Ch’13: The last two days -From Tirane to Pub 38!

Day 13 – A lie in?
374 km, 5,415m @ 23.5 kph – Total 18:20 hours with 16 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1765866756

I’d promised myself a lie in for the hotel breakfast served from 7 am. But then I woke early anyway so I packed up the bike and headed to the restaurant. There was enough food set out and after a coffee I was on the road for 7 am.
Caps 3, 77, 130, 144 were already showing as ahead of me, that would teach me to start late! I also noticed Lee 229 making a comeback and was close to Tirane so it was no time for complacency! The capital was quiet on a Saturday morning and I navigated the city easily, unlike many other racers would report.
For some reason I felt I was a long way from home, not a homesick feeling but one of satisfaction that I had traveled so far and so successfully. The enormity of my ride and realisation of the imminent finish was starting to sink in.

 

A huge series of climbs were the order of the day for the next 200 km. The first was the 600m old road to Elbasan to avoid the motorway and a long tunnel. I overtook one rider on the lower slopes. saw a goat (I think) being butchered at the road side in the middle of nowhere,  sleepy wild dogs and a great descent to follow.The climb rewarded me with fantastic views in all directions
The summit plateau was a special place for me. I  paused to appreciate the view and felt unhurried and peaceful, knowing I would achieve a finish time beyond my wildest expectations. My charity page was also nearing it’s fundraising target – wow!

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The sweeping descent led to Elbasan, a large city where everywhere had something “FOR SALE” or “SHITET” which amused me every time I saw it:

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The route climbed again for another 150 km, up the SH3 Schkumbin valley. The main road narrowed and there was an annoying, filled in channel just inches from the side of the road, almost like a rumble strip. You could carefully ride to the right hand side or choose the left hand side closer to passing traffic. Many people reported this road as horrendous, but I didn’t consider it quite that bad. Perhaps the Saturday traffic was lighter than normal. I generally rode to the left of the channel until I saw traffic behind and switched to the right until it was clear again.
Figs and fruit were being sold everywhere at the road side and I used many mountain springs at the road side to soak my cap and clothes and re-fill my bottles. At some of these springs, families were gathering to fill large containers. Car washes were simply everywhere and I wondered at just how many a nation could possibly need!
Roadside stalls had cold drinks which you would pick out of the cool flowing spring water. I could find no ice-cream though and realised this was because they had no electric supply to power freezers.
The country also suffered a huge litter problem. Fly tipping was everywhere and even areas with refuse bins were overflowing and never cleaned up. It spoiled the natural beauty of the land.

 

After Perrenjas, a further climb reached Lake Ohrid at 700m altitude. This was quite a tourist spot with a newly built road along the lake side and sunbathers on the beaches. Pogradec at the far end of the lake offered a useful re-supply point. It was common for the supermarkets to keep stock behind a counter so I had to point at what I wanted to buy. Not that easy when you don’t recognise anything, but it was better than relying on petrol stations which rarely sold anything other than fuel.
The heat lessened as I gained altitude. I spent the last of my Lek on water and an Albanian energy drink then topped out the final short climb to a wide open, agricultural and peasant landscape. Horse and carts, very basic motorised vehicles and crops being spread over half the road to dry and grain being separated by hand. All the children in the villages shouted an enthusiastic “Hello!” as I passed. The litter wasn’t so bad here and it allowed the natural beauty to shine.
The last stretch to the Greek border was a hard slog with a dead straight and slightly uphill road against the wind to Bilisht. This was followed by a climb to the border itself which I had not anticipated. I hit the takeaway van using Euros as soon as I reached the border crossing. A double helping of Giro’s and Coke provided a McD type of satisfaction, it was great to eat some ‘proper’ food for the first time in 200 km! I chuckled when I got a text from my dot watching Dad. He thought I was in a long queue at the border when I was simply taking time eating Giros!

 

Then I simply rode to the very front of the queue as I had done at every other border crossing and was through in no time at all.
Only 170 km from the finish. Some of my dot watchers were now quoting the much shorter distance left on the Trackleaders site and expecting me to finish in just a few hours, but of course that distance was “as the crow flies”. My plan was to ride another 70 km and bivi, allowing a daylight finish the next morning.

The next section offered an obscure short cut, but was an unknown road surface in my route planning. Knowing few people before me had used it, I took a quick look at the course gravel and turned straight around to take the longer safe route. This was a very good decision, it was all downhill with a great surface and a tailwind. 40 km flew by!
I saw road signs warning of wild animals crossing with pictures of bears and wolves, I certainly wasn’t going to sleep around here!

E134428A-ECEB-4569-9A55-4EF353C13676I reached Maniaki near Lake Kastoria in the late evening. I was very fortunate that it was Saturday and hence the supermarket was still open. I’d not really given much thought about what day it was, but had it been Sunday, then I would have struggled to find supplies. This Greek store had every conceivable item I needed. Chocolate milk, bananas, Oreos, cakes, croissants. I bought far too much really and packed additional water for my overnight bivi.

Back on the road with lights on, my thoughts started to change. Why stop with only 120 km to go? What if I ride through to the finish? I’d had the romantic idea of coasting down the finish parcours in daylight but instead I could do this after the race at my leisure and could even sit down and watch a sunset! Riding straight through would take my mileage to 375 km for the day. If my legs would last the course then I certainly had more than enough food and water to keep me going – and I had Oreos! Dogs may be a problem with 5 hours of night riding, but dogs counted equally against sleeping out!
All these thoughts switched me back into race mode and I checked the race tracking. There seemed to be some dots stopped on the Parcours who I might overtake. (I later learnt these people had finished and their dots had not updated). The only other person in front of me was Sam Thomas Cap 20 but he was too far ahead to catch unless he too stopped.
I had however regained the lead over the four riders who had overtaken me in the early morning including David 77 and I’d have to be mad to stop and let them catch me again! My long standing adversary Lee 229 was also a safe distance behind but he had a habit of creeping up on me!
Mind made up, I posted my intent, very politely, to all my dot watchers and put the hammer down!

Capture

Dusk and darkness arrived and I focused on eating up the remaining kilometres. I was so glad of my nicely oiled, quiet SRAM Red chain and I made sure I kept pedaling each time I entered a town to keep my freewheel silent. I figured a quiet entrance might gain me a head start on any dogs. I found myself holding my lungs full of air ready to shout, but whilst I saw several groups of dogs, I had no encounters where I was not already carrying sufficient speed to escape without even a sprint.
The most frightening looking dogs were out of town and would suddenly appear in my headlamp, with the appearance of zombie wolves! I’m not kidding they would have been perfect in horror movies, but they were just padding slowly at the road side and were gone in a split second. I had only time to draw breath and breathe out in relief! Maybe in the darkness they just thought I was a car.

The final 100 km was a sequence of long rollers and then two long climbs. My dot watchers couldn’t understand why this was taking so long but I could see my wife Alison explaining to them on Facebook about my required route to the race finish. Friends back home seemed to warm to my racing finish and I received a very special text from my eldest son Sam who was in the middle of his own adventure in the Pyrenees.
My legs were feeling fine and I don’t think I stopped once in all this distance apart to transfer water from the extra bottle and dump the empty one into a bin. I passed a couple of late night parties in the towns with children still playing and shouting so it didn’t even feel late at night. It did get a little cool, but not enough to need any extra layers.
My dot watchers became excited as I reached the last climb. I couldn’t believe how many people were staying awake until midnight in the UK watching what must surely have been agonising slow progress! I still felt good, the Oreos were working well and the barking dogs that I heard frequently never appeared on the road ahead of me.
My tracker updates weren’t as frequent as people wanted, so I provided some updates along the way and let them know when I reached the summit. For the descent I switched my head torch on full power. With my dynamo as well it was like having car headlights which was pretty useful, there were a few places where gravel and rocks had spilled onto the road and the last think I wanted now was a puncture!
As my excitement grew, I found I was talking to myself…..  “I’ve actually done this!” but I was also telling myself “don’t mess this up!………” (I crashed out on a descent in the 2015 Transalp on the penultimate Stage and ended up in A&E)

I could see vague shadows of the rock towers and the twinkly lights of Kalabaka below peeking between them. I hadn’t realised how long the descent would be, including a couple of cheeky little rises but eventually I coasted into the town at 2 am.  Before I spotted the finish line I heard cheers and applause and headed straight for the small group of people outside Pub 38 who were making as much noise as possible. I got hugs and congratulations from the volunteers James & Maxine and Sam Thomas Cap 20 who had finished and waited two hours for my arrival. Together they made my arrival truly special. They had even kept a warm club sandwich and a cold beer for me!IMG_5828.JPG
I remembered to post to Facebook so my dot watchers could rest easy before spending a wonderful hour winding down and chatting. Maxine plucked up the courage to ask if I had somewhere to stay. Oh No! In my excitement and chang of plan, I realised my oversight! But not to worry, Sam led me to his hotel and though his was full, I managed to find a room just across the road.

13 days, 3 hours, 15 minutes. Nearly three days faster than my target!

36th over the line and 35th in GC subject to validation etc. etc.

Needless to say I didn’t wash my kit that night, but I still drank my chocolate milk and I was definitely having a lie in!IMG_E5833

Ch’12: Day 10-12. When does Hungary end?, Headwinds, Horns and how much does my bike cost? And don’t mention the gravel.

Ch’11: Day 7-9: Karkonosze bastard CP3 climb, more tyre woes, Peter Sagan and Hungary, damned Hungary!

Ch’10: TCR Day 4 – 6

Ch’9: TCR Depart and Days 1-3Ch’ 1: My Transcontinental Race – how it all started

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Ch’12: Day 10-12. When does Hungary end?, Headwinds, Horns and how much does my bike cost? And don’t mention the gravel.

Day 10 – Goodbye Hungary, Hello Croatia and Bosnia
318 km, 2,064m @ 26.1 kph – Total 16:54 hours with 12:09 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1759269645/segments/44069508019

On the road at 5.20am with a wait – a tailwind? Well it didn’t last long before the headwind returned. Hungary in the main continued to be…. Hungary. Early morning mist on cycle lanes, ditches along the road side with ramps to the houses. I did see another cyclist, I guess a Postie. The roads, yes still rough, but at least they put up warning signs!

 

So remember I needed a good breakfast? Remember all Hungarian supermarkets are boring? Well what I really needed and somehow miraculously appeared in the town of Barcs was:

 

I took my fill and stocked up for the road ahead. A do it yourself Bircher Muesli with fresh Blackberries – Yum. This fueled me out of Hungary at last and into Croatia. Croatia was remarkably similar to Hungary at first but with one major difference. The tarmac was smooth! The scenery got gradually more interesting with some rolling hills
The headwind however on the south easterly Drava flat past Slatina became worse and it was really hot in the high 30’s once again. Dousing of clothing, ice cream stops and cold drinks were frequent requirements. My eTap shifting had been a godsend throughout my journey but never more so than in a headwind. My homemade bar end shifter buttons allowed me to maintain the efficient aero position whilst effortlessly changing gear, even when eating and having only one hand spare.

Turning south, a 500m climb from Orahovica provided relief from the headwind and flatlands. There was shade, a welcome change in position on the bike and a good descent to enjoy after.  I had a coke stop at the bottom in Kutjevo where I also bought the largest Monster size Cornetto I have ever seen! Apple Pay proved very useful and I never had to change any money in Croatia. After the descent more hot and flat roads took me to the Bosnian border at Slavonski Brod. Here I was held up by police on account of a convoy of exotic cars on a rally. Many of the occupants waved like they were royalty, but in fact everyone else just wanted them to get out of the way!

I was quite excited to reach Bosnia, it represented a truly foreign land compared to any of my previous travels and I was eager to explore.

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First I needed another new iphone cable. I visited an ATM, found a phone store and sat down for a coke at a bar. The first question I was asked by a local was how much my bike was worth. This was repeated a number of times in Bosnia, none of it was threatening but it did make me uneasy at first!
I wasted too much time in Brod and got back on the road kicking myself for not filling my bottles, but a free re-fill at a restaurant on the road solved that.
Some climbing ensued on the busy M17.2 but the evening traffic was not too bad. Most lorries would toot to make sure I was aware of them. A couple of coaches went by extremely close but I did not have the terrible experiences that other riders would complain about in Bosnia. Some riders would tell me they would not return to a TCR if they had to ride through Bosnia.
Before long I had my first dog encounter. Dogs had been my single biggest fear in my race preparation. I had promised myself the first time this happened I would use the tactic of stopping, shouting then walking away. I’m sure I picked an easy target as I spotted the two dogs from a distance and one was wagging its tail, so were probably domesticated. Nevertheless, as soon as one saw me, it barked aggressively and readied to chase. My tactic worked and it backed off immediately which gave me a great confidence boost.
I passed a couple of weird looking themed hotels and enjoyed a tailwind assisted (finally!) downhill where I even got a lengthy KOM! As darkness started to fall, I sat down at a restaurant in Doboj where a Bosnian family helped me and the waitress with the menu. I ordered pasta and a pizza followed by Ice Cream and fruit. The family told me how most young people leave Bosnia to work in Germany or Austria, however it was the holidays and many people had returned to visit their families.

 

With dogs probably preying on my mind and hotels cheap, I decided not to bivvi. Instead I booked a Motel another 30 km down the road.

Riding in the dark now, my senses were tuned for dogs in the otherwise quiet of the night. Then I jumped out of my skin when an almighty horn blasted. Unknown to me I was riding alongside a railway and the slow moving train ahead of me was warning of its approach.  A second blast made me jump just as much!
Later I turned a corner to arrive in Maglaj where a floodlit Mosque stood in front of me, prayers broadcasting on loudspeakers. The sudden reveal made for a surreal moment and it made me realise just how far I had ridden on my bike to this very foreign land and how independently I was travelling, still riding on my own at 9.30 pm with my stop for the night not yet found.

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My planned route had avoided the main road but I hadn’t figured on the hotel being on the opposite side of the river meaning I had to back track 5 km. My room turned out to be a luxurious suite which explained why the price was so high at €30! Again I was asked again how much my bike was worth, it was definitely staying in my room! The bathroom was complete with hi-tech multi jet shower which I couldn’t work out how to use. I had to laugh at how hard they had tried to make the apartment so luxurious but then had used a doormat as a bath mat!

I was pleased with the days mileage. I was now consistently covering around 300 km each day. My route had departed from most other riders so it was difficult to judge my progress. It seemed however that I may have gained a lead over Chris 129 and Lee 229. Despite the late night, the alarm was set for 4:15 as I wanted to leave extra early, avoiding traffic on the E73 road which was warned against in the TCR Race Manual. Leftover Pizza would fuel my morning early distance.

Day 11 – What a ridiculous Checkpoint!
247km, 3,200m @ 20.1 kph – Total 15:52 hours with 12:18 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1761179356

The early start was a success with very little traffic on the length of the main E73 road that I needed to use. Elsewhere I successfully avoiding the long banned tunnel and used alternative minor roads. This meant a lengthy section of gravel which I’d not been able to identify from my route planning. In fact these alternative roads were probably unnecessary at this time of day, but precautionary in line with the race manual recommendation.

I felt pretty tired this morning and had a coffee stop which helped, but it took a while to feel like I was riding to speed. The route was also a steady positive gradient for 140 km until the real climbing began!
I passed a number of graveyards which I presumed were from the recent wars. There were many derelict industrial buildings and an awful lot of auto repair garages sporting a huge selection of half cars. “You want the front half of a VW Passat? No problem. They can probably match you with a rear half and sort you out a cheap runaround! British number plate? That’s no problem we don’t worry about licence plates here!”

 

Sampling the Burek savoury pastries as an early lunch, they resembled a long thin sausage roll curled up though with not much meat in. I made a stop to look for some cheap footwear for the Bjelasnica gravel climb. I’d seen pictures of the Bjelasnica climb and didn’t fancy destroying my carbon soled shoes, even though I had kept my cleat covers.
Stopping again at a fuel station before I turned onto the climb towards the mountains of CP4, I made an important discovery – Oreos!  These are a fantastic fuel and a perfect size for one mouthful. I looked for these in future but never found them again until Greece!

 


I took my time on the long climb toward the parcours, still feeling tired. But then again I didn’t want to arrive too early, that would mean tackling the gravel climb in the midday heat. I passed more old bullet ridden buildings and memorials before reaching CP4 and my penultimate Brevet stamp.
I got a cappucino and chatted with the checkpoint staff. I realised I had not seen another rider for the last two days and I’m delighted to hear that I have moved up to 43rd in the race, gaining another 10 places since CP3. I then proceeded to mess around here so long that my friend Sophie commented on Facebook that I should be getting a move on! And so I began the ridiculous ascent of Bjelasnica.
It took about 3 hours and I walked 75% of that time up and down. I was determined not to risk tyre or carbon wheel damage in the deep gravel stretches and just put my head down, cursing under my breath and taking small fast steps.

 

At least the heat was not so bad. At the summit there were spots of rain and thunder echoing around the valleys below. I couldn’t tell if this was in the valley I would descend to next. The view was pretty impressive and I could see Sarajevo in the distance, but I was impatient just to get this checkpoint over and done with and turned back down the hill.IMG_5712IMG_5710.JPG

I passed some ascending riders on my descent including an Italian who seemed determined to ride the gravel but kept falling over and swearing loudly – somehow italian swearing sounds so comical!
And so eventually I reached the bottom with no punctures or mechanical issues (so I thought) and sat at a restaurant to have some food and determine my next move. The American pair were just setting off up the climb, this gave me a renewed sense of determination. Tempting though it was to find lodging in the mountain village, it was only 5:30 pm. The trouble was that the next section of my route was pretty remote.
Using booking.com I found a hotel in Brod na Drin, but it’s another 85km away. I reckoned I could get there in time for a meal and ensure I stayed ahead of the Americans I left another racer (who?) at the restaurant considering whether he can follow my lead but I didn’t wait to find out his decision and raced off.
A delightful evening followed where I finally found my legs for the day, re-invigorated with a target to aim for and another glorious sunset.IMG_5722.JPG
After taking the photo of the sunset, I discover my Dynamo isn’t working! Maybe the gravel has shaken it up and damaged it or broken the connection. A quick fiddle proves fruitless and I bring out the head torch for the onset of darkness. My wahoo and iphone have enough charge and my Exposure Joystick light mounted on my helmet should allow me to reach the hotel. Despite this I try to race to my overnight target as quickly as possible.
I got a lovely welcome at the hotel which had an open air restaurant and chalet style rooms. The waitress spoke good English and after I showered, and washed shorts / jersey, the Bosnian menu was translated for me. It sounds quite normal food, but I’m delighted when she agrees to prepare me a cheese & ham omelette with Fries and salad, something I just inexplicably was yearning for and I know would digest easily. I even treat myself to a beer after such a long arduous day!
Cap 77 David Sherrington arrived. I recall him looking remarkably muscular and fresh! I joined him for a short chat before bed. David was ahead of me through Czech so I have made good progress. The leading lady Ede 179 was also close by, another person I have caught up to. Both Lee 229 and Chris 129 appeared to be safely behind me.
After inspecting my dynamo once again with no joy, I would need to use hotels each night to recharge devices. Navigation would be OK, my Wahoo would last all day with one re-charge from my power bank and I had the unused Etrex as a back up.
I fell asleep pleased with the days progress once again.

Day 12 – Gorges, High plains and into the heat again. Three countries today!
318 km, 2,926m @ 25.8 kph – Total 16:38 hours with 12:19 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1763308583

I woke at 5 am and stowed my washed shorts, unplugged my devices and maneuvered my bike around some awkward opening doors making quite a noise. I later learnt that I did David in the next room a favor as he had fallen asleep without setting an alarm. My cluttering served as his wake up call!
The first 20 km were easy and apart from a few barking dogs were uneventful. The light was quite dim due to cloud and mist and I noticed a strange shadow on the road in front of me, well fancy that, my dynamo was working once again? I’ve no idea to this day why it had stopped but I can only guess the hub connector had been shaken in the gravel and my late night fiddling had made a good connection again. This was good news in that I could ride later into the night without any worries of failing battery lights.
I passed a campsite and saw two Swiss motorcyclists whom I had seen on the gravel climb at CP4. These guys had generous luggage panniers yet they were bivying!
The border into Montenegro was via a splintered wooden bridge with very large gaps between the planks, I rode diagonally to avoid my tyres falling into the cracks, a trick taken from my experience on the cobbles in the RvC sportive back home in the Pennines.4D4964CE-EFCD-4C0C-AAAC-E932F24CCFB1

 

 


I was surprised by how much climbing there was to come, thought at least this meant I was out of the morning fog and could enjoy the scenery again. The route flattened out on reaching the Dam for the Piva reservoir, a huge sprawling expanse of blue water filling the deep ravines. The road was just fantastic, with awesome views.

 

 

I met Ede Cap 179, the leading women who had slept in a bivvi just short of me last night and had been on the road earlier than I. She had been ahead of me but had made a route error after leaving CP4. I later found that she’d felt unwell that day and may well have beaten me without these two problems.
I stopped in the town of Pluzine to withdraw Euros, I had run dangerously low since the recent hotels had all declined to accept card payments. It was a relief to have a generous amount of cash again.

 

 


Some more climbing and then a long descent into the high plains where I had a breakfast stop at the first supermarket. I gave my unfinished packet of cereal to a beggar and continued through Niksic. Then one more small climb before a 40 km plunge against a headwind again to Podgorica which was just above sea level. Unfortunately this meant the heat was back with a vengeance! Again I stopped at multiple water fountains and eventually decided on a Siesta just before the city where I ordered dinner. The food wasn’t long coming but I had to be woken up by the waitress when it arrived!

 

 

With 160 km in the bag, I wondered how far I would be able to get before I thought about sleeping arrangements, but decided to press on for a while yet before making any decisions. I would see how the heat and the wind direction developed and also what the road conditions would be like in Albania.

 

In fact the going was pretty good. Podgorica was a busy city but I pushed through to reach the border. My first friendly Albanian supermarket was happy to take Euros, prices were incredibly cheap and I was given change in Lek. I saw cows wandering around Petrol stations and wallowing in ponds, and enjoyed distant views across flat coastal to the mountains.IMG_5754

The route now needed some careful attention. The main SH1 road through Shkoder and Lezhe  was fine, but I then needed to avoid the sections upgraded to Motorway. I saw two more Caps 130,144 in Lezhe (where I stopped for supplies) who were headed for a hotel in Tirane, and seemed to be operating as a pair.
In the end I think I avoided unnecessary sections of the SH1 but it did give me a better view of Albanian life on the way. All the kids shout hello as you go past. If you want to buy a large fan for your winter turbo training then Albania is the place to go, they were on sale everywhere! But no halves of cars sorry!
I caught up with Lieuwe Cap 3 and chatted a while before pressing on. My goal was now clear, I would enter Tirane the Albanian capital where finding a hotel would be easy. It would be a late finish in the dark, but from there I was thinking of an easy two day finish into Meteora to complete the final parcours in daylight, savor the conclusion to my race and still finish in time for the party!

 

 


Initially this plan went well, there were some rough roads but all the time I was making good progress over the 70 km passing some run down and derelict towns and factories before  the daylight began to fail. The road itself also began to fail with long sections were apparently under construction with course gravel and clouds of dust. Traffic continued to use the road and it was hard work to make sure I chose the best route amidst the rubble, stay clear of cars but keep making decent speed to Tirane. There was a bridge closure which created mayhem with other riders who spent considerable time find a way around it. Luckily I had seen the headlights of mopeds which showed me a simple diversion and lost me no time at all. But the roads worsened and thank goodness my dynamo was working, I may not have reached the capital that night without it! Eventually I returned to tarmac and rejoined the SH1. Making a brief drink stop I pressed on to the outskirts where I stopped for a tasty kebab at a street food shack. Here I selected a hotel, quite at random but bang on my route through the capital and central for some late night amenities.
This turned out to be rather a luxurious 4* hotel next to many embassies. I needed to be very insistent on taking my bike into my room and then went straight out for food. Planning on an easy two day finish, I reckoned I could lie in and have my first hotel breakfast and so also treated myself to a beer.

 

Another great day with superb scenery, the fascination of Albania together with 318 km completed despite both the heat and the early climbing.
Lieuwe Cap 3 had also reached Tirane and David 77 seemed to have pulled up a few kilometres earlier, he was still a man to watch!

Ch’11: Day 7-9: Karkonosze bastard CP3 climb, more tyre woes, Peter Sagan and Hungary, damned Hungary!

Ch’10: TCR Day 4 – 6

Ch’9: TCR Depart and Days 1-3

Ch8: Tracking me in the Transcontinental Race No6, Rider 161

Ch7: TCR: Luggage & kit list

Ch.6: Cap No 161 – the final run up to TCR

Ch5: The TCR Bike

Ch’4: A trial multi-day trip through Wales. 900 km in 3 days

Ch’3: My TCR: Race Preparation

Ch’2: Exactly what is the Transcontinental Race?

Ch’ 1: My Transcontinental Race – how it all started

 

Ch’11: Day 7-9: Karkonosze bastard CP3 climb, more tyre woes, Peter Sagan and Hungary, damned Hungary!

Day 7 – CP3 tonight or wait until morning?
281 km, 3,889m @ 22.7 kph – Total 14:44 hours with 12:22 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1752266587

It was still dark when my 4:30am alarm woke me, so I snoozed for half an hour then woke to find a very damp field with dew dripping off my bike. My sleeping bag must have been warm enough however to prevent condensation as it was dry. This was fortunate as I’d not used my bivvi bag, finding it too warm and sweaty.
With only cereal bars for breakfast I found a fuel station very quickly for croissants and fresh water then stopped in Tabor at the Railway Station for toilet facilities. Shortly after I saw some distinctive TCR headlights which turned out to be the American pair 256
My son had been following the Chaz and Nico on their social media, so Chaz did a quick video blog to say hi to him!
I was glad to chat for a few minutes, departing from my own route to stay on the main road with them for a while. (It was Sunday and virtually no traffic) They were planning to follow James Hayden’s example of riding straight to the Checkpoint, meaning they would have to descend the parcours and ride back up it. I told them I had considered this in route planning, thinking it was a sneaky shortcut, but in fact with the extra climbing I decided in favour of the route around to the West.

Czech reminded me a little of home. Much of the landscape could have been from the UK, thought it appeared Autumn had arrived early in Czech with lots of nuts falling from the trees and leaves turning brown. The road maintenance policy certainly matched that of England, a very hit and miss selection of good new tarmac or old and bad with patches on patches. Every small town I passed through had a pond in the centre and the bus stops were frequently very luxurious.
I headed towards what looked like rain clouds and sure enough encountered rain. Daniel  Nash Cap 30 spotted me in a bus stop putting on my waterproof shorts for the first time. We rode alongside for a while until I pulled off at a petrol station. I learned later that he had crashed shortly after on a wet corner at some speed.

It soon dried up and the heat returned but I managed not to take a siesta this time, the roads were not steep so I could keep up my speed and generate a decent cooling breeze. Lunch was taken after 135km at a Billa Supermarket in Kolin (I missed a KFC that I had marked down on my route. I also missed a Pie Shop that I had also marked down and promised to visit – damn!). I bought some fruit from a roadside seller, took water from a resident in a small village who offered my a shower by his outside pool (tempting!) and bought a toothbrush as I had lost one. (later found placed in a different bag to normal) I passed another rider who was quite pissed off by the poor roads. The day seemed to be dragging despite the kilometres ticking away nicely.

The route started to climb to Nova Paka, Jilemnice and the Jizera gorge which would lead me into Poland.
Here I considered my options. I had originally planned to find a hotel at the foot of the CP3 Parcours so I could tackle its infamously steep climb in the cool of the morning. But maybe I could complete the climb late evening and gain a couple of hours?
I posted a poll on my Facebook page to see what people thought. This caused a flurry of activity and kept me amused all the way to the Polish border on what had seemed a lonely day.
Calling the hotel (or hostel as it turned out) I reserved a bed, though I knew food was not being offered. So just before the border at Novy Svet, I stopped at Norma’s supermarket for bread and tinned mackerel which could be my meal.
The descent into Poland and to the start of the parcours was super fast and wind assisted, the sun was low and there was plenty of shade. I knew I had made the right decision. My small army of dot watchers were commentating on my CP assault on Facebook and the banter and encouragement was great. When my satellite tracker failed to update (tree cover?) it caused a storm of queries.
The climb itself was a brutally steep, broken, patchy, tarmac access road with gravel in places. I considered it a bit of a novelty parcours or circus piece. The climb itself wasn’t scenic due to the forest, simply ridiculously hard especially carrying bike packing gear. I can understand why it has such a reputation within Poland. My cleat covers which had travelled with me all this way unused, remained in my pocket as I managed the entire climb without a foot down. It was pretty much an exercise in handling, balance and picking the best route through the broken surface. I was pedaling so slowly using a 34/32 ratio and it was for sure the most intense effort I made in the whole race!
I arrived at the summit soaked in sweat but emerging from the trees into the wind made me instantly chilly. I almost missed the hotel which was a sharp left from the path leading straight on.


When my Dot watchers saw I had made it, the GIF’s they posted were hilarious to watch and it was hugely satisfying to see so many people once again were following my race. After issuing a suitable expletive to the CP staff on the hotel balcony (a great crew who bivvied out all night) and gaining my stamp, I headed inside the building for warmth. I met Angie from Yorkshire, a previous TCR finisher and chatted over my meal which I managed to continually drip into my now substantial beard. I had scored a large bowl of soup at the hostel so I tipped my mackerel in and dipped in my bread rolls. An unexpected hearty meal to help replace the calories used that day.

The day had been another very satisfying result with a good mileage. Reaching the most northerly point was a big milestone and at least two of my friends told me that it was all downhill from here to Greece!
The American pair had arrived at the CP3 10 minutes before me but I felt smug having ridden the parcour which they still had to complete in the dark!
Chris 129 was already on his way south after a storming performance, Daniel 30 was on the parcour I think. With washing done I was into bed with no alarm set but I had a TCR dormitory  partner who would no doubt wake me up!

Day 8 – Czech crossing in a day, but tyre problems
322 km, 2,247m @ 26.1 kph – Total 17:14 hours with 12:20 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1754795979

Having enjoyed a lie in, I left the hostel at 06:40, saying farewell to the checkpoint volunteers sleeping out. This next leg was the longest, taking me back through Czech, Slovakia, briefly into Austria again, Hungary, Croatia and into Bosnia for CP4. My target today was to maximise my mileage across relatively flat lands and end with a bivvi somewhere to make most use of riding time.
The day started well enough, waving to Lee 229 as I left the summit and to Rachel and Jim on their way up to the checkpoint as I descended to the ski resort of Spindleruv. I reckon I had a near half day lead on them now. I was soon halted by a slow puncture however. With no obvious cause, I figured the tyre repair boot has been rubbing on the inner tube to cause the puncture. A replacement tube somehow also failed, probably operator error, but apart from a lost hour, the main issue was the replacement tyre which I had bough in Italy. It simply would not seat evenly and despite numerous attempts I had to live with an annoying bump each time the wheel went round.

I caught Daniel Cap 30 and we stopped together at a Supermarket. He seemed to be lacking some motivation, still hurting from his crash and I left him taking a small break.
The roads were flat or rolling, with a few cobbled towns to pass through and some poor roads to contend with, at least they helped mask my lumpy back wheel!


It was very apparent that I was facing into the sun now, heading due south. It was hot yet again, and I needed to keep the sun off my head. My TCR cap had not been used as it was too tight and gave me a headache. The solution was to modify the cap by snipping the elastic and also soaking the cap in water which definitely helped keep me cooler. IMG_5623

A headwind blew all day through the middle of Czech which was mostly unspectacular riding. After some gentle climbing around Litomysl I came across a road closure. I risked riding through it, the gamble paid off and I was only slowed down for a couple of kilometers.

I then followed the beautiful Svratka valley and lake to avoid main roads and to bypass the city of Brno. Bike shops on my route were closed by the time I started looking and I continued over some lumpy roads to Zidlochovice for a sit down meal and my pre-bivvi evening wash. I would ride into the night along the flat terrain and maybe even cross the border into Slovakia. Chris 129 was across to the East and  Lee 229 plus the Americans were not far behind.

Making good late night progress on flat roads I bumped along through Breclav, spotting a comfortable looking Bed shop and singing along to dot watcher Paul Nuttons ” Mambo No 5: a Lidl bit of…” Then I crossed the river border into Slovakia and looked for a place to bivvi. The air was quite cool and damp so I waited for the next town to offer a warmer spot for the night. The border town of Kuty proved difficult with even the church yard being locked, but I eventually found a building plot which offered a smooth clean patio and the sound of a distant party throwing out Slovakian music. I was careful to keep quiet and not to flash my torch around too much to alert the neighbour. Another milkshake supper and off to sleep.

As I was waking up at 5am, the party was still going strong and I could swear it was playing the exact same record! The neighbour went past me and reversed his car out of his garage but if he spotted me he didn’t show it!

Day 9 – Tyre fixed, Horrible Headwind Hungary. Sumptuous SpagBol.
295 km, 1,506m @ 25.4 kph – Total 16 hours with 11:34 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1756721460

A 5.30am start, a quick petrol station breakfast again and great progress in the morning heading for Bratislava where I hoped to find a bike shop.
Peter Sagan’s picture was everywhere approaching the city. I chatted to a commuter who led me to a bike shop which he told me would open at 9am. In fact it didn’t open until 10am. I thought my luck was in when one of the employees arrived early to eat his breakfast, but despite discussing the race and my predicament, he and the other staff faffed around for ages before actually opening the door at 10’0′ clock on the dot! They have opened early for Sagan I bet, don’t they know that TCR is the new Tour de France?
I lost a frustrating 90 minutes during which Lee 229 (he’s back again!) and the Americans overtook me. I had overtaken Chris 129 earlier, he must have slept in and I was still in front despite my extended pit stop! Daniel 30 was a way away in Vienna and no longer looked to be a rival, I hoped he had regained his motivation!
Tyre seated, I left Bratisalava in a huff, crossed into Austria (yes – again) with it’s lovely smooth roads and enjoyed a tailwind for a while. After a bakery/toilet/laundry stop I caught up with Lee 229 and we rode a while for a chat. He took this photo of me and my freshly washed shorts:IMG_9105 (2)

Crossing into Hungary where I think I needed to show my passport for the first time, the country would prove to be the most boring and monotonous of the whole race. Every town looked the same, the roads were awful, most main roads banned bicycles and of course it was a headwind all afternoon, a hot headwind and one of the strongest until Croatia which was to come.
It was a grind. Head down, aero bars, try and keep weight off the saddle, ignore speed, focus on power and just pedal. All day! Somehow I managed to deal with the heat, maybe I was acclimatising or maybe my continually wetted cap was helping.
A supermarket lunch stop using credit card (I had no currency) consisted of DIY cream cheese and ham sandwiches with an assortment of sugary and salty snacks. Even the Hungarian supermarkets were boring though I did find chocolate milk 🙂 NNGF5268
Chris 129 came along looking hot and bothered, being a lightweight he was suffering in the headwind. He went off to find cash (despite telling him the shop took credit cards) and I think that was the last time I saw him until the finish.
Lake Balaton had been a target for the evening with campsites, restaurants and hotels, but I decided I should stretch this goal and add a few more kilometres. I booked a hotel as an incentive at just short of 300 km for the day. This turned out to be a bit of a race. A routing error gave me a grass/dirt track to follow, losing me time, plus the enforced cycle paths also cost me. Eventually after pedaling through several insect swarms I regained the legal roads, passing a curiously space age looking building and arrived after a long climb at the Hotel Canada in Marcali.


I just had time for a late meal at a friendly restaurant, a little surpised at my late, large order  – a fantastic Spaghetti Bolognese and a side order of Burger and chips. I’d managed a great mileage considering the headwinds and it was a bonus to gain the altitude late in the day which would give me an extra head start in the morning.
I wanted another early start to capitalise on the gains I had made though I had little food left, so a decent breakfast stop would be crucial.
My head hit the pillow with a pedestal fan left on all night in lieu of air conditioning.

Ch’10: TCR Day 4 – 6

Ch’9: TCR Depart and Days 1-3

Ch8: Tracking me in the Transcontinental Race No6, Rider 161

Ch7: TCR: Luggage & kit list

Ch.6: Cap No 161 – the final run up to TCR

Ch5: The TCR Bike

Ch’4: A trial multi-day trip through Wales. 900 km in 3 days

Ch’3: My TCR: Race Preparation

Ch’2: Exactly what is the Transcontinental Race?

Ch’ 1: My Transcontinental Race – how it all started

Ch’10: TCR Day 4 – 6

Day 4 – Cloudy at last, but tyre trouble …..
296 km, 3,080m @ 24.9 kph – Total 16 hours with 11:52 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1745584190

Leaving the hotel at 5.20am after about 5 hours of good sleep, my target was to get within striking distance of CP2. I had to descend the 12% hill from Mutters first which was highly annoying but the Brenner pass was nice and cool and with my jersey a touch damp from it’s wash the night before it felt great!
It was a long 30 km climb but without any steep sections and the impressive elevated motorway towered above.

I crossed the border into Italy (where apparently Battleships are limited to 50 kph) and made a quick stop for coffee and croissants. I descended using the excellent cycle paths on the Italian side but it was here that a stone pinged out very loudly from my back wheel, I swore loudly but the tyre stayed up. I should have stayed on the main road which was very quiet! (this was probably the cause of my later tyre trouble)
It was a huge relief to see the clouds in the sky and I was starting to feel my old self again, holding a better power and faster speed on the road.  I caught up with Lee Grieve Cap 229 who was to become another familiar face.

The SS49 was a road which the race manual recommended be avoided. I had plotted a number of cycle path sections along its length based my assessment of the main road on google street view. Whilst riding alongside another racer, my Wahoo indicated a sharp left turn which was intended to re-join the main road. This caused an instant rear blowout from a sidewall tear where the inner tube burst through. I inserted a tyre boot and a new tube but then found I could not re-connect with the road. So I backtracked onto the cyclepath! Oh well, the blowout was going to happen sooner or later. Whoever the other rider was must have surely been laughing at my sudden departure accompanied by a loud POP – HISS!
I stopped for lunch at yet another Lidl in Brunico where I also bought a new tyre, the only 28c tyre the shop had, a Schwalbe Pro One.  I didn’t fit it since my repair was holding ok, but secured it on my seat pack for when it was needed. I had unwittingly bought a tubeless ready mode which would prove a further problem a thousand kilometres later!

Next was another long gradual climb to Dobbiacho. It got pretty hot on this climb and a quick stop was made at the top for toilet facilities and a spot of preventative maintenance on the undercarriage. I’d caught Chris Teasdale 88 on a very smart Whyte Wessex and he joined me at the restaurant. I had also overtaken Arnoldas Jakstas Cap 134. I’d got to know him through Facebook before the race and had been keeping an eye on him. I think he was enjoying a scenic route through the valley bottom!

More soaking of clothes in the heat during a 70 km easy run back into Austria and then I passed through the edge of a thunderstorm. The cool rain was refreshing and I didn’t need the waterproof. I kept on the aero bars and ticked along in top gear to maximise speed on the long descents. I made another McD stop in Lienz to show the locals just how fast you can eat large salty fries and ice-cream sundae. I was maintaining a small lead over Lee 229 and gradually gaining on R&J 245.
My plan tonight was looking achievable. To get as close as possible to CP2, bivvy overnight and start climbing early in the morning. In preparation I needed a good evening meal and also some supermarket supplies for supper and first breakfast (I think my mealtimes suggest I’m turning into a Hobbit)

After a long flat valley battling a headwind, I felt a few sharp pains from my right achilles. I stopped for some stretching and on the next long Gailberg climb I sat up on the bike, hands on the elbow pads to provide some relief to my ankle. After the race I discovered this was a common riding position for many people.
An inviting roadside restaurant before Hermagor offered a super quick but excellent dish of dumplings with cheese and bacon, fries and iced water. Perfect!

I even did some more hamstring stretching to help my achilles and thinking ahead to the bivvi, used the bathroom to wash off the sunscreen and road grime with my trusty flannel.
An Aldi in Hermagor provided raspberries as my fruit for the day, some chocolate milk for bedtime, tinned Mackerel for breakfast and of course a new bag of Haribo. I was all set for the evening and I would ride as far as I could.IMG_5443
It was a beautiful sunset as I climbed out of Austria into Italy again. I passed some run down towns at Tarvisio as darkness fell and the route continued to reach 900 metres altitude which offered a good springboard for the CP2 Parcours in the morning.
Lee 229 caught me as I was searching for a bivvi spot and we chatted until I abruptly turned into a market place in Cave del Predil. (Lee continued to within 2 km of the Mangart summit and sheltered from high winds with drunken Slovenians in a mountain refuge!)
My spot for the night was a hut dressed up like a grotto with tables and even a handy water fountain outside. Into my sleeping bag about 11 pm content with a good day’s riding, Hallelujah!
The town was dead quiet except for the sodding town bells which disturbed me every half hour! Midnight of course being the worst!


Chris Murkin 129 was still ahead of me, Rachel and Jim 245 were showing as being in the same town as me. The American pair 256 were also near, somehow I had caught them up after the Bielerhoe and these guys would now start to figure in my race.

Day 5 – Stunning! Spectacular! but hot again …….
225 km, 4,000m @ 20.7 kph – Total 16:15 hours with 11:20 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1745584190

A 5am start in the dark light of morning and I see Rachel and Jim 245 rolling past my bivvi spot just as I mount the bike. Today would be a long climbing day but I would break up the two huge climbs with a good breakfast at the CP2 hotel.
The Slovenian border came in just a couple of kilometres and the Mangart Pass started almost immediately.

A long steep climb but WOW what a spectacular place! This was one of the reasons I wanted to race the TCR. It would bring me to places I would never otherwise have visited and this was an absolute pearl. In the early morning light, the vista just grew and grew the higher I climbed. Burping Mackerel and sucking Haribo I just grinned around every corner.

IMG_5485

92766D0C-CD94-4582-85CD-06A0120EF7A1Lee 229 came past on his way down from the summit and I stopped many times to take photos.  R&J 245 passed me but I didn’t mind and I savoured the descent, stopping to take in all the beauty. Eventually I concentrated on the road to Bovec looking forward to getting my stamp at CP2.
A large breakfast with several other riders including 133 who had chosen the Grossglockner instead of the Brenner and was having problems with a broken spoke (scratched), laundry, a chat with Anna of the Lost Dot team and I was on my way. I had to stop again to apply sunscreen, cursing why I had not done this at the hotel. I also cursed that R&J had clearly skipped a large breakfast and were half an hour in front of me again – they never stop!

The Vrsic Pass was another cracker. Beautiful clear mountain streams, campsites on the approach then a long climb with about 25 hairpins up and 25 down to the ski resort of Kranska Gora. The heat was building again but there was plenty of shade on the climb. I chatted with a Canadian Heath Ryan Cap 230 a real comedian but soon left him on the climb. I was caught by a German mountain biker on holiday who was fascinated by the race and at the summit I treated myself to a cold drink among the sheep at the kiosk.

IMG_5502.JPGMore stunning scenery on the descent which featured cobbled corners and a short flat stretch before the Wurzenpass taking me back into Austria yet again. My rear brake was scraping the disc slightly, the pads had taken a real hammering on the CP2 descents. The heat was again in the high 30’s so I stopped for dinner at a restaurant at the top of the pass and adjusted the caliper whilst I waited for food. I think Heath 130, Lee 229 and R&J passed me at this point but I was happy I was using this stop time sensibly and avoiding the sun at the hottest part of the day.

IMG_5509

Sure enough, I caught Heath soon after an incredibly potholed descent – wait, wasn’t this Austria? I caught R&J puzzling over a cycle path / main road junction where I wasted no time and legged it up a grass verge to take the main road. Good progress through Villach and Ossiachsee,  swift re-routing around a road closure and I was eating in yet another McD In St. Veit when Lee 229 walked in!
A thunderstorm soaked the roads whilst we ate and I used the time to book a hotel further down the road. Back on the road I used my waterproof but the roads soon dried up and I continued to make good speed. So good in fact that it I cancelled my hotel booking as it was too soon on my route. With the evening damp and possible further thunderstorms it was not the best night for another bivvi so I located & booked a guest house which would keep me pedaling to around 10 pm.
My phone cable had failed at this point and I looked for a fuel station to buy a replacement. All petrol stations stock charging cables right? Not in this part of Austria. At the third try, the attendant was happy to sell me his own cable for €10 as he could replace it next day using Amazon Prime!
A quick charge from my small reserve power bank and I would be able to locate my guest house without issue. I had another delay from a road traffic accident whilst the Air ambulance took off, but it was really enjoyable and tailwind assisted route which took me through evening mist and cycle paths to my guesthouse.

Arriving around 9.30 pm and negotiating an early breakfast to be left out for me, I nipped out to the well stocked Petrol Station next door for supper where a local was enjoying some supper and clearly chatting up the station waitress. I didn’t need to stay until closing to work out his chances of success, but I had a bit of a chat with him and he recommended the best pastries from what was left of the day’s selection.
This had been a feature packed day with a huge elevation, decent mileage and another checkpoint completed. I’d been picking up places on the road and seemed to be getting better at managing the heat.
The highlight of the day had been the spectacular scenery, I would definitely return to Slovenia in future.
Head on the pillow about 11.30 pm and sleep descended like an anesthetic.

Day 6 – Downhill Ski runs and Nuclear Power
300 km, 3,273m @ 24.2 kph – Total 17 hours with 12:24 hours moving
https://www.strava.com/activities/1749892977

Another early wake-up to maximise the cool hours of the day. Breakfast, pack away the washed kit which had been hanging to dry and I was on the road for 5 am. This gave me a clear lead on R&J with the American pair somewhere close by. Chris Murkin 129 was still ahead of me!
The day started with a long and gentle climb but with a morning headwind (of course).
I reached the summit between St Johann am Tauern and Trieben relatively easily. Still cool, I wore my goretex for the descent. It was a good job I did! The descent was so long, steep, fast and flowing, it was like a downhill ski run all the way into Trieben.
Max speed 78kph, what a segment!


A McD in Liezen offered a perfectly timed second breakfast and sun cream was applied ready for the next climb, I wasn’t out of the Alps just yet! I met rider 222 who was struggling with a bruised broken rib following a crash. (unfortunately he scratched that day)

The following 100 km were generally downhill through the Steyr valley as I left the Alps behind me and headed toward the Danube. Finally I was able to shout to Chris Murkin 129 who was stopped at a Restaurant, but soon after that I stopped at a Billa store where I met Tom Hudders Cap 90.
With 160 km already completed, I moved on to my next page of route notes, always enjoyed doing this as it signified progress toward the next checkpoint. Only 449 km left before CP3!

I smashed some quick lunch items including a delicious Bircher Muesli with fresh fruit. The rest of my lunch was successfully eaten from my musette on the go as I took it gently in the 36 deg heat. Half of my pringles bounced out of the tube onto the road, I hadn’t quite determined the best method for dispensing pringles on the go!
The temperature peaked in the valley bottom and I decided another siesta was required before crossing the Danube and tackling the next long climb. This time a large Ice cream, more ice on the head, and 20 winks. Chris 129 had taken the lead again whilst I stopped – drat! and the American pair were still unseen but snapping at my heels still.

The next couple of hours were pretty tough with lots of climbing in the heat, but the investment in elevation would make the last part of the day easier. Cap 30 Daniel Nash was ahead of me on my route, another marker to follow.
With evening came the Czech border and my next new country!

Stopping at an ATM for Koruna, I followed a very busy but picturesque river valley with endless campsites, canoeists, and holiday cottages in the woods. The Czechs appeared to have an interesting retro fashion trend for bathing costumes! (see picture)


Passing a very run down industrial town I then arrived at Cesky Krumlov, a popular tourist spot. I would have liked to have stopped the night here and had a meal but it was far too early. Instead I tried the local ice cream which was advertised everywhere. It was a pretty pathetic Mr Softie affair and I’d stick to the Cornetto’s in future!
Later I passed a country pub with live music where I stopped to fill up my water, have some food (and a beer – it was Saturday night!) in readiness for a bivvi stop.

Another beautiful sunset and into the night using main roads which helped kill the kilometres. I promised myself I would reach 300 km and then stop. As this milestone approached, I could see a gigantic power station lit up like Cape Canaveral. I later learnt this was Temelin, Czech’s largest Nuclear facility.

Luckily 300 km arrived just after Temelin and I found a quiet field with close cut grass and a perfect spot out of sight underneath overhanging trees. I had a full body wash with my flannel (I did wonder what would happen if anyone saw me!) and had a very close call with two very similar looking tubes of cream. I’m not sure which would have been worse!
The ever present Chris Murkin 129 was ahead of me in Tabor along with Daniel Nash 30. The American Duo were somewhere nearby (in a field I learnt later)

Today had not only been a solid day, but was my third good day in a row!
Tomorrow my target would be to reach Poland and stay in Podgorzyn to be ready for a dawn raid on CP3.

Ch’9: TCR Depart and Days 1-3

Ch8: Tracking me in the Transcontinental Race No6, Rider 161

Ch7: TCR: Luggage & kit list

Ch.6: Cap No 161 – the final run up to TCR

Ch5: The TCR Bike

Ch’4: A trial multi-day trip through Wales. 900 km in 3 days

Ch’3: My TCR: Race Preparation

Ch’2: Exactly what is the Transcontinental Race?

Ch’ 1: My Transcontinental Race – how it all started

 

Ch’9: TCR Depart and Days 1-3

Finally!3CDC0B44-CDDA-4528-A171-F1E79CBB28E1
After what seems forever, I am on my way to Belgium for the start of the Transcontinental Race No6. If I was Matt Gibson, then I’d be cycling to Geraardsbergen in a self imposed 24 hrs and eating only chicken sandwiches and Snickers. Enough of that madness, I’m taking the train from Guiseley.
As I settle for the journey I feel a big sense of relief. All the race preparation is done. If I have overlooked anything then there is sod all I can do about it now!

The transfer in London is easy, St Pancras is right next door to Kings Cross. Easy that is except the luggage attendant instructs me to remove all bags and accessories from the bike before I hand it over – they have got to be kidding!
On the train I chat with Chris Murkin Cap 129, a 25 year old who is also doing his first TCR. Little did I know that we would meet many times in the days to come. We pull into Brussels at 4pm and I am relieved to be re-united with the bike intact. I re-attach all the bags and ride the 40 km to Geraardsbergen with two other riders Gary and Peter, Caps 79 and 177 (both destined to scratch) before finding the Air BnB.
It was great to have a base in town kindly shared by Erika Rowen Cap 100 and along with Derek Boocock 113, Simon Hayward 14, David Hawkins 40, Tim Lang 225 and Isobel Jobling 224. We compared kit,  spoke of previous experience and our pre-race thoughts and nerves. Only three of the housemates would reach Greece.
That evening there is a social gathering of the excited riders in the Marketplace. I am interviewed by GCN and manage to chat with a number of other riders including the legend Kristoff Allegaert a previous winner of TCR and Melissa Pritchard, another winner who wrote one of many blogs I consumed in my race preparations.

Race morning is filled with registration, bike checks and of course receiving the iconic TCR race cap! I speak with Josh Ibett who is taking photos of riders bikes. He isn’t interested in mine and I realise it’s because I don’t have any Hunt wheels, the company for whom he works. He has no intention to race TCR again and is more interested in exploring new places.
As I stand in my race cap, watching the other riders go about their tasks, it begins to sink in. After months and years of preparation, training and dreaming, I am actually a Transcontinental racer and stand head and shoulders with 250 other riders about to set off for Greece!IMG_5370
The rest of the day is taken up by leisurely eating, more chatting and then a final hours kip at the AirBnB before the compulsory briefing where we meet the TCR team and are reminded about the Spirit of the Race from Mike Hall’s video.
Everyone now is impatient for the race to start, more time is filled eating Pizza and I take a quiet ride on my own up the Muir so I am familiar with it before hitting it in the dark with 250 excited racers!IMG_5335
Eventually the throng of racers turn towards the town Mayor who conducts ceremonies for the official start. At 10 pm it’s a relief to start rolling behind the pace car on a circuit around the town before it pulls away and the race starts with the climb up the cobbled Muir. TCRNo6 is away!!!

Day 1 – Smashed it…….. but then…..
475 km, 5,350m @ 26.9 kph – Total 21:20 hours with 17:58 hours moving.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1738204047

I am determined to resist sprinting up the Muir at the front, instead maintaining a safe gap in front of me to ensure I get a safe run up. Dodging someones lost sleeping bag, I avoid a couple of stalled riders and reach the safety of the open road beyond. Now I notice that my rear light is not working and I haven’t loaded the route on my wahoo!  These are quickly sorted and I focus on the road. IMG_5340

An eery silence falls. Everyone is now lost in their own thoughts. My route soon departed from most other riders as I had elected to head south-east to Namur and up the Meuse valley to Dinant avoiding the hillier Ardennes. I hardly saw any riders for a few hours. When I rejoined the more favoured N40 at Beauraing I overtook some riders who I recognised from earlier, so perhaps my route had not been the best choice. A slight headwind, but a warm night meant that I was in shorts and jersey all night long.
My ideal target was to complete 500 km in the first 24 hours to a campsite where I could shower, bivvi and then use an early opening bakery for breakfast. IMG_5349The only climb of note was around 150 km still in the darkness of night. I never felt sleepy and I was able to pedal non-stop through my first dawn until around 7 am when I pulled into a Petrol Station before Neufchateaux for breakfast and water after 188 km . One other TCR rider was there already but I left before him within 10 minutes. My average speed to this point was 27.2 kph.

I stopped at 11 am at my first of many Lidl stores for a food grab then again at 2 pm for a proper lunch stop in the welcome cool of another Lidl. I was on track for my day’s target with 340 km completed. The route on my Wahoo had been faultless and I had suffered no aches, pains or saddle sores.
At this point I learn that I am in 9th place on the Trackleaders site and my dot watchers are reporting excitedly on Facebook that I am smashing it!

The “smashing it” was to change pretty quickly and dramatically. The heat was building fast. My Wahoo Bolt reported 35-40 degrees from mid afternoon and I was having to make frequent stops for cold drinks and to soak my clothing to try and stay cool. The approach to Strasbourg after around 400 km was sapping my strength in the incessant heat and there seemed precious little shade on the roads. The terrain made it especially hot on the long stretches of rolling uphill. Another rider told me he was going to pull over for a siesta and nap whilst the heat was at it’s worst. I should have copied him but instead carried on. I noticed my jersey seemed to be crinkling in the heat before realising that it was salt building up in crusty stalagmites!IMG_5355

I found a stone water trough and held my head under the cold water for 5 minutes. This was wonderful.  Later after Strasbourg I felt a little faint at one point and stopped for a few minutes in shade. Around 8 pm I made a strategic decision to find a hotel in Offenburg at 475 km. I needed air conditioning! Heading into town I passed an Aldi and foolishly did not stock up here, instead choosing to go straight to the hotel. Only after checking in did I discover I must walk 5-10 minutes in the heat to find a restaurant where I sat with a bag of ice on my head. Looking back now, my symptoms all pointed to degrees of heat-stroke with headache,  probable dehydration and later that evening muscle cramps. After drinking and eating as much as I could, I took paracetomol, washed my shorts and jersey and slept around 6 hours until my alarm at 6am.

Day 2 – Oh god this is hard!
243 km, 2,078m @ 23.4 kph – Total 15:44 hours with 10:25 hours moving.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1740961017
Leaving the hotel just after 6:30am after a broken nights sleep with cramps I knew this was going to be a hard day. My target was to reach the CP1 hotel and sleep nearby. A quick early breakfast stop at yet another Lidl was perfect to set me up for the climb into the Black forest.

It seemed the sun however was already beating down from early in the day and the temperature on the climb was already 28 degrees. I just could not seem to drink enough water and I still had a faint headache.
Through the Black Forest I descended towards Switzerland and the temperature once again reached 38 degrees. After 140 km I took a 2 hour Siesta in a McDonalds where I struggled to eat with my fingers cramping! The staff seemed a little concerned when I laid down on one of the benches but they let me stay and after a large meal with extra salt on my chips and numerous ice creams I eventually braved the outside heat once more.


Chris Murkin Cap 129 caught me around Konstanz and we were level pegging for a considerable distance whilst I was passed by another rider who’s Garmin had failed in the heat. He was navigating by iPhone and memory, planning to buy a Wahoo in Innsbruck, the next dealer on his route. Further dousing in water, more ice cream and food stops allowed me to keep going, crossing from Switzerland into Austria. I passed by music festivals and rode on but my speed was starting to slow and I had to accept I would fall short of my day’s target distance. After a few minutes of dithering to find a good bivvi spot, I told myself not to be fussy and made do with a secluded spot behind an industrial unit in Feldkirch at around 10 pm. I had coverred 243 km, 45km short of target but still respectable given the heat and the exhaustion of the previous day. The air was still so warm that I slept in only the sleeping bag liner for about 5 hours.


Day 3 – How can I possibly finish this race? My darkest day.
195 km, 2566m @ 20.9 kph – Total 15:43 hours with 9:21 hours moving.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1743369849/analysis

After packing up my bivvi I was on the road at 4.38 am, I finally felt cool! On paper this day should be an opportunity for some recovery. My plan was to get breakfast at the CP1 hotel and climb the 2100m Bielerhoe pass before the midday heat. After that it should be 100 km of easy descent to Innsbruck where I might climb the Brenner pass into Italy before Nightfall.
The early morning went well, I had a quick Petrol Station coffee stop and the gradual climb to the CP1 hotel was ok. I washed yesterday’s bib shorts and enjoyed a large breakfast with Chris Cap 129 who had reached CP1 & stopped there overnight. The pair 245 Rachel and Jim also appeared for breakfast. I was interviewed by Tom from the TCR team and was soon on the road with my brevet card stamped. Tom would later tell me that he was concerned I appeared quite downbeat and exhausted from the heat and had followed my later progress with interest.img_5388.jpg

I was now down to 80th place in the race!
The Bielerhoe Pass should be the easiest of all the CP Parcours, however I was careful to take it easy and save my legs for later in the day and so I was passed by a few riders climbing faster than myself including Bruno Ferraro 159 who had recently toured my home roads of Yorkshire. He was polite enough to take some photo’s before he went past me! 40513607_840735566316660_839556185269993472_nThe heat came early again and despite the altitude it was over 30 degrees before the summit. I was passed by Rachel & Jim again when I stopped for sun cream and to brush my teeth, they never stop!

A quick food stop at the summit and I enjoyed a cooler start to the majestic descent. However the wind was soon to put a stop to this supposed easy section. A constant headwind blew up the valley and coupled with the rising heat it was like pedaling into a hairdryer. Avoiding the banned tunnels was a nightmare, one of the diversions being a cruelly steep up and down section via hairpins!
I was overtaken by the American pairing Nico and Chaz who were laughing and joking and making it look far too easy, I remember thinking I would never be likely to see them again in the race.IMG_5409
My wahoo was now reporting 40 degrees C and I was still needing to pedal downhill. I had to take another siesta in the shade behind a small Spar. I ate what I could and drank and drank. The next few hours were my darkest of the race. The heat just sapped all my strength. I made another cafe stop where the sun caught my back wheel and the inner tube popped. More time was lost sweating in the shade to change a tube. After a few more kilometres I sat in some shade again for a few minutes simply with my head in my hands and shared my state of mind in a Facebook post.

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Continuing slowly, at long last the headwind seemed to lessen. Then I heard a cheer from the road side which I could see came from a bike shop. (Bergwaerts in Rietz) Turning back to replace my inner tube, the shop owner thrust an ice-cold Fanta into my hand and he was so enthusiastic about the race. My spirits were lifted, he refused payment for the tube and told me to climb the Brenner before nightfall when I would have a tailwind. I doubted I could manage this but accepted his recommendation to at least climb out of Innsbruck to sleep above the heat of the city.
I booked a hotel on the lower slopes of the Brenner 300 metres above the city. This give me a challenging but reachable target for the day and I telephoned ahead to make sure I could get food when I arrived.
Further along the road, the headwind lessened further and so did the heat to around 30 degrees. I gained a wheel-sucker, a young Austrian girl who’s ambition was to do a 1000 km tour into Italy. She was fascinated by my race and could not believe my speed after the distance I had already covered. I was glad of the company and slowed a little so she could stay on my wheel. All these things together really helped my mood and were accompanied by a huge explosion of messages on Facebook with support and encouragement from my friends urging me not to give in. On top of that a flood of donations following CP1 gave me a real obligation to keep going. Sam texted me telling me in no uncertain terms that I must not dare scratch!
I focused on the hotel as my single goal for the day and tried to put all thoughts about the remainder of the race to one side.

Eventually my route changed direction and the headwind all but disappeared. I reached Innsbruck where  a McD offered a further boost with large salty fries, Ice cream and a milkshake to go. I was aware of families staring as they watched me stand there dripping in sweat, bolting down calories as fast as I could in order to continue as quickly as possible to reach the hotel.

As I climbed out of the city, the evening views were incredible and I was going to be on time for the hotel dinner! Despite a last 12% climb into the village of Mutters, I arrived at the hotel at dusk in a better frame of mind around 8 pm.
I declined the Sauna, but a cool shower and a three course meal followed with lots of iced water and an iced napkin on my head all evening. I remember rebuffing the waitress who tried to light the candle on my table – not more heat!
I chatted with Danny Green Cap 9? who had checked in at 2 pm simply for somewhere to sleep in the afternoon. He had dinner and left at 10 pm to do the Brenner despite thunder rumbling around during our meal and lightning flashes lighting up the sky.
I turned in around 11pm, with my kit washed, Etap battery charged and had another 5 hours sleep.
My day’s mileage had been pitifully poor. But whilst my big advantage from Day 1 had been almost wiped out, I could still be on target to complete 280 km as a daily average for the race.
Please, please, please turn down the heat in Italy tomorrow?

Ch8: Tracking me in the Transcontinental Race No6, Rider 161

Ch7: TCR: Luggage & kit list

Ch.6: Cap No 161 – the final run up to TCR

Ch5: The TCR Bike

Ch’4: A trial multi-day trip through Wales. 900 km in 3 days

Ch’3: My TCR: Race Preparation

Ch’2: Exactly what is the Transcontinental Race?

Ch’ 1: My Transcontinental Race – how it all started

 

 

Ch8: Tracking me in the Transcontinental Race No6, Rider 161

3CDC0B44-CDDA-4528-A171-F1E79CBB28E1Become a TCR dot watcher and prepare to be amazed at the distances covered by the leading riders. Marvel at the resilience of those making up the tail end of the race and hopefully you can find me somewhere in between them!
Find out for yourself: Where did he stop last night? Where has he found to eat today? Oh no – not another McDonalds! Why the hell has he gone that way when all the other riders have chosen a different route!

And at some point during your wonder and awe 🙂 please pay a little visit to my fundraising page:
Donate to Yorkshire Air Ambulance & Marie Curie

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Tracking websitehttp://trackleaders.com/transconrace18
This is the main way to track all racer’s progress. All riders tracks are shown and you can then select Rider 161 to see my individual feed.
You can zoom in on each rider and even apply Streetview to see where riders have stopped or to gain an idea of the terrain they are travelling through. It looks like this:

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Another tracking site which also often carries race reports: www.dotwatcher.cc

The TCR website: https://www.transcontinental.cc/

SOCIAL MEDIA
I am most likely to use Facebook https://www.facebook.com/richard.gate.9 as my primary reporting, though I may also use Instagram to capture photographs and link them to my FB page at the same time. Instagram: richard_gate_arcc

Twitter: https://twitter.com/richardgate2 @transconrace @richardgate2
Any tweets I make will use my rider hashtag #TCRNo6cap161

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/transconrace/
This is the official Race page for any race news and updates.

Facebook grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/Transcontinental.en/
This is the most frequently used group by riders before the race, posting questions, kit details etc. It’s sure to contain updates by some riders during the race.

 

Ch7: TCR: Luggage & kit list

I’ve had many questions about what I am taking with me on the Transcontinental and how much it all weighs. So at long last……

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RichardGate

IMG_5251

The total weight I will be carrying is 5.9 kg including the bags themselves.
The bike itself = 10.4 kg and with 1.5 litres of water  this adds up to 17.8 kg.
On top of that of course will be any food I am carrying with me.

The recent explosion in bike packing and equipment has meant there are lots of  luggage products to choose from. These bags are also aerodynamically efficient compared to the old style panniers which act as air brakes. Their storage capacity is of course much less and only the seat packs offer any substantial variation in capacity.
Many people buy matching luggage from one manufacturer but I selected the various pieces on their own merits.

FULL KIT LIST
Navigation

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt as the primary unit mounted at front of tt bars. (*kit favourite)
Garmin Etrex 30 as back up, (*kit most hated) custom made mount & Lithium batteries for weight saving.
iPhone SE, in a phone case and mounted to a wahoo tt mount.
Route notes hand written on waterproof paper.
(see Chapter 4 for details on how I charge my devices)

Seatpack
http://www.blackburndesign.com/en_eu/outpost-seat-pack-dry-bag.html
The Blackburn Outpost seat-pack is a holster design using a separate dry-bag. This enables it to be stuffed on the floor tightly and then inserted into the holster which remains on the bike. Tightly packing the bag helps minimise swaying and its more difficult to stuff a bag whilst balancing the bike at the same time. An 11 litre capacity holds the following:
Contents – (thanks to Stuart Ryder for the advice on sleeping kit)
Alpkit Hunka XL bivvi bag (500g)
Klymit inertia x-frame sleeping mat (170g) (*kit favourite)
Trekker Superlite 1-2 Season sleeping bag (520g) + Silk liner (120g)
Sea to Summit Aeros ultralight std pillow (60g) (*kit favourite)
Vaude Spray III waterproof shorts (70g) doubles up for use off the bike.
Down jacket* – *(I have decided not to take this)
Spare bib shorts and socks
Base layer for sleeping and/or additional riding layer
Leg warmers (these were in the frame pack in the photo)
2 mm Neoprene gloves
SPOT Gen 3 satellite tracker mounted on the external loops.
1 metre long steel cable and combination padlock wrapped around the pack.

Apidura frame pack – Mountain medium
https://www.apidura.com/product/backcountry-compact-frame-pack/
This is made of a very lightweight material and is a decent fit to my Genesis frame.
Contents

Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, tepees
Sun cream, all day Aldi SPF20 and SPF50 lipbalm (for my nose)
Antiseptic wipes
Paracetamol, ibuprofen, cocodamol
Sudocreme 30g tube (for any saddle irritation)
Pile cream tube (not for piles! It contains pain relief in case of saddle sore)
Kinesio tape – pre-cut for Achilles
Nail scissors
Hotel size shampoo bottle (for washing shorts)
Gore Active waterproof jacket – (*kit favourite)
Hi viz fluorescent tabard
Gilet
Musette – A shopping bag for the Lidl dash and for temporary food carrying.
Arm warmers / sun sleeves
Toilet tissue
2 spare spokes per wheel, 4 x zip ties.
Chain lube
Passport, brevet card, cash, credit card, route notes and pen
Spare shoe cleat Spd-sl
2 x inner tubes taped to the seat tube behind the frame pack

Apidura 1L top tube bag – https://www.apidura.com/product/backcountry-top-tube-pack/
The Apidura top tube bag is an extra slim model to avoid rubbing on my knees. Contents:
Usb lead from Igaro
micro USB lead (wahoo)
Lighting lead (iphoneSE)
Mini USB lead (Etrex)
Earphones
Exposure joystick light & charging lead
Powerpack zendure A1 2,600mAh
Etap USB battery charger
Mains continental USB charger (Apple super compact model)

Alpkit Stem Cell – https://www.alpkit.com/products/stem-cell
This bar mounted bag holds food for quick access while riding. I am using only one between the TT bars to minimise  the frontal area for aero efficiency.
A second stem cell is attached to the seat pack rear, additional quick access/storage and used to hold an extra water bottle on the first night.

Tool bottle – Pro large
Multi tool with chain splitter
Puncture repair kit
Tyre levers
Valve extenders, valve core tool.
1 x Spare inner tube (2 more taped to the bike)
Gear hanger
Brake pads
Chain quick links x 2 and some spare links
Spoke key
PVC tape
Spare shoe cleat bolts, bottle cage bolts
Spare micro USB cable
2 x coin cells (for Stages power meter)
2 x AA lithium batteries (for Etrex)
6 x AAA lithium batteries (for rear flashing lights and SPOT tracker)capture

Want to read my story from the start? Chapter 1 is here:
https://richardgate.wordpress.com/2018/05/09/my-transcontinental-race-how-it-all-started/