Where gravel paths and fun come together
Hi, I'm Giovanni (Castelli Marketing Office), or Gio for friends, and in this blog post, I'll share the experience that my colleague Dries (Castelli Benelux) and I had at an event in Belgium: the French Borders event by Smugglers Path.
But first, let's take a (brief) step back. In April 2023, we had the pleasure of hosting the Smugglers (a group of friends who organize fantastic gravel events) at the Castelli HQ in Italy to show them their jersey development and production process. We immediately formed a great bond with the guys; on Friday night, we went out for a photoshoot in the trails around the company, and on Saturday, we went for a ride (strictly on gravel bikes) with Castelli's Brand Manager, Steve Smith. Their visit to Italy concluded with an invitation to Belgium in September for the French Borders event, an invitation I accepted after a few months, thanks to the approval from my bosses, Steve and Soren. Thanks, guys :)
Friday 15th - I arrived at Charleroi Airport - Brussels South (very south of Brussels :) ) at 1:30 PM and got into the car with Dries, who had come to pick me up. We headed towards Herbeumont, about an hour and a half drive away. About halfway there, we stopped in a village where Dries' grandparents used to have a house and discovered that all the places were about to close (just like in Italy). In the end, we found a place where we could have crepes and coffee.
We arrived in Herbeumont just before five, greeted the Smugglers' guys, and headed to the apartment to drop off our bags.
Back at the Smugglers Cave, the event's basecamp, we went to the Cannondale guys to set up the two bikes we would use the next day. Barbecue time came quickly, and we lined up to fill our plates. While we were eating, Dries asked (or maybe I asked him? I don't remember): “Are the wheels tubeless?” We went to check, and no, the wheels were not tubeless. As you can imagine, it became the primary concern of the evening, reinforced by the fact that we had heard from another participant that some sections of the route were a bit tricky.
Fortunately, the Friday party started, the DJ played some techno music (my favorite), and we forgot our worries.
The funniest moment of Friday? When we arrived at the registration point, I noticed a lady with her partner who looked much like a woman I had met the previous week at YOLOmites, a gravel event in Alta Badia, North of Italy. I approached and asked, "Were you at YOLOmites last week?" and she replied, "Yeeesss." Then we took a photo and sent it to the YOLO guys' Telegram group. Two words: Small world!
Saturday, 16th | 7:30 AM - The morning begins with a hearty breakfast, and the official start will be at 8:30 AM.
Before setting off, I asked, "Dries, which route did you load on the Garmin?"
Dries: "The long one."
Gio: "Ok, perfect. Let's do it." - I wasn't entirely convinced in my head. After all, it was only my third bike ride in a month and a half due to an injury, but I really like challenges (or doing stupid things?), so why not? From then on, the photos will tell you what we experienced, but there will still be some comments here and there.
The first 30 kilometers pass swiftly, and the pace maintained is quite impressive. The most challenging part, in the beginning, was resisting the urge to stop every 500 meters to take photos and videos—the landscapes and forests, especially where the sunlight filtered through, were truly breathtaking.
The first stop was at kilometer 60, and it came just at the right moment because I was about to run out of water. Of course, we loaded up on carbohydrates not because we are gourmand, but to better tackle the rest of the route :)
The first rule of any respectable gravel event? There must be at least one climb where you start asking yourself, 'If I walk, I might be faster.' And 95% of the time, it happens just like that unless you're a cyclist who rides 20,000 kilometers a year. Or Tadej Pogačar. I am not, so at some point, I started pushing my bike and walked up the climb. Me, and probably many others.
The second stop seemed to take forever to arrive (it was at kilometer 110), and my legs were no longer cooperating, but as soon as we got there, I devoured two waffles (by the way, delicious) and drank a Belgian Coke.
We set off shortly after, and it felt like my legs had started working again. Maybe I was motivated by the thought of a hamburger and a beer waiting for me at the finish line. And pizza for dinner.
For a moment, while I was still at the stop, I thought about switching to the shorter route. But then I realized I had already covered a significant portion of the long course and could handle another 40 kilometers.
Of all that happened when we reached the finish line, there are few photos because everyone was focused on doing three things: eating, drinking, and partying. Those are the three things I excel at, and the fun is guaranteed when other people are good at them too.
Would we recommend this event to others? Absolutely! The route is fantastic, and the atmosphere of the event and the people participating is even better. And no, I don't think there's anything else to add.
Thank you, Smugglers guys, for hosting and introducing us to this part of Belgium.
And thank you, Dries, for being the perfect teammate.
Photos by Sam Cornette and Giovanni Lira
Blog text by Giovanni Lira