Quick summary of the stage:
Moulins -> Checkpoint 1 -> Checkpoint 2
07:45 Belgium Time 31st July – 23:30 1st August
Total Time: 39h45
Distance covered: 660km
Average speed including stops 16.6km/h
So after a good 6 hours of sleep I felt pretty refreshed after the first proper nights sleep in a few days having finally not been kept up late cocking around preparing my bike. I rushed downstairs as soon as breakfast opened and filled my boots with cheese and juice and then I filled my jersey with some more cheese. The receptionist who had welcomed me the previous night took pity on me and encouraged with the jersey filling and brought me plastic bag with some bread in.
Fully laden with cheese and bread I got on the road. I felt pretty stiff but that was to be expected but luckily the excitement of knowing the first checkpoint was only a few hours away kept me motivated. The morning was fairly uneventful with moderate temperatures and grey skies.
At around noon I made it checkpoint 1. Pat and Louise (who I'd met the last year) were volunteering at it which made me very keen to get there. I bought some vending machine sandwiches, had a couple of espressos and began up towards to the checkpoint. I also discovered the James (Hayden) was and ill and was resting up in one of the rooms of the hotel having got into the checkpoint the night before in 3rd position. All of the leaders, including Kristof and Neil, of the race had pretty much got into checkpoint around 12 hours earlier than me.
This is certainly something people should focus on if you ever do the race. MAKE SURE YOU GET THE CORRECT PARCOUR. I started up what I thought was the Col de Ceysatt but turned into a rutted track that was eventually blocked was a large wooden post. Eventually, after a good 30 minutes spent schelping around trying to find the correct route I got on what seemed like the correct path as it was littered with cyclists burdened with bikepacking gear.
I arrived at the top but unfortunately the clouds had made the view of the Puy du Dome fairly poor. It was also fairly chilly at the top so I didn't stick around and descended back into town. I stocked up on MacDonald's and headed back out into the French countryside for a crazy 32-odd-hour sleep deprived stint to checkpoint 2.
As I headed out of Clermont-Ferrand the weather picked up and I enjoyed one of the few, albeit mild, tale winds on the entire journey. I had a pleasant afternoon cycling through nice French countryside feasting on the occasional McFoodItem every hour or so. There were lots of sprinklers going so for some reason I had a giant urge to cycle through one and got surprisingly soaked. Unfortunately my phone got pretty wet and as it was already cracked filled with water. My phone actually stopped receiving signal until I reached checkpoint 2 (I still don't know whether this was due to the water).
I arrived in Vichy and I was feeling good so I decided to keep pushing. The edge of the city I decided it may be one of the last spots for the night to buy food. However, the place I found was a pizzeria and I was feeling too good to stop for a lengthy meal so I just bought half a dozen cokes at restaurant prices and got on my way. These kind of things are big mistakes in these races - if you need to stop to do something smart like put on a coat because its freezing or get some food then do it regardless of how well you're cycling. I'm certainly guilty of not stopping when I should.
At around 10pm I was lucky enough to find a Kebab shop open. I got two kebabs and a few bottles of Fanta for some vitamin C and got on my way. At least half of kebab A spilt all over my the road and my bike and it would take until Greece for my bike to be finally rid of donner meat that had got stuck in the various crevasses of my bike.
As I entered the second night I felt considerably more alone with nobody in sight nor any phone signal to see whether anybody was close by. This area of France was also extremely flat and a perfectly clear sky meant that temperature began to drop considerably. As I looked upwards the stars above would form a kaleidoscope and sometimes they would look like they moving towards me - hopefully some sort of sleep deprivation hallucination. At around 3am I really began to notice the cold and my body began to tense up. I began hoping to see the sky do its usual routine of going from dark black, to dark blue, to then seeing a tiny orange speck on the horizon. Eventually it began doing so and it was quite surreal experience as the area just before Jura France is flat and I was able to see cars coming for miles through the mist. However, even as the sun started to rise the temperature did not and I was beginning to shake profusely and my cycling was slowing down. I found a town and entered into one of the banks, similar to the one I had in my first TCR, to try and get some sleep. Despite the room being fairly warm I was still fairly cold so after a 15-minute warm session I got on my way again.
Suddenly the road started the steepen and I found myself in a gorge. The sun was certainly up by this point but a long sleepless night meant that my eyes felt like glue. I decided that once it got warm enough I'd try and catch some sleep and luckily the picnic table below presented itself. I was pretty tired I got what I thought was sleep and I still don't really know but I felt like drifted in out and of consciousness for 30 minutes or so. When I woke, the temperature was rising and I started removing my garments.
At this point I started climbing out of the Blois-Sur-Seille gorge and I realized that I was pretty low on water despite having the capacity for 2.7 liters and more if necessary. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long and I arrived in the small village of Crotenay where the local church warden helped me fill up my bottles. A short while down the road I got to a fairly significant town and visited the bakery.
After a painfully steep and extremely slow climb I arrived on plateau. This was all very Swiss - or what I had imagined Switzerland to be like: rolling hills surrounded by some big spikey ass mountains. At around noon I arrived into Switzerland where I tried to catch another nap but this time completely failed however it was still pleasant to lie down on the grass enjoying the sun. After my failed sleep attempt I continued off the plataue with a nice wooded descent and eventually entered the Swiss city of Neuchatel. I stocked up on supplies which I noted was pretty damn expensive.
I experienced a few dodgy drivers in Switzlerland in big SUVs. Upon trying to leave Neuchatel I accidentally headed down the motorway. Realizing my mistake I began cycling back up the slip road. A nice driver aptly delivered a 'friendly' gesture - rightly so to be honest. Out of Neuchatel I cycled along some nice lakes and just I was about to turn off to Bern when Camille and Jon in their photography bandit wagon appeared out of nowhere so I decided to do some faux-candid-not-posing-cycling for a bit. I was fairly relieved to see them having been disconnected my phone and hence the entire world for what felt like an eternity (yes I'm a 'millenial').
Just after... got jumped about Jon and Camille
Around dinner time I found myself in Bern so I decided I'd treat myself to my first 'proper meal of the TCR'. I went into a Dominos and bought a truly awful pizza for the price of a deposit on a house. The pizza was served to me at the temperature of Mount Doom which didn't cool down quickly as it was about an inch thick comprised entirely of molten cheese. I burnt the roof of my mouth which I would then spend the rest of the race aggravating with my tongue. I realised the pizza wasn't going to cool down so I balanced the pizza box on my handlebars and got going. At the outskirts of Bern I met my first dot-watcher which was a pleasant surprise and a moral boost.
As per usual I pushed myself for the next bit - much harder than I should have. It was flat, it was the perfecty temperature, there was no wind, the scenery was fantastic andI was nearing the checkpoint. I put in my headphones for the first time of the journey and put on some absolute bangers to time trial to the bottom of the climb towards Grindlewald. I had three playlists for the TCR; heavy-get-going music from Metallica to Adam Beyer, happy-kind-of music from Stevie Wonder to Blur and then some rousing music with the likes of Queen to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. That evening in Switzerland was a national holiday so as I was cycling thousands of rockets were being released by revellers. All of which combined to make a pretty amazing cycling moment.
As I got round the lake the hills started however these were not hills - these were the start of the fucking Alps which would crucify my knees for the next 72 hours. The fireworks also began to intensify and it was common to see Swiss families lighting fireworks off in the middle street. At the same time my knee pain began - this was the consequence of being a full-time twat and not training. Last year my knee pain had reared its ugly head after 6 hours at least this year it took a couple of days to arrive. After an hour of climbing with one leg I made into Grindlewald. I had absolutely no clue where the hotel was. I decided to check my phone to see if I could find some WiFi but to my great surprise I discovered that my 3G had returned.
A swift Google and I was heading to checkpoint 2 with a grin back on my face. Around midnight I found the hotel where Jon and Camille were. A quick chat later I went in search of a hotel. For the first three or four hotels I got the old Mary and Joseph treatment and was told there was no room in the inn. On my fifth attempt I found a hotel I was given the last room for 90 Euros however I was informed that it was one of the best in the hotel. Upon arrival in the room I severely doubted the receptionist's statement. Annoyingly the hotel also insisted that I put my bike in the ski shed as they saw me trying to take it in the lift with me. I was too tired to protest and gave in. I tried to have a quick ice bath to sooth my legs but really couldn't be arsed. I looked in the mirror and my eyes were beginning to twitch wildly so I lay down and instantly fell into a lovely deep sleep for 6 hours.
Part 4 - Knee hell