Richard Gate’s own journey toward the #TCRNo6
Mike Hall created the transcontinental race following his winning the round the world race in 2012 and Tour Divide in 2013
I met Mike following his round the world race win. He gave a talk at the local Otley cycling club about his experience. He lived in Harrogate at the time. It struck me how unassuming he was following his incredible achievement. He didn’t seem bothered about ratifying his world record with Guinness. Such recognition wasn’t important to him, it was all about the race and the moment.
Whilst I was fascinated about his adventure, his strength, his resolve and determination, I remember dismissing any thoughts or desires to ride in that manner. Riding all day, catching just a few hours of sleep, eating from Fuel station shops, where was the fun in that?
My goal at that time was for a different kind of event, the Transalp 7 day stage race. This was 4-5 hrs of racing but included hotel accommodation and proper recovery at the end of each day! Even when a friend of mine, Tim, entered the TCRNo3 in 2015 this was still my state of mind. (Tim would reach the Italian Alps before being forced to retire with a neck condition)
In summer 2016 however I found myself on a family holiday in an Alpine chalet whilst TCRNo4 was taking place. I had by then taken part in the Transalp race and perhaps was ready for the next challenge. I had also ridden a 220 mile route from Leeds to Edinburgh in a day and got a taste for the endurance mileage. For the first time, I started “dot watching” (Race No4) and I became fascinated following the riders satellite traces across the map of Europe, marvelling at the distances they covered, zooming in on the static dots to work out where and why they had stopped pedalling. Where might I be on the map if I was racing?
I remember turning in for the night after watching riders dots in Italy, then waking up and seeing them in Slovenia or even Croatia. Whilst I was sleeping. How did they do it?
And so began my journey over the next 2 years which would lead me to wearing my own cap in TCRNo6.
I started researching the kit people use, the luggage, the tactics, how many kilometres they ride before sleeping, where do they sleep? I’d never done ultra distances but I was accustomed to century rides and multi-day trips were an indulgence, especially exploring new routes. These don’t come much longer and more adventurous than the TCR. Could I do it? I read lots of riders blogs, soaking up their experiences, their knowledge, learning what worked well and what things went wrong. My true intent was confirmed with the purchase of a new bike that Autumn and I quietly started to make long term plans for the 2018 race. I acquired bike bags and other pieces of kit. I found a great deal on a dynamo light which would end up being hidden away for over a year. I had no Dynamo to use it with but I knew it was something I would eventually need!
In March 2017, Mike Hall was killed whilst racing the Australian Pacific Wheel Race. This stunned the ultra racing community which Mike himself had inspired. That race was cancelled and the subsequent tributes showed just how large a following Mike had built and how large the community had become. The July TCRNo5 race was thrown into upheaval without Mike’s leadership. Miraculously however, Mike’s partner Anna and a team of volunteers showed enormous resolve and determination to keep the race alive as his enduring legacy. And so i followed race TCRNo5.
This July however, I was more than a dot watcher. It was different now. I found myself critiquing riders blogs, their routes and equipment choices. Formulating what my own strategy would have been but also considering the safety precautions I would take. Another friend had gained entry into this edition, but would fail to even start, serving another reminder of how tough a gig this was.
I composed an action plan of what I needed to race in 2018. Starting with acceptance (I couldn’t really describe it as permission) from my wife Alison and including then asking my employer to grant a month of unpaid leave.
In late 2017 my leave was granted. The race organisers appeared to be hopeful of again running the race for it’s 6th edition. The dream was almost on, there was just a small matter of gaining a place in what is an oversubscribed event. Nevertheless, my plans continued, so did equipment purchases. If I could not gain an official entry, I would either ride in front or follow behind the race. Or perhaps ride the route of a previous edition. This wouldn’t be the same without the competition from fellow racers, but my mind was set, I was doing this! I did all I could to influence my chances of entry and trained as though I was in. I ordered my wheels, a big purchase (including Dynamo) as a Xmas present to myself.
In fact the waiting game was extended. After Mike Halls death, the future of the race was uncertain with the organisation behind it needing to change and reshape for its future sustainability . Thankfully over Christmas and New Year, the new structure appeared to be confirmed, clues of the checkpoint locations began to appear on social media and soon afterwards the application form and checkpoint locations were published.
So followed an intense week researching the route in order to complete the many detailed questions. In part these questions were testing the mindset for a self supported ultra race. I wrote a resume of my qualifying experience . My entry was submitted well ahead of the deadline in case this helped my chances, I confirmed I would hire my own Satellite tracker in case this again helped my chances. I even booked accommodation at the start town. Maybe if I was unsuccessful then I could volunteer at registration and attempt to take a place from someone failing to start.
All I could do then was wait and hope.
And then on 20th February, I received the email. Congratulating me on a successful entry, Bloody Hell I was in!