Woke in Motel Kiwi to the sound of rolling thunder. Looking out the window at lightning strikes, the storm was only a couple of kays away. Big thunderstorm, all up in my locale – yay. The woman running the motel is very nice (I was worried about just letting myself into the room last night but no drama). I have an omelette breakfast and then find a market to restock for onward travel. It’s tipping down so I spend extra time wandering the market.
Oh, last night, back in Croatia? I was in a bad patch. I think I might’ve tried to sleep in a bus stop and had some crazy semi-conscious dream about orange, something orange, I don’t know but orange was important. I couldn’t work out if I was in the race or not, what I was meant to be doing, it was all very trippy. Michael Wacker came along and we rode together for a bit chatting about TABR and it took my mind off the weirdness – thanks dude. He split off for water and soon after I was cheered down by some locals at a bar who I thought were TCR fans. They immediately forced a beer onto me and when I insisted more beer was no good because I needed to stay awake, they went and raided the bar fridge and handed me loads of cans of juice! Legends! I didn’t get a pic for my ‘beer in every country’ mission though, sorry fans, it all happened a bit fast.
I continue to tap it out over Bosnia all day, quite enjoying the scenery – small roads, pleasant climbs (yeah I know, I’ve gone sick in the head) and nice views.
“Almost stacked descent just before. Bunny hop edge into loose Fun, not.”
“Finally caved and put Voltaren on my knees.”
“Cicadas, like being home. These ones have an odd accent though 😉”
“Trebinje. Fighting the wind!! Fire in town so heat and smoke in road, then car crash, then bought water. #TCRNo4”
Trebinje, the last town before Montenegro was on fire. Literally on fire. There was a big blaze in the town (lightning strikes seemed to have started some other fires in the hills) that was being whipped up by crazy strong winds. It was hundreds of metres away but the smoke over the road was too thick to see through and the heat! It was like I was standing right next to the fire! Damn! Lucky I got out of there quick.
I spotted a market (with a tiny little kitty outside) and refilled bottles after some confusion about currency (I’d basically lost track of which money worked in which country). Stupidly forgot to buy any food because I thought I was out of cash.
The climbing went on for ages. It was stunning but I’d run out of food and water and had no idea what was available near or over the border. There was a car parked at a lay-by with a woman and child standing next to it so I asked “are there any food places ahead?” as I rolled by, but she said she doesn’t travel this way normally and didn’t know. About 5-10 minutes later the same car drives alongside me and there’s now a guy driving. “Do you want some biscuits?” he says. “I’d love some, cheers” I reply, trying my hardest not to look too desperate but relieved to have some food for sure. He hands a packet of savoury biscuits through the window and drives off. “Awesome!” I think, scoffing half the packet. Shortly after, the border to Montenegro appears and I roll by the line of stationary cars. Noticing the car that gave me the biscuits, I swung a u-ey and asked the guy if he wanted money for the biccies, since I had loads of currencies on me. He said “no, no, no, it’s fine mate” or similar and I noticed his accent and asked where he was from. He says “Albania… but I live in London”. “London?! Whereabouts?” I ask. “Ealing Broadway” he replies. I crack up, “NO WAY! That’s where I live!” So, we have a chat about the coincidence and how he’s only on this route because his GPS was being funny and the fact that an Albanian guy who drinks in my local London pub has just handed an Australian some biscuits in Bosnia. He offers me some other stuff and I accept a refill of water and then wave them goodbye before crossing the border into another new country for me – Montenegro!
Leave the CP3 hotel and quickly pull into a small outdoor bar to buy food – they have just fruit sweets and some hipster quinoa bars or some shite so I buy it all and carry on. Someone (I can only see a headlight) coming the opposite way yells “Hi hippy” and I say “Hi.. err.. who is that?” and they say “James!”. What the? I’d read on Twitter that he’d scratched quite early due to lung issues. Was it the same James? Was he carrying on? Had he just traveled to the CP to wave at other riders? I trundled on – if it was @skinny and he was back in the race it wouldn’t be too long before he passed me – younger, lighter, faster and not stopping for beers or to tape his butt cheeks gives him a small advantage 😉
Giau – no photos, no smartarse tweets, just me climbing extremely slowly nursing sore knees up a partially illuminated mountain. No nice scenery to make the climb worth it, nothing but gradient.
“Knee tender after lots of standing climbing so taking this very easy. Had fill of bread soup and pasta at hotel. Back to just bibs #TCRNO4”
I can generally climb anything, I’m just not fast about it but with the Giau I was in and out of the saddle, stopping to eat and drink, stopping to adjust shorts, messing with lights, all manner of stuff. I saw Michael Wacker and another rider descending. Michael told me to enjoy the tea so I assumed there were TCR guys up top. After hours of hard graft I made the top and it was deserted. I rode around the carpark and probably disturbed some doggers who, when queried about the TCR, had no idea what I was talking about. I checked my course notes and decided I didn’t need to do any validation here and should descend. Changed to warmer clothes, tightened headset AGAIN and then slowly rolled away. James caught me around here. I was pretty shelled but at least heading down wasn’t more bloody climbing. Must’ve taken my glasses off (I carried two pairs – sunglasses and clear glasses for night) because I was hit right in the eyeball by a bug and rode the last part of the climb with one eye closed. On the last corner the back wheel hit a rock and I almost overshot the bend, sideways. Fun times. At the village I thought I might be able to get a coffee from the bar I’d seen hours ago but of course it was now closed – never get your hopes up for anything during these races!
“In lots of pain after Giau. Met James on climb out of town. He’ll storm the field. Back on 2 knicks but not working. Need scissors.”
James and I now rode side by side up a smaller climb since we both had a similar route that would now take us south towards Udine and the coast. I asked him all about what happened and we chatted about the race and I dunno, general shit to take our minds off the slog. I remember really needing a poo. We descended for ages and I was constantly looking for a bar to get a coffee and use their toilets but nothing was open. After a while we hit another climb and I couldn’t be bothered keeping up. He was going to find a bivvy spot soon but I was going to push on into the morning and was still looking for a toilet. I never found one and had to ‘go bush’. I made a mental note to restock my zip lock of emergency toilet paper at the next possible opportunity.
In the early hours I found a coffee bar that was doing a decent trade in croissants and espresso. Heaven.
“So tired. Was going to ride through and get hotel but might just pass out in bivvy. Need to wash kit though. Sweaty from south.#TCRNo4”
I stop in Pordenone and scope a bunch of hotels. Finally lock in Hotel Minerva who turn out to be great. They have a half day rate, I eat their food, borrow their charger and scissors and get some sleep. I also wash my bibs which causes some controversy on Twitter but they dried under the aircon before I left so no big deal. I used the scissors, not on my pubes this time, but on yet another type of tape I’d brought for emergencies.
It was special arse tape, designed to move in all directions and be placed over blisters and saddle damage. I’d bought it before my LEJOG record attempt in 2014 but never tried it. I don’t know why I didn’t apply it sooner. It seemed to help the next day as I cycled along the SS13 towards another place I’d been before, Udine. The flatter roads again having me tweeting random stuff while riding along – I’d started out just wanting to take notes for myself but I seemed to get a lot of interest so kept it up when I could.
Borders are coming thick and fast now. Slovenia and before I know it I’m in Croatia, a country I’ve never visited before.
Slovenia was a rolling flat, fast, truck route whereas it’s a long descent into Croatia and I quickly find myself in the ‘burbs. Actually on mountainside with crappy roads and no idea where I’m going. The lights of the big city disappear and I’m suddenly worried again about my navigation and chances of finding food at night. Stupidly I once again pass a few bars thinking “oh, there’s bound to be a better place soon”. Idiot.
“Past two bars. Now in nomansland. Might have to hunt and kill dinner #TCRNo4”
“16k and I finish another route file. Arbitrary goals are arbitrary #TCRNo4”
“Long section of dirt roadworks. Bar with guy singing trad music I presume. Sounds like Polish. BBQ smell #TCRNo4”
I find another bar in the hills but they are not serving food. They direct me, with no English, to where I might find food. I follow their directions (I think) and find a place doing pizza. Ooh, I get to use another new currency and I’m so glad I had the foresight to obtain all the currencies I could in advance of the race.
“Some arse just found 5k of unrideable fuking loose gravel after 13% climb. I hate this. #TCRNo4”
My route took me from the coast right back into the centre of Croatia and in doing so up a long, steep climb. But I had my mp3 player going and was super pumped to be clawing back time on the others. Then the road stopped and I was on the sketchiest gravel path I’ve ever ridden. I couldn’t work out why the bike handled so badly but I think it was because it was basically round pebbles interspersed with little rock gardens that kicked the bike wheels all over the place. I lost it – mentally and control. At one stage I almost veered over the edge. Wait, edge? What the? I turn my lights over to the right and see tree tops! Where the hell am I?! It must end soon I convince myself as I ride 200m and then lose control again and again. I’m yelling at everything now, cursing my route. Dogs are barking somewhere. I think someone’s coming out to see what the fuss is but I can’t see anything just hear a car. Eventually I get onto tarmac again. I could’ve kissed it! I should’ve stayed on the E65 to Senj and then climbed.
So I rode through the night and in the early hours found a hotel. After a long non-English discussion with a cleaner someone else arrived and they wouldn’t have me. Some guys going fishing at 6am were already on the piss and asking me if I wanted a drink! It was hard to tell them no but I had to press on.
“Hotel in Gacka wouldn’t have me but I got water and toilet from them. BAKERY!!!!! Omg!!!”
After the baked goods though I got dozy and just sat against some dude’s fence. He appeared after maybe 15-20min but he wasn’t upset or anything, motioned me to stay but I’d woken and moved on.
Found a bar and got some caffeine into my system. Very odd place, old couple already drinking and smoking at 8am. I climbed out of the park and was still struggling to stay awake.
Sveti Rok? Distances between towns were long, it was hot and monotonous riding.
Found a roadside restaurant and had lunch but could barely finish reading the menu. I ate and then went out and had a snooze lying on one of their outside bench seats. Back in and bought a coffee, used their toilet and filled bottles maybe.
“Contrast 40 heat, 8% slog, needing a poo, you know. Then opens into MASSIVE Valley and looong descent. Get driver thumbs up and portaloo!”
I’m in busy Knin. It’s going off. I stop at bakery and get food and drink. Apparently they’re celebrating the war ending (21 years ago?). People everywhere. Crazy town. As I climb away from the town people are beeping and cheering. It’s encouragement though, not malicious like the idiots here. Rider #144 goes past at some stage – again. He passed in the morning and I guess I passed him at some stage but I’ve not been looking at the tracker so have no idea where anyone is. I ride into the night and eventually stop at Motel Kiwi in Bosnia. Guess that means I crossed another border?! Another first time in a country for me. There’s no one around so I just write my name down and grab a key and sleep in the room after a shower.
I spent the rest of the evening night being furious with the bike and myself for using a known problem saddle but knew I didn’t really have a choice. I was hating on the hotel and their lack of food. I was hating on everything basically because I wasn’t supposed to be in this much pain this early in the race. Leg pain from riding hard, sure, but not pain that stops you from riding properly. My knees were getting trashed due to all the standing up riding I was doing. Knees are something you do not want to have issues with as a cyclist! But, I’d already decided I would do anything required to continue, I wasn’t going to pack yet. Running food calculations through my head I thought I could just about scrape through the hardcore 70k/4000m climbing parcours with the food/drink I had plus I’d looked for shops on or below the climbs and reasoned that something would be open.
“Taped 3cm black blister. Found loose thread in shorts – contributed? Wearing newer bibs, no cream so tape stays. #TCRNo4#TCRNo4S142 is back”
On the road around 4am before sunrise and through Grindelwald town to begin the first climb. Having washed off all the chamois cream, I’d taped my blisters with micropore tape – it was helping. The race required riders to head to Furkapasss (made famous in a James Bond film that I can’t recall) via Grosse Scheidegg and Grimselpass (using tunnel alternatives). It was actually quite amazing to think that I was riding a bike and watching the sunrise over some of the biggest mountains in the world. I grew up in a flat, desert landscape so any mountains are spectacular but Switzerland takes the cake for me. A badger ran across the road in front of my wheel and I almost crapped myself. The cowbells tonked as I continued climbing in and out of the saddle, conserving energy for the climbs to come.
Eventually I crested the top and descended, very conservatively. I was pretty cold by the time I got to the bottom so made a mental note to put on my Rab rain jacket and my long-finger Rab gloves for the next descents. I remember checking a hotel to see if they were open for breakfast but no such luck. Into a valley and I found a hotel that was open so I stopped and the woman agreed to serve breakfast. A short while later Michael Wacker, another racer, appeared for brekkie. He had stayed here last night, something I should have done. We had a catch up about the race while tucking in and I left before him, full and ready to start the next climb.
The sun was up and it was again stunning scenery. Once again it was just a case of tapping out what I could, managing the saddle pain and eventually the top would appear. Lots of counting switchbacks, calculating altitude and trying to occupy time until the top and a rest on the downhill.
Garmin’s stupid Virtual Partner finishes the parcours hours before I do. I vow to punch him in the face when we meet. Somehow, what I thought was the last climb turns out to be only the second half of the second climb so I’m heading out of a town and up the final bastard ascent. Some old guy passes me on an MTB – he has his missus in tow on an assisted electric bike. I pass him later when they’d stopped and when he repasses me and I say “allez!” he says “oh no no no”. Glad it wasn’t just me that was finding the climb tough. Finally finish and grab some junk food from a guy in a small booth at the top of the mountain. Along with the Snickers, Mars and Coke, he gives me some free energy gels/bars that I presume he can’t sell to anyone with their full mental faculties. I do a well dodgy pass of a motorhome to get a clear run at the descent. It’d warmed up now so I was being less conservative. Half way down I have to stop and tighten my headset again though and plug in my Garmin to the external battery pack so they pass me back and I just sit in for the remainder of the bendy downhill.
This is where it gets interesting for the dot watchers because I have a “cunning plan!”. I head up another climb but unlike everyone else, I’m heading into the 35 degree heat and due south. Some army guys cheers me on and I pass a cycle tourist loaded with more kit than me. My plan is to head right down to Brescia, Lake Garda, Como, etc. and then head north again to get to Passo Giau (CP3). It removes 4500m of climbing but adds 120k compared to my mountain route which headed directly to CP3 in Italy. I’d decided to include it last minute and then decided to take the southerly route while climbing. Although I would miss the mountain scenery, I love riding my bike fast. Riding at 8-10kph in the granny gear for hours isn’t great fun for me. Tapping out 40kph for the same wattage is FUN! After the race I saw all the discussion about whether my move was idiotic or brilliant. I think a bit of both. 🙂 I left the race and returned in about the same position after getting some sleep so I think it worked out in my favour although I’ll never really know for sure.
“Injuries you can’t plan for: left thumb sprain from jamming bottles under framebag.”
This route was beautiful. It was endless descent, such easy riding tailwind-assisted loveliness. On the aerobars on nice roads at speed I was totally in my element and loving life! It got a bit lumpy when I hit Italy but nothing like the mountains the other riders would be on.
The Italian roads are in a lot worse condition than the Swiss and I spend the night dodging potholes. This gets easier as it gets later as with fewer cars around I can ride all over the road to dodge the crappy surface. I stop for another pizza around 11pm I guess, filling up for a long night.
In the early hours I almost crack and ride through a McDonalds drive-thru. Pulling myself together I ride on and come across service station vending combo where I refill water, maybe food and surprisingly nice coffee!
“That’s 18hrs on the saddle that was killing me yesterday. Maybe it was that loose thread. Same shorts I wore on pbp too. Hmm.”
“You know you’re wrong in the head when last night’s 3:30 alarm warning is showing and you haven’t slept yet #TCRNo4”
“Going loopy with boredom and tiredness. Verona. Checking in to hotel before I wobble into something harder than me #TCRNo4”
After breakfast and a quick clean and another insufficient sleep waking hours before my alarm, along with some USB device charging (thanks to the front desk guy) I head off again, soon heading into a northerly direction. It’s mid-morning, maybe approaching lunchtime and the traffic is mental.
“Dunno why but woke after 1hr though set for 3. Traffic fucked. Saw bike under car. Trying to route off 70kph road, no shoulder #TCRNo4”
I freak out after something from a truck hits me and decide to reroute but after a while stopped and failing to find an ‘easy’ alternative I get back on the busy road and continue. Sod it, it’s faster anyway.
I start to see mountains again. My fast, flat, fun times will be coming to an end soon. Having lost my toothbrush which had the micropore tape wrapped around it I look for a pharmacy. Of course I don’t find one and continue into the mountains. I do find a supermarket and look for scissors to cut my other possible ‘gooch tape’. Instead I buy food and drink only (crisps, iced coffee, mineral water?) and continue towards CP3.
Lots of false flats and even some decent descents which surprised me along with a couple of tunnel bypasses that I had to query the correct route for with some locals and eventually (late afternoon?) I make it to the hotel acting as CP3. Here I refuel, do an interview and find out I’m still up with the same guys, around 14th place, maybe 6hrs behind 10th. It’s still taking a lot of effort to manage the saddle pain but I’m just getting on with it now, resigned to the fact I have to keep going to finish.
Right, where was I? Oh yeah, the CP1 hotel. Ultan and Mike were dozing in the lobby when I arrived. I got my brevet card stamped and decided to eat some stuff from the hotel and get some sleep so checked in. If I had’ve left then, I would’ve been 4th rider on the road. Next time, Gadget, next time. I’d set my alarm arbitrarily for 2hrs. I can’t remember but probably showered and did some undercarriage maintenance (based on my now infamous hotel scissors tweet!).
For some strange reason I woke after only an hour – I guess the race mentality does strange things to your brain/sleep patterns. So, I was up and out and heading for the required parcours – the climb of Col de Ceyssat. It was damp. In fact, it was raining, so I stopped in a bus shelter and put on my new silver RAB rain jacket (thanks again skinny!). I don’t remember any issues with the climb, just tapped it out on mostly gentle gradient I think. I took photos of some columns at the back of the carpark as instructed by Mike – this would act as proof I’d done the climb in case my tracker wasn’t working properly.
Headed back down and got breakfast at some cafe/bakery. Judging by my tweets at the time, the croque was a little bit on the hot side.
Cruising north east now heading towards CP2 in Switzerland. From memory I quite liked these roads. Nice scenery, little bit of rolling terrain, cooler weather and a feeling of progress. I passed someone filling bottles and lifted the pace to get a gap on them. Of course it was the last town for miles and I then ran out of water because I’m an idiot.
Charolles, Burgundy – my first dot watchers! By complete accident (I missed a turn in a town) I rode down a different route parallel to my plan and on the corner someone was waving me down. It was James Hayden’s father and sister! They were dot watching and had come out to meet riders. How awesome!
I don’t remember much of this section of the route. I do recall some rerouting on meeting some more gravel roads and some long rolling sections that were quite enjoyable if a bit lumpy for a fat man. Finding food and drink in France on a Sunday (or was it Monday?) was a pain – stopped at a food van and they couldn’t even do a cold baguette because it was going to take 30min to cook/heat a baguette loaf! So, basically junk food consumed all day. I was saved for the evening section when I stumbled on a pizza shop window in a small French town – the baker used to work in west London! Saved half in a bag for later. Various bits reminded me of other countries but it was cornfields like you’d see in movies from the USA that stood out.
I dropped some coins and my glasses on the road just to keep myself occupied. Now the altitudes started ramping up while the temps went down (down to at least 5 deg C according to the Garmin). I don’t recall when, but probably in the early hours, I attempted to bivvy in a sort of field near to some shops, beside the road. It was kind of a hardware store sector. It failed – just like my UK bivvy attempts I was shivering very soon after lying down but unlike my UK attempts I didn’t bother hanging around to force sleep, I just packed straight up and got back on the bike before things got really cold. It was maybe 500m of altitude but it was foggy and clammy and I was wearing most of my available layers as I trudged onwards. I was in Crotenay, France apparently but not much else was being given up. I knew the terrain continued to rise because I could see lights above me and it was only when a truck went past that it illuminated a tunnel of tall trees alongside the road. I find the French name “Ardon” amusing as I find even lower gears on this silly but practical 32T cassette.
“Hard to find water at night in rural France when your entire world is a 20 metre semi-circle of light.“
“Late night CCTV footage from unmanned service stations across France is me with my hands down my shorts.“
“Last night sucked. Cold pizza, no drink for hours. Then find every shop open. Lots of kit changes, everything chaffs different!“
The sun rises and I dive into any open establishment to refuel. I find a hotel and they agree to sell me some breakfast. I think for maybe 3EU I get a coffee, some water and a pastry or two. Later down the road I pull over and head into a tabac where I buy up a load of sweets and softdrinks. Steerer bung and/or headset is loose again. It has been torqued correctly a couple of times prior to the race so it’s not a wrenching error – I don’t think the bung grips the steerer well enough.
Switzerland! I’m clearly riding where the Tour de France went this year as there’s TdF graffiti all over the roads. Flying downhill is great!
What’s not so great is realising at the bottom of the massive hill your route is some craptastic off-road creek-side path that ends after 200m. Bollocks.
I have a £30 (or whatever the Swiss Francs equivalent was) coffee and wander around lost for a while until I climb the silly 13% road out of the valley back up to a main road. This is all ad hoc navigation based on looking at zoomed out Garmin maps – I would do this a lot during the 12 days of my race.
“Saddle tearing me to pieces. Have to change position every few strokes like a bmx“
I’m hurting and already looking for a bike shop so I can buy a new saddle or a gel cover. Although I ordered the bike in March, due to various issues it wasn’t built until 2-3 weeks before the race. So I’d thrown on a saddle I’d used for PBP but one that I knew hurt me. It was hurting me now!
After lots of small field lanes I found a kebab van and stopped for chips and drinks. It was quite warm now. Further down the road, maybe after Neuchatel lakeside I stop at another cafe.
“Stopped for more food. That’s code for using a cafés toilet. Met Swiss guy (no, not in the bog!) who knew about TCR. He knew rider #146.“
Met another family of dot watchers. I think they gave me a coke or something. It was cool to have random people cheering you on!
Keep riding through the day and struggle all the way with the ISM PN1.1 that’s ‘tearing me a new arsehole’, literally. I’m quite comfortable on other ISM saddles but I think the extra padding on this model is really damaging me. I pass Interlaken – it’s beautiful but quite different to when I was last here in 2005 – after it had suffered pretty devastating floods along with the rest of Europe. As I get closer to CP2 Grindelwald I conduct an on-road interview with Leo and some others in a media van where I detail my undercarriage woes. I’m sure they lap it up (gross, not like THAT!). The climbing up here is hard work, the scenery really beautiful but most of it is lost on me as all my concentration is taken up trying to fight the pain.
I finally arrive at the Grindelwald hotel and conduct further interviewage (yeah, that’s a word, trust me) and enjoy sitting on a different seat. Ultan arrives a little bit later. I’m broken and since it’s the Swiss National Day and none of the bike shops are open I decide to book a room and go to bed here. Mistake. The hotel turns out to be shit – they don’t do food without pre-booking (dafuq?!), they don’t have curtains in the tiny room and it’s the afternoon so I can’t sleep. I ride into town and grab some junk food. Shower and wash my knicks and find a busted thread which might’ve contributed to my issues. Are there any restaurants nearby? No, you have to ride back into town. Screw that! I finish my bag of peanut M&Ms and try to sleep, preparing to find a bike shop tomorrow. I feel guilty about letting Ultan go and sleeping when I don’t need to so my alarm goes from 8am to 6am to 4am to 3:30am. After night falls, I eventually fall asleep.
“CP2. Regret checking in. Shit hotel but need to shower to test second skin solution to arse blisters. Ultan carried on.“
“Daylight in room. No hotel food! 4 Franc for bottle water. Fail. Shoulda kept going until night. Race over. Will try to buy saddle 2moro.“
“Trains passing too! No food, no darkness. Dumb move on my part.“
“If I leave at night, food is scarce. May as well get a full night, tackle big climbs tomorrow. Brain and legs feel good too. Damn.“
After last minute packing and more Amazon orders than you can poke a stick at, the day of departure arrived and I rode to the Eurostar station while Mal caught the Tube over. Bike was swiftly checked in to Eurodespatch where I met another rider, Dan from Leicester. Off to Brussels we went!
Grabbed the bike from the train bloke (met Josh Rea from NZ/China) and hopped a train for Ninove where we’d booked a room, since Geraardsbergen was full up with other racers. Mal hadn’t been to Belgium before so we had a little bit of an explore while I drank all the beers I could find.
On the Friday morning we headed to Geraardsbergen on the train and went through registration, where I picked up a Spot tracker that would allow all you virtual stalkers to watch me flail about Europe for two weeks.
Grabbed some more food and more beers and relaxed. I was way calmer before this event than most of my TTs oddly enough.
Had a chat with Ultan, xkittyx and Frank Proud and probably some others (oh yeah Stu, who knows Jilko and said g’day which was nice) and before I knew it it was time to change and head to the start.
Into the bogs and on goes the chamois cream, bibs and knicks and my brand new Castelli jersey fails before I even get to use it – I will end up doing the whole race with an arm gripper hanging out of my sleeve – so much for more aero.
The start was busy with riders and spectators and was a neutralised loop around town while the spectators went up the famous Muur climb with their flaming torches! I remember speaking to US guy who warned me about potholes somewhere on the start of the climb – thanks dude! The countdown happens, the race starts and I slowly roll out behind 200 other racers. I’m wary of ‘racing’ anything this early and just want to get out of the crowds safely. Up the climb I’m grinning like an idiot and I spot Mal and try to highfive her but highfive James Hayden’s dad instead – still cool – we’d been chatting before the start. James was a favourite for this race – he’s young, quick, lean, and especially motivated after smashing the early stages of last year’s event but ultimately failing to finish.
I avoid any drama and immediately separate from everyone (quickly pushing away any navigation-related panic, I’m heading in the right direction, stay calm Captain Directionless!). Then, almost as quickly, I’m back with some other riders after a junction and all of a sudden my lights turn off. Shit! Stop and see the hub has rotated and the connector has popped off. Quick fix to spin it around and tighten skewer. Lights back on! Crisis averted! Woot!
Bit of a blur overnight, seeing other riders now and then but my path is further west than most others in order to miss out some climbing. For much of the night/day I wonder if it was the right move but had I left the first checkpoint at Claremont-Ferrand when I’d arrived instead of wussing out and sleeping, I’d have been in 4th place!
During the day I have memories of it being quite warm, eating lots of junk food when I could actually find shops and my saddle already starting to hurt me. Not good. I can race >830k in 24hr and my other ISM saddle is fine. The PN1.1 that hurt me during PBP is doing the same again. Oh crap. This is what happens when you don’t have time to prep and test a bike before a race and have to use what you’ve got. In my case, ‘better the devil you know’ does not apply to saddles!
At some point I manage to find some ridiculous sandy track and it quickly becomes totally unrideable. My two week long mental breakdown begins… “Haven’t seen single open shop since start. Water gone. France, wake up!!!“… “Found dam to wash cleats out and bar for espresso. All good. Sore back. Slow going. West route sucks. Shoulda stayed with ‘peloton’.“… “Lost to fuck. It was only a matter of time.“… “Civilisation!!! Food, water, tarmac on most of the road. Hallelujah! 🙂“.
After 12 hours not seeing any riders or any shops I finally find a town with open shops and smash coffee and pepsi and cake (a Paris Brest cake to be precise) into my face hole. Soon after… “Carrefour lunch. Such yum much taste. Shorts seem to have turned penis into mince. Bit earlier than expected. :S” and “Tendon in front of left ankle playing up again. Can’t push big gears.” but on the flip side “Really nice roads in the Loire Valley.”
“27 degrees. need to find food before night. For all the credit French food gets I wish it was actually available.” and then a 3 course meal in St Pierre le Moutier!
I make the CP1 hotel at 4:30am and although I could’ve gone on and been in 4th place I decide to be sensible and sleep since it’s >24hr awake already and there’s 3500k still to ride! I check in, faff a bit (“Don’t tell hotel guy but I used his scissors to cut off my pubes to tape raw bits. #TCRNo4#TCRNo4S142“) and set alarm for 2hrs. Wake up after 1hr – wtf?! Okay, may as well get going then if you don’t want to sleep, human. It’s raining as I climb the required parcours up Col du Ceyssat.
With only a couple of weeks to go until the start of the Transcontinental Race #4 it’s a good thing the new bike has finally arrived. Bike Whisperer HQ was busy with sweat, swearing and Shimano grease and the bike made its debut on a commute last Friday and then straight out into the wild on a little 600k audax called The Buzzard. I’d attempted the Buzzard before, as a Perm, just after Christmas but failed when my GPS went mental after 450k.
There’s still a lot of (mostly panicking) to do before the TCR leaves Belgium for Turkey. At this stage, given how much damage I did during the 700k last weekend I’m looking to just survive the TCR. I have no goals for securing a ‘result’ other than doing my best to finish and finish healthy. My route is about 3700 kilometres and includes about a BILLION metres of climbing, thanks to Mike “suck it up bitches!” Hall who made the checkpoints so that riders were forced to stay in the Swiss Alps, Italian Dolomites and then the Black Mountains. So, yeah as a fat bastard this race is totally not geared up for me. You’ll be pleased to note that I abandoned my weightloss plan months ago for a “drink beer, she’ll be ‘right” plan instead. As such I’ve ordered some even lower gears in the hope I may be able to haul my carcass over all these bloody mountains before the end of days.
PB by ~4min and finally got Pete Cookson’s 1995 clubrecord. Sorry Pete!
Not much to say other than there’s minutes to be had if I can just stop my leg going numb. Torrential rain before the start made me question the point but we’d traveled up here so it seemed silly not to race. Glad I did.
Easy to get a course best on this ride since it was a new course! The clever cookies started the race at stupid o’clock in the morning so riders could spend more time on the fast DC parts of the A11 and A14. It worked and I secured another club record and PB, even though I had issues with my left leg going numb again and spent a lot of time out of the saddle trying to regain feeling in it! 14th in a very strong field was pretty good considering my ongoing leg issues.
2016-08-19: I never got around to writing about this ride but here are some notes I’d made way back when. May as well post them and get rid of the draft email sitting around…
Started out bit late and didn’t really ride hard enough to catch any fast groups.
Finish: 33.5 hours – 8hr stop time! Must improve, but easy to waste time at controls. Sleep stop was total waste of time, for example.
Sleep kit I tried was still far too cold to be useful – Hunka bivvy, silk liner, PHD down jacket not good enough in -3degC!
Later on Sunday morning I tried sleeping on grass in sun – maybe dozed off, not sure but felt a little better afterwards.
Rough mental patch from post-Kings YHA sleep attempt all the way into next day – need to sort head out! Probably better when competing because then I’m more focused on trying to win and not just trundling along.
Start – Fruit Pastelles bag
Honey Cafe @ ~70k – Beans on toast x 3, Coffee cake, Coffee
Llanidloes control at ~140k – Scone w/ j&c, some other cake, cappuccino, refill bottles
Stopped with Paul in some village – 2 Mars Bars, fruit pastelles? coke?
Kings1 – soup, cous cous mains, fruit salad, instant coffee and squash?
Menais Bridge @ ~300k – Whatever they were offering (mains, rice pud & pineapple) plus cake slice, Soreen pieces, biscuit, coffee, grabbed two rolls (cheese and ham&cheese?) and flapjack piece to carry during long night stage back to Kings.
Kings 2nd – soup, spicy cous cous mains, cake? instant coffee and squash?
Tried to sleep in bivvy outside, failed, just laid shivering
Newtown garage – egg & cress sandwich, 2 x apple turnovers, cappuccino.
2nd Cafe – chocolate cake, cappuccino
Cappuccino at train station cafe, needed toilet
Finished with large Soreen malt loaf, share pack fruit pastelles, Pepsi from service station.
Think I got through 8 or 10 bags of premixed 500ml Torq, 2-3 gels, 1 Torq bar.
Side-mount cages need to be swapped so I can use left hand.
Sunglasses would’ve been good and using sunscreen smart idea.
Need lower gears to make some steeper climbs less work (had 39/28T)
Comments on YACF:
I wondered why I didn’t see you. Though with my pace, it was equally likely you’d left at 6am and I never caught up with you. Hope it gets better soon.
Funny how I’d ‘planned’ to sleep and would’ve been better off if I kept moving instead of freezing in a bivvy and for once in my life I didn’t have a navigation issue (a Garmin device worked for over 24hrs – I know, I should buy a lottery ticket!) using your route. Is that irony?
If it wasn’t for another bloke I might’ve missed the Llanidloes? control at 160k. I write the control distances down on a cheat sheet so wasn’t planning on stopping until then but it appeared at ~140k. I think that was the only weirdness.
I think I rode past Aberhasefp. I was so slow it would’ve been open when I went past too. Next time…
I had a good day on day one – loved the scenery Wales had to offer and was surprised it was so warm. Would love to take the missus and explore the prettier bits a little more. Rode along chatting with a guy who wasn’t on the ride until Kings where he split to a B&B in the town.
After trying and failing to get any sleep in a bivvy at Kings (to the guys that asked it said -3degC on the Garmin) I went a bit down hill mentally and just kind of grovelled along for hours and hours feeling sorry for myself. Thought about bivvying again now the sun was out but in the end just laid down on a grassy corner somewhere and ‘reset’. That and some food helped for a while and then the sads came back later and I tried it again outside a pub and a female cyclist (not on BCM) asked if I was ok! We had a bit of a chat and rather than moving inside the pub fence I decided I should just ride. So thanks whoever you were, you cheered me up and got me home that much quicker.
After a final refill of food and drink at some service station I had a fast finish. Ended up pretty pink as I didn’t bother to put on any sunscreen. Weird event for me since I wasn’t racing and it was more of a test for TCR, I couldn’t quite get my head in the right place – since I was adding in sleep stops and I wasn’t pushing hard I just kept dwelling on stuff or getting annoyed when people passed me and I wasn’t keeping up and dumb stuff like that instead of enjoying the ride I was getting angry with myself for not competing! It’s not a race you idiot! Nevermind, I’m feeling better about the whole experience with some hindsight
Got some more good info about what works and what doesn’t so next long training ride, whatever it is, should go that much better. Things like Compact cranksets and putting my side-entry bottle cages on the other way around..
Thanks to the organisers and the volunteers. Thanks to other riders who I shared a brief comments with about the cold or my crack cocaine or just a “got everything you need” or whatever.
I tend to do the opposite and do things like maths around the distance remaining – so say it was 50k to go, I’d divide by 2 and that’s 25kph and as it ticked over I’d keep dividing. It gives me something to do and makes the distance to go smaller too. I think I’ll give your method a go. I used to do that in races some times – tape up the computer and ride on feel. Probably easier to do during an audax when it doesn’t matter if you slack off. I’ll add that into my bag of tricks for next long one. Cheers.
I’m sure I was warmer in the bivvy this time with the extra kit compared to last time although it was colder outside if the Garmin is to be believed (-3 vs. 0). I probably should’ve grabbed some cardboard or something from inside the hostel to use as a ground pad but I’m kind of trying to start minimal and add stuff until I can actually sleep. Kind of like trying to fly by jumping off a building first and then adding wings on the second attempt…
Cheers. I wasn’t really looking for a bivvy spot I just used the YHA because if it went badly (it did) I could go back inside have a coffee and leave.
In hindsight I wasn’t tired enough and probably should’ve left Kings after a feed and found a corner in a field somewhere.
I carried my sleeping bag around but didn’t use it because by the time I’d got the bivvy set up I didn’t want to get out and rearrange everything.
Next time I think I’ll try my sleeping bag cover (not bivvy) and sleeping bag along with a sleeping pad of some sort and maybe leave the silk liner and jacket at home.
I’m struggling to find a compact sleeping pad. I don’t like the idea of those crazy light cut-out ones and I think even chopped down, the yoga mat I have will be cumbersome.
16th place. This was grim. The day after PBing 10mi I was broken. Everything was tight and my left leg numbness came back hard so I was sitting up for a lot of the race. I thought I was way off the pace and had basically given up but then did some calculations and thought a PB might still be possible. I really upped the pace and got very close, only 30s down on my PB in Wales late last year but it wasn’t enough. Lesson learned – no 10s the day before. In happier news, Daniel, the organiser came good on his promise for a free bit of cake if I broke my course record. Since the last time I rode this was the day after a 100mi TT and my time was over 2hrs, I was pretty much guaranteed cake this time around! 🙂