After months of faithfully riding through the harsh Belgian winter, every year comes eight days of sharing and celebrating the region and roads that I love so much.
“The hArdennes Week”.
I missed it so much last year, as Covid took over our lives.
I might have to miss the riders again this year, but I was not going to miss the rides themselves in 2021.
It had been snowing on and off for the two weeks leading up to the Amstel Gold Race weekend, which always kicks “hArdennes” into life.
It was ridiculous.
Unusually not just cold, truly freezing!
I was anxious.
Riding in a group and with a support van helps each of us deal with the uncomfortable moments when we might end up doubting why we chose to do this.
But to leave a warm house at dawn on your own and spend all day fighting the challenge of the elements is something I can do on my own for a day, even two.
But a whole week?
Once again I got lucky though.
I just had to do a daily deal with The Outside: survive the first two hours (at least) of the day at well sub-zero temperatures and I got my ticket for a gloriously bright but always chilly day from then on.
I had some very welcome company for four of the eight days.
Experienced riders who knew how to pace themselves on this terrain.
Those who have ridden here all agree with me when I say that 5000m of climbing here is ‘worth’ 6000m in the Alps.
The Ardennes remain a truly beautiful place to ride your bike and touch the magic of the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege for yourself.
I missed the camaraderie created within the groups I have shared these roads with for the 12 years.
The beaming faces at the end of our rides.
But I’m already planning the routes for 2022, when finally those signed up of 2020 will be able to fulfil their own dreams.
Until then, I’ll keep on trying to find new climbs and new ways of combining these roads I know so well, in search of The Perfect Ride.
Phil Deeker, April 2021.
Saturday 17th to Saturday 24th April:
Day One (Aiming for Amstel) 198 kms/3650m
Day Two (Eiffel Big Wild) 202kms / 2900m
Day Three ( Malmedy Madness) 171kms / 4000m
Day Four ( Fleche Wallonne +) 235 kms / 4500m
Day Five ( FW Race Day ) 149kms / 2900m
Day Six ( Forests) 170kms / 3500m
Day Seven ( LBL ++, incl all the LBL climbs and much more) 261kms / 6050m
Day Eight ( The Condroz Walls, incl five walls each with 24-26%) 258kms / 4900m
All images by Jered Gruber, Gruber Images.