You’ve decided to get pedalling on the Ardennes roads or trails – what a brilliant idea! Whether you’re cycling alone, with friends or as a family with children, the secret of a successful bike ride lies in how you prepare. Here are the tips from our favourite pros: the Bingoal Pauwels Sauce WB team.
The team loves coming to train in the Ardennes. “Cycling in the Ardennes is always pleasant because you can combine climbs up iconic hills with sections along countryside paths or less busy roads. There are not just the very well-known hills of the Ardennes, there are many others to discover.” (Christophe Brandt, manager of the Bingoal Pauwels Sauce WB team). The racing cyclist Kenny Molly adds:
“Cycling in the Ardennes is pure pleasure. You must cycle at your ease and pace. Nothing is stopping you from setting yourself a challenge and trying La Redoute ascent, without racing.”
So, come and explore the Ardennes like these cycling enthusiasts and follow these tips!
1. Make sure your ride is suitable
You need to have the right bike for the right situation, to be at ease with the road inclines and surfaces. “First of all, you need a good bike with gear inches suitable for hills,” explains Kenny Molly. Christopher Prémont, the team trainer, adds:
“If you have gears on your bike, you need to know that you can make a trip easier or harder depending on how you use the gears. You can go down a gear if you feel at ease or up a gear if you’re having difficulties.
Should you avoid hills? If you add a few hills into your journey, you can make them easier by using an electric bike or playing around with the gears on your bike. Otherwise, the option of trips along the RAVeL makes cycling within everyone’s reach.”
2. Cycling at your own pace
If you’re starting out, forget the pressure of performing. Set yourself a goal if you feel like it but take it easy and cycle at the pace that suits you, according to the incline. Should you avoid hills? The racing cyclist Tom Paquot explains how to go about them:
“You must cycle at your pace with a suitable gear ratio. You must keep up a consistent pedalling speed to reach the top less puffed out. You must drink a lot: one flask an hour when it’s hot. The Ardennes are a good environment: there are very tough climbs as well as beautiful RAVeL trails and stunning valleys like the Amblève Valley.
There are itineraries for everyone, from flat roads, to average climbs and harder climbs. You just need to follow the signposted trails and choose your route well. If you have to climb the Stockeu and you’re not really able to, it’s better to find an alternative itinerary because it would be a shame to climb the hill on foot when you’re on a nice bike ride.”
The pace is just as important on the hills.
You must cycle at your own pace. When you have gears on your bike, you need to manage them on hills, as well as avoid having a gear ratio that is too small and pedalling without traction. Avoid hills? I don’t think so! Because after a hill, there’s a descent, and it’s lovely! And in the Ardennes, it’s not easy to avoid hills.
You have to learn to manage your effort, not push yourself hard up hills and collapse after 200 metres. A hill is a good road to learn how to manage your effort” (Ludivine Henrion, ex-double Belgium Road champion, Bingoal-WB Ladies Manager).
The extra tip from Christophe Brandt
“To cycle in the Ardennes, it’s important to have a suitable gear ratio to be able to climb hills with no problems. Gear ratios that are too wide are always a bad choice, because you have to put a lot of force on the pedals from the beginning and the rest of the climb becomes problematic.”
3. Eat and drink regularly
Here, the pros all agree: you have to take water with you! “You have to drink a lot of water or fruit flavoured syrup and eat well – a banana or cereal bar. Don’t hesitate to take breaks,” says Kenny Molly. Ludivine Henrion adds: “You must always take a drink on a ride. Above all avoid running out. You can always stop at a nice café or a petrol station… where you can get a drink.”
Why do they insist so much? Christophe Brandt explains:
“Hydration is important, not only on a bike but in everything you do. And on bikes, you don’t always feel the need to drink because the wind sometimes makes you feel like you’re not thirsty or hungry. But you often pay for it later and you must always drink and eat preventively. So my tip is to never set off blind, above all with children, and risk finding yourself in the middle of nowhere without any drinks or snacks.”
The extra tip from Christophe Prémont
“To be well hydrated when you’re on a ride, ideally you should have half a litre per hour. You must therefore have a flask and drink it in small mouthfuls. You can put water in it, or if you’re a little more sporty, add a little flavoured syrup or salt, which will help keep the water in your body.”
And what do you do with the children?
The Ardennes can be a fantastic training ground for the kids, on condition that you aim for a route within their capability. Christophe Brandt explains:
“Cycling with children in the Ardennes is always an excellent idea. But then they must always be at least a little bit sporty. The mountain bikes and equipment that you can find are a good solution for them to have the right gear ratio.” And it’s true, the tips about the pace and gear ratios apply for young cyclists too!
Tips from Ardennes-étape
- Are there two of you cycling with very different levels? Consider an electric bike! The sportier person will ride their usual bike, while the second will pedal on an e-bike. This way, you’ll cycle at the same pace (more or less) and with the effort suitable for each person!
- Are cycling with children aged under 12? Choose a route with fun things for them along the way: a viewpoint to eat a snack, a stream where you can build dams, a woodland to stomp about under the trees… This enables them to take breaks and busy their curious minds.
- Is it raining? Waterproof trousers are a good solution for little ones who get cold very quickly. By keeping their heat, they retain energy!