This past weekend, more than 1,600 fanatics in La Roche-en-Ardenne were at the start of the Vélomédiane Claudy Criquiélion or "The Criq". Nothing special you would think, the Criq is a concept among both gran fondo and sportive riders and always in the last weekend of August. However, due to changes in Belgian law, it is a lot harder to organize real gran fondos. Therefore, the three traditional distances are now officially a sportive and only the new Le Defi was a short but powerful gran fondo. This year's now 33rd edition was therefore different from previous editions. Or was it?"
A 2019 legal decree dictates that cycling races in Belgium can only be held over a fully fenced course. Until this moment, the decision was not imposed at the Criq, but that has changed since this year . The small gran fondo that is still organized is the 69 kilometer long "Le Defi". In fact, this is the first part of the route of the longest route of 169 kilometers. Anyone with a gold diploma in the previous edition or with a race license may participate in "Le Defi", but there is a participation limit of 175 riders. So the level is high.
Under police escort, the peloton of eventually about 100 men and women immediately dashes up the Cote de Beausaint (2.8 kilometers at 5.4%). Long and steep enough to break up the group as usual. Just under 70 kilometers and 1300 meters of climbing later, the line lies on top of the Mur de la Vélomédiane, or the Mur de Maboge. Especially the first 800 meters are terribly steep, except for 50 meters you won't get below 11%. The first 300 meters even not below 15%. I myself finish after just under 2 hours in the middle of the race and then have the idea - after taking a long rest and especially eating at the first care station a little further down the road - to ride the entire longest route. After the Haussire (the toughest climb in Belgium) the course turns right, but I turn - like many others who have ridden "Le Defi" - left into the descent back to La Roche. I couldn't get back up at a pace that would get me home before dark. And I didn't feel like dragging myself through another 80 km or so.
The race was won by... Belgium! The complete podium in both the men and women was Belgian. Sieben Devalckeneer won in the men's event, ahead of Simon Gregoire and Vince Mattens (only from Belgium). In the ladies Lisette de Baets came in first, ahead of Barbara van Lathem and Florence Jacob. Full results can be found here.
Ype Poortinga (Cycloworld fan of the first hour) missed out on gold by 88 seconds in 2021 and so was "condemned" to the tour this year. A disappointment at the time, but this year, given the slightly lesser form and especially because of the plan to travel to La Roche by bike. Ype: "A buddy suggested to go by bike from Leerdam and since gold (5:40h) didn't seem achievable anyway, a multi-day trip was a nice alternative."
We asked Ype if there was much difference now compared to previous years. This turned out to be not so bad. Officially there was no mass start, but at 9:15 most of the riders of the longest and middle distance were ready to go.
"On the day itself I decided to just go for it and see where it landed. I think that feeling was the same for everyone around me, both at the start and throughout the ride. The start was perhaps a little more convivial and a little less tightly organized with start numbers and lining up. Once the timekeeping was over, the first hour was spent racing at full speed and trying to get into the best possible group. Only on the last climb to Dochamps I saw people really explode, so they were also just trying to get gold."
All in all, the Criq remains a highly recommended ride, close to home, well organized, lots of fun afterwards, fantastic scenery and good support. The little mistake at the feed station is easily forgiven. Other years the fanatical riders who wanted to get gold stopped here hardly at all. Now the finish of "the Defi" was just before the first stop and everyone stopped there to refuel and share their stories. Participants more at the back of the field therefore unfortunately arrived at an empty supply. Something that according to the organization will not happen again in the future. Good excuse to go again next year and check it out!