Looking around for gravel / off-road options I stumbled onto Mark Goldie’s http://ridgewaydouble.net/ route and a vague plan was formulated, some more kit was purchased for @malwinki and packing commenced…
The weather looked good and since I’d finally given away the rear rack I’d had sitting on my porch for 10 years (typical!) our only option really was bivvy bags – the 1p Macpac tent I used touring Europe in 2005 was too big for any of my bikepacking bags. Malwinki got my waterproof RAB Alpine and I would use my ultralight most-certainly-not-waterproof fly bivvy. She had a full-length Alpkit sleep pad and I had a 3/4-length Thermarest NeoAir. I took my down jacket and half bag and Malwinki used my old, heavy, large full-length down bag, stuffed into a handlebar harness I’d just bought off @Aroogah.
Rather than go straight into wild camping I thought I’d ease Malwinki into this world by using a proper campsite – you know with showers and toilets. With other sites closed until April 2021 she found that the Barge Inn, Honey Street was open and we booked Sat night.
Day 1 – Saturday
Reunited and moving along the actual route now, we pass the Bridgewater Monument / Ashride Estate just before 9am and it’s already very busy with walkers and other cyclists.
Riding up Crawley’s Lane, a road climb we’d done on the previous week’s gravel grinder, we caught up to a bloke riding part of the route on his MTB and had a chat for a few kms. He done his knee in a couple of weeks before hitting a deer at speed but seemed well on his way to recovery. I let him go while waiting for @malwinki at the mowed field, where all the Kites were circling for critters, last weekend. It was a good call because it got a little more off-road through this section and I wouldn’t have been able to keep up on slicks with my skill level anyway and I didn’t want to ruin his fun. Thanks for the chat dude.
Through the woods we had a few navigation issues (I took a Garmin Edge 1030 and Garmin etrex 30x that I was trying on a new 3D-printed etrex mount (thanks to @Stonehedge for the printing and Ty Domin and/or his partner for the design). Disabling a borked map on the etrex helped but in the end I turned it off and stuck with the slow, but clearer Edge 1030. Eventually we popped out into this clearing with a lovely view. Turns out it’s Whiteleaf Hill, which I’ve climbed a lot from Princes Risborough on the road but never seen this side:
Further along the trail we start seeing security guards sat on folding chairs along a fence line. WTF? Looking through the trees all I can make out is that it’s a big hole. I assume it’s some kind of mine or maybe a water storage reservoir but why the guards? Well, we google it just now and it turns out it’s this: Water dyed black at Chinnor quarry to deter swimmers
At Goring we stopped for a sit-down lunch and refilled our bottles outside Pierreponts Café. Here we got chatting to a cycling trio from Tatrafitness. I think they were as curious about our bikepacking setups as I was about why they had jerseys referring to the Tatra mountains (border mountains between Poland and Slovakia). Turns out they were Reading locals but his wife was Slovakian. They were on a loop to visit World’s End. I suggested the pub in Camden. 🙂
There’s a reasonably steep climb out of Goring (unpaved road or the rougher side track we took) and then you start getting out into more exposed open sections.
I’m not sure about the flat pedals. At least I know the pins work much better than the Catalyst allen key studs but really what I want is a midfoot SPD setup. I’m going to look for SPD shoes that have the furthest back cleat mounting point and see what I can do with those. Also, I might move back to 700C wheels with say 42mm tyres and see if that lifts the Kinesis up enough to help with pedal strike in the ruts. Or just take an MTB 🙂
In Hotel Macedonia near Lake Dojran desperate for sleep and once again I wake up before my alarm! Seriously brain, seriously?! I’d bought food from next door’s market, eaten some before sleeping and packed the rest onto the bike before leaving the hotel. I’m sure the hotel boss was still talking… Even with all the food, I find it hard to resist stopping at a nearby bakery for some more before crossing the border into Greece. Buy lots of stuff and hand the woman a note for 200 Denar. It’s too much and I tell her to keep the change, since I’m crossing the border in a matter of minutes. She insists on giving me even more food though to make up the difference so I’m fully loaded as I ride into yet another country I’ve never been to before.
The email I’d sent to myself to remind me what to ask for at hotel reception desks:
Room? Breakfast? Price? Checkout time? Later checkout possible?
“4hr sleep, cleaned some grit out of some crevices, ate some more junk. Now in Greece. Warmer. #TCRNo4“
Country roads and warmth. Probably why I was struggling to stay awake hours ago – it’s warm and humid so possibly contributed to grogginess on the bike. There’s big mountains all around me but for now it’s flat and reasonable progress is being made. The roads in Greece are much smoother and the little agricultural villages remind me of where I grew up.
Once again I’m struggling to remember this section of the ride but eventually it gets dark and I remember stopping at a service station asking for coffee. He says “we only have Greek coffee” and I look at him puzzled, “frappe”, he says. I ask “cold, blended, ice?” “Yes”. “Awesome!” I think. “Yes, please!”. Finally getting the hang of multi-tasking re: toilet stops, I ask but no luck here. Asking how much for the coffee he says “it’s free”. Puzzled, I ask him again, in case he meant ‘three’ or something but he insists it’s free. I ask why but it gets lost in translation – something about the service station providing. I want water too and he says “go for it!”. Wow, free too. Score! Thanks Avin services.
“Dozies already. Not good. Potholes playing havoc with right sitbone. #TCRNo4”
“As wrecked as I am, can still bust out a kilowatt when dog pack gets jump starting in the road. #TCRNo4”
Rolling up to a small but busier town than the others I’ve been through I approach a couple of places looking for food. Eventually a guy tells me to head down a side street, so I do and find a cafe-style place with people sitting outside. Not quite knowing who’s running the place I ask if they’re serving food and a guy says “Deutsch?”. “No Deutsch, English?” I reply. “No English. Deutsch?” he says again. Hmm, this isn’t getting me far so I think back to my cycle touring around Germany and say (excuse my spelling, this was all done verbally) “Essen? Dranken?” and he responds with some German. I say “souvlaki?” and he runs through a load of options. I kind of recognise some stuff like “kase” and “zwiebel” but in the end I get lost in his German and think for a bit… “Allez!” I almost yell at him, happily, remembering how I used to order kebabs in Berlin. We do some more of this weird ‘bad German’ talking and eventually the woman who was running the place cooks me two souvlakis and I grab some drinks. The German speaking local guy sits me down with his friends outside and we start talking. It turns out he does know some English and we have a stilted but entertaining conversation about where I’m from, how far I’ve come, where I’m going, how he comes to speak German, the viaduct and castle down the road in Kavala I need to take photos of, the dogs roaming around, cars, all manner of things. They’re amazed about the distances I’m riding. Emanuale (I don’t know how to spell his name but it’s like Emanuel with an “ee” sound at the end) shows me a knee scar he got while working in Germany and says he can’t ride and he asks me how far I think his somewhat rotund mate could ride in a day. I give an obviously polite answer but we all laugh at him. Emmanuale buys me a drink as we chat. It’s a lovely night and I forget about the race for a bit but eventually have to carry on so we shake hands and say our goodbyes and I ride off, taking in the sight of the Kavala aqueduct and castle but sorry mate, no photos.
My plan to ride through to the finish in Turkey is really falling apart now. I’m getting the dozies again already so I stop in an oceanfront bar called Ocean (clever eh?) and pay 5 euro for a can of Red Bull. At least being overcharged in a posh joint means I don’t feel guilty about ruining their toilets… mwuahahahaaaaa 😉
Another few hours along the E90 and once again I can’t keep my eyes open so I pull out the bivvy and lay down in a bus stop, not bothering to set my alarm – I’m done with being tired, and having no internet again, the race for a place isn’t a factor for me now. It’s just about getting to the finish.
Perhaps 3hrs later a slow moving car wakes me up and since I was clearly visible from the road and didn’t want to upset cops or have my bike nicked I got all my stuff together and pushed on into the sunrise, stopping at a service station for more food. While there, I watched a bit of beach volleyball on their TV and realised that the Olympics were on – amazing how unimportant that huge sporting event becomes when you’re in the middle of something like TCR. “Pfft, those Olympians have got nothing on us” I think to myself, whilst appreciating the slow motion replay of someone pulling their underpants out of their butt crack.
“Couldn’t keep eyes open. Bivvy ~3hr at bus stop. Riding into sunrise now, eating chocolate and nuts. Had to go back to dbl shorts #TCRNo4”
“Hmm ride another 400k or watch slow motion beach volleyball replays in garage!? #TCRNo4“
“Fuck. Punishment for wasting last night. Massive head wind. #TCRNo4“
“Actually I was headed north. Now East is gusting cross tail. GUSTING. almost lost it off the road a few times so strong in places. #TCRNo4”
As you can probably tell from the tweets, it was a bit windy on the Greek coast! I saw some of the videos other riders posted and they copped it even worse in Croatia. I’m 90kg and even I was thinking about climbing over some hills to get away from the crazy wind. Pushed on though, worried about possible border crossing and/or routing issues if I did head into Bulgaria.
Pretty sure I stopped at a supermarket in Alexandroupoli for drinks as it was heating up in the afternoon. Further along the road, becoming aware of the crossing into Turkey without having had a Greek beer I stopped at a roadside bar with cafe caravan outside and had said Greek beer and final suvo. It took ages to arrive so I had to use my fantastic self-control to resist a second beer.
Somewhere in here there’s a climb up a famous old road (Via Egnatia) and a service station toilet stop and water refill with a grumpy man complaining about me only have 20EU notes. The road gets wider, busier and heads north, away from the coast a bit until, what the?! I’m heading onto a motorway! The E2 or A2 or something. Whilst concentrating on nailing an endless chain of swearing, I quickly jump the barrier and head back to the previous junction where I try and fail to navigate into Turkey with the Garmin (Garmin map fail) and my phone (Three SIM fail). Argh! So close, yet so far! I race back to a service station I’d passed earlier and shut off the tirade for just long enough to ask the proprietor how I could get into Turkey without using a motorway. She knows what I mean and her instructions are spot on so I retrace even further back to a small town, Ardani to find another road that eventually leads me parallel to the motorway and joins into the Kipoi border crossing. Phew!
Four separate passport checks (“where’s your luggage?” “I’m sitting on it!”) and I’m in Turkey! The road is big, flat, smooth, fast, busy and half under construction so it’s a battle at some points to not end up down a 3ft ditch where the other lane should be. Everyone dot-watching assumes I’m stopping for kebabs at every service station but I’m actually filling up my bottles! It’s so hot (40degC+ I heard) that I’m drinking everything I have between each service station. I’d arrive, eat an ice cream and drink two cans plus fill my bottles with energy drink or water and carry on, repeating the refill just down the road.
100k to go and I’m riding up the final ‘big’ climb on the profile. A couple of bodged gypsy-looking ‘bangers’ pass me. Basically two people on a tray atop four wheels with a small engine banging away propelling it. No exhaust manifold, muffler, etc so they’re loud as! Bangbangbangbang! they trundle past me half in the shoulder, not going much faster than I am up the hill. I fly down the descent and almost lose it with gusting cross winds. “Don’t crash less than 100k from the finish you idiot!”. It’s fun but sketchy.
The road is heading south now and I enjoy zooming into a sunset on the coast with a tailwind. I can taste the finish and so I’m riding quite hard, listening to some banging tunes while passing through Gallipoli (where I’ve been before for a dawn memorial service for WWI).
As I’m riding through a town (I don’t remember which) I see a person on the side of the road doing starjumps and cheering. I think to myself “oh, that’s nice, one of the crew or one of the finished racers has come out to cheer me home, how cool”. As I pass by though I have to do a double take… it’s my missus! I knew I recognised that starjump! She’d flown to Turkey to surprise me!
I didn’t know what to do! Shit, should I stop? Hell no! I was on a mission. She would have to wait. Ha! Soz! This point was the closest I got to experience what humans call ’emotion’ and if it was physically possible for my soulless husk to shed a tear, it would’ve been around now.
My coach, bike fitter and very good buddy Scherrit Knoesen was down the road a little bit further yelling at me to “GO!” so I did, I pushed on even harder, now really excited to finally get to the finish and celebrate with my fiancée and good mate. How awesome of them to travel out!
But then I entered the parallel dimension. I swear I was riding at 30-40kph and yet the distance to go was seemingly stuck at 30k no matter how long I pedaled. I was zooming in and out of the Garmin and trying to pinpoint a bit of coast to see if I did in fact get closer to it over time. I did. Shit, I was moving. So, why is this taking so long?! The road was rolling, dogs were barking and chasing me down, I was having a mental breakdown now, “faaaaaark, make it stop!” I was screaming. But every time I looked down I’d seemingly not gone any further, so then I’d yell another tirade of self-pity and then the dogs would hear me yelling and chase me. I’d have to sprint away from them and be quiet for a while. Repeat that scenario for about 20 years and you’ll go some way to replicating how the last 50k felt for me. I was worried about which ferry to take but heading into Eceabat there was no frickin’ way I was going further to the other town! I was so frustrated with the riding I was thinking “what if I just cycled in front of that bus?”. Proper mental breakdown! All of a sudden the ferry signs reveal a ferry and I zip over to the ticket booth frantically asking about getting on. I get a ticket and he says I’ve got time. Boom!
“On ferry. Swear that last 40k took longer than I’ve been alive. Bastard of a day. Don’t care. Almost done. #TCRNo4”
On the 11pm ferry I grabbed some food – a sandwich, some crisps and some drinks and trying not to fall down the metal stairs I sit down near the bike and eat, relaxing, knowing I’ve finished the Transcontinental #4. I was near the front and with the GPS on, hoon out of the ferry port and I’m suddenly at Saat Kulesi, the clock tower! There’s a whole bunch of other finishers and organisers cheering me in and the welcome faces of Mal and Scherrit. James Hayden was there, a man of his word, with a beer for me!
There’s some paperwork to be done (Leo or Kate signing my life away), the tracker is unceremoniously detached from the bike, a bunch of dotwatchers go wild across the planet 🙂
I’d finished! That was enough for me. Just a smidge over my expected finish time but close enough to be irrelevant. Handy, because it matched perfectly with Mal and Scherrit’s flight bookings from 6 months before! Cheeky gits. Proceed to spend a week with M&S, eating, drinking all forms of coffee available and buying (and drinking) beer for (and with) further arrivees. What an event! I think I threatened Mike with physical harm at the finish before hugging him. (That’s not Mike below, by the way)…
“Not often you start a race with short fingernails and finish with them needing a trim. #TCRNo4#finished”
“Lying in bed now. Kit was covered in salt. Let the Cramping begin! #TCRNo4″
Hotel S, Berane, Montenegro, around 6 in the morning I left, saying bye to 212 crew, and rode a few kay down the road before promptly returning to the hotel after realising the manager hadn’t taken any money for the room last night. Doh! He was nowhere to be found so I gave a 50EU note to Andy and he said he’d pay the guy and give me the change when we crossed paths later. But, downstairs again, I worried that this might be considered using ‘outside assistance’ and might be a rule breach so I ran back up the stairs took the money back and then went over the road for coffee and some water and got some change. Leaving a little more Euros than the room rate wrapped around my key on the reception desk I hoped all would be well and finally I left Berane! What a mess!
“Nothing like a gravel climb before breakfast. Thanks again GARMIN. #TCRNo4”
“Rain and out of saddle climbing has taken toll on hands #TCRNo4”
“Gears rough. Cleaned jockey wheel before climb. Weight weenie. Then ate some 7-Day croissants. Not so weight weenie. Made no difference so will clean chain later.”
(It’s now September IRL) A few weeks later and I’m struggling to recall details, at least of this section of the race. Reading my tweets I remember a very long climb into fog. Gnarly, thick fog. Visibility in places must’ve been down to 10s of metres only!
“Another unexpected border! I literally have no idea which country I’m in. #TCRNo4”
After commenting to the border guard about the fog (it’s always like this, apparently) I take the winding descent pretty easy until the vis improves and all of a sudden it’s warmer, clearer and I’m smiling. Be-cause. Down-hiiiiiiiiiillllllll. Experience my first dog ‘attack’ from a little mutt sat in the middle of the road until I got closer and he barks and runs at me. Avoid incident but from now on I’ll pay more attention to them.
“Kosovo likes cars. Wowsers. Worse driving than Montenegro too which is well done. 1st dog to try attack. Lots of dead ones. #TCRNo4”
I seem to be on a constant downhill so I’m quite enjoying Kosovo. The driving is atrocious though with lots of close passes and dodgy overtaking moves. “Sure mate, I don’t mind you aiming your 2000kg weapon at me so you can drive to lunch 10s quicker”. Somewhere on this highway the 212 crew pass me and head off the road. I can’t recall if that was before or after I stop at a roadside cafe for a coffee and a beer… and a crap… and oh why not, I’ll have another coffee. The young kid gave me some jaffa cakes with my coffee which was a nice touch. Calories are king in the world of ultra racing! Free calories are king-er, obviously.
“My rear light was full of water and my phone camera is fogged up but now down low I’m hoping to dry out a bit. Tweeting bcoz WiFi. #TCRNo4”
Resuming, there’s huge tailbacks / traffic jams along the highway. One was caused by a truck that had run off the road and attending emergency services, the other way just a TONNE of traffic in a town, probably because I was nearing another border – Macedonia. The rain I’d copped in Montenegro had caused big floods here (1 month rainfall in 1 day?!) and I guess people were rushing around looking for supplies or trying to get in/out of the country? I can’t imagine it’s like this normally but you never know. Lots of dickheads driving black drug dealer V8 BMWs and Audis with Swiss plates. People suggested it was locals using Swiss plates as a status thing but feel free to correct their opinion on that?
“Currently trying to solve lostness with kebab. Might have it sussed. Arse appreciated Kosovo’s flat, smooth roads! #arsenal#TCRNo4”
After some circling around, some gravel roads, a near mental meltdown, a dodgy kebab stop and some adjusted mapping I’m breaking through to the other side, specifically Macedonia, via the sketchy E65 highway (which I’d tried to route around after chatting with 2-time racer Ishmael). It’s a fun but dangerous shoulder-free 70kph highway full of trucks doing 100kph 🙂
I vaguely remember riding through a city which must’ve been Skopje and soon after I was in a seeming no-mans-land again. It was crappier roads and small villages. I wanted the fast descents back.
Early evening now and Matthew Falconer’s distinctive kit (with him in it, I wasn’t hallucinating that much!) rode past while I was drinking a beer outside a little shop. Spot the difference in priorities!
“These roads are shit. SLOM. Tell the missus I’m alive but phone doesn’t work in M countries. Kebab not good idea BTW #TCRNo4”
“Stopped at first hotel restaurant i saw after off-road crap. Think the steerer bung loose again. Cracking noise every potholes.”
“I was level pegging with Michael Wacker for first few controls. I didn’t think I’d wasted that much time until now but he’s 100k ahead.”
I was having a shit time of it now, on the crappy concrete of the R1102 getting bashed and bruised and feeling a bit sick. Fed up with everything and clearly annoyed at my lack of progress towards the bunch of riders in front of me, I stopped for a lackluster sit-down meal and mental reset at a hotel restaurant somewhere. Yes, stopping is counter intuitive to chasing people but I was beginning not to care any more.
“Slower the restaurant service, the more keen I am to get moving. Typical. Time to neck all my painkillers and ProPlus at once and finish?”
Moving on and I stopped at a service station off a side road in some small town where I sat and ate an ice cream and had a chat with a local bloke who was hanging around with a couple of friends keeping the girl in the servo company. We had a long chat about Macedonia and mafia, corruption, politics, the roads ahead, Greece, travel, etc. and eventually I decided I should probably get moving again.
“Another rider just passed me. Meh. Where did he come from? He left servo before me, had puncture but I didn’t pass him. Are people using this motorway?? dafuq #TCRNo4”
I’m clearly getting frustrated now with people on betters roads than I am, going faster than me. Just when you think it can’t get any worse… the now infamous R1102 / R1105 rocky riverside rumble! The road stopped and turned into a rocky, off-road, access path presumably for the nearby train line. I’m too scared to look at Strava to see how long it took but I was walking a lot, trying not to let my stupid Speedplay cleats fill up with mud or stones. There were puddles of unknown depth across the entire “road” so I was sort of tip-toeing around them through the scrub. It was ridiculous.
After seemingly hours of slipping and sliding I finally saw tarmac and went mental, screaming at the trail, screaming for joy at seeing a proper road, all of which was looked on with interest by the border police parked up nearby. They asked what I was doing and I said “trying to get the fuck out of here”. I didn’t know they were border police yet and to be honest, when I found out I didn’t care. They asked why I’d ridden past them four hours ago and I said “that wasn’t me, there’s 200 of us in a race towards Turkey”. They asked for my passport, saw the state of me, looked at the state of my bike and I detected some sympathy when they gave me some navigation tips and wished me well on my way. I pulled into a service station further up the road and tried to clean the mud off everything with a bottle I’d scabbed out of a bin. I did the best I could without a mobile pressure washer so at least I wasn’t grinding more paint off the bike and I could now clip in again with clean(er) cleats. Buying a pile of food, the guy serving said one of our lot had camped in the trees “just there” pointing around the side. I guessed it was one of the French riders ahead of me.
“Another couple of hours lost trudging through R1102 riverside quagmire. ‘Road’ race, they said… Was going to ride through to finish but that took so long and I’m so covered in grit I’ll prob try find hotel.”
“Bailing. Too dangerous. Need sleep and everything needs clean before ground to pulp.”
“Got half day hotel near lake something. Near Greek border. Shower sleep resume. Might still make 12 day goal. 10 was always a stretch.”
“Clearly underestimated the cumulative sleep dep and fatigue. Barely made it 25hrs of grovelling. Learning a lot though. #TCRNo4”
My grand plan to ride through to the finish without sleep had the wheels come off very rapidly. I guess I’d already pushed myself too far and found my sleep deprivation limits now. I just couldn’t keep my eyes upon so I rerouted and headed towards Lake Dojran, where there was a town with at least one hotel. I was being chaffed by grit in my shorts so justified the shower and sleep quite easily. The first hotel I tried appeared empty but after waiting 5 minutes had no room for me. The second hotel, Hotel Macedonia, was similar. Initially the girl on the desk said no rooms were available (even though the place looked empty) but I basically wasn’t going to take no for an answer so kept talking at her until she called another woman down. This woman spoke more English, in fact she wouldn’t shut up! 🙂 We made a deal for a room and I was about ready to head up when she had a brilliant idea and went off talking for another 5 minutes. “Do you need TV?” “No.” “Do you need aircon?” “No.” “Do you need a double bed?” “No.” “We have a room without a TV, without aircon and without a double bed. Perhaps you can use this room and we can make the price…” The calculator comes out again and she tells me a price that’s maybe half of the “very expensive” price I’ve already paid for the double room. She talks and talks about it and unrelated stuff and in the end we swap some local bank notes and I think I’ve paid the equivalent of 10 Euros for a small room. So long as it had a shower and bed I didn’t care. More talking from her. I think about getting the guy washing the hotel’s front porch to hose my bike down but worry about him washing any remaining grease out of the BB so decide against it. The bike goes into an empty dining room downstairs (for once I couldn’t be bothered arguing about it going in the room) and I go upstairs to shower and sleep.
Rolling up to the front of the Bosnia->Montenegro border crossing queue I ask if there’s food anywhere down the road and the border guard says there’s a petrol station. Through the border and into Montenegro I roll and sure enough a few kilometres down the road is a servo where I do some non-English haggling and swap some foreign currency (Bosnian Marks, I think) with a random selection of food and drink that I point at until the guy says I’m done.
It gets dark and I’m now in a rain jacket heading into a storm. It’s an amazing storm – like the huge 180 degree view we’d get out the back verandah in Mildura but because I’m still up high I’m watching it over some huge mountains. It was so cool I stopped to take video but of course you never get any of the really big lightning strikes on video and it removes all the scale of the event. Just trust me, it was fucking amazing!
Fast forward an hour maybe and I’m less amazed, now I’m soaked, running for shelter under some kind of ledge, wondering where the hell I’m supposed to be going. Two local guys have stopped their car and are under the ledge too. I’m wary, thinking I’m about to get mugged or something, because why the hell did they just get out of a dry car and run through the mud under a ledge?!, but we have a very stilted chat and I show them mine while they show me theirs… I’m talking about phones and GPSs! One of them tells me it’s raining for two days while I show him my GPS and repeat “Ploozeeen”. Eventually they say “ahhh Plooshunay” or similar. Ok, so that’s how it’s pronounced. They can’t believe I’m riding there. Given the conditions, neither can I really, but I had no idea how long it would take and I’d not even considered staying in town. So I plod on. I didn’t know it but lots of other riders had taken a risky border crossing that saved this big detour – if they didn’t get turned away…
The rain is torrential, the road is swimming, rocks are falling from the sides of the road where it was cut out of the hillside, toads are bouncing across the road, it’s end of days. If you’ve read any of my stories you know I have a habit of attracting ridiculous weather but this was stupid heavy rain and it just didn’t quit, some of the worst I’d ridden in. I didn’t find out until later but there was apparently a month of rain in a day and the resultant floods killed 21 people in Macedonia. I had my headphones in and should’ve put them away but I was too busy trying to get this over and done with. I remember a truck coming the other way and being hit in the face with a HUGE bow wave off it. It hit with enough force to knock the head phones out of my ears. I was having a great time #sarcasm. It seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t even make time up on the descent into town because I couldn’t see the road and every now and then I’d just hit a huge pothole. It wasn’t worth the risk of piling into one at full clip so I nursed it all the way into Pluzine. I was so happy to find the hostel, the promise of a warm shower, a bed (it was now 3am) and some food (I’d been running on empty for a while). Cue horror slow reveal as it dawns on me that the hostel isn’t open, nothing is open. Pluzine is totally dead. No shower, no food, no bed. Shit. I see a note to stamp my brevet card front and back so I do. As I’m doing this a French guy rolls up and I explain the situation to him. We roll around town together looking for anything open – nothing. It becomes clear we either continue or bivvy here somewhere. I get onto the town’s wifi (my Three SIM wasn’t working) and examine the surrounds – nothing nearby. I’m not going to attempt the 40k climbing parcours at 3am with no food or drink and no prospect of getting any food or drink for another x hours so I leave the French guy to find a bivvy spot and wander around some more looking for my own. I see what looks like a slow police chase. Eventually the two cars and the police car reappear, driving back into town quite slowly. I wave down the police car and ask the driver if he knows of any place to stay. I also question the ‘police chase’ I thought was happening but he explains they’re friends and have been at a party. All three guys from the cars are looking at phones and calling people trying to find me a room. How cool are they?! Unfortunately nothing results, but they have an idea and point to a nearby building. “That’s an apartment. It usually has a receptionist but it’s 3:30am so no one will be there. The door will be open though. You can go and sleep in the lobby”. Um, ok, they’ll be ok? “Yeah, just, err, yeah it will be fine”.
So, that was my home for a few hours! I found a toilet downstairs so cleaned and dried myself as best I could. I didn’t drink any water – I’m not sure if that was a good idea or not but I remember Paul saying he was on bottled water only for the duration after he got sick during last year’s race. To be honest, I think I’d come into contact with quite enough water for one night!
I woke a little cold a few times but stayed there until the sun was up and I heard the doors open or close. Someone had come or gone so that was my queue to “exit, stage left”. Packed up and by the time I was out to the main road the market was open. My god, I bought everything they had! I sat outside and drank and shoveled glorious food into my face! Made about four trips back into the supermarket to put wrappers and empty bottles into the poor checkout chick’s bin! Crappy pre-packed 7-Day croissants never tasted so good!
After the binge fest I stabbed at the Garmin to load the GPX course for the required Durmitor parcours. Nothing. The SD card in my Garmin was totally blank. FUCK! I pulled opened the rubber rain cover (insert LOL here) and removed a very soggy SD card. Bugger. This is why you: 1. Never trust a Garmin! 2. Always pack more than one GPS. Not only did I have a backup Garmin Etrex hiding in my saddle bag, I also had a spare SD card that would work in the Edge 1000 or the Etrex. There were also two GPS mapping apps on my phone. Firing up the Sony Z3 Compact mobile phone (also IP68 rated but clearly more waterproof than the Garmin Edge 1000) I used RideWithGPS to navigate the parcours, while leaving the Garmin SD slot open to dry out.
The French guy from last night and another rider were filling up at a service station and we all started the parcours together but they dropped me and disappeared almost immediately – guess they’d eaten last night whereas I was still digesting a kilo of recently inserted food. This 40k parcours was a really slow grind fest. I just looked at Strava – it took me almost 5 hours! 5 hours to ride 40k! Unlike Josh Rea’s ecstatic ride (see youtube), I just remember it being miserable – slow, windy as, with rain coming at me sideways and lashing my face. Sean Kelly would’ve approved.
“Anyone else referring to their Chamois cream as ‘my precious ‘? #TCRNo4”
Stopped to put on long finger gloves for the descent and thought I’d test out the Gore overmitts I’d bought along (supposedly for the Alps). They worked alright but I didn’t really need them. Finally saw signs for Zabljak and after stopping to collect Snickers that had been ejected after hitting a pothole, I was at CP4 the Hostel Highlander. I didn’t really know what was going on – Leo was there, someone took photos of my cold, water-shriveled hands, I plugged some stuff in to charge, the lovely owner gave me a towel and a bathroom to shower in and a coffee. I ate something, showered and was going to walk down the street while debating whether or not to stay or go. The weather had eased off and after my warming shower I felt OK again. I decided I would knock off another 120k and ride on to Berane. I should arrive just after dark (although I had contingency if I was later) and would have a sleep in a hotel. Hotel S, to be precise, which I booked from the hostel.
I rode over to a nearby restaurant and pretty much ordered one of everything. I’m clearly starting to get the hang of this multi-day ultra-racing.
Montenegro, when it’s not tipping down with rain is stunning. I enjoyed a long, long descent through misty, lush valleys. It was proper Jurassic Park, Lost World stuff. Really beautiful.
With perhaps 30k to go before Berane, the terrible 2-up of 212 crew flew by. James and Andy’s technique was: ‘breakfast, smash it, lunch, smash it, dinner and hotel then repeat’ so they were having a much faster but more sociable time of this than I was as they leap-frogged riders every day. They were staying in the same hotel so when I got in, I showered and then we wandered out for dinner and a couple of brews at a nearby restaurant. Thanks for the company lads!
Second fastest 10mi TT I’ve ever done but it was pretty ‘meh’ for me. I rolled in to the HQ a bit disappointed with my inability to push myself. After Sat’s club record ride and Sunday’s BBQ/boozefest it does make sense. Was about 20-30W down on Sat’s ride which was 10-20W down on my 10mi power PB. It wasn’t “windy” but it was windier today than my race on Sat and the more complicated turns had me worried about going off course so I took them very easy and lost a lot of time doing so. If I wasn’t so lazy I would’ve recce’d the course yesterday instead of beer tasting all the beers. Oh well, at least having ridden the F11/10 now, finally, I can adjust for next time.
19:54, 26s PB and new Willesden CC club record. I now have all the senior male club records. I’m not sure whether I should now buy a trike, buy a tandem or have a sex change to get the rest…
On the day I really had no idea how my legs were going to handle the >300W ~20min workload of a 10mi TT when they’d been sitting far below that for 4000k of Transcon Race No4. Turns out, they were pretty bloody good!
We were there early, accidentally parked in a pub (yeah, accidentally), moved to the HQ, couldn’t find a parking spot so went back to the pub! Bought some drinks so they didn’t get the hump with us, changed and warmed up in the carpark.
The start was a bit funny with a holding pen up the road so only four riders were near the actual starter. Thanks to the bloke and presumably his son for the well wishes. The start was a bit funny with my countdown going 30s… 10s… 7s… and I’d usually start at the 5 but “oh so sorry! 2..1”. I said “don’t worry”, smacked the Garmin’s Start button and took off.
The road was lovely, it was warm, there didn’t appear to be much wind. I was sitting above where I’d planned but it felt ok so I just backed off a little and waited for the inevitable post-TCR meltdown. They had mile markers out, which I love and these seemed to be ticking by with no real trouble. At the turn I sat up and slowed right down, simply because I didn’t know the course and a wrong turn would be a total disaster. I think I was on 30.5mph avg. before the turn and maybe 28-29mph after it.
Expected there to be a huge headwind now since the ride out was so ‘easy’ I was excited to find I was actually rolling faster! “Wow, I could actually get the club record in this race” I thought to myself. I was starting to tie up though and my power tanked. I lifted it to just above my threshold thinking “if I can hold here, it might be enough to still be on for the final club record”. My average speed was right around record pace – 30.2mph. Trying desperately to lift in the final mile I was wheezing something shocking, just not able to breathe enough even if the legs were able to produce power. All of a sudden I spied the slip road and chequered flag, lifted once again, crossed the line and in huge oxygen debt stabbed at the Garmin. No idea if I’d got it I was pretty sure it was at least a PB and maybe my first 19min 10mi so the record was going to be close but might have to wait for the F11/10 race on Monday.
Back to the missus at the car I was feeling pretty caned (yet could still push 400W+ up the hill back to the HQ two minutes after the finish so clearly the legs work, I just need to be able to breathe). Inside the HQ we walked to the results screen… 19:54! *fist pump* “Yes, beat it by one second!” I said. I then suddenly had a horrible thought, what if I’d read the record wrong, so quickly checked the Willesden CC Records page and found Meurig’s 2009 record was actually 19:56. I must’ve made 19:55 my goal to beat the record and then thought that was the record. Either way, pending official results, I should have it. Pretty happy to now have all available senior male records for the club – 10, 15, 25, 20, 50, 100, 12hr and 24hr.
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.“