The Ride Ardennes
Believe it or not, it all started two years ago. Back then, I was cycling with Marijn de Vries and a bunch of other girls in the Spanish Girona. It was my first ever cycling trip in the hilly area, since I bought my first race bike few months earlier. It was an unforgettable adventure with beautiful views and some good lessons learned (like the fact that I should use both front and back brakes, although my father always told me not to use the front one on a city bike, when I was a child). Hard to say what was the best moment of that trip, but meeting other girls on bikes from Netherlands, UK and even US was definitely a pleasure. Some of us were more advanced cyclists, some beginners, tall, short, younger and older and we spoke different languages, but it felt so good to be there together and share the Spanish roads. From the discussions, I knew some of the girls were preparing for “The Ride”.. I wasn’t really sure what it was, but everyone seemed excited about it. Digging into more details, I was getting gentle goose-bumps.. 8 days from Italy to Netherlands, sleeping in tents, every night a different place, including climbing of a famous Stelvio.. I still remember how jealous I was.. I promised myself that one day I will do it as well. After few days, I flew back to my beautiful city of Amsterdam and stayed in touch with most of the girls via Instagram, Strava and other social media.
And here I am, two years later, member of Vrouwenwielrennen club in Amsterdam, although training mainly for my triathlons.. until that Wednesday night, when I got an email from Maan Klomp, that there is an opportunity to participate in “The Ride Ardennes”. Some say I am spontaneous, some other call it impulsive, but it took me 1 minute to reply back, to say: “I’m in”. I still had one week to arrange baby sitter, transport and work activities. I knew, it was not the “The Ride”, the big one, but it still had The Ride in the name, so all memories from Girona came back. I had to do it. I do not speak fluent Dutch, I did not know the participants and I just sold my car, so I did not even have transport. But I knew I would manage. I always do, it was a matter of proper logistics. Maan got me in contact with Andrea from Strongher.cc and on Thursday, exactly one day before the event, I got a registration form. I was delighted, sitting at work and knowing, the next day I will be in the Ardennes. Still did not have a car, so rented it out via Snappcar that afternoon. Getting home and packing my favorite cycling outfits, warm clothes and rain jackets. No make-up, no nail polish, no high heals, no.. all I needed was my beautiful Bianchi and a helmet.
I remember, I slept like a baby that night, left early morning on Friday, to be in La Roche on time. I was driving there alone, I did not know what to expect, I knew it will be cold and rainy, and believe it or not, it was the first time in my life I would be sleeping in a tent. But I felt it was an adventure that I will not forget. My friend asked a few times if I really prefer sleeping in the tent and cycle in the rain instead of hanging on the couch and relaxing during the weekend, but all I knew was that I wanted to be part of The Ride Ardennes.
I arrived... Quickly got keys to my tent, comf4 (comfort version with beds inside!). And that moment, when you realized there is no WC or shower in the tent, not even in the comfort version.. I was seriously laughing at myself, how come I expected bathroom in the tent!
There was no time, I put my club outfit on and cycled to the registration table. Got my number and was ready to go, but hey where is everyone.. oh they left already? Oh, we will not cycle all together? Is there any group I could still join? And at that moment I noticed Martine, the girl who I met in Girona, same girl who was back then preparing for THE Ride, strong and ambitious, but also nice and open person. I was set!
I joined her and few guys for the Day 1 ride. It was 65km, not much, but hilly enough to keep the legs warm. It went smooth, bad weather did not kill my enthusiasm. I was happy, I was proud and I wanted more…
First night in the tent.. what can I say, it was a bit cold, but the idea of doing something that crazy kept me going.. I could hear drops of rain hitting the roof of the tent, I was relaxed and tired, I fell asleep..
6:30 a.m. – who the hell gets up so early on the rainy Saturday morning?? Even me, a mother of two, cannot easily explain this.. All I wanted was a black coffee and a bit of sun.. Day 2 was about to begin, coffee and umbrella was there, but not the sun..
I was excited, I was in the Ardennes, beautiful Ardennes, I felt lucky, I saw other cyclists smiling and preparing for the Day 2 ride. I knew I was doing the right thing, being there with them made me feel special. The distance was 125km and almost 2000m climbing. Mix of wind, rain, less wind, less rain. Other cyclists passing by, me passing by others, from time to time a motorbike or car with The Ride Ardennes stickers. Getting warm climbing uphill and freezing cycling downhill, breathing in fresh air, looking around at beautiful Belgian hills, cows, horses and admiring other strong cyclists, who were always saying ‘hallo’. I got back to the camping, warm shower felt like heaven, simple food tasted better than best sushi in Amsterdam, chatting with others and laughing a lot from their stories..
I felt I belonged there, everyone was kind and helpful, even with my not-so-fluent Dutch, Eastern European accent, not much cycling experience and not having my friends around me, I did not feel alone. The atmosphere and the people who were there made The Ride Ardennes so special for me. They are not just random people.. it is a community, a community welcoming everyone, sharing passion and love for cycling. I felt I was one of them..
An important aspect of The Ride Ardennes being so special is the organization. All these people supporting cyclists, volunteers, cooking team and evening entertainment team. It would not happen, if they all were not there. I said million times thank you to them, but I think they deserve it one more time – big THANKS to everyone who in any way helped us out. You were amazing and inspirational.
Day 3 has came on. I woke up and there it was.. the sun, yes THE SUN! There were two routes 75km and 117km.. but I could still decide after the first food stop. I started with Martine and a group of girls I met there - Esther, Mieke, Janine, and one guy – Hans. The beginning was hard.. about 20% climb got a few people getting off the bikes. I was a fighter, talking to my legs, that they can do it, focusing on the top, I knew I will get there no matter what. If others can, I can as well. I made it, I felt strong again and I knew I go for the 117km ride on the 3rd day. It was a right decision, after the first 75km, I did not have enough. I still had energy and will to cycle more. Sunshine mixed with clouds, too with jacket on and too cold with the jacket off, but enough sun to have to put the glasses on from time to time. My legs were not sore at all, seems I did not push hard enough on Day 1 and Day 2 ;-)
I got back to the camping, again great atmosphere and cool pictures with the girls in the sun. Standing there on the stage was cool.. few people taking pictures of us at the same time, we felt like stars in front of paparazzi.. no, it was not just a feeling, we were stars, each and everyone of us was a star that day. And the podium belongs to all of us. See you next year!
About Guest Blogger
We want your stories! Strongher is all about inspiring & motivating women and girls to start cycling. And keep cycling! Only together we can do this. Therefore we want you to share your stories with us. What's your motivation? Who inspires you? What got you started? And what keeps you going? Now is YOUR time to TAKE THE STAGE!
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