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13-10-2023 | Ella van der Veer

Bart Brentjens Challenge 2023: faster than fast

Once again, Eijsden played host to the prestigious Dutch MTB marathon classic, the Bart Brentjens Challenge, marking its 18th edition, doubling as the Dutch XCM Championships. Among the strong field of participants, I took my place in the race.

This year, the course covered a single distance of 90 km with 1400 meters of elevation, showcasing the region's challenging terrain with steep climbs and breathtaking descents. As evident from past editions, the event seems to have a standing reservation for favorable weather, and once again, this year, it blessed us with sunshine. Despite a less-than-ideal preparation due to a pre-race virus, I remained optimistic, embracing the uncertainty that comes with the sport.

Full gas

On Sunday, October 8, at 8:30, I lined up with approximately 300 fellow competitors for the mass start. For the 700 non-competitive riders, there was a departure from the traditional mass start seen in previous years. Instead, a staggered start system was implemented for the maximum 700 participants, with commencement times ranging from 9:00 to 10:00. The initial 2.5 km of the race were neutralized, prompting a scramble for prime positions before the first unpaved climb. As the course ascended towards the Belgian border, I found myself immediately tested, navigating a tight and challenging race course.

Bart Brentjens Challenge

Post the second climb, distinct groups formed swiftly, and my focus shifted to survival amidst the relentless series of steep climbs. Wrestling my way back into a group, I encountered a downhill segment where a near-miss with barbed wire cost me precious time and connection with the pack.

No man's land

From that point onward, I found myself traversing much of the race in no-man's land, shedding the initial die-hard intensity. My strategy shifted to pacing on climbs while relishing the descents. Navigating the course required caution, with several road crossings and the ever-present presence of recreational cyclists in bustling South Limburg. Though mostly smooth, occasional mishaps, including classic swerves over the handlebars in gullies, added an element of unpredictability.

Post the stretch after Cadier en Keer, the course regained technicality with engaging descents. Gravel strips demanded a traditional push against the false flat and wind. Encountering and overtaking some fellow riders, particularly ladies, injected a morale boost. Crossing the finish line, I found solace in not being the last lady, leaving Sophie von Berswordt and Hans Becking to claim the national tricolor next year.

Still worthwhile

The Bart Brentjens Challenge went to great lengths to meet all requirements this year and secure its spot on the calendar. In a year where many events faced cancellations, the organization crafted a modified yet enjoyable day. Mountain biking on public roads demands vigilance, sharing trails with everyone. The trail may have missed some technical passages, but the Vroenhof resonated with a fantastic atmosphere at the finish. Regrettably, Bart Brentjens himself was absent this year, yet the event retained its stature as the premier Dutch mountain bike marathon, deserving its status as the NK course.

For the full results, please visit here.

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