Winter has been very long this year and everyone is looking forward to some quality time on two wheels. This longing brought a group of about 30 riders to the Belgian Ardennes, for an event called The Blast. Two and a half days of enduro riding with 8 timed specials along the way, while staying all together in a nice accommodation.
On Thursday evening the riders arrived at Guesthouse Les Etables in the hills next to Houffalize. After picking a room and putting the bikes in the garage, it was time to grab a Belgian beer and get to know the other riders at the campfire. Some people knew eachother, most didn’t, but soon enough old stories of killer trails and tech talk filled the air over the campfire.
Although there was a fresh 5cm of the white stuff covering the trails in the morning, everyone was excited as a child on Christmas eve. After a big breakfast, short briefing and handing out of the maps, it was almost time to start riding!
First everyone had to attach their new ‘numberplate’ to the bike. Real numberplates are way to serious for ‘The Blast”, so instead everyone gets a nickname! Much more fun right?
Special 1 was a nice warmup, with a pedally start and technical finish. The thin layer of snow made it even more interesting.
With everyone warm and awake, it was time for the ride to SP2, which was the largely on a Belgian DH race track. Jumps, berms and roots filled SP2 and was clearly a place for the technically skilled riders to get ahead of the pack.
All riders made it down in one piece, and it was off to SP3. As with any good Enduro day out, even the liason’s were fun to ride!
SP3 of the first day started out with some nice tight switchbacks before opening up to a speed section in between the trees. A short climb to reach the finishline brought out the lactic acid and showed who was fit, and who should spend some time in the saddle!
With the last special of the day done, it was time to head home, clean the bikes and hit the showers. Dinner was served and everbody had big trouble deciding which of the three different kinds of pasta was the best. One thing we could all agree on was that the home made banana pudding pie tasted DELICIOUS!
As in each respectable bike race, the leader should be recognizable. Usually it takes the form of a yellow, green or blue jersey, but with The Blast we do things differently. Last year we had our leaders Mustache, and this year we decided to go for a leaders Clowns nose to cheer things up.
For day 2 the weathergods were a bit nicer. No fresh snow, and the occasional ray of sunlight made the riding even better. Again on the program was about 40km of mainly offroad trails, with 3 timed specials thrown in for good fun. SP1 was called “Swamp”, and it soon became clear why. About 100m into the stage the trail and the small stream next to it merged, and had you plowing through wet splashy mud! After the mudbath, rocks and roots took over for some pure singletrack bliss with the occasional ‘off camber rooost corner’.
After aboout 25km’s in the saddle and a on the route lunch, it was time for SP2; a good 3 minute mix of everything good nature has to offer. Starting out on forest fire roads, making the legs burn while picking up speed.
Then a sharp right sends you down the singletrack which gets steeper and twistier before making a hard left onto the main hike trail. This flows right next to the river the Ourthe, with the occasional jump and rock section before you reach the finish. The steep section caught some riders off guard, and had them hug a tree or inspect the top soil for a moment.
When moving on to SP3, it looked like a Gnome tried to be funny, as some signs were missing on the route. Although most people ended up in the right spot, some didn’t and the organization decided to skip SP3 from the overall results. Everyone did end up safely back at the accommodation, ready to hit the jaccuzzi or sauna after a day in the saddle. After dinner, it was time to check some of the footage on the beamer, with a cold beer or hot cup of coffee.
Time flies when you are having fun! It was Sunday already, and that meant only half a day of riding to go. With 2 stages left to determine who takes the overall win, it was going to be a tight battle between the top 3 this year. Bas “Stifler” van Son was challenging Maichel “Chewbacca” Lemmens on every stage for the number 2 spot. Arno “Atreyu” de Ruyver was in the lead since day 1, but still had to keep it wide open to stay ahead.
Stifler absolutely smashed it on SP1, creating a lead of 5 seconds on Atreyu and Chewbacca. The lead was however short lived. Messing up some sections on SP3, Stifler had to settle for 3rd. Atreyu really had the flow on the tricky roots section on SP2, and won with a whooping 11 second lead on number 2 Chewbacca.
After a short ride back to the guesthouse, it was time for lunch and the prize ceremony. The kind people at Kona bicycles, Pedro’s, MAXXIS, IXS, Dakine and FiveTen gave us a bunch of cool prizes for the riders to take home.
There are some spots left for The Blast #2 in the Italian Aosta Valley! Click here for dates and more info!
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