Tag Archives: cycling

Trans Pyrenees 2020 – The Route

Four years after crossing the Pyrenees with Willem from East to West (see the relevant posts here), I am going to revisit the region, and bike from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea with a colleague (Stef). After a few months of low activity levels and motivation, I finally got back into the sport around the Christmas holidays, and since then I have been commuting by bike again (I love my Brompton), and I have been doing some proper training both inside (Zwift training plan) and outside (when the weather permits, and lately it has been really wet and windy, so less often than I would like to). Of course I needed a proper goal too, because one of the reasons I had lost my motivation to ride last year was the apparent pointlessness of my training, so I definitely wanted to change that. And since I don’t like races and big busy events, what better is there to do than another self supported ride across the Pyrenees!

My planning technique has not really changed since 2016, I still used Strava (even though I had a look at Komoot too, but it had difficulties handling very long routes) and Google Street View to draw up the initial draft, then the availability of hotels set the final stage starts and finishes. I originally wanted to start from San Sebastián, but in the last minute it turned out that the one way extra fee for renting a car in France and dropping it off in Spain (that we need for the drive back to the start on the last day) would have been more than 2000 EUR, so at the end I had to settle with starting in Biarritz (where we finished four years ago).

We have already booked everything (hotels, rental car from Perpignan to Biarritz, long-term parking in Biarritz), so now we just need to train. Being in a good shape will be definitely necessary, because while this time we will have a rest day in the middle, there will be much more climbing than the last time… The final route can be seen below.

It is a total of 993 km, and 25601 metres of elevation gain over 32 (+1) cols (excluding the rest day). An overview of the elevation profile of the whole route can be seen below. (The climb categories were calculated following the discussion presented here.)

Now here is a detailed overview of the planned stages with distances, elevation gains, maps, profiles, and a list of cols for each day:

  • June 10:
    Drive to Biarritz.
  • June 11:
    On the morning we drive to the airport, where we have long-term parking booked, and start from there.
    Stage 1) Biarritz – Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port: 125 km | 2498 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Puerto de Otxondo [570 m] Cat 2 (8.2 km @ 5.7%)
    – Puerto de Artesiaga [984 m] Cat 2 (12.8 km @ 5.7%)
    – Collado de Urkiaga [915 m] Cat 4 (6.9 km @ 3.2%)
  • June 12:
    Stage 2) Saint-Jean Pied-de-Port – Anso: 108 km | 3429 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Col de Burdincurutcheta [1135 m] Cat 1 (9.0 km @ 8.8%)
    – Col de Bagargi [1327 m] Cat 3 (6.5 km @ 4.9%)
    – Port de Larrau [1578 m] HC (14.3 km @ 7.6%)
    – Puerto de Laza [1129 m] Cat 3 (3.4 km @ 6.1%)
    – Puerto de Matamachos [1148 m] Cat 2 (4.6 km @ 6.7%)
  • June 13:
    Stage 3) Anso – Oloron-Sainte-Marie: 104 km | 2158 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Alto de Zuriza [1290 m] Cat 3 (13.8 km @ 3.2%)
    – Col de la Pierre St Martin [1766 m] Cat 1 (14.3 km @ 5.3%)
    – Col de la Hourcère [1440 m] Cat 3 (4.8 km @ 4.5%)
    – Col de Bugalaran [498 m] Cat 3 (3.3 km @ 6.9%)
  • June 14:
    Stage 4) Oloron-Sainte-Marie – Luz-Saint-Sauveur: 112 km | 3275 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Col de Marie Blanque [1035 m] Cat 1 (9.1 km @ 7.8%)
    – Col d’Aubisque [1709 m] HC (17.0 km @ 7.0%)
    – Col du Soulor [1474 m] Cat 3 (1.9 km @ 5.0%)
    – Col des Bordères [1156 m] Cat 2 (4.2 km @ 6.9%)
  • June 15:
    Stage 5) Luz-Saint-Sauveur – Bagnères-de-Luchon ♛: 114 km | 3874 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Col du Tourmalet [2115 m] HC (19.0 km @ 7.4%)
    – Hourquette d’Ancizan [1564 m] Cat 2 (16.6 km @ 4.3% – including a short descent)
    – Col de Val Louron-Azet [1580 m] Cat 1 (10.7 km @ 7.3%)
    – Montée de Peyragudes [1645 m] Cat 1 (9.6 km @ 7.3%)
    (- Col de Peyresourde [1569 m] practically in the descent)
  • June 16:
    Rest day: we will probably still bike, something short and flat, to keep the blood flowing and to get the total distance beyond the thousand kilometre mark ;) But the main plan is mostly staying horizontal, and eating as much as possible.
  • June 17:
    Stage 6) Bagnères-de-Luchon – Castillon-en-Couserans: 100 km | 2775 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Port de Balès [1755 m] Cat 1 (18.8 km @ 5.9%)
    – Col de Menté [1349 m] HC (9.3 km @ 9.0%)
    – Col de Portet d’Aspet [1069 m] Cat 1 (4.3 km @ 9.5%)
  • June 18:
    Stage 7) Castillon-en-Couserans – Ax-les-Thermes: 137 km | 3667 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Col de la Core [1395 m] Cat 1 (14.2 km @ 5.8%)
    – Col de Latrape [1110 m] Cat 2 (5.8 km @ 7.4%)
    – Col d’Agnes [1570 m] Cat 1 (10.3 km @ 8.0%)
    – Port de Lers [1517 m] Cat 3 (4.7 km @ 5.2%)
    – Pas de Souloumbrie [911 m] Cat 3 (6.3 km @ 5.5%)
  • June 19:
    Stage 8) Ax-les-Thermes – Prades: 102 km | 2717 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Col de Pailheres [2001 m] HC (17.1 km @ 6.8%)
    – Col des Aychides [1008 m] Cat 3 (6.3 km @ 4.1%)
    – Col de Jau [1506 m] Cat 1 (17.9 km @ 5.8%)
  • June 20:
    Stage 9) Prades – Perpignan: 91 km | 1208 m+ (Map / Profile)
    – Col de Palomère [1036 m] Cat 2 (24.4 km @ 3.2% – including a short descent)
    Pick up the rental car in Perpignan and drive to Biarritz, where we stay for the night.
  • June 21:
    Drive home.

The rest of 2019 (Part 1 – Burnout on the bike)

Now that the travel journal of our Iceland road trip is finally online, I can “quickly” go through the rest of the year in the usual summary-style blog post, just for the record (so when I am 80 I have stuff to read in my spare time – although I do wonder if I will ever have spare time, anyway…).

Almost immediately after coming home from Iceland we went to France with a few friends (and two dogs) for a cycling/relaxing holiday, staying in a small house in the tiny village of Margerides, just west of Les volcans d’Auvergne in the Massif central. This time the best cyclists from the previous year could not join, so the pace on the road was much more relaxed. We left Belgium one day earlier so I could drive in two parts, and also have a ride from Clermont-Ferrand, enjoying the warm sunshine and the beautiful landscape while biking past the Chaîne des Puys (a chain of volcanic cones – the Puy de Dôme being the most prominent), and over the Col de la Croix Morand (1401 m ASL). By the evening everybody arrived, so the following day all the guys joined for a nice and shorter – but very hot – ride over the Mont Bessou (a smaller local peak, with a bit of super steep climbing through the forest). A day later I went solo, doing a scenic loop over the highest pass of the region, the Col du Pas de Peyrol (1589 m ASL). The climb was made more difficult than expected by the strong, hot headwind – as soon as I noticed the small bar at the Col de Serre (an intermediate peak after a prolonged steep section through the forest), my bike basically automatically turned off the main road to give me a small break (and a cold local cola). From there on I basically had to stop on each col for an extra drink, and after the 100 km mark I pretty much just wanted to make it home for dinner and the Champions League Final (I will come back to this later). In the rest of the week we got some rain every second day, so I got a few bike-free days to relax, blog, and playing Mario Kart with the others (in the slightly cold and fireplace-scented living room). Every day we had nice breakfasts and delicious dinners together, mostly around the table in front of the house in the sunshine (and only occasionally inside, hiding from the rain).

For my fourth ride I planned a rollercoaster over the cols around the Puy de Sancy (the highest being the Col de la Croix St Robert at 1451 m ASL), and except for the first and last hour I was again accompanied by the guys. The curvy, open road leading down from the Col de la Croix St Robert was probably the nicest descent of the week. Two days later I headed South with Willem and Hao, riding over the Col de Neronne (1242 m ASL) into the Maronne valley. We finally managed to stop for a proper lunch too, having a nice galette in the scenic, historic village of Salers. For the last ride Steven got back on his bike too, so it was the four of us discovering the small roads over the grassy highlands of Montgreleix. The scenery was beautiful every day, the roads were perfect, and there was barely any traffic, so I can safely say that this region is another lesser known cycling paradise in France. (I biked 647 km with 12500 metres of elevation game during these days.)

Liverpool finished the Premier League season with a club-record 97 points (with only one defeat), unfortunately still one point behind Manchester City. But after the lost Europe League final three years ago, and the painful defeat in the Champions League final last year, the reds finally became champions of Europe again, for the 6th time in history, after beating Tottenham in the Champions League final (and we all know, Champions of Europe > Champions of England…).

The most memorable game on the way to victory was undoubtedly the return leg of the semi-final at Anfield. After being beaten in Barcelona by three goals, the Scousers managed to win 4:0 (thanks to a pair of goals from Wijnaldum and Origi – who then also scored the second goal of the final). It illustrates the quality of the team that nobody talks about this result as the Miracle of Anfield. It was not really a surprise. It was the reality. Statistically speaking the current Liverpool team is the best Liverpool team of all times, they are setting new records on the pitch every week, as of the 2nd of January they are unbeaten on their last 37 Premier League games, and they lead the league by 13 points with a game in hand (20 games played this season so far, 19 won and 1 drawn). Maybe this year will finally be our year. Winning the league (a feat Liverpool supporters are waiting for since 1989) would most likely guarantee a statue for Jürgen Klopp in front of the stadium. It is amazing what he has achieved here during his four years so far. And just for the record, Liverpool also won the European Super Cup against the Europe League winners Chelsea, and the FIFA Club World Cup, completing the international treble of 2019, making them not only statistically, but also officially the best team of the world for now.

Let’s move over to the tidbits category. The annual team building activity at work was a virtual reality game this year, which was unexpectedly awesome. Being able to actually move around – and not only look around – in the VR environment (we were walking around in a large empty room with a VR headset and a force-feedback gun, and our real life position in the empty room was translated into movement in the VR world by sensors around us) made the whole experience extremely immersive – I even fell once because I wanted to lean against a virtual wall while crunching in cover, completely forgetting that it was not a physical object, which resulted in me rolling/felling to my right and laughing at myself – immediately realising the nature of the mistake I just made. I also had a few fun hours while assembling the new LEGO NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander (10266), which is now one of the many lego sets on display in our living room.

By the summer solstice I felt strong on the bike again (thanks to the cycling holiday and some good training rides afterwards), so it was time for my annual epic ride. On the longest day of the year I left Leuven not much after sunrise to ride my bike to the heart of the Ardennes (Trois-Points) and back. With 310 km, 4217 meters of elevation gain, and a ride time of 12 hours and 36 minutes (plus two hours of food and photo stops in total), this became my longest solo ride so far (plus 3rd by elevation gain, and finishing on the top of the virtual podium by duration – even including group rides too). Maybe not completely unexpectedly or surprisingly, my motivation to ride the bike fell off a cliff almost immediately after this epic day, and as a consequence I biked as much in the second half of the year as I did in the month of June… I still liked being on the bike, but I got a bit bored of the local roads (especially in crap weather), or training without a goal – beyond reaching a magic number at the end of the year -, and I think I just wanted to do something else for a change. Anyway, I still had three nice rides in the months that followed, once with colleagues in Luxembourg (with still quite good legs), then alone around the highest roads of Belgium, finally with a colleague in the unknown corner of the Belgium-Germany-Luxembourg border region. All really nice places to cycle. Lately I started to feel getting out of shape though, so I got a new direct drive trainer and a temporary subscription to Zwift, hoping to rebuild some form in the coming months (I am three trainings into a 12 week training plan, so I think I got my motivation back), so when spring comes around with nice weather, I will be capable of biking more than 30 km at more than 25 km/h… And while the contrast is very big compared to the last few years – when I biked through the winter without any rest period (probably playing a role in this burnout) -, it is actually not much different from my first seasons as a cyclist, so I think as long as I am not picking up too much weight I don’t have a real reason to panic. (Just for the history books, I finished 2019 with 7054 km, which is my 3rd lowest sum ever.)

By the way, on the eve of my solstice ride, just when I was going to go to bed, the most amazing display of Noctilucent Clouds lit up the Northern horizon, so even though I really wanted to get at least 6 hours of sleep, I had to settle with 5, because I simply could not let the display of the decade (or century) pass by without taking a few pictures. But it was definitely worth it.

From winter to spring

This February I turned 34. I have been writing this blog for approximately a third of my whole life… Crazy. Anyway, back to the story. So around my birthday I spent (with Clio’s help of course) around a week (mainly the evenings after work and one weekend) planning a two week road trip around Iceland. This involved 1) researching (mainly over Google Maps and blogs) all tourist attractions and putting them on an actual physical map, and 2) making a detailed day-by-day planning based on driving distances/durations and approximate sightseeing (walking/photography/nutrition) times for each location, parallel with 3) looking up suitable hotels/lodges for each day. For the 14 days this means a total of 84 rows of data (including ~63 sights outside of Reykjavik, 11 hotels, and 3200 driven kilometres) in an Excel/Numbers sheet. With the flights, rental car (a smaller 4×4), and accommodation included we saved around 50% of the price of similar packages offered by various travel agencies by doing everything ourselves. Of course now I have seen way too many spoilers thanks to Google Street View, but I had to do a bit of looking around anyway to plan a bit ahead in terms of photography locations and so on.

We are leaving on Sunday, so it is getting very close! By the way, we decided to go in May because 1) it is still before the super busy June-August main tourist season, and 2) May is – statistically, at least in Reykjavik – the least rainy and the most sunny month (even though there are more daylight hours during the summer), and it is only 4-5°C colder than the warmest month, July. Let’s hope we will not get a negative outlier May :)

The second half of February brought some very nice weather, so nice that right after the annual visit to the velodrome in Ghent (where from this year on there is digital time-keeping down to the 1/1000th of a second) I went for a ride outside in shorts (and arm warmers and a gilet, but still) before driving home with 132 km in my legs (including the fastest lap on the track from the team with 16.834 seconds, a good 0.5 seconds faster than the next person).

At work we had our annual company lunch at the Restaurant Arenberg this year, and even though it has a Michelin star, it is a bit too classic for my taste, so I still prefer the EssenCiel (where we went for Clio’s birthday last week) from the gastronomic places in and near Leuven. On the other hand the Easter chocolates of TML came from the Bittersweet Chocolatier this year, so it is confirmed: best workplace ever. On the same note, I have eaten so much chocolate during the past two weeks, that it really needs to stop. Luckily Iceland will be too expensive to eat too much, so there is still hope to keep my race-weight for the summer :D

Preparing for Iceland I bought a NiSi filter system (basically for daytime long exposure shots, see example test-shot with silky smooth water from the nearby abbey above), a wide angle prime lens (Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 WR), a backup camera for my Fujifilm X-T3 (a Fujifilm X-E3) and a small telephoto lens (Fujifilm XF 50mm f/2 WR). And a new carbon tripod (Manfrotto MT190CXPRO4), a camera bag (Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW), and some small accessories… Advanced stage GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome – I know. Truth be told, all my Canon gear (plus the old tripod and camera bag) is either already sold or up for sale, so overall, actually, I own less camera stuff now. (Still GAS.) Everything is already tested and packed nicely in the new camera bag (the whole kit fits perfectly, and the weight saving compared to my old Canon gear is significant), so really looking forward to Iceland now. The plan is to mostly use the X-T3 with the 16mm lens (this is a full weather-proof setup, so even in bad conditions I don’t need to worry about getting the camera out, and I like wide-angle landscape shots the most anyway), and get the X-E3 out with the 50mm lens only if I need to shoot some more distant details or a portrait. I don’t like changing lenses and I prefer the quality of primes over zooms, so this is perfect for me. I wish I did more photography, but cycling is still the number one hobby.

The first half of March had horrible weather (except miraculously for Saturday mornings at least, so I could bike a bit), then on the first better (meaning not constant rain) Sunday we went to Antwerp with Clio to visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum. It is a printing museum focusing on the work of the 16th-century printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus, located in their former residence and printing establishment, the Plantin Press, and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being a typeface-lover and map-geek, I had a really great time walking around the exhibits. Afterwards we made a small walk to the North to have a look at some of the new buildings, but the cold wind was not really suited for anything longer.

Back to work, in the beginning of April I wrote my first proposal outside of astronomy, and – after my steepest ride outside of the Canary Islands (with 3149 meters of elevation gained over only 134 km) – spent three days on a meeting/conference in slightly cold and rainy Aveiro (Portugal). Then winter came back (again) for a weekend (a ride in an average temperature of 2°C on the 14th of April, seriously?)  before the real nice warm spring arrived the week after. Luckily that coincided with the annual Tornado club-weekend, so we could have two beautiful days of cycling in the Southern Eifel region in Germany, with temperature above 20°C. I even had quite good legs (and the pace was friendlier than usual), so this year I was not at all the slowest on the climbs.

On Easter Monday we finally (as we have been planning this for years) went for a walk to the Hallerbos, to see the famous blue and purple carpet of the blooming bluebells. It was definitely worth it, but next time I should be less lazy and take my tripod too.

On the gaming front (besides FIFA 19) I have been playing quite a lot with the Division 2 lately (since I really liked the original Division too a few years ago, up to the point of having to stop because I felt addicted – this time I am taking it much more casual), and I also got Mario Kart 8 for the Switch for an occasional race against friends – as a holiday entertainment.

This time there will be no daily blog posts from the road trip, because it was super tiring in Scandinavia (even though I was happy that I did not have to process three weeks’ worth of photos afterwards), but I will post photos on social media every day, and when we are back there will be one or two posts with the ‘best of’ here too. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!

The year (2018) in cycling (and other sports)

2018 was the fourth year in a row that I managed to bike more than 10000 kilometres, but this was the first time that I finished the season with more than an average of 1000 km per month (my best months were September and October with 1340 km and 1329 km, while my worst were July and February with 628 km and 676 km). Therefore my best cycling-year ever is now 2018 with 12704 km (with a not even small margin of 1374 km – 10.8% – over 2017). For the first time ever I broke the 100000 meter elevation gain limit too.

As usual I had no real plans for the year, but I still managed to make it somewhat special. First of all, I had quite a few nice rides in the Ardennes (and the Eifel, once even Clio joined me for a while along the Vennbahn), maybe not as many as I wanted, but still much more than the previous years. I hope to continue this trend in 2019 too, because I know the roads around Leuven way too well (and as I get older more experienced I seem to tolerate the crap infrastructure and the intolerant drivers of Flanders less and less). Furthermore, I had a really enjoyable (except maybe for that crazy thunderstorm with hail) cycling holiday in France with a small group of friends, and I also took the bike along to Bretagne where I made three nice morning rides (to make up for all those pancakes which we ate with Clio). Thanks to these non-local rides, I have ridden more on previously unseen roads than ever before. My biggest achievement this year was biking to the highest point of Belgium and the highest point of the Netherlands alone, which is now my longest solo ride with 306 km and 3057 m elevation gain (and by duration also my longest ride – including group rides too – with 11 hours and 32 minutes). Finally, my latest achievement is completing the Rapha Festive 500 in five consecutive days (I did it in 6 non-consecutive days back in 2015), being amongst the first thousand people who have crossed the threshold :)

The raw numbers for my cycling – without the daily commutes of course – in 2017:

Total distance: 12704 km
Total elevation gain: 101385 m
Total time: 460 h 31 m
Activity count: 192 (over 155 days*, just like in 2017)
Average speed: 27.6 km/h
Average heart rate: I stopped wearing a HR strap, I only look at power now.
Average cadence: 87.5 rpm (but I have no sensor on my cross bike)
Average temperature: 13.2°C (coldest: December with 1.9°C, hottest: July with 22.4°C)
Total calories burned on the bike: 302730 cal

*Starting from the last days of July there were a lot of days when I did my training rides immediately before and/or after work, and on those days I rode my race bike also to work to save time, therefore creating days with two activities (of which one was most of the time less than 5 kilometres).

And now it is time to look at some maps and figures. Let’s start with the maps of cycling I have done this year. The first figures show the location and (for Belgium and the area of Leuven on a separate zoomed-in map) heat-map of my rides.

Out of the 155 active days, I rode solo most of the time: only on 44 days was I riding with at least one other person. As usual, most of the time that was Willem (22 rides, and a total time of 2.9 days), or Hao (17 rides, 2.4 days). The distribution of these non-solo rides over the year can be seen below.

The next one is a summary table (click for legible size) of the bikes I have been riding during the year. I used the new Endurance and the old Ultimate parallel until I sold the latter early October (to make space for a new custom built steel bike that I am working on right now).

Here are the graphs showing the yearly evolution of my cycling distance, time, and elevation gain compared to the previous years.

New this year are some monthly figures, because the more the merrier, right? So below you will find the monthly totals and averages for distance, elevation gain, activity time, average steepness (meters climbed each kilometre on average), and average temperature.

My non-cycling activities reached a long-time low, with only a tiny bit of hiking (17 km), and kayaking (4 km), so this is the first time since 2012 that I did not run at all (and I did not miss it to be honest). Here is the usual summary figure (including all activities) from VeloViewer.

Finally, here is an overview of the evolution of the total activity time (also an all-time record with 465 hours), and its distribution across the calendar throughout the years.

The spring months of 2018

It has been a while again, so it is time for another diary-style entry. My new job at TML is going well, I spent the first days reading course texts to get a bit of basic background knowledge (Traffic demand modelling, Transportation systems, Basics of transport economycs, etc.), but soon after I already started working on actual tasks. I am involved in the ClairCity project, by doing fleet models (basically mileage and emission predictions for different propulsion-type vehicle groups in cities), and mode-choice models (trying to tell what kind of transport mode a person will choose based on some input parameters, e.g., what is the chance that a young adult who has an average income and no car chooses to take the bike when she needs to take a 2 kilometer long commuting trip in the morning hours of the working week). This involves a lot of work with pretty cool statistical data bases, which I always liked. I presented some of my results already on one of our team meetings, and got to discuss with other people outside of TML on the annual ClairCity meeting in Sosnowiec (Poland) in April. I totally forgot to mention it the last time, but my brother (who is a flight attendant at Emirates) had visited me here in Leuven just a few days before I started my new job, and we had a nice burger and chat together :)

2018_spring_brothervisit

Thanks to a colleague I got involved in LeuvenAir, which is a citizen science project built on measuring fine dust concentrations using low-cost sensors in Leuven. I will write about this in more detail in a separate post, because having an air quality sensor quickly escalated into me buying a couple of more sensors, some wireless chips, and a small Raspberry Pi computer to make a complete weather and air-quality monitoring network around our apartment…

I had a pretty average early season on the bike, but average in this context is actually very positive, because the past years I always had a strong cycling spring. My “old” road bike surpassed the total mileage of my first road bike towards the end of April, becoming my highest mileage bike so far (32365 km and counting), and after waiting for almost two months for proper dry weather and clean roads, I finally got to ride my new bike during the annual Tornado Club-weekend in the Ardennes (and for already a total of 2252 km since then). The second ride during that long weekend in the Ardennes was actually my highest elevation gain ride within the borders of Belgium ever.

2018_spring_DutchLimburg

Other memorable rides from the past months were: a sunny roller-coaster in the Dutch Limburg with Hao, the first 200 km+ ride with the new bike for a slice of cake (I switched back to the Arione saddle for this already, the Aliante was not such a good fit for me), my first visit to the Oostkantons with some Instagram/Strava celebrities (where finally I was not the only one in a fancy outfit :D), my longest solo ride ever: 306 km over the highest points of Belgium and the Netherlands, two gravel rides: one short one just outside of Leuven through beautiful forests and fields, and a longer one around the top of Belgium in great company, and my first visit to the Eifel region with a group of TML colleagues.

2018_spring_Oostkantons

It is a shame that the Instagram photos taken during rides are not visible anymore on Strava (only when added manually afterwards, which I do now), because I really enjoyed that I can just look back at these there :(

2018_spring_photos1

On top of all of this, in the beginning of May we had a week of cycling between the Ardèche and the Cévennes regions in France, which was pretty nice. Those without the bike could enjoy the sunshine at our private pool, and an excursion to Nîmes on the afternoon of the rest day. In six days I biked 665 km with almost 11000 meters of elevation gain, most of the time on small, practically traffic-free roads in great weather. (The week after it was snowing there, so we were definitely a bit lucky.) All rides were great (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), but the most memorable moments are from the second day and the rest day.

2018_spring_France

On the second day just after reaching the top of the climb leading up to the Plateau de Montselgues we got into a thunderstorm. I thought the best is to keep on biking, because otherwise we would just get cold and wet (since there was not much shelter around), but things got much worse really soon. The storm quickly grew into a torrential downpour containing centimeter-sized hail, water was coming from everywhere (from above, from the road, and from the side blown by strong gusts of wind), and the temperature dropped to 8 degrees Celsius. I tried to descend towards the warmer altitudes as fast as I could, but it turns out that this way I basically kept going along with the core of the storm (because the people behind me who either took the descent slower or were still on the climb on the other side of the mountain got much less extreme weather, some even made it without encountering any ice). It took me more than a half hour to get down the mountain, of which at least 20 minutes was in hail (which was not only painful but also left impact cracks on the top layer of my helmet at multiple spots). At the bottom I was shaking from the cold, so I stepped into the first open pub I saw, ordered two hot chocolates (when I actually managed to form words from shaking), and got hugged by a large middle-aged French lady while trying to warm up (which was a bit more intimacy than what I would be normally comfortable with from a stranger, but she was so warm!). It took me 20 minutes to get into a state that we could continue… Luckily as soon as I got back on the bike I managed to warm up quickly, and since it was not raining anymore, things got back to normal very fast.

2018_spring_photos2

For the rest day I included the climb to the Mont Bouquet (also known as the local wall) in the route, and if you think 4.6 km at an average 9% simply would not be enough for a recovery ride, then you might be one of the lucky few who would have honestly appreciated the 500 meters at 16-18% in the middle :D (The rest was also typically in the double digits, and only a few short flat/downhill sections pulled the average below ten percent.) That was an epic climb, but I am sure nobody will let me plan rest-day rides anymore. Besides the biking, I got a short initiation into fly-fishing from Willem, and we had a nice campfire on the last evening. Driving back was a bit less fun after a week of cycling, but there is nothing I can not handle with a liter of coffee I guess…

Since we came back Filou (our adopted cat) is much more cuddly and affectionate than he was before, he comes to sit with me in the couch every evening (he used to always lie in one of his spots before, now he chooses me most of the time), and he follows me around the apartment quite often. He also became more vocal after being almost completely silent in the first few months, so now every day after work he runs to the door when one of us arrives home and probably tells us never dare to leave his side ever again. Or that he needs more attention. He is the cutest ball of fluff ever. My parents also had their annual visit, this time we went to the Durbuy, Dinant, and Gent. They also liked Filou :)

2018_spring_Filou

And last but not least, a few words about Liverpool FC. This season was again a very good one for us, and I managed to watch almost every game. While Coutinho was sold in the winter transfer window, with the arrival of Virgil van Dijk (and with the better and better performance of our young wing-backs) our defensive line got a serious upgrade, which resulted in a significantly less conceded goals in the second half of the season. Our front three (Mane, Firmino, and Salah) played wonderful football, and Mohamed Salah (the Egyptian king, running down the wing) broke most Premier League and Liverpool goal-scoring records during his first year in a red shirt.

2018_spring_Salah

We finished comfortably in fourth position in the league, and the glorious European nights have also returned to Anfield (a.k.a. Champions League football). After going through from the group, in the quarter- and semi-finals Liverpool played exhilarating football in front of the Kop (3-0 against Manchester City, 5-2 against Roma – We’ve conquered all of Europe, We’re never gonna stop…). As a result we played our second European Cup final in three years, which really says a lot about how good Jürgen Klopp’s team really is. Unluckily Mo Salah got injured early in the game, and our goalkeeper (Karius) made two huge mistakes, so we lost against Real Madrid, but reaching the final was already an amazing achievement. I liked this season’s team and jersey so much, that I even bought a special 125th anniversary double shirt boxed set including a replica of Liverpool’s first ever jersey from 1892, a 2017-18 home shirt, and a book of 25 historical photos. It is a really nice memorabilia. I am looking forward to the next season!