racing comeback.
Client Julian charging through the feed zone
Stage 1 starts from the town centre in La Roche en Ardenne. BeMC isn’t the only battle these cobbled streets have seen with the town suffering severe damage during World War 2. From the start line the race took a 90 degree right to reach the bottom of the first steep ascent of the day, a long tarmac section perfect for stretching out the mass of keen racers before turning offroad. Quickly a large group peeled away including favourites Wout Alleman, Soren Nissen, Frans Claes and Christoph Soukup. I’d also made it into the lead group along with a large contingent of cyclocross racers. The terrain was undulating and the pace was just as erratic, one minute we’d power along at maximal cross country pace and the next minute we’d be soft pedalling. By the fourth and final feed zone there was still 12 of us together, on the next singletrack descent Frans Claes went to the front to launch an attack, the pace finally caused the group to split. I was caught too far back in the group and was stuck behind racers showing a little less confidence on the tricky trails. The group stretched and the riders at the front had a gap. Once the trails opened up we had one more climb before the finish, I was feeling strong and was floating past rider by rider. Plummeting safely down the descent to the finish at the Floreal hotel I crossed the line to take an amazing fourth place behind Soren Nissen, Robbert de Niks and Frans Claes. I was beaming but did wonder if a podium could have been possible if I’d been more confident to be further forward in the group and not have missed the split on that descent. In the women’s race Ariane Luthi took a dominant victory ahead of Christina Kollmann-Forstner and Jovana Crnogorac.