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27-03-2024 | Ella van der Veer

Raid des Fantômes: four seasons in one day

March stirs its tail: a saying proven true yet again. Last year, I overlooked this while gearing up for the 2024 MTB marathon season. The season typically kicks off around now. Being keen on climbs and descents, I naturally chose "Ardennes" in the CycloWorld calendar for early-year events. My choice this time? The Raid des Fantômes: a unique one-day duo race. Usually, team racing is reserved for multi-day events, making this a rare opportunity.

Picture: Searching for Rudolph in snowy Ardennes
Picture: Searching for Rudolph.

Saturday, March 23, is the Raid des Fantômes, starting from Berisménil's soccer fields, near La Roche en Ardennes. The course: 57 km and 1700 m+ elevation, a solid start to the season. Marathon veterans might recognize the terrain from the (now-cancelled) BeMC. With eighty duos at the start, including over sixty men's, twelve mixed, and two women's teams, I’m eager to see what the trails offer.

Hard'N MTB Marathon 2024

A lovely MTB marathon in the south of the Ardennes.

Courses: 103km/2350m+, 81km/2000m+ and 65km/1400m+.

Tickets for only €17,50

Horrible weather forecast

Watching the weather before the event was daunting. Mud is expected in the Ardennes, but the forecast was grim: heavy rain, biting wind, hail, snow, yet some sun – classic unpredictable Ardennes weather, or 'Perfetto weather'.

The race began at 13:00 under sunshine. We tackled an uphill doubletrack, ideal for stretching out before the singletrack. Suffering from hay fever, I chose a conservative pace. The first descent was telling – mud above the rims, making it tough to navigate. Dark clouds loomed, and a hailstorm hit, but soon we were cycling through a picturesque pine forest under thick snowflakes. It was surreal, almost expecting a red-nosed deer to appear.

Photo: The trail inundated with mud and water
Photo: No shortage of mud and water.

Around 25 km in, we reached the Mur de Borzée, notorious for its 30% gradients. Though we descended the steepest part, the other side was equally challenging, turned into a slippery slide by mud. At the halfway point, the start-finish area had a well-stocked feeding station with water, sports drinks, and snacks.

Undercooling near

The route then shifted to a lengthy 15 km asphalt descent – unusual for an MTB marathon, but welcome today. More singletracks followed in the second half, featuring technical descents (S2/3) and steep, root-filled ascents. Hikers cheered us on, amused by our daring descent towards Maboge. The route included a tough asphalt climb and a slippery S3 descent over loose rocks.

Displaying the chilly temperature readings during the race
The numbers speak for themselves: it was COLD.

After revisiting the Mur de Borzée, the finish was near. Feeling hypothermic, we quickly cleaned our bikes. The finish area had great facilities, including showers and a warm canteen, offering a much-needed respite after a grueling battle with the elements.

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