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Mountain bike: getting to grips with the unique landscape of East Belgium

In the forests of Eupen, mountain bikers can feel the adrenaline surge through their athletic bodies. It’s a literally breathtaking landscape, where every steep climb is followed by a technical descent. “Nowhere are the mountain bike routes as varied as in East Belgium,” says Yann. He trains together with other young mountain bikers from the RSK Eupen racing team on the 480 kilometres of MTB routes, surrounded by the natural beauty of East Belgium.

Text: / Photos: Dehaspe

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Since 1986, the mountain bikers of Rad Sport Klub Eupen (RSK Eupen for short) have been racing across these rugged landscapes. “Our club has about 80 to 100 members. Half of that number comes from our youth categories. The youngest rider of RSK Eupen is eight years old,” says Frédéric Rosenstein, one of the members of the club. Frédéric cycles, directs, provides training and organizes events at RSK Eupen. “Our aim is to introduce people both to cycling and to the natural beauty of our region,” he says. “But we can also prepare riders for a professional career in mountain biking.”

As we climb a gravel hill on foot, five shiny mountain bikes pass us. We follow the cloud of dust, thrown up from the gravel slope, to the top of the hill. Here, at the edge of the Hertogenwald forest, five members of RSK Eupen are waiting for us. At a log cabin, we meet two RSK Eupen trainers and three young mountain bikers from the club's professional racing team.

Cross-country: a sense of freedom

“Our club does not think in terms of age groups, but trains riders according to their abilities,” says Frédéric. “The club has a total of ten certified trainers who prepare our mountain bikers for competitions.” Cédric is one of the young riders who train with the club. “I’m on my mountain bike in the woods, training five to eight times a week,” he tells me. “My speciality is cross-country.” RSK Eupen focuses primarily on cross-country. It’s a discipline where you complete a technical course against the clock. Short climbs and difficult descents follow one other in rapid succession.

“Cycling through the woods and jumping the ramps gives me a sense of freedom – although you mustn’t lose your focus during a descent,” warns Yann. He is sixteen years old but joined RSK Eupen when he was just seven. “The landscape in the Eupen region varies a lot. There are loads of steep slopes followed by technical descents.” This makes East Belgium the perfect place to practise the cross-country discipline.

The variety of the landscape here allows us to train in a range of disciplines.”

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 Mountainbike (c)ostbelgien.eu_Dehaspe

A big tour from Sankt Vith to Ouren and back

Anyone can join RSK Eupen and enjoy some challenging cycling in the glorious natural setting of East Belgium. “There are some groups that only train once or twice. Our racing team trains four to five times a week. Plus, we organize additional training camps at home and abroad for our riders who participate in competitions,” says Frédéric.

During the training camps here, mountain bikers get to know each other better, but they also get to know the local landscape. “My favourite memory at RSK Eupen is the training camp at Bütgenbach,” says Cédric enthusiastically. To the south of Bütgenbach, there is a big tour from Sankt Vith to Ouren and back to Sankt Vith.

The route starts and ends in Sankt Vith. First, you travel along the historic Vennbahn (a disused railway) to Ourberg. From there, your calves will be tested by a succession of climbs in the valley of the river Our. Your suffering will be rewarded, eventually, with a panoramic view over the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which lies to the south-west. A paved road then leads you to the picturesque village of Ouren – which marks the half-way point on this MTB tour.

Before you complete the loop back to Sankt Vith, you pass through the German Eifel region. “One of my favourite places in East Belgium is the area around the border triangle, where Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg meet,” says Valère. But it's going to be tough. A climb of six kilometres begins on German territory, on a forest road. The route takes you past the former border customs post at Lützkampen.

During the long but rewarding descent, your tyre tracks will cross the border back into Belgium. The next few kilometres of the loop take you along the banks of the river Our. A tricky climb near Steinebrück is the final hurdle on this MTB route, before it ends where it all began: at Sankt Vith.

“We don’t need to design routes. Nature does it for us.”

Dashing on the Eupen Hertogenwald MTB route during the 3 Nations Cup

RSK Eupen reaches a crescendo of activity in March, in advance of the 3 Nations MTB Cup. Throughout the season, these competitions are held in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. The series serves as a benchmark in the discipline of cross-country for mountain bikers, when riders can earn points for the UCI world ranking. When we ask the RSK Eupen mountain bikers what is the highlight in their calendar, they respond with one accord: “The 3 Nations Cup!”

Frédéric is one of the organizers of the race weekend in Eupen. “Every year, around 600 mountain bikers come to our region to participate in the XC (cross country) races. The participants come from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France.” In addition, some 2000 supporters are expected in the centre of Eupen during the 3 Nations Cup. “After the race, many mountain bikers say that our course is the best in the race calendar,” says Frédéric proudly.

A large part of the course of the 3 Nations Cup follows the Eupen Hertogenwald MTB route. This MTB route is part of the network of cycling routes that straddle East Belgium. The intermediate loop starts at the outdoor swimming pool in the south of Eupen. After challenging climbs on gravel paths you reach the impressive Vesdre Dam.

“My favourite place for mountain biking in the whole region is the descent from the Vesdre Dam. You just fly down it,” says Cédric, beaming. Halfway along the loop you will be kicking up dust in the borderlands of the High Fens. You pass through the woodlands of the Hertogenwald, and there are some challenging technical trails close to the centre of Eupen. At the end of the Eupen Hertogenwald MTB tour you reach the Eupen Bike Park for the grand finale.

“We train with our members in the Bike Park to teach them how to ride descents, obstacles and steep trails.” says Frédéric. “It is also one of the few places where we can teach our mountain bikers fast, tight turns.” RSK Eupen also uses selected parts of East Belgium’s extensive network of signposted cycling routes. “The variety of the landscape here allows us to train in a range of disciplines on sections of the larger MTB routes,” says Frédéric.

 Mountainbike (c)ostbelgien.eu_Dehaspe
 Mountainbike (c)ostbelgien.eu_Dehaspe

All the way to the top

A number of mountain bikers from RSK Eupen have progressed to the top of the sport in recent years. “Laurenz and Tim Rex are both top athletes who have represented our team in mountain bike world championships.” Latterly, the Rex brothers have shifted their focus to road cycling, and now ride for Intermarché-Circus-Wanty, a team in the UCI World Tour. “Laurenz made his debut in a Grand Tour in the spring of 2023, and rode a very strong Giro d'Italia. His ninth place in the classic Paris-Roubaix race was even more impressive.”

“It is great to see riders moving on to the professional circuit, but our main goal remains unchanged: giving people the opportunity to cycle and enjoy being out in the open countryside,” Frédéric insists. The club members also have a deep appreciation for all the nature that surrounds them. Valère confirms this: “We share this passion for the unique nature that surrounds us with the walkers. When we pass them on the tracks, they always say hello or encourage us. We all share the same passion for nature.”

“Mountain biking is tough, but that's what makes it so much fun”

The quarries of the Warche valley

Nature is a big part of the essential character of East Belgium – and the local, natural stone used in the architecture reinforces the point. Many houses in East Belgium are built from local stone. It lends the villages their unique charm. There’s an MTB route dedicated to this stone called “Quarries of the Warche”. Leaving from Malmedy, it follows a 21.1-kilometre loop past historic quarries and babbling rivers.

Here among the quarries of the Warche valley you’ll find wild, abandoned places where stone was quarried in the distant past. After these impressive quarries you climb up and out of the valley. Surrounded by nature, the path continues uphill to the edge of the High Fens. There you reach the summit of the loop at an altitude of about 552 metres. The last kilometres consist of a pleasant descent, which takes you back to Malmedy.

Through the website you can discover the best MTB routes in East Belgium. There’s something for everyone here, from novices to advanced riders. Each route is rated for difficulty. Feel the adrenaline surge, or relax and drink in all that untrammelled nature. Follow the example of RSK Eupen: thrill to the challenge of East Belgium’s wonderfully rugged landscape. “Mountain biking is tough, but that's what makes it so much fun,” concludes Cédric.

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