Dirty Boar. A tale of gravel, bier en frites
An early start to catch the Eurotunnel, followed by a wet drive through Belgium got us to the small town of Waimes in the early afternoon. My experience of Belgium is the flattish Flanders so I was surprised at the appearance of hills as we neared our destination. Even more so when we made our way to the registration point at Le Schuss, Ovifat; a restaurant at the top of a ski slope. Who'd have thought, you can ski in Belgium.
We were here for the first Dirty Boar. A 170km gravel ride inspired in part by the Dirty Kanza and Dirty Reiver rides. The route was to take us through Le Parc Naturel Hautes Fagnes, a natural reserve nested on the eastern border of Belgium and Germany near to Liege.
At registration we were met by the ever so friendly organisers. "You’re one of the stupids" joked one of them. Looking out side it seemed that we were, it was pouring with rain which didn’t stop all night.
A second early start saw us driving through single lane country roads back to Ovifat for the planned 7.00am group start. This time the registration point was teeming with cyclists, around 350 in total on an assortment of bikes, road, MTB, gravel and the odd single speed. Damp, misty and still raining there was a sense of anticipation for the 170km that was to follow. Bike out of the car, wheels on and one final check. I made it into the third group to leave. Round the back of the Le Schuss, a starters jostle along a single track path followed by a road descent and then a right onto the first stretch of gravel. The Dirty Boar was on.
Already passing unlucky riders tending flats, the first part of the route took us through the Signal de Botrange, the highest point in Belgium (694m) and part of the Hautes Fagnes (High Fens) towards the German border. A mix of gravel, forest track and plenty of mud made for some concentrated riding, first check of my distance and I'd only covered 10 miles, it seemed like a lot more. With another 90 to go it was head down and enjoy the ride. The initial groups thinned out into smaller groups and the occasional single rider, who despite the rain and mud seemed to be enjoying the ride.
Hitting the first checkpoint meant a quick refuel on energy bars and fresh filled bidons. Everyone was in a good mood despite the weather and the mud. More gravel punctuated by small roads and the occasional village. A couple of smallish climbs took us through some great wooded areas, past lakes and across dams - some great countryside and mentally bookmarked for a return visit. A long descent past the first group of riders who were coming back up took us along a large dam to the second checkpoint. By now the sun was threatening to show itself through the grey clouds and the rain felt like it was lessening off.
An interesting section took us through the small town of Vicht a fairly steep hill and then criss-crossing a train line through heavily wooded areas this being the only part of the ride that wasn’t that well signposted with the now familiar blue and yellow Dirty Boar way markers. More gravel and now caked in mud the second feed station was a welcome stop, well stocked with the essentials; bananas, energy bars, water, and a mountain of Nutella sandwiches.
The large groups had thinned out, leaving bigger gaps between groups and solo riders. Joined by a Belgian who's Garmin battery had died, there was a pick-up in pace. The next stretch was fairly easy riding, perhaps intended to lull you into a false sense of security for the final part of the ride. A smooth downhill along a road took us to the third checkpoint and feed station with around 20miles left of the route and what a final section it was. Forest track where the path just disappeared meant carrying the bike for the first time unless you were crazy enough to try cycling through mud and over large rocks and tree roots. A fairly gnarly section criss-crossing a small river with short bursts of riding interspersed with having to carry the bike across small single path wooden bridges meant for a truly exhilarating and possibly the most fun part of the ride. Then back on to the road and one final climb up and around the ski-slope back into Le Schuss. The Dirty Boar had been ridden.
Caked in mud, wet and having thoroughly enjoyed the ride it was great get to the finish line. Even better was the bier (Brasserie La Binchoise’s 9% La Redoutable) and frites on hand for the finishers. Kudos has go to go to the organisers VZW de Vettige SWA; a friendly race and a well designed route through some great country side.
Rain, mud, bier and frites - a true Belgian experience and one I’ll definitely be back for in 2018.