Handemade Steel Mountain Bikes

May 2011

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Euro XC

For those not in the know, there’s XC racing…and then there’s Euro XC racing.  It’s kind of like, there’s pop music, and then there’s euro pop music.  So yeah, lots more hair gel.  Right now the euros are dominating the latest version of XC racing that the UCI has distilled from its original form.  You can 29″ and riser bar and single speed all you want, but the fastest guys on the planet are still riding 26″ wheels, bar ends, silly tires, and frames made of carbonium.  And a handful of those racers recently assembled in the south of Belgium to do battle.  And Bronto was there.

Euro XC Bronto

In fact, Bronto was racing!  Our local pro Ben Berden is spending the summer getting in shape by doing Belgian mtb races.  If you think that Belgian mtb races are like cross races without the mud…well you’re basically right.  Especially with the retarded service pit in the middle.  Boy, when I used to race…  But yeah, these guys go real fast.  Olympic champion Julien Absalon, World Champion Jose Hermida, and a whole bunch of really speedy leg shavers from Belgium, Holland, and elsewhere lined up to do battle with Ben.  Even the Kazakhstan national team was there.  And the Australian champion.  In short…it was going to be a tough day.

World champ warming up.

Ben lined up and ready to rock and roll

Kazakhstan!!

Since it was his first race of the year, Ben lined up way in the back.  Between the gun and the first descent, he had clawed up to the middle of the pack.  Very respectable. The descent was however plain stupid, just running straight down a very  steep and loose hill.  I guess it was good for the spectators.  Lots of really good crashes.

Yes. People were walking down the descent.

whoops

a lot of this

Anyway, Ben continued to do battle, until a broken chain did him in.  So Bronto went to the beer tent.  And then for a bike ride.  But it was pretty cool to see Bronto doing battle with the world’s best.  Next up – Belgacom cup race in Averbode.  Flat.  Sandy.  Euro.

a lot of these in the race

The European single speed championships were recently held in sunny Belgium, on a fine weekend deep in the heart of Wallonie.  Single Speed Belgique, a group of francophone single speeders, put on a pretty fantastic event that attracted the usual single speeding riff raff from all over the continent, and even a few from the US.  Yes, it was a beautifully orchestrated chaos.  The race promoted, Bruno, had his shiny new Blue Bronto there to show off.  It glistened in the sun.

Bronto was a sponsor and showed up just in time for the after-party.  Yes, for reasons we won’t get into here, we missed the actual “race” part of the weekend (who puts races on Saturday?? seriously).  But that’s ok because the ever-important drinking that followed was really important.

There was a crazy Belgian band, the Blind Horses, no shortage of Belgian beer, and good times had by all.  I was instructed to look for a certain Mike Yarnall who rode in only white briefs.  Alas, he had passed out before dinner.  Weak americans.  Compatriots Gary and Josh stood tall in his absence though.

mike yarnall - champion drinker

Fast forward to next day.  Taking down camp and also a 30km fun ride with a Belgian lunch in the middle.  Many of you think Belgium is flat.  You are mostly right.  But down in the south they have some hills.  Mean, nasty hills that laugh at you.  Luckily for me, I hadn’t just finished a race the day before, so I felt better than the guy who had passed out at 8:30 the night before.

So we rode up and down hills.  The Bronto rode tough, as always.  It was a gorgeous day, views of little Belgian villages and fields of yellow flowers.  At about the 2/3 point, we entered an old castle-type coutyard and sat down for some more beer and cheesy bread.  Mmmm…cheesy bread…..

And then pedaled the last 10km back to camp, packed up and hup! hit the road to find the nearest frituur.  Yes, good riding and good times with good friends.  Congrats to Bruno and the SSBE crew for putting on a fantstic event.  Next year they say it’s in the south of France.  I guess that means we’ll be bringing beer with us.

Belgium is not the best country in the world for mountain biking (although it is better than the Netherlands!), but it is a pretty special place when it comes to road biking.  Road racing is the #1 sport here and there is a very high level of participation amongst the general Belgian population.  And every April, that all comes to a sort of climax when the most important one-day bike races take place in or around its borders.  And since April usually means huge volumes of mud on the trail, we take that opportuntiy to do some pretty cool road riding.

First up these days of the major races is the Gent-Wevelgem.  This was our first time to ride the course (myself and Bronto racer Peter T).  The GW is pretty famous for having some terrible climbs like the Kemmelberg, but in fact, it’s 80-90% flat as flat.  You basically ride for a long time on really flat roads, then do 5-6 climbs (that are reasonably terrible), and then a bunch more flat riding until the finish.  But, this corner of West Flanders is seldom visited and has character.  And the Saint Sixtus abbey is only 20 minutes away, so I decided to go pick up a case of beer.  Satisfaction.

Peter T rocks the Kemmelberg

The focal point of the Flemish sports calendar is the Tour of Flanders.  The bergs.  The cobbles.  The history.  The beer.  Yeah, it’s a good time.  There is an organized ride the day before – this year it was above 70/23 degrees and that meant hordes of people – more than 20,000.  This made it quite difficult to ride up the more narrow, steep climbs such as the Paterberg and Koppenberg, but still a good day out.  A good day out followed by fries and beer.

more climbing on cobbles

Paris-Roubaix is not so much fun to ride so I took that weekend to go do the main Liege-Bastogne-Liege climbs – the Cote du Wanne, the Stockeu, the Rosier, La Redoute.  LBL is the oldest major professional road race and it’s basically endless, undulating climbs.  All of these classics have so much character but LBL feels the most like a real bicycle race.  Each of the climb takes on a different personality (damn you Stockeu!) as you roll along.

Top of the Cote du Wanne - terrible climb!

And while we skipped Fleche-Wallone this year, Peter, Stijn, Sarah and myself rolled out to Valkenberg in the Netherlands to ride 150 glorious kilometers of the Amstel Gold.  Perhaps the most fun ride of the season.  Keutenberg, you dirty little bitch!  I had a borrowed bike courtesy of www.velosdeluxe.be and the owner Michael had put 27mm tires on.  Not cool!  But we rolled anyway.

hell

Road bikes and beer and Belgium, they all go together so well.  Now it’s back to mountain biking – European single speed championships here in BE, 24hr of Finale in Italy perhaps….but we’ll be doing some more Belgie road rides come next April.