Today was the first stage of the BeMC 3-day mountain bike stage race in La Roche-en-Ardenne, Belgium. Contrary to what the majority believe, this part of Belgium isn’t flat. The stage was 52 miles long and had over 8,000ft of climbing.

I managed to get into a seeded box behind the elite riders, which was a huge benefit at the start, as it was a long and narrow climb. As you would expect, with all the fresh legs, it was fast. I responded well and held a good position. I was into the red but my legs were working fine.

I can’t remember a lot of details about the race, but I do remember there weren’t any flat bits. The climbing varied from forest track to singletrack and the majority were steep. The downhills were not very technical, which meant they were fast. I didn’t have a big enough chainring to keep up with some of the fast riders and found myself having to ride back to groups of riders on the uphills.

Everything was going well for the first half of the race. I was in a good position and continued to feel strong. Then due to all the steep climbing my long standing back problem started to flare up. I stretched on the bike as best I could but I was unable to keep pushing hard. I started to slow on the climbs and felt I was going backwards as riders passed me. I probably only lost 10 to 15 places, but it was demoralising. After about 40 miles, the pain subsided slightly and I was able to push on again. I knew that there was a big uphill towards the finish, so planned to make up some places.

Phil Simcock pictured with fellow JMC rider Richard Lilly

The start was brutal and everyone struggled. As it eased off slightly I pushed on and started to catch riders. Once at the top, the downhill was steep and fast. A group of four of us were together and aware that this was the run in to the finish, threw caution to the wind and let fly. A bit silly and scary but we all made it down safely and sprinted to the line.

I was glad it was over. My legs needed a rest and I needed something to eat. That’s the easy stage out of the way and onto stage 2 tomorrow, which is 60 miles long and with about 10,000ft of climbing. Let’s see how the legs are in the morning!

Result: 55th in the open category and 19th in the vet 40. Very pleased with that.