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15-05-2024 | Ella van der Veer

Hard'n MTB Marathon: a pleasant surprise

Mountain bikers who enjoy hilly terrain, technical trails, competition, and proximity to the Netherlands often head to the Ardennes. Almost every weekend in the early and late season, marathons take place here. One of the most famous is the Belgian Ardennes Marathon Series (BAMS). Ella competed in the second heat, the Hard'n Marathon in Miavoye, 15 km from Dinant and near the French border.

Also gravel and gran fondo

This year marks the third edition of this marathon, organized for the first time with a semi-gran fondo for road bikes and a gravel bike challenge (both on May 11). The marathon offers three distances: 65, 85, and 105 km, with the last two counting for the BAMS standings. We used Friday and Saturday for reconnaissance. Despite the dry weather, some areas are still very muddy. But that shouldn't spoil the fun! After experiencing the Raid des Fantômes, this is manageable. Fortunately, a beautifully sunny day with summer temperatures is forecast for the Hard'n.

On race day, around 150 participants line up for all three distances. Start number collection goes smoothly. However, a secure bike shed is missing, which would be handy for restroom visits or picking up your number. Before the 9:00 start, men and women are already in their starting boxes, divided into a top box for licensed men, the ladies, and then the other participants. There's about a two-minute gap between each box.

Hike-a-Bike

After the start, there's a kilometer on asphalt before diving into the forest. Extensive forestry work has left its mark, tearing the field apart. After some flatter singletracks comes the first technical descent. Unfortunately, we are in a group that doesn't dare ride down, so we have to walk. This happens often and is common in every marathon in the Ardennes.

Fast singletracks alternate with stony double tracks. The climbs are typical Ardennes-style: steep and challenging. We also see some running climbs for variety. There are plenty of stream and river crossings to cool off, whether you want to or not. After about 35 km, we cross the Meuse River and tackle a very technical, steep climb where everyone has to dismount. After 10 km, we cross back to the east side of the Meuse River, heading into calmer waters toward the finish.

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The second part contains fewer meters of elevation and is less steep, except for the last descent. This section features a beautiful stony gully descent where your skills will be tested if you want to go down hard.

Decent organization

The event's organization was generally fine. The arrows could be larger or brighter, and some road crossings lacked traffic control officers, especially for faster participants. There were four refreshment points along the way, which were very welcome given the temperatures. The assortment of food and drinks was comprehensive. After the finish, you could enjoy a shower for both rider and bike, and then relax with some food and a Belgian beer.

Overall, it was a wonderfully varied route. This area, new to me, surprised me positively with beautiful trails, nice views, and less steep climbs than other BAMS races. Next year, they plan to include more technical trails, which promises excitement! Want to visit this region this year? The same organization also hosts the Ultra Raid des 3 Vallées, a three-day sportive with timed climbs. I'll definitely return to explore these trails further!

The full results of the Hard'n Marathon can be found here.

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