From the 13th-15th May is the 5th edition of the BeMC. 5 years ago, the BeMC started out as the brainchild of Koenraad Vanschoren and Thomas Vercaemst, 2 strong mountain bikers who wanted to create the hardest mountain bike tour in the Benelux. With a number of single day marathons in the country and the increasing popularity of multi day races they saw an opportunity to put on an exhilarating stage race across their favourite trails. Don't be fooled by the single day road race classics that Belgium is relatively flat, this is 3 days of some tough riding, the hills are relentless, the pace is high and with little in the way of 'free' kms, the legs will be left reeling by the end, but the BeMC has all the ingredients of a top notch event, tree lined trails, plenty of singletrack, epic scenery and a super friendly atmosphere.
The rider cap of 250 riders for that first event sold out in a just a few weeks. With an entry number of nearly triple that its popularity is such that it now sells out in a few days. Word has got around Europe too with riders coming from all over attracting a high level of competition, especially as the BeMC is now ranked as an XCS S1 race. Such is the success and popularity of this event, that the BeMC is now partnered with other world class stage races; The 4 day Alpen Tour Trophy (Austria), the world's oldest stage race, the 8 day Crocodile Trophy (Australia) and the 6 day Swiss Epic (Switzerland).
Within easy driving reach of the UK, a good number of Brits are heading out this year. For some of them it is their first time, for others a return visit, for me I have raced it every year. It is fast, fun and exhilarating, the trails flow through the trees, through small villages, constantly up and down, some rocky and technical with a real sting in the tail at the end of each stage and a fast run into the finish. There is the infamous 'Wall of Borzée' a climb which becomes increasingly steep and loose, and is always one of those 'did you make it all the way up?' conversations! Last year stage 3 took us up twice. You had to laugh or you cried! It isn't all just hard work (but mostly it is!), part of the route heads onto Houffalize for a bit of fun around the xc course as well down part of the local DH course.
Watch out for Tim Dunford, Ben Thomas and Scott Mccarron mixing it up in the Men's Elite. In the female elite, Sally Bigham is heading out for the first time, following on from her recent won at the Roc d'Ardenne marathon at Houffalize, down the road from BeMC's HQ in La Roche en Ardennes, as well as Melanie Alexander and Charlotte Davies. Should be some close racing! Myself (M40), Ian Chapman, Derek Wilson (M40), Graham Pinkney, Casper Kaars Sijpestijn and Sean Elkington complete the UK entrants.
This is Europe though and the weather isn't guaranteed! You can be racing through a haze of dust (which it has been for 4 out of 5 editions) or slogging it through muddy trails, but we are used to that right?! Whatever the weather, it is an exhilarating event with a friendly atmosphere. I was made very welcome at that 1st edition and that feeling has carried through all editions. It is a French speaking part of the country, but don't worry if you don't speak the lingo as most of the Belgians have a firm grasp of English!
Even though it begins on a Friday, stage 1 is the shortest at 67km (but still with 2200m+) and starts at a leisurely midday so no rush to get there for Thursday night. Stage 2 lengthens to 95km with 2350m+ and stage 3 packs a punch with over 3000m+ for 100km just to make sure that you go home with satisfactorily tired legs.
Everything is based out of the local hotel or there is a choice of self catering accommodation on site or close by. The town of La Roche en Ardennes is within easy walking distance for a sumptuous choice of food and post race patisserie shops. The hotel offers a range of ice cold Belgian beers to be enjoyed in the garden at the river's edge. With each entry there are 3 drinks tokens, to be exchanged for any drink of your choice. Logistics wise, for us Brits it is a straight forward 3 1/2 drive drive from the French ferry terminal.
For a €175 (or €155 early bird) entry fee, you get a whole lot of superb racing and atmosphere. Perhaps stay a few days afterwards to enjoy the local area.
Latest news is that Specialized will be the official and exclusive Tech Partner for this year's BeMC. Small repairs will be offered to all participants, while bigger repairs and spare parts are offered at cost. Specialized will be present both on the road in the tech and feed station and at the start and finish.
Also new is the daily Specialized Climbing Time Trail. In every stage a climb will be timed. The fastest man and woman in both the BeMC UCI and the BeMC Open will receive some great prizes.
More info at BeMC