Dirty Boar '19. Gravel, sweat and biers
Alarm goes off at 5.00 although I’ve been awake on and off for the last hour. It’s been raining all night, forecasted and not unexpected even though the day before was hot and dry. Typical Belgian weather. Still dark, time for a coffee and breakfast, wake the others and a final check that everything is in the frame bag. Pump, inner tube, sealant, tools - check. GPS unit charged and with the correct maps, check. Just after 5.30 and we’re off, still dark we make our way to Ovifat from our base in Stavelot. 30 minutes later and we’ve stopped at the red light on the dam just before you get to Robertville. We’re entering Dirty Boar country.
Arriving at Ovifat we’re guided into the temporary car park, Lots of gravelista’s prepping their bikes and making their way to the start. There’s light rain and the darkness is receding. The air’s filled with anticipation and good humour, time for a final bike check and some coffee whilst checking out the variety of bikes - there’s a lot of XC hard tails, some full suspension bikes but mostly gravel bikes. Funnily enough there’s only one single speed, belonging to Jim who drove down with me, it’s his first Dirty Boar but coming from Yorkshire he’s used to hills.
We’re called to the start. Due to the amount of riders and to prevent a queue at the end of the road we set off in stages. And we’re off, there’s no point in racing, just find your rhythm and get settled in. All around there’s the squealing of disc brakes, the first km is on the road, then a sharp turnoff with a slight downhill and we hit the first gravel section. Unlike last year there’s no queue at the first big puddle, Jim speeds off, he’s hoping for a good time and that’s the last I see of him*.
* Bugger came 28th overall :)
The terrain is mixed, lots of gravel, wet from the rain. It’s getting lighter but still raining, luckily it's not too cold. The groups start too thin out as we ride through the mist laden landscape of the Haute Fagnes. As with any gravel race we pass plenty of tyre casualties, at the back of your mind you’re thinking lucky it’s not me. Fast single track, gravel sections and some asphalt, lots of mud. Jade who I’m cycling with is spotless thanks to her mudguards, me and pretty much everyone else is covered in mud. The light rain stops and we hit the first of many fast downhill sections interspersed with some climbs through the Eupen forests.
Finally we hit the first feed station under a towering wind turbine but not before being held up by a herd of cows being walked down the road. Grabbing some sugar laden waffles we’re off again. The rain has stopped, temperature is warm but the skies still grey. The riding’s fast, again lots of mixed terrain, more down hill sections to bomb down and some pretty steep climbs. The groups have definitely thinned out and we’re starting to pass and get passed by the same riders. We hit our first German town, the one with the small single track down hill with a tight turn down some steps. Screeching of brakes and exclamations from riders not expecting it. There’s some single track forest sections interspersed with climbs, the riding is varied enough to keep you on your toes.
The second feed station, mud covered faces, everyone with big grins. Top up with water and more sugar waffles, there’s still a bunch more riding to do. Over the dam and another climb and we’re back in the forest. There’s more light rain and the legs are starting to feel it, over half the ride’s been done but all I can think about is how much elevation is ahead especially that last winding climb up to Ovifat. I follow Jade up a climb as she passes groups of riders clocking her choice of bike - It's the one she tours with, steel with 30mm tyres and those mudguards that are doing their job - a large rack on the from for her water bottle and tool bag. Another queue as we wait for another group of cows to clear the road and we’re off again. I pass another Fairlight rider and say 'nice bike’, I ‘d clocked three by the end of the ride. We’re back in the Haute Fagnes and the terrain is staring to look familiar, not much further now.
The last feed station and there’s macaroni, cheese and hot dog sausages. Only 20 or so miles to go but now at the forefront of my mind that last section through the forest with some gnarly off-road tree rooted single track, a couple of river crossings and that final climb. At least it’s stopped raining and the sun’s out. Back on the bike and it’s one final road section and then back into the forest and a long climb, I can see the riders up ahead snaking their way up and over the hill. We keep passing the same XC rider - we’re better on the climbs but she passes us on the down hill sections. More single track and then the first of five river crossings, this is where it gets interesting,. Some passing walkers cheer us on as we cycle through a gavel strewn river bed and then we hit that climb, the one that sucks the last bit of energy out of your legs We’re riding alongside the XC rider but Jade’s had enough and decides to go for it and leaves us both behind.Slowly grinding up the climb, one last tight bend and then it’s the final bit of single track up past the ski slope. It’s easier than I remember it to be but by this time my legs have completely gone. I grit my teeth and just go for it, thinking of the bier and frites at the finish line. One last corner, that final section of asphalt and that’s the Dirty Boar done. Both my bike and I are covered in a fine layer of mud, legs aching but with a smile on my face. Back next year? Definitely!