To celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, we had 2 options:
- To head up to Fort William for the WEMBO event followed by a trip to the McNeill ancestral home, Barra in the outer Hebrides or
- A week in Belgium riding our bikes & drinking beer followed by a 24 hour mtb race in the Netherlands
We decided on the second option as it was more fun & a chance to catch up with old friends.
After a great week’s holiday (more details to follow), we headed up to Nuenen to face ‘the Gubergen’ for the 3rd year running. Everyone assumes that the Netherlands is a flat country but due to beautification of a landfill site, the Gulbergen soars 70m into the sky!
The logistics faced by the organisers to put on a 1st class mtb race are quite large as the venue is split by the Eindhoven canal and requires the annual construction of a bridge to allow racers access into the woods on the opposite side of the water.
This year, the course through the woods ran in the opposite direction to previous years and this was made possible by the construction of another bridge with a tunnel allowing a figure of 8 course to be created.
After we arrived, we were guided to our campsite which was number 25. We quickly put up the tent as rain was forecast for the evening. Right on time, the rain arrived and rather spoiled the evening’s socialising, but it did ensure that we had an early night.
A heavy mist hung in the air in the morning but it gradually burnt back to reward us with sunshine by the start of the race. The 1pm start ensured that we had plenty of time to digest an English-style breakfast. During the morning we were able to catch up with friends and freak people out with the fat bikes.
There were 2 race options, 6 or 24 hours and both races started together. There were 700 racers in total. Just before the start, Roy and I were presented with a large bouquet of flowers by the race organisers in honour of our 25 years of marriage.
The course started with the climb up the Gulbergen followed immediately by the descent down switchbacks down the other side. A short steep climb was followed by a fast descent down a gravel road. I knew there was a reason I had practiced the fire road descent through Redland woods on the edge of Leith hill as I managed a top speeds of 40+ kph each time I headed down. Once through the edge of the campground, it was through the tunnel & over the canal. The woods were fast & furious and the extensive single track was better when run in this direction. My biggest disappointment was that there was only a 50m section of beach as we entered the holiday village part way around. The second section of woods was more loamy and sucked at the 4 inch tyres on the fat bike. All too soon, the course popped out of the woods, ran along the side of the canal before crossing the 2 bridges and arrived back into the transition/start area.
At the end of the 1st lap, I missed the transition turn in – I was just too excited! I gave Roy the transponder bottle and a kiss, & he headed out for his 1st lap resplendent in his kilt and riding Fatso.
We weren’t the only fat bikes there as Ives Van Woensel had collected his brand new Trek Farley on the way to the race. He was also smiling alot!
Riding as a pair is not easy as you tend not to get much rest. We opted to alternate laps rather than double or even triple lapping – that could come later. Ours weren’t the fastest lap times, but 24 hours is a long time.
There is an awesome route deviation that is put into the course as the evening arrives – to race through the building where the bar is.
We fully intended to ride for the full 24 hours, but as the night drew in and the temperature plummeted, our bodies started to scream out for some rest. By the time we decided to get a couple of hours of sleep, all of my body was painful to the touch. As we had done 24 laps, it seemed only fitting that we should complete 25 before stopping. I headed out on lap 25 and arrived in the bar where Roy was waiting with a beer. I took a swig, kissed Roy & headed back out into the night.
We started again just before dawn and, as Roy headed out on his lap, I changed onto my 29+ wheels. We had decided to do a few laps on my bike with that set-up. We certainly got some ‘what are they doing’ looks in transition as it was done with an allen key to adjust the seat height. Roy’s comment as he went passed the campsite on his 1st lap on the 29+ was “That explains why you’re so fast” – I think he was impressed.
Our last 2 laps were both done in full fat bike trim again and in order to let me do the ‘honour’ lap, I had to do 3 out of the last 4 laps.
I love the way they finish races on the Continent – it is all about the team. As you complete the lap, team mates are waiting to join you and you ride across the finish together. I lurked on the wrong side of the canal until I was certain the time was up & rode over the bridges to meet up with Roy. OK so I cycled right passed him but I stopped to let him catch up. In true beerbabe/beerbiker style, we popped the tops of a couple of bottles of Hommel beer & toasted the end of the race. Everyone was cheering and we got on the local TV for our antics.
On a sad note, we were also able to toast the memory of a friend from the Café Schafrath cycle team who tragically lost his life earlier this year. The team cycled over the finish holding a large photo of him on his bike – it was a very moving moment.
Although we had hoped for more laps, we completed 36, with a total distance of 290km. One of these days we’ll crack the 400km!
Once again, we were made to feel really welcome by everyone, but huge thanks have to go to the organisers for putting on a brilliant event.
Roll on next year - we’ll be back.
And just in case I've not put you to sleep just yet, here are some other photos to look at (photo credits: Connie Sinteur)