Strada Campina. Riding De Kempen
Strada Campina meant a welcome return trip to Belgium for some gravel cycling. The event promised four different length routes through De Kempen, an incredibly diverse area east of Antwerp made up of fenland (Turnhouts Vennengebied), heathland, land dunes (Mol-Geel Bel) and hilly woodlands (Averbode).
The routes were planned by local riders from XC Bikers and it showed, local knowledge meant that there was some seriously enjoyable riding to be had. With two feed stations providing coffee, waffles and other assorted goodies, the riding was relaxed although, even with a GPS you had to be on the lookout for several unexpected turns taking you off road and along unmarked single track. The event was kept small on purpose, with around 100 riders taking part and with a staggered start time it meant that the groups were small.
There’s something special about riding gravel in Belgium especially when the suns out and you’re riding in good company. The longest ride at 157km was made up of gravel, stretches of single track through forest, alongside canals and small roads with the occasional stretch of sand interspersed with some slightly more technical MTB runs. The only problem I and several other riders had was our choice of tyres and handling on some of the more sandy stretches. My usual choice of Schwalbe G1s are fantastic on gravel and hardpack but as soon as you hit sand they become pretty unpredictable.
Great weather and a sensible start time made for a fantastic ride. Starting and ending at Cafe Barzoen in the small town of Turnhout meant that you could start coffee fuelled and end with a Belgian Beer or two. Highlights of the ride were the country side, weather, company and stopping for ice cream at the Averbode Abbey - apparently the best place to get ice cream in Belgium.
Looking forward to Strada Campina 2019.