Dragging myself out of bed at 4:30, I reminded myself that I chose to ride a brevet today. I had spent the evening before preparing the stead for a 10 hour+ sortie: mounting my handlebar bag, swapping garmin mounts and repositioning my front light (due to the handlebar bag). As a result, I could now comfortably carry lunch and a bunch of snacks for the next day’s ride. Unfortunately, my procrastinating meant a short 5 hour night. Combined with a lack of any serious training, I was feeling ambivalent on Saturday morning: excited about the ride, but doubtful about my fitness and a lingering foot injury.
8:00 Morkhoven, the start
Getting me to the start on time was the 5:20 train from Gent to Leuven where I hopped on a train to Aarschot. The early morning train was shared with party goers returning to Leuven from a night out and travelers on their way to Brussels airport. From Aarschot it was a 15k ride to Morkhoven. The pre-dawn ride was rewarded with a beautiful coloring of the horizon in hues of red and yellow. Already I could feel the strong wind propelling me along the former railway track between Aarschot and Herentals. The wind and former railway tracks would be recurrent themes throughout the day. Surprised by the high number of riders that showed up at the start, I was happy to be on time for registration. Jan’s experience in organizing brevets showed as he swiftly processed the queue of waiting riders. He also kindly provided coffee, waffles and eastern eggs!
Setting off at 8am, I – against better judgement – tried following the fast group. But I quickly came to my senses and continued along my own pace. My poor physical fitness meant proper pacing was to be key for a successful ride. The strong tailwinds suggested the second half would be tough, so I tried to conserve my energy during the first 100k. After an hour or so I was picked up by a small peloton of riders with whom I continued until the first control at Cafe Vini’s in Houthalen (52km). The first quarter of the brevet passed along the abbey of Averbode and through lots of heathlands.
After a waffle and a quick drink I continued solo from Vini’s, but was soon picked up by the same group. The wind was still firmly in our backs as we were flying towards the Dutch border. In the group, a tall rider was hanging in the back with an inoperable front mech, forcing him on the small cog in the rear. Near Genk I decided to drop from the group as the pace was a tad too high. After Genk the route ran through forests, a delight for cycling.
Just before the Dutch border the route suddenly changed direction to the south for a few kilometers where I briefly encountered what was to follow on the way back: gusting winds which would blow you of the road unless you were firmly gripping the bars. I was relieved when the route continued east again, where a ferry carried us over the Maas river into the Netherlands. From here it was only 15 km to the second control. Limbricht, a small town in Zuid Limburg, was ready for carnaval with many colorful flags and the Dutch in colorful outfits on their bikes to the festivities. The second control was at cafe de verborge uul, close to Sittard.
Control 2: onion soup!
There was a large group of riders at the second control, where everyone huddled inside to find some protection from the wind. Outside I noticed the blue velo mobiel that had whizzed passed me two hours prior, was already there. The staff was swamped by the hungry randonneurs, who were eager to be on their way again. I ordered onion soup and a coke, which took a while to arrive but were a great treat. Together with my packed lunch, I felt adequately fueled for the second half. When I left it was 13h15. An hour had passed: not a very efficient control.
My speed took a nose dive after the second control, facing the head winds forced my average down to 22kph. Fortunately the wooded areas around Genk provided some protection from the wind. The onion soup occasionally stirred in my stomach, reminding me that maybe it isn’t the best endurance food. Some riders passed me, but I couldn’t hold on to a wheel. Instead, I continued at my own pace. I thought of the five days of headwind in Turkmenistan, only now the temperature was a comfortable 10*C and there wasn’t any sand trying to get into my orifices. Breaking up the 100k into smaller, manageable chunks is a good method to cope with difficult sections so I split it up in 25k laps.
Before long I was back at Vini’s for the third control (158km, 15:53). I promptly ordered a coke and a chocolate milk and ate some dates and a sandwich. Here I met with the velomobiel rider (I don’t recall your name, sorry!), which surprised me considering his high speed when he overtook me earlier. He looked rather out of place in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey (it gets rather warm in such an aerodynamic contraption). I learned his spouse had sent him on a shopping errant for some fine German produce: breads and pastries. Such a velo mobiel contains ample storage space and you don’t notice an extra 10 kg so much (when it’s flat!). They have actually done away with their automobile and switched to bikes. Kudos to them!
During the last quarter of the ride, the wind turned south and died down as night began to fall. I was surprised that my right foot wasn’t giving me any issues whatsoever. Unfortunately the back of my left knee started to flare up. As long as I was pedaling it felt okay. But as soon as I restarted pedaling after a short break I’d feel a flaring pain in one of the calf muscle tendons that attaches to the knee. The pain would die down after a few seconds of pedaling. I tried stretching, but it didn’t help much. I had brought plenty of ibuprofen, but decided to take those on the train ride home. Instead I tried to listen to my body, but I couldn’t do much more than endure the pain, avoid stopping and reduce my power output. I later read that anterior knee issues can be due to a saddle that is too high, something to consider for the next ride.
I arrived back at the start under a light drizzle, the finish however was at a cafe nearby. Five minutes later I handed my control card to Jan in café De Snelle Duif. I quickly drank something before rushing to Herentals station for the 19:30 train home. I finished the brevet in 11 hours. Not my fastest time but a time I am happy with nevertheless.
- Distance 210.48km
- Moving time 8:27:05
- Elapsed Time 10:46:14
- Moving speed 24.9km/h
- Average speed 19.6km/h
- Elevation 697m
- Temperature 7℃
- randonneurs.be calender entry