BRM cycling PBP randonneuring

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

type 2 fun
1. An activity that is fun only after you have stopped doing it.

It’s 4 am in the morning and I’m lying down on the front porch of a church deep down in La Wallonie. Why am I here? Who’s stupid idea was it to ride to Orval and back during the night? Why is it still raining? … FUCK.

Since we started organizing brevets with Randonneurs Leuven again it was always the plan to organize a 400k brevet to Orval and back. It was a stupid idea Ewoud and I had a few years ago and we had been working for long on the route. So last Saturday 40 randonneurs were at the start in Den Vetten Os to tackle this monster ride. Starting at 2 PM meant this would be a night ride for most randonneurs (you could, in theory, have a short sleep if you wanted to). Den Vetten Os was buzzing with excitement and a diverse group of randonneurs registered for the ride: some guys were riding there first night ride and 400 brevet, yet others were seasoned randonneurs looking to get a qualifier brevet for Paris – Brest – Paris. With Ewoud having ridden the brevet a week ago I gave a final update on the parcours (Belgian roadworks are pretty epic) before the start and just like that we were off…

Rider briefing just before the start. (Photo by Hendrik)

Within half an hour a fast group formed and they were off for the rest of the ride. It was no surprise to me that Jo was in this group. This Blauwe Chimay powered randonneur is no stranger to riding fast and hard! I settled myself in the wheel of ultra-cyclist and all-around nice guy Kristof Allegaert. With Kristof setting the pace of our little group (Olivier, Hendrik, Irfan, Yorick, …) we were in no time at the first control in Profondeville. The sun was still out and I enjoyed having a coffee on the terrace. More randonneurs arrived and it was great chatting up with familiar faces. It was also great to see some new (happy) faces. I didn’t want to lose much time at the control and we quickly set off again. The route would now take us along the road next to the river Meuse. Not the most fun to ride but with Dinant in sight I know the fun would start. On the banks of the river Meuse, we picked up Christine from Germany.

Cruising next to the river Meuse. (Photo by Olivier)

With the first real climb in Dinant near the Leffe abbey, I knew it was time to start riding my own pace. I did a reconnaissance of the route in February and I remembered all the climbs that were to come. I still managed to keep up with the group when arriving at the summit of the first climb. It was great to see Erwin and Ewoud there doing a secret control. After chatting a bit we set off again and I got dropped by the group and was on my own. My goal was now to get to Palisseul before closing time (9 PM) of the local pizzeria to have some hot food before going into the night. I really enjoyed cycling on my own but black clouds in front of me were worrying me. I checked the weather radar and a rather big thunderstorm was forming just next to the route to come. Although I got lucky with the thunderstorm just passing by, it did start raining. Arriving at the pizzeria around 8:15, Hendrik, Olivier, and Yorick were sitting there, arriving just 10 minutes before me. Olivier managed to sneak in my order with theirs and I was in and out the pizzeria within the hour.

This guy (heart). (Photo by Ewoud)

We all dressed up for the night and I just found my own pace again on the bike. I wondered If I would see any of them again tonight … There were a lot of climbs now but I really enjoyed it. The weather was nice and riding at night is always something special. As the KM’s passed I sometimes saw a tail light of a rider in front of me but I knew I would never catch them again. Just after Mortehan, there was I dreadful climb I remembered from reconnaissance but once over the top, you were rewarded with a lovely descent to the Semois valley. With Florenville in my sights, I knew the halfway point was not far. The sight of red tail lights climbing towards Florenville was amazing and in Florenville I managed to catch up with Yorick at a nightshop. I was surprised by the buzzing nightlife of Florenville.

Florenville in sight. (Photo by Olivier)

The descent towards Orval was really exhilarating and it was great to see Erwin and Ewoud again. To my surprise, Olivier and Hendrik were still there but they quickly set off again. I fuelled up on water, cola and a banana and left for the climb out of Orval. Within 10 meters I got dropped again (no surprise ;-)) and I was on my own. Sadly it started drizzling a little bit and not soon after it was full on rain. It would not stop raining until the morning in Huy. All though it rained it was awesome riding through the forests and the smell of the damp woods was amazing (I guess that’s a bit weird). Just after the grueling stretch of roadworks in Petitvoir, I caught Yorick and Irfan who were fixing a flat. I quickly said hello and kept on moving, I didn’t want to get cold. At around 4 AM fatigue hit me hard. I looked for a nice audax hotel: the front porch of a church was perfect.

I find that after a long day in the saddle, I really enjoy riding at night. The glare of the sun is gone, the wind usually dies down, and the sounds and smells are different.
– Jan Heine (Bicycle Quarterly)

Just woken up after a 5-minute power nap I saw Yorick and Irfan. With the biggest climbs behind us, it was perfect to ride together and watch the sunrise. The amazing views of the misty and damp valley behind us were a reminder of how much it had been raining the hours before. As the KM’s passed we could almost smell the coffee Ed would serve us in Mur Coffee & Cycling. I was really excited when we reached the ravel towards Huy but to my surprise, the descent felt really slow, it almost felt like we were going uphill.

Not sure if I’m falling in love with Ed or just being sleep deprived. (Photo by Yorick)

The warm welcome from Ed who opened up shop at 4 AM to welcome the first rider (who was there around 4 AM) was heart-warming. Throughout the morning Ed had seen randonneurs come and go, some soaked due to the weather while others were sleep deprived. Ed serving us hot coffee, chocolate, and a granola & yogurt breakfast was perfect to kickstart our day. Just when we wanted to set off again I saw that I had a rear flat. I had to change the tire twice so we spend some extra time with Ed. The final 70KM would now take us out of the Meuse valley and back to Leuven via known roads. It was great to finish this ride with Yorick who was riding his first 400KM night brevet. He really impressed me with his strong riding and positive attitude. I’m looking forward to riding the 600KM brevet with him in June.

A final word of thanks to Ed & Bernie from MUR Coffee & Cycling. Thank you for having us and thank you for serving us the best god damn breakfast there is after a 330KM night ride. Thank you Dre from Den Vetten Os for hosting the start and finish again. Thank you Ewoud & Erwin for manning the controls. It was a real morale boost to see you guys and I had a great laugh. Thank you for all the randonneurs who started. I (we) know the ride was hard and I know the night and rain made some poor stretches of asphalt even worse. But … what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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