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.