How did you get into adventure racing?
I’m 43 years old at 22 I bought my first MTB and raced locally and then of course in the area of southern Belgium (Ardennes - I live near Brughes, it's flat here ... ). I started with cross-country racing but then moved to marathon races in the Ardennes and the Alps. It was in the years when TransAlp started. There was no Facebook so it was all in magazines you would read about it. Then I went to Iron bike (a really hard event in Italy) 120 starters and they always found the hardest trails, this was all between 1998 and 2007. I always loved Mountains, as a kid and at age 18 I started backpacking in the Alps. At that time I took part in a lot of long distance races, in the summer every weekend I went somewhere.
In 2007 saw a stage race in Saudi Arabia and while we were travelling there I showed a film on a the plane to my friend Tim, it was a 700km race in Morocco non stop organised by an Italian guy Maurizio, this was 2008. I said to my mate, "we are going to do that". You have to find your own food and sleeping arrangements. The year before when we first saw it we discussed how to prepare. I had no idea what to do. It was before GPS so it was through the Atlas mountains on a road book. It was great we finished within the 80 hours cut off and even enjoyed it having enough sleep and making friends. It was really fun. We did races like that in Sardinia and Greece the years after. In 2011 and 2012 I organised it myself with friends in Morocco.
In 2013 Tim and my brother said we should go to 'Tour Divide' in America 4500km in the Rocky Mountains starts in Canada and finishes at the Mexican border, it took us 20 days. Most of the route is gravel riding. Bikepacking and adventure racing is becoming quite a hype the last couple of years. The original ones are growing but there are also new smaller events popping up all the time.
In 2014 I went to the Highland Trail 550miles, one of the hardest race, a lot of hiking and very wet. The area is beautiful, one of the most remote places in Europe I guess.
In August 2014 I raced the London to Istanbul TransContinental Race and finished in a top 10. Its road racing, I like it from time to time, but off road racing is more fun. But when I finished the Trans Continental in the top 10 I thought I could do better, I started that race thinking I am just touring not racing. Afterwards I got to the finish and decided I could go a lot faster and do it in less time. It's very different from the Tour Divide and Highland trail, it's a super market race because you are constantly riding between supermarkets for food and supplies.
In 2015 I had 2 challenges. Arizona trail race, from the Mexican border to the border of the state Utah. Some parts are hiking some you can ride, sometimes you have to go off route to get supplies, its really tough and you experience a lot of solitude. At the end of the trail you have the Grand Canyon, you have to carry the bike the whole time, 36 kms in total, the rules say very clearly 'in the Grand Canyon the wheels must not touch the ground' because of the national park rules otherwise you get a fine. This was the hardest race until now, physically and mentally, but you are rewarded by beautiful sunrises and sunsets, between cactus and pine trees...
Going back to the TransContinental Race I was very tired after the Arizona trail. I planned to ride and see how I feel before leaving Italy into Slovenia after the first part. But I had a crash near Lyon in France and could not start the next day because of the painful knee. But honestly I was still tired from the Arizona trail and it was a relief. Not only physically but mentally as well. That's when I told myself, never do something twice. I've done too many Transalps and marathon races in the past and now I was making the same mistake again. Go to the start of each event and give your best, have no regrets, there's too much other things to discover out there, to do the same thing twice...
Whats the main point of satisfaction?
Not about the ranking, and I don’t mind suffering or getting into difficult situations. Racing is constantly pushing limits but endurance is better, I like the long distances and adventure aspect. In 2016 I wanted to go to Colorado trail, but Tim had different plans. Then I saw the Race to the Rock, 2.300 kms race from Adelaide to Uluru/Ayers Rock in Australia, and thought that will be the challenge for 2016. Santos Bikes provided my a gravel MTB bike with Rohloff and belt drive, instead of chain drive. The gears within the hub are more reliable and bullet proof. In the muddy situation in Australia compared to the other gear systems it was certainly better, talking afterwards and hearing about the issues other competitors had.
People think you have to go far away to have adventures but you can be closer to home. The DuoDiagonal, a 325km race from the most remote point in Belgium to the sea, I just started the event on Facebook. This is a great event and really fun, we start at 5pm in pairs so you have to race through the night. . 300-350km is manageable for most people who can do 200km its a bit further but not a completely different level. 400km is different and much tougher.
For next year I am not looking for harder. Just something that attracts me. The big races exist already for a few years and have grown, now there will be smaller races popping up.
Probably the Colorado Trail, it's remote, there are parts you have to hike. Some people don't like hiking but you get rewarded with an amazing view or something. Maybe 50 people start the Grand Depart once a year. You can register and ride any time though. There are other events on the list to do in Italy and France. Like there are 9 diagonals in France all about 1000km, I'd like to ride a few, probably singlespeed. You request a form from a long distance cycling federation. You get a stamp at the start, 3 in the middle and then one at the end. These events are becoming quite popular and can be really interesting to see a country from a new perspective taking in sights and points of interest.
On the Colorado Trail, its remote, there are parts you have to hike. Some people don't like hiking but you get rewarded with an amazing view or something. Maybe 50 people start the Grand depart once a year. You can register and ride any time though. There are other events on the list to do in Italy and France. There are 9 diagonals in France all about 1000km each over a few days. You request a form from the french cycling federation. You get a stamp at the start 3 in the middle and then one at the end. These events are becoming quite popular and can be really interesting to see a country from a new perspective taking in sights and points of interest.
I like to organise smaller events of 300-350km. Not a classic A to B route or tour but something interesting. We did the DuoDiagonal this year and will do it again next year in April, we had a 300k self-routing race in Sealandic Flanders a couple of weeks ago. And in December I organise an alleycat on the highest point of Belgium with 6 landmarks to visit in that area. You can decide the order. You can also chose your bike, sometimes MTB is an option but if the weather is bad its not a great idea, but if you know the roads and trails you can get an advantage. This is interesting to me, and to a lot of people, as it is a challenging goal but still within reach.
Thanks very much and speak soon,
A short video of Race to the Rock can be seen here: http://lecol.net/blogs/news/gunther-desmedt-race-to-the-rock-le-col-cycling