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Belgium dips its toe into waterbike races

As if cycling competitions weren’t hard enough, Belgium has launched its first competition of waterbiking: pitting competitors pedalling furiously afloat.

The first Belgian Waterbiking Championships, held Saturday in the central city of Namur, saw a couple of hundred competitors puffing on the river Meuse in a combination of fun and flat-out contest.

The event was an entree into the first European Waterbike Championships due to take place in Namur on November 4-5.

The race was against the clock, rather than a grouped dash, with participants pumping legs to push catamaran-fixed bike frames 500 metres (1,640 feet) along the water. It took the fastest just over three minutes.

“It’s the first world waterbiking championship that we know of,” one of the organisers, Sebastien Legat, said.

For almost all those racing, it was a new experience. The waterbikes don’t handle like normal bicycles, and course corrections need precious seconds to take effect.

“It’s harder than the bike. There are no gears, so you can’t shift up or down. In terms of steering, it’s also complicated: you veer off to the left and the right,” said one competitor, Emilie Halloin, 30.

“It’s really, really hard. But it’s fun — it was a great experience,” she said.

“It’s fun but it’s hard,” agreed another racer, Adrien Colle, 30. “The handling isn’t easy. You’re not used to steering a bike like that.”