Letters From Abroad – Training for the Ardennes

Photo by Jannes Wessels

Editor’s Note: Peter Horn is an American racing with the Geox-Fuji Test Team, the amateur development team of Geox-TMC. As Geox-Fuji Test Team’s captain, he’s looking to lead the team to victories in Belgium and around Europe, and help break the team’s riders into the Professional ranks.

4 April 2011 – Oostkamp, Belgium

“It says 56 kilometers to go. And we go right here,” Gertjan said, reading the instructions from his GPS. This was after four hours of training, just as we had finished reconning the hills and started going straight back to our hotel. “No, no way,” I said. “Can’t be more than 45k. We go left here, then right to Sprimont, and take the big road to Theux and then Spa.” The GPS had been brilliant all day: Gertjan had programmed the entire course for U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege and we followed the thing turn by turn over the last 80 kilometers and all the crucial climbs. But after training and racing in the Ardennes for several years, I trust my instincts and the map much more than anything electronic. Paavo agreed. So we went left, right to Sprimont and then on to Theuz. Paavo also had the bright idea to head through Polleur instead of through Spa – with rain coming in, this would cut off five or six kilometers of climbing and get us home that much quicker and drier.

We went to the Ardennes to prepare Gertjan De Vos and Jannes Wessels for U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and to give Paavo and me the chance to train in the hills and build strength for upcoming stage racing in that sort of terrain. Liege is right around the corner, on April 16th, and we will be doing hilly stage races in late April and throughout May. We trained three hours on Tuesday and Thursday; with the best weather scheduled for Wednesday, we made this our day to recon the course and put in five hours on the bike.

In Polleur, we stopped at a small bakery that, to our surprise, was still open. It was only around 3:00 but small town bakeries normally close as soon as they run out of break. Fortunately this place still had bread and much more – and we needed a little bit of energy for the last 30 kilometers of hills. We each bought a rice cake, shared a couple of Cokes and had our bottles refilled by the owner who very kindly offered us fresh filtered water from her own kitchen.

Photo by Jannes Wessels

Next thing we knew, we were back at Hotel Edelweiss and preparing for the next day of training. After our showers and recovery drinks, every day we went downstairs to the dining room to enjoy our host’s homemade soup and sandwiches. The hotel is owned by a kind Dutch woman who takes good care of you – almost too good, because once you get to know her, she starts bringing out desserts and cookies after dinner and then things get dangerous. We’re training in the hills to get faster, after all – not heavier! So we had to stay away from certain temptations but otherwise, it was a fantastic place to stay.

I had heard about the hotel from several riders, but never stayed there myself. When we decided last Monday to go to the Ardennes, I called Hotel Edelweiss first. It’s got an ideal location, not too far from the highways and at the foot of the highest mountain in Belgium, Baraque Michel – which we now call Obama Mountain. We easily made a reservation and started our training there on Tuesday. By the time we left on Thursday, Gerarda, the owner, was treating us like her children. The place was decorated with the jerseys, waterbottles, and cards of professional riders, and she was keen for us to return with clothing for her to put above the bar. Rest assured, Gerarda – we’ll be back soon.

Lastly the song of the week is “Soul Man,” by Sam and Dave. Easy listening and a nice groove to stretch to.


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