Part 6 - Surprised to say I'm happy to see the Po Valley again

Part 5
Gummereregg --> Checkpoint 3 --> Gospic
09:00 Belgium Time 4th Aug - 23:00 5th Aug
Time: 38 hours
Distance: 537km
Speed: 14.1km/h

Stefan and I woke at fairly late and headed down to breakfast.  I quickly ate mine and got on out - I'm always keen to make a quick start in the morning.  I said goodbye to Stefan for the meanwhile as I would probably see him today at the checkpoint.

All of the climbs I had in the morning were fairly low but incredibly steep.  It was a cloudy morning however the temperature would seriously begin to pick up.  At around lunch time I got to the checkpoint.
 

It was around lunchtime that I got to the checkpoint.  I was pleased to discover that I'd arrived before Stefan despite him being obviously the stronger climber.  I'd gotten a little burnt in the sun and one of the volunteers told me off.  I sat down in the restaurant and ordered a pile of food whilst chatting to the volunteers at the checkpoint.  After my delicious meal I now had to ride up the mountain.  Emily and I set off up to the top of the control however she soon punctured so I decided it was time to attack and win the race.  My attack didn't last long as it was like cycling in an oven.  My whole body was drenched in sweat and I struggled to use my phone as my hands were so wet.  After a 2 or so hours I reached the top.

Stefan got the top shortly after I did and after drinking some tea together we started the descent.    The roads diverged and we made our separate ways, little did I know that this would be the last time I saw another rider until the next checkpoint.   I had one final climb through a very 'Dolomity' section of the Dolomites and then I had a very long descent out of the mountains back into my favourite place on earth, the Po Valley!

Just before beginning the Po Valley I got the very typical TCR meal of two Pizzas. The owner of the Pizza restaurant insited I tried his special hot sauce which I accepted but didn't take too much in order to prevent emergency toilet breaks. Whilst eating the pizza I discovered that my tracker was stuck at the top of checkpoint 3, unfortunately I didn't have any batteries on me.  

I have mixed feelings about the Po Valley.  At first the Po Valley is a welcome relief from the climbs of the Alps however it quickly turns into a dull, hot flatland with headwinds and lots of drivers not giving you much room.  However today the Po Valley played nicely.  The temperature was perfect.  There was no wind and as it was night there were very few cars.  I glided across the Po Valley in a matter of hours. 

The Po Valley ended and I began long but fairly steady ascent into Slovenia.  I could feel my eyes beginning to close so I quickly googled hotels and find one just off the track.  When I arrived it was locked down and I realised I wasn't going to get a space there so I slogged on.

Dawn was approaching as I got to the Slovenia border and luckily as soon as I crossed I saw a Casino and hotel.  I went in and they gave me a room for an hour, something that didn't seem too unusual.  15 euros poorer I laid my head down and woke up to the receptionist calling me and telling me my hour was up.  Feeling relatively fresh I got on the way.

I acquired some batteries and now I needed to find a screw driver.  A car garage presented itself  and I went in.  The mechanic in there was super interested in what we were doing as he had soon lots of cyclists going past his shop during the previous day.  From the previous TCR I remembered enjoying the bakeries of eastern Europe loads so I quickly located one and stocked up various slices of pizza, Borek and doughnuts.

My stay in Slovenia was a short but pleasant one.  The border to Croatia was a busy one with lots of Italian holiday makers.  I was glad I wasn't in a car and zoomed to the front of the queue. Overall my journey through Croatia wasn't great, especially compared to the previous year where everyone had been super friendly and the drivers had been courteous.

I followed the coastal route down Croatia and in the first town/city I had to contend with a pissed off bus driver.  He was really aggrevated that he'd have to wait behind and that I would delay him ten seconds.  He kept blasting his horn and would overtake me and immediately cut me up when he pulled in.  The bus driver and I became great friends as this happened three or four times as we went through the town.  The day continued in a similar vein.  The route was fairly nice with great views of the sea however it was ruined by the busy traffic.  I also had to contend with some fairly strong headwinds but I would later discover that the riders behind me would have to face much stronger winds.

At around sunset I finally turned off the coastal road which I pleased to do as I suspected the traffic would subside.  I had a 5km or so climb to get off the coastal road.  I was climbing up it and one driver began blasting their horn loudly and revving their engine.  The driver did an elaborate overtake to illustrate how much of an inconvenience I was.  One of the drivers cronies shouted something out of the window so I shouted back.  My response was a bit of a mistake.  The driver reversed backwards luckily I was able to cycle down the hill.  Two large topless men go out of the car and one of them shoved his chest into my face.  He began shouting at me in Croation. He realised that I couldn't understand him so got back in the car when he knew he wasn't going to get the argument that he wanted.   After that, I was keen to get over the pass and into rural Croatia.

The sun set and I could see dark clouds looming.  After about 2 hours of riding I heard the rumbling of thunder.  I checked the weather forecast and I saw that I was about to get absolutely soaked.  I decided I had better locate some shelter ASAP.  I found a hotel in a town about 10 miles from where I was.  The following half an hour was pretty spectacular cycling and it was certainly the best lightening I had ever seen.  The sky every 20 seconds was completely illuminated by sharp spikes of lightening.  I tried taking some photos however looking back now they were pretty crap.

I got to the hotel and I ordered two Pizzas, some pasta, milk and a coke.  I was just finishing the second pizza when the rain really got going.  I hit the bed and set the alarm for 6am.

Part 5 - More bloody climbing

Details at a glance
Illanz -> Gummereregg
07:00 Belgium Time 3rd August – 02:45 4rd August
Time :19hours 45 minutes
Distance: 273km
Speed: 13.8km/h

The hotel breakfast was opened at 6am however I opted out of it to get on the road to try and find some pain killers.  The other cyclist who had got to the hotel before me had already left but the #226 pair Christian Schaefer and Peter Tannenberger had arrived after me and were about to settle down for some breakfast.  They suggested I stay for breakfast once I told them about my knees but I continued on.  At the end of the race of the race I was surprised to hear that they'd end up referring to me as the English patient because of the apparent state I was in when I met them at morning.

I began cycling down the Vorderrhein valley towards Chur before I would begin some more climbing for the day.  After a few km I found a supermarket where I bought some breakfast consisting of croissants, sweets, a ball of mozzerella (no idea why) and PAINKILLERS!  Soon after I was overtaken by the pair.

Just before I turned off the valley road I found a full sized pharmacy so I went in to see if could get some stronger pain killers.  Unfortunately, codeine wasn't available but I took some Voltarol. I was also running low on caffeine pills and I tried to buy some more to which the pharmacist responded 'No, we don't have caffeine pills... Here in Switzerland we have good lifestyles'.  Fair enough I thought.  Later I would discover that it its almost impossible to find caffeine pills across Europe unlike in the UK where you can buy them anywhere.

Shortly after I began probably the longest climb of this years TCR - the Albulapass.  Here I met Stefan Slegl #140 who I chatted to for most of the way up the climb.  The weather was pretty ideal on the climb.  At around lunchtime I made it to the top of the climb.

Downhill to Italy now? #tcrno089 #tcrno4

A post shared by Joe Todd (@todd_joe) on

Following the pass I had a quick descent followed by a nice tailwind to the bottom of the next pass.  I quickly stocked up on some sandwiches and got on my way.  I caught up with Stefan and we began the climb together.  Stefan was a stronger cyclist than me so quickly left me on the way to Ofenpass.

At the top of the Pass dal Fuorn I met Emily Chappell #7 and Stefan.  We had a quick chat and descended together into Italy.

Soon upon entering Italy we were squirted by an annoyed van driver but I was pleased to get into another country where food prices weren't ridiculous.  I got to a tunnel and worried that it was an illegal tunnel I turned my head around and to my shock I saw the Transcontinental Race car.  Luckily it wasn't illegal so I quickly stopped and had a chat with Anna, Leo and Francis.

I went down the Adige valley towards Merano where I bumped into Stefan again outside a small fast food kiosk just as night fell.  I charged up my batteries there and had some sausages and chips.  After we continued to Bolzano where we would have to begin some final crazily steep climbs to get to the checkpoint.  After the Obergrummer pass which topped out at 13.8% it was close to 3am so Stefan and I decided to share a room and get out of the cold.  We stopped in the ski resort town of Welschnofen and after a second attempt found a hotel with vacant rooms.  Stefan suggested we share the bed.  I wasn't so keen on that idea so I made myself compfy on the sofa.

Part 4 - Knee Hell

Details at a glance

Checkpoint 2 -> Illanz
08:30 Belgium Time 2nd Aug – 23:00 2nd Aug 14h30min
Distance 160km (fucking big mountains though)
Speed including stops: 11km/h

After a good 6 hours of sleep I woke up, got breakfast and headed back to my room.  On the way back down the lift that I was in got stuck for 10 minutes or so.  Not a big time loss in the grand scheme of things but at the start of the day when you're ready to go it was quite frustrating.  I started pedaling through Grindelwald and my legs and knees were in agony.  Now this is where I should have been sensible and located a pharmacy.  Instead, I eager to start the day and began one would be one of the most painful days on the bike.  In the light I could also see what was to come and surrounding me were hundreds and steep spikey mountains.
 

The first climb I had was Grosse Scheidegg which was relatively short compared to the others I'd do that day but certainly the most painful. It was only 10km but much of it was above 10%.  Almost immediately I had to go into my lowest gear possible which was certainly not good for my knee.  I was going incredibly slow and I was being overtaken by other riders fairly regularly.  I'm sure under normal conditions it would be a 'nice' but today, for me, it was miserable.  Postal buses were the only motorized vehicle allowed on the road and they'd take up most of the road so when they came they punctuated my frequent rest stops.  After a while I reached the top at 1962 meters and enjoyed a slightly sketchy descent into Innertkirchen.

At Innertkirchen I stocked up on food and as I was leaving I passed a bike shop.  I went in to pump up my tires and ask for some oil and the shop owner gave me a quick micro service.  Next up was the longest climb of the day Grimselpass which consisted of 26.7km of a 6-8% topping out at 2165 meters.  I was still getting passed a lot but by far fewer people.  About halfway up stilling amongst the trees I spotted Camille and Jon who had set up camp by a peculiar section of alpine cobbles.

Love these cobbles . Something you would find in a city center, not a mountain pass! #TCRNO4 📷@camillejmcmillan

A post shared by The Transcontinental (@thetranscontinental) on

I continued up the climb and I met Paul Buckley who'd ridden the previous years event.  Him and I were in a similar place and both were feeling it.  We kept leap frogging each other all the way to the top.

Paul and I arrived at the top at approximately the same time.  A dot watcher from Essex was there to greet us.  I decided to treat myself to a sit down meal at the top and tried some Swiss delicacies.  After lunch there would be a short descent to the bottom of the Furkapass Paul and I piled on the layers and set off.

A post shared by Joe Todd (@todd_joe) on

A quick descent of the Grimsellpass ensued followed by the immediate removal of all the layers I had just donned as I began the Furkapass.  My knees began aching again.  I was overtaken by Philipp Schedthelm who, unlike me, was loving the mountains.  He bounced pass me and quickly disappeared around one of the hairpins.  The top of the pass was in cloud and generally a miserable place to be.  I quickly readorned all my clothes and began the descent to Andermatt.

At Andermatt I met up with Paul and the PEdALED crew.  The video above perfectly represents the feelings I had of the day.  I was tempted to stop their for the night like Paul was doing.  I tried to go into the supermarket to stock up on food and find pain killers however they told me to get on my way.  It was a little to early for me to stop and I knew I would end up starting extremely early if I went to bed now and thats when my knees would be worse.  i decided to crack on over the next climb, the Olberpass.

I'm glad I made the decision to continue climbing as the Olberpass was easily the most pleasant of all the climbs that I did.  I was a little tentative at the bottom as I wasn't carrying much in terms of cold weather clothing and was fearful but I was wrong. 

Last pass for today. #tcrno4 #tcrno089

A post shared by Joe Todd (@todd_joe) on

After the pass it felt as though there was a change in environment.  The temperature, or it felt as though, was significantly higher.  Whilst it was certainly warmer it wasn't exactly tropical so as I descended off the mountain I began looking for a hotel.  At around 1am I saw the sign of a fairly big hotel just off the main road and decided to have a look. The receptionist welcomed me in and told me that another rider was already in. I got to my room and hit the hay

Part 3 - Sleep deprivation

Details at a glance
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.

Sleep 1 accomodation

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 2 - The Start and a long slog through France

Official PEdALED Transcontinental No.4 Video Shorts Presented by Lezyne
Produced and Edited by Antonin / Ahstudio

Quick summary of the stage:
Geraardbergen to Moulins
22:00 Belgium time 29th July – 00:45 31st July
Total Time: 26 hours 45 min
Distance covered: 552km
Average speed including stops 20.5km/h

Route day 1

Route day 1

Before I knew it, a year had whizzed by, and I was climbing up the Muur again.  This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to begin a race and this years turn out was fantastic.  The neutral lap this year was genuinely neutral and it was great chance to soak in all of the atmosphere and chat to some of the other riders.  We finished the neutral lap and it was off to climb the Muur again.  I took it fairly easy once again and tried to dodge people who had stopped or crashed.  At the very top of the Muur my mum and aunt were there so I gave them one final good-bye said as cooly as possible 'see you in a couple of weeks' whilst internally shitting myself.

Photo courtesy of PedalEd

Photo courtesy of PedalEd

P1140809 89 at the top of Geraardsbergen Muur.JPG
Photos courtesy of my aunt: Me at the Top of the Muur.

Photos courtesy of my aunt: Me at the Top of the Muur.

The previous year I had sort of gone my own direction and had ended up on a cycle path next to a canal.  This year was completely different.  For the first hour or so there were hundreds of cyclists and red lights everywhere.  I cycled with Nelson for a bit but unfortunately my weak bladder came to the party and I had to make my first of a million pee stops.

Red lights everywhere

Red lights everywhere

After an hour or so the red lights became fairly sparse and I eventually I was alone.  I came to one of Belgium's cobbled roads and started up it.  Fuck that I thought - I turned around after 30 metres and begun my first detour of the race.  Eventually I settled into a pace and got onto one of those longish and hilly French roads where you could see one red load on the horizon and if you looked behind you'd see a white one.  This was the entire first night.  Unfortunately, my actual cycling speed was fairly slow so the white lights behind me would great brighter whilst the red one ahead would get dimmer.  Fortunately though, as you can see from the top photo I had completely stocked up by bike in terms of fluids and I was carrying 2.7 litres of water, 2 cokes, 2 lucozade sports, some Mooncakes, a pile of energy gells and some biscuits so when it came to about 5am when the bakeries began to open I quickly began regaining places.

When the sun started to come up I began getting deja vu.  I was passing all of the battefield sites of the previous year except this year I was a lot further ahead, feeling good and the weather crap.  I even passed the derelict barn where I had curled up naked in a ball in an attempt to dry.  I got the town of Loan which was a big low point for me in the previous years race about 2 hours quicker than the previous year.  The deja vu continued as I began cycling through Champagne and I passed the pharmacy where I'd bought the 1 gram paracetomols that I'd have to continue taking for the entirity of TCR 2015.

As the day went on I began to go into new territory but it was all very similar.  There were still long rolling hills, still yellow fields and still giant wind turbines.  I didn't see any other rider for almost all of the entire day as luckily France is one of the few countries where there are literally thousands of potentiol, and pretty good, routes to take.  Later on in the journey there was a much greater tendancy to see someone.  

The day began to get very hot, peaking at 32 degrees.  At about 4pm I got to Auxerre which was the 400km mark which was about as far as I got in the first year except about 8 hours earlier.  So far I hadn't taken a proper break and I had only stopped off once in a shop out of boredom rather than neccesity.  I whipped out my phone which luckily this year had 3/4G and located my first McDonalds.  My opinions of the phone were mixed - it did mean I spent less time browsing my phone in cafes whilst stopped but it definitely had an impact on my cycling speed at times.  It was however extremely useful at locating hotels, food and alternative routes. I got the Auxerre McDonald's and for some reason I felt extremely ill - perhaps it was due to the contrast between the heat of the outside and the lovely air conditioned building that I had entered.  I felt so bad actually that I had to lie down first and almost threw up.  I think it was some kinda heat stroke.  After a while moping in the corner I gathered myself and ordered a nice healthy meal consisting of a Bic Mac, multiple cheeseburgers, nuggets and a coke. 

After that I continued and decided that I had best try and get a couple of hours sleep whilst it was so hot however I lay down next to a water reserve but was unable to sleep.  I wasn't particurarly tired and I felt guilty at this stage stopping.  For a couple of hours I was joined by Rudy Rollenberg #162 and Joshua Rea #64 where we had a pleasant evening cycling into the sunset with the cooling temperatures and low wind.  Eventually, I let them cycle on and I began cycling into my second night by myself.  My moral was good and I thought I was pretty isolated so I started singing along the road with no hands.  I wasn't alone unfortunately and soon Stephane Ouaja #12 (2015 fixed-gear rider) briskly cycled past me mid-chorus.  Aside from that I had a great evening and really enjoyed cycling through the French villages and towns during nightfall.

Nearing midnight I decided that I stared to look for accomodation of some sort.  Conveniently I passed a hotel but I think they took one look at me and told me to get back on my bike.  It was a blessing in disguise as I wasn't really ready to stop yet.  Whilst looking on my phone I saw that the race leaders had made it to CP1 but it was raining heavily.  The weather I had was perfect but decided that if I could find a hotel that would be a good place to hide out if the weather moved more north.  At about 1am I got to Moulins where I found an Ibis hotel where I was quickly shown a room and blissfully feel asleep still in my cycling kit having been awake now for nearly 40 hours.

Francis Cade's video capturing the start and the first day

Sorry it's been late... here's part 1 - Leading up to the race

Brief intro
University and applying for jobs has got in the way and it has taken quite a while but finally here’s my Transcontinental 2016 story which took me from Geraardsbergen in Belgium 3755km south easterly across Europe to Çanakkale, Turkey.  Now I’m going to prerequisite this story by saying that it is probably not as exciting to read as last years account as I was a bit more prepared and things generally went a bit (a lot) smoother. There a fewer exciting anecdotes – no border guards told me to wash my face because I was too dirty to enter their country or kind Albanian families providing me with a feast and letting me sleep in their spare room.  On the other hand, I felt that I raced better and pushed myself harder and hopefully my account could prove helpful to people who are considering the race in the future.  Regardless of making fewer mistakes I still made loads and there are things I’d like to change if I did it for a 3rd time.  But anyway, I hope that you enjoy the read:

Signing up
Coming out of 2015 I had the ‘once is enough’ mentality however during the entire race.  The 2015 race had been brutal for me both physically and emotionally and the last day on the bike through Turkey itself had been one of the worst where the end was so close but the undulating hills and unrelenting headwind made it seem so far.  During the few days in Istanbul I moved from the ‘once is enough’ group to the ‘I’ll give it a look when the route is released’ group.  At the finisher’s party I was kindly awarded a special ‘Spirit of the Race’ prize, in the form of a white jersey, for being the youngest rider to compete in the race but whilst on the ride I hadn’t really considered it as a significant factor.  In the following weeks I received loads of messages of support and congratulations and people saying that I had ‘inspired them’.  In all honesty these kind of comments are definitely some of the main reasons for doing the race again, up until that point I don’t think I had done anything really that impressive that other people, aside from my family, were interested in.

I left Istanbul on the Sunday after the party and I began slowly writing my 2015 story and during the month or so that it took me to write I moved from the ‘I’ll give it a look when the route is released’ group to the ‘as long as there’s no Po Valley and Istanbul finish I’ll do it’ group.  I was obviously writing from some rose tinted spectacles but during the process all the bad moments seemed alright.  At some point in September or October the official results were released and I managed to move up a place and I somehow came 19th overall.  Personally I felt this was some sort of fluke.  At the first checkpoint I was 65th but during the race I had managed to creep up the places and I’m not entirely sure how really but my guess is that it was due to a very important chat with David Goldberg #38, an ultracycling vet, in Slovenia about how the key was not necessarily speed but instead time not spent riding. After that point I survived on a food that I could get quickly from petrol stations and I filled my jersey with as much Haribo and Coke as I could carry. 

In late September I started university and the Transcontinental and cycling got pushed to the back of my mind.  However, I got bored and I needed to set a goal and focus my efforts so I eventually moved to the ‘I’m definitely going to do it again’ group.  November came and the checkpoints were released – good news: no Po Valley and no long stretch in Turkey.  Lots of people started discussing the amount of climbing and I never really comprehended that until I actually got to the mountains.  I thought that people were just being melodramatic and it would only be a little hillier than last years – after all last year we had to go up Mont Ventoux.  I signed up and around Christmas luckily I was given a place.  Now it was time for 7 months of intensive training and meticulous planning… or something.

Training and preparation
From the end of the Transcontinental Race 2015 till the New Year my bike had lay depressingly dormant in my uni room.  The closest thing to exercise I had done was the occasional short walk to a lecture.   After I got the place I still had exams in January which I needed to focus on first before the preparation could start.  On January 23rd I weighed myself for the first time since the end of TCRno3 and the first 4 months at Uni had been bad – a diet consisting of pasta, kebabs and Sainsburys basics cider had taken its toll and I was now sitting at about 16kg heavier at around 78kg – that’s pretty close to one of those giant industrial sacks of flour!  Exams over the training commenced – but not on the bike.  Time was still limited and Bristol is a really wet and windy city so the bike lay in my bedroom gathering dust for some more time however I started running and gyming.  I initially enjoyed running as its way more accessible and convenient than cycling however it very successfully and nicely destroyed my knees.  However I managed to lose way over a stone.

During the training the other aspects of the race were going a lot better.  My route I was largely happy with as I was just sticking to main roads and I had a few alternative routes installed on my Garmin depending on conditions.  The kit was going a lot better too, my student loan had rolled so I decided to blow it on a dynamo wheelset, lights and charger.  It was less confusing this year and I pretty much had decided on my 2016 kitlist during the previous years race.  Still, though, an excel document was formed and I began contacting potential sponsors.  I got lucky this year and I got a reply from Tori at Apidura who kindly gave me a frame bag – which saved me loads of time with its ease of access. 

Andy Kelly at Bicycle Ambulance building my wheels

Andy Kelly at Bicycle Ambulance building my wheels

90% of the bike-set up thanks to Apidura and Bicycle Ambulance

90% of the bike-set up thanks to Apidura and Bicycle Ambulance

I decided that the best way to get on the bike and test out the kit would be to sign up to an event.  In January I had actually added an audax to my google calendar for every weekend up to the Transcontinental Race which I had a dream that I managed to attend.  However pretty much every time it came around I’d get a google calender alert to my phone and I’d find myself sitting in the pub at 11pm only a 5 or 6 hours I’d have to wake up to get to the audax.  You probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I failed to go to any of the audaxes that I had intended to but they always started at really anti-social hours and my student loan wouldn’t stretch to ridiculous UK train fair.  I did sign up to Anna and Mike’s Valleycat though which didn’t involve waking up at stupid o’clock.  Alarm set the earliest it had been in a good 5 months at about 10am saw me making my way to deep mid Wales.  The Valleycat was great fun and my kit held up, aside from my sleeping arrangements where I had to camp out in a public toilet after it dropped below zero where I stuffed my jersey in toilet paper and covered myself in full bin bags.  It was a very tough day and the Welsh hills took their toll on my knees.

Bike before the Valley Cat at Temple Meads

Bike before the Valley Cat at Temple Meads

After almost freezing to death in a public toilet, filling my clothes with toilet papers and covering myself in full rubbish bags I was greeted with this nice Welsh sunrise.  Kudos Wales

After almost freezing to death in a public toilet, filling my clothes with toilet papers and covering myself in full rubbish bags I was greeted with this nice Welsh sunrise.  Kudos Wales

The Valleycat was the last time I got on my bike before uni finished though.  The final term was spent wallowing in my own filth in my uni room away from direct sunlight eating kebabs, pizza and black coffee cramming a years worth of missed lectures into a month.  My exams finished and went surprisingly well and I stuck around in for a couple of weeks enjoying the fantastic weather in Bristol’s parks and beer gardens.  I got home to Cambridge on and went back to punting.  I always maintained that because punting is a physically demanding job that it was sort of training.  In late June as final training/kit testing I decided to cycle from Munich to Rome to meet the family, where you can read it about it below. Safe to say and very characteristically it was a disaster - I had loads of my stuff stolen including my Garmin so I was 700-800 in debt before the race started.

Crap weather in Germany

Crap weather in Germany

Cool clouds in Germany after the crap weather

Cool clouds in Germany after the crap weather

Sad looking on bloody Italian train - featuring new equipment

Sad looking on bloody Italian train - featuring new equipment

I got home from Sardinia and now had a month to work and save some money.  I worked 24 out of the 26 days I was home between a mixture of punting and mind numbing exam marking but despite this I was still starting the race in the red and having done very minimal training.  The final week came and mad Wiggle and Amazon ordering commenced.  I took my bike in for a final service just two days before I set off.  Unfortuneatly I wasn’t able to get a rear mech that was long enough for the new larger cassette that I had installed to deal with this year’s mountains so I was already starting the race on a semi bodged job. However I packed up my kit and dropped off my bike at St. Pancras the day before.  Suddenly at this point it all got very exciting and unlike last year I was sort of looking forward to it:  A pleasant hot two weeks cycling across Europe through some new and fantastic places with nothing to worry about - aside from the race of course.  However, with the excitement, came the nerves and sleepless nights where I began wondering about everything from punctures to Garmin failure to being crushed to death by a lorry

Obligatory kit pick

Obligatory kit pick

Final set-up, just days before.  Much thanks to Bicycle Ambulance who graciously accommodated me

Final set-up, just days before.  Much thanks to Bicycle Ambulance who graciously accommodated me

Leaving my house to begin

Leaving my house to begin

Heading to Belgium

The previous year I had not really considered getting to the race until about a week before and I maintain that the most stressful part of the entire race was getting to the startline – this year I had planned it properly.  In January I had booked an Airbnb in Geraardsbergen although we were actually moved to around 10km away which was a bit of a pain in the arse and meant that I couldn’t nip back and grab a quick nap.  The day before at about 10am my mum and I left Cambridge to begin our journey to Geraardsbergen.  The trip went very smoothly until we arrived in Brussels.  At the end of Eurostar I had a quick check of my personal possessions and I realized that I couldn’t find my passport.  At this point I poured everything out of my bag over the station floor – still no passport.  I began sweating and panicking.  I ran back to the train but unfortunately armed guards stopped me very quickly – I told them my dilemma and they had a search of the train to no avail.  This was turning into an oh fuck moment.  Losing my passport was pretty much the only thing that could completely stop the race, everything else could have been solved in Geraardsbergen or Brussels.  My phone battery then died and had to locate my mum who had gone through the main part of the station – she lent me her phone and I began calling St. Prancras to see if they had found anything however they said they would not know until tomorrow morning luckily if they did find it my aunt would be able to pick it up the passport and bring it as she was also coming to the start having thoroughly enjoyed watching the race in 2015.  At this point I started considering what I was going to do – I could get to the Croatian border without too much trouble although some hotels may turn up their nose at a UK driving license.  Could I officially scratch from the race and then just krusty through the undergrowth a few hundred metres away from the borders.  I had pretty much given up all hope when my mum revealed that she actually had my passport and that she had picked it up in the St Pancras waiting room when her motherly instincts had kicked in from the family holidays where us kids were unable to look after our own passports. 

Belgian beer time

Belgian beer time

Crisis averted I went and collected my bike where I bumped into Craig (met at the Valleycat) they were cycling to Geraardsbergen whilst we were being lazy and taking the train.  The rest of the journey was much easier and at one of the train changes we had 30 minutes spare so decided it would be the best time to start on the beers.  At about 6pm we arrived at the AirBnb around 10km south of Geraardsbergen and met Ana who was hosting us.  I left my bike in the back garden where another riders bike was already there – it was a Darren Richards who was a nice guy from Wales.  We went to the nearest village to get some food and discussed the race ahead of ourselves.  Then it was back to bed and to try and get some sleep.

The night I hadn’t slept well at all with perhaps only 4 or 5 hours in total.  Darren and I cycled into town to register where I met Nelson, Doug Migden and Leo Tong who was driving one of the official cars along with Francis Cade who produced some fantastic videos.  After the registration I met my mum for some breakfast in town and bought some supplies for the first night including a whole pile of sandwiches.  After an hour or so I headed back in order to set my bike up properly and I laid all of my food out neatly on a table and went upstairs to get my waterbottles… upon returning I found all of my sandwiches missing and instead a very happy dog munching on something. Classic start for me but it only gets worse.  At this point I realize I had left my key in the room.  The sweat started pouring as I realized my phone too was inside so I had nobody to call. So to get my key back first I started searching the bnb for a spare key – no luck.  Secondly I tried to climb up the wall – I’m no rock climber so no luck.  One of the rooms had a skylight so I managed to open that and climb onto the roof however the roof was a little too steep and slippery to take the risk so I decided against that.  I began trying to find a ladder – luckily at the back of the garden I found an aluminum ladder which I lugged round to the front of the house.  After setting it up and getting halfway up the BnB owner turned up and hastily opened the door for me.  Pretty stressed out now I tried to get some sleep but I was unable to. 

Dog who ate my lovely sandwiches

Dog who ate my lovely sandwiches

Me and Mum before I leave

Me and Mum before I leave

Darren and I heading off

Darren and I heading off

At about 5ish or so it was time for the pre-race briefing so Darren and I once againheaded back to Geraardsbergen.  I found James Hayden and sat together during the briefing after which I headed to a restaurant to get some dinner with my mum and aunt (who had to come to watch the start after being a fanatical dot-watcher in the previous year).  The food came out quite slowly (which didn't help with my nerves) but in the end it was very delicious, unfortunately I was pretty sleepy already so I quickly guzzled down three espressos and put on the skinsuit that I’d be wearing for the next 2 weeks.  I headed out to the market and met some more forumungers racers including Zooey Miller who had ridden the Transatlantic Way which is definitely on my to-do list, Stuart Birnie and James.  The flaming torches started to appear, the town crier and mayor came out and the Prodigy was turned on.  Before I knew we were off up the Muur to begin the race.

3 Espressos before I leave

3 Espressos before I leave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rest in Peace Mike

Mike was absolutely one of the finest humans I've ever met. He was good humoured, generous and incredibly humble despite his many accomplishments.

I first heard about Mike through the world cycle race. I was a 15 year old who'd just got into cycling and Mike's achievement provided a beacon of what cycling could offer. Fast forward 4 years and I'm at TCR 2015 and I finally get to meet an idol in person. I get to the bottom of Mt Ventoux as a sunburnt crisp and I'm sitting eating a pizza and then Mike comes out of nowhere and eats one with me.

At the end of the race he came up to me and said 'I may have put you off of these things for the rest of your life but I hope not'. He hadn't. The following year, despite my initial reluctance, I was back again. Thanks to Mike my life has been irrevocably changed for the better. I'm now happier, healthier, more motivated and seen and experienced some incredible things that I otherwise wouldn't.

Mike's leaving behind a giant hole in the world but also an incredibly diverse community enamoured with pushing themselves beyond their expectations.

Below is picture that I took on one of the Valley Cats in Wales. I think it perfectly encapsulates what Mike has given me. Hours before this photo was taken I was shivering in a public toilet, filling my clothes with toilet paper and covering myself in bin bags but retrospectively I look back on that moment great fondness. After, I was rewarded with cycling through the Welsh countryside as the sun rose - a part of the world that I know Mike loved.

My feelings must pale in comparison to that of his family and my thoughts are with Anna, Patricia and Russ. Those three provided unadulterated support for Mike in all of his endeavours.

Thank you Mike and Rest in Peace.

Tour from Munich to err..

Well all I can say is it's been an 'experience'.  I had initially planned to cycle from Munich to Rome to meet my family on holiday in Sardinia but basically nothing went well and everything went tits up.

Easiest to do some positives and negatives

Positives:

  • Munich is nice, had some sausage and a giant pickle.  My friends dad who's a cyclist took the morning off work to help me get some new stuff.
  • Given some beers from a bike shop after they heard about ordeal
  • I checked into a random Austrian hotel at midnight soaked and freezing. They took pity on me and let me in for around 1/4 the normal price.  
  • Dolomites were very nice
  • Arrived in Trento and a whole pile of Italians started buying me beers
  • I had a good pizza
  • I met some interesting cyclists on the train
  • I had a Padina

Negatives:

  • 5 minutes after leaving my house I realised I had forgotten my shoes
  • Everything stolen subsequently arrived to my accommodation late then got little sleep because I was pissed off.
  • Had to wait till the shops opened at 10am.
  • The screws for my cleats were wrong that I bought from a second hand shop so they kept loosening.  Occasionally twisting my knee
  • Only left Munich at 6pm
  • Rain started at 8pm just as I was getting to the bottom of the Alps.  I got cold and all my lovely sandwiches got soaked.
  • Stopped earlier than I had hoped because my back light stopped working.  When I got to the hotel I took it apart and some water came out, it started working but decided to break again the next night.  The following night the police escorted me off the motorway with a broken back light.
  • I wish I'd not done the Brenner pass as my 'big climb'.  It's pretty dull and full of motorbikes and fancy cars.
  • I arrived in Trento and whilst having my pizza on the outskirts I'd booked a cheap hotel next to the train station.  Little did I know this was right in the middle of an annual all night party called Notte Bianca.  I put some tissues in my ears but the bass was deep enough for it to reverberate through my entire body.  Once I got to sleep I was woken at 4 by some drunk revellers who had opened my stupidly unlocked door to discover me sprawled nude across my bed.
  • The whole Italian train fiasco.  On the regional train to Bologna I spoke to an Italian and American cyclist who said I couldn't take it on the fast inter-regional trains.  But they agreed if I just got on, played ignorant and was generally considerate they may take pity on me.  So the first train arrived I was just about to get onto then the conductor came and told me to piss off, he wasn't happy.  Luckily one of the station info guys saw this and was super helpful and nice about everything.  He took me the main info office where for 2.5 hours they discussed taking the bike onto the train.  Eventually he sourced me some big bin bags.  At this point I got onto the train but it was a real ball ache to carry around.  I really don't understand why they make it so difficult, my dismantled bike took up way more space, was less mobile and it annoyed me.
  • I got to Rome to transfer to the port and whilst walking from platform 4 to 25 I must have lost one half of my skewer for my front wheel... No I have to source at skewer in Cagliari at 7am when I arrive.
  • On the final train the police came and questioned me for 20 minutes, looking at all my cards, ID, passport, plane tickets, train ticket and ferry ticket.  Very odd, told me it was normal but I suspect not.
  • Whilst in the taxi from the station to the port my taxi driver got into a road rage fight with another car, I was already late so this wasn't helping.
  • All in all its been an interesting experience and I've learnt some important lessons, mainly allow more time for this kind of stuff for disruptions. I'm happy with my set up for the TCR.  I guess the final verdict will depend upon what my insurers say otherwise it's gonna be few months of credit card bills.

In terms of a trip report there's not much else so I'll do it in pictorial form:

Day 1 Travel to Munich

I got to Munich with no problem on the plane then when I was buying my train tickets to get to the city centre I left my bag on a trolley and when I got back to it approximately 3 minutes later it had been later.  2 hours searching and with the police I headed into Munich to stay with my friend's Dad who lived there.

Box packed up at home

Box packed up at home

Bike box on the tube

Bike box on the tube

The street in Munich I was staying

The street in Munich I was staying


Day 2 Munich - Austria 90km

Arthur's dad took the morning off work and showed me around Munich and helped me get back onto my feet.  Eventually at 6pm I left.  I made it to the foothills of the Alps and into Austria.  A broken back light ended play early for the day and I found a hotel.  They took pity on me and gave me a fantastic rate

Arthur's dad with espresso

Arthur's dad with espresso

Leaving Munich

Leaving Munich

Nice German countryside

Nice German countryside

Getting stormy

Getting stormy

Into the storm

Into the storm

Lovely hotel for the night

Lovely hotel for the night



Day 3 Austria - Trento, Italy 200km

Today I cycled to Innsbruck followed by the Brenner pass, which isn't the best cycling road in the world.  This was followed by a fairly flat/boring descent into a headwind till Trento going through lots of illegal tunnels/roads by accident.  In Trento I searched for a good pizzeria and found one where a group of Italians started buying me beers.

Awesome breakfast part 1

Awesome breakfast part 1

Awesome breakfast part 2

Awesome breakfast part 2

Brenner Pass

Brenner Pass

Hot dog at the top of Brenner

Hot dog at the top of Brenner

Bike in Trento

Bike in Trento

The Italians who bought me some beers

The Italians who bought me some beers

Big night in Trento

Big night in Trento


Day 4 Trento - the Sea

Fairly uninteresting day.  Just train fiasco then a ferry

Bike dismantled finally ready for transport

Bike dismantled finally ready for transport

View from the train window

View from the train window

Sunset

Sunset

Empty pool on the boat

Empty pool on the boat

Sorted my kit out

Sorted my kit out


Day 5 Cagliari - Hotel 40km

Cagliari

Cagliari



So here is a kit review of the things I differently from last years TCR:

Feedbag
This is a fantastic piece of kit, extremely useful for putting your phone whilst it charges off my Sinewave.  Good for putting a coke bottle, tube of Pringles or some insect spray.  I'm definitely going to get another for the other side.


Organisation
This year I've compartmentalised I.e. Electronics in top tube bag, valuables in left of frame bay, tools in water bottle, clothes in right frame bag, toiletries in smaller top tube bag etc.  This is saving me tones of faffing time and importantly 90% of what I need is reachable whilst riding.

Got rid of the saddle bag.  Last year it was a pain to get something out.  It's a good piece of kit say if you've got your entire sleeping set up and you only need to get it out once a day when you're not riding.  Last year I'd accidentally put my rain jacket in the bottom and I'd waste 5 minutes retrieving it whilst this year I could get it out and have it on within a minute whilst still riding.

Water storage
This year I've got 4.7 litres of water which is more than twice last years.  Now I'll only need to stop to refill every 5-6 hours.

Space for food
Last year I had no space for food so I ended up really filling up my jersey.  This year the bag at the front is empty but will be filled with food.  I estimate I can carry 24 hours worth of food at a time.

Dynamo
This I believe is absolutely necessary.  Last year during the TCR I felt there were times that I was actively sitting around waiting for things to charge.  It also means I've got a really powerful light.

Internet/4G on phone
Having 4G on my phone this weekend made me realise how much time last year I spent sitting around trying to get WiFi.  I'll admit I'm pretty bad when it comes to WiFi but at least if I have it on my phone I quench my addiction whilst still cycling in smaller doses.  It's also immensely useful for finding food/hotels etc.

Things still that I need to change:

Fit the entire repair kit into the caddy sack.  At the moment I've got the odd piece of repair kit floating about in some other bag

Simplify my electronics.  Currently I've got a 10000mah battery charger which is probably overkill so will try and get something more compact. I'm also going to get shorter cables, no need for them to be longer than 50cm.

Raise up my tribars so I've got better access to my feed bags and give myself better access to the flats of my handlebars

Get a larger cassette.  I thought this during last year, during the Valleycat and during this weekend.  Pretty much any time I've been climbing I wish I had a larger cassette.  This year I'm going to do it.

Things to do before the race:

2 tyres
4 tubes
Feedbag
Visa
Rise aerobars
Sort out drugs (Paracetomol, Ibuprofen, Caffeine and Immodium)
Get the chammy cream in smaller containers
Fit the cassette and chain
Fit the pump
Spare back light
Send off back light
Spare batteries
Sort out cables
Service
Brake pads
Cables
Sort out Dynamo cables

So whilst I was cycling I considered what I'd do given a lot more money:

Lightest weight synthetic down jacket
Lighter/more compact leg warmers
Super awesome rain coat
Dynamo back light
Broakleys
Speedplay
Di-2 and tri-bar options
Full frame bag
Spare Garmin

Valleycat

I decided to get in some miles and test out my new set up by doing Mike Hall's Valleycat back in April

I left Bristol at 11:30 and took 2 trains to Llandridod Wells followed by a 30 mile ride to the start point.

It was a good ride and taste for what was to come.  It was pretty hilly and the ride to the farm alone was longer than anything I'd ridden since the end of the Transcontinental Race.  I arrived at the farm at about 6:15 giving me 45 minutes until the controls were released.  

At 7pm we went up to the barn and where were given a set of 9 controls.  I brought my laptop so I was able to plot a route.  Roughly it was split into a north and south route.

That evening it was only Craig Dollice and I who were planning to set out that evening with the rest planning to get some sleep and start early the next morning.  I used up one of two of my meal vouchers and had a great vegetable chilli.  Just after 9pm I set off.

I had no food for night so the plan was to buy some at first convenience which was a petrol station on the A44 where I met Craig who had done the same, we cycled together for a part of the night talking about this years Transcontinental Race.  Eventually my legs started to show their weakness and I slowed down.

One of the checkpoints

One of the checkpoints

It was also beginning to get extremely cold and I was aware that I still had a big climb to up.  I realized if I got to the top of this and defended I would probably freeze so I began starting to search for shelter.  Eventually I found a public toilet where I filled my jersey up with toilet paper and covered myself in bin bags from the recycling outside the toilet.  From about 4am to 6am I sat there shivvering uncontrollable, the Garmin said at one point -6.  

The sun started to rise so I got back on my bike.  It was incredible cycling at this time of day, with nice roads, a fantastic sunrise and no cars.  An uneventful morning including a stop for some Welsh Rarebit in cafe saw more coming back into camp 150 miles later.

I needed to get back so Stephan Kiwi (Fixed gear from TCR 2015) headed to Aberywyth to catch the last train out of Wales for the weekend.  I got back home and had to cover my knees in ice - more training needs to be done!

Conclusion:

Fantastic event, well organized and Wales is some of the best cycling to be done.  I thought my day/night out there was harder than any of the days I did on the Transcontinental.

But I've got some kit revisions:
-The Front Dynamo light was fantastic however as soon I stopped, it stopped so I'm going to need a second weak light - most likely a helmet light.
-The weekend has confirmed my decision now to ditch the sleeping equipment, I'll sleep in the day or find adequate shelter.
-All my charging cables were a mess - need smaller/cleaner set up
-My Castelli gloves were a bit overkill, one of the few parts of my body to get cold
-I'm also planning to get rid of my 'regular' cycling gloves - I've done several rides now where I've not used them at all.
-Get a smaller warm hat
-Better bottle cages for the front so they don't fall out
-Feed bags
-Larger cassette

Spring Update

Training

For the couple of months or so I have started going to the gym.  I've found it hard to fit cycling in around University lifestyle with irregular patterns and the consistent wet, cold and windy weather of Bristol.  It is starting to warm up so I should get on the bike now so I'll try to trade in some of my gym time for cycling.

At the moment I've been prioritizing  this elements of my training:

Weight loss > Strength training >  Stretching > Cardio vascular > Cycling endurance

Weight loss
Post Transcontinental Race 2015 I managed to get down to 64kg but since then I've started University where my weight increased.  After Christmas my weight peaked at 78kg but since I've reduced it down to 68 kg as of April 3rd.  It's been done via a combination of calorie measuring, daily gyming and 5-8 miles of walking a day to and from lectures.   The aim is to get down down to 60kg by the race start.

Strength training
After doing some cardio in the gym I've got a 20-30 minute strength training routine.  At the moment it mainly focuses on legs but it will eventually include more core exercises.

Leg curls 3 sets of 20 repetitions
Leg extensions 3 sets of 20 repetitions
Leg press 3 sets of 20 repetitions
Abdominal press 3 sets of 20 repetitions
Calf raises 3 sets of 25 repetitions

Stretching
I've been attending a weekly stretching class for 30 minutes as well as doing post-workout stretches.

Cardio vascular
At the moment it's fairly limited but I've been 20 minutes of running intervals.  I have, however, realized running is not my forte: even after a month of running 5 times a week I still get pains in my knees and ankles.  Supplementing this I have been doing the occasional spin class when it fits my schedule which is much better on my joints than running.

Cycling endurance
I've done no specific training for this but stretching and strength training should supplement this.

Training trip to Italy

Over the Easter weekend I went to Sabaudia in Italy.  The plan was for my mum and her rowing club to row on the lakes that Sabaudia has and for me to cycle.  Unfortunately I was quite ill during the trip so didn't get as much cycling done as possible, still it was nice to be on the bike in the sun.
 

Route planning

I've largely finalized my route but I've made sure to go on main roads for most of it as they're quicker and have more food supplies.

Kit list/testing

90% done however still to test it out.  I've pretty much got everything on order and it should start coming together soon.

Miscellaneous

Last year the most stressful part for me was getting to the start line so this year I have been prepared and I have got an Air BnB already booked for the Thursday and Friday night.
 

Apidura

The kind folks at Apidura have helped me out with a frame pack here for my Transcontinental Race 2016 attempt.  

The frame bag will contain all the things I could possibly use whilst cycling: arm warmers, leg warmers, waterproof jacket, sunglasses, hat, gloves, charging equipment, toothbrush, Ibuprofen etc etc.  Hopefully this should save some time over the day whereas last year I kept all of my stuff in the back which meant I had to stop riding to put this stuff on.

Once again thanks to Tori and the rest of the Apidura team and check out their website here for the best bike packing stuff available.


Kit update

So I've made some considerable progress on the bike so far and kit list so far:

-Dynamo wheels built by Andy Kelly (Cheers Bike Ambulance)
-Water system finalized
-Lights set up (Cheers Supernova)
-Big service
-Handlebars/clip-on tri bars
-Selle SMP Composit saddle

Still to go:
Main top tube bag
Rain jacket


TCR 2016

So I found out, I got place on the Transcontinental Race 2016 -  cheers Mike and Anna!

Now I just need to begin to the training, equipment gathering and planning.

So for this year for extra motivation I am planning to Audax and have come up with a provisional calendar of events:

January
13th - Cycle back to uni 240km
31st - Windrush Winter Warm-up 100km

February
6th - Sam Weller's day trip to Wochma 200km
14th - Flapjack 100km
20th - Malmesbury Mash 200km
28th - The Primrose Path

March
12th - Gospel Pass 150km
19th - The Dean 300km

April
10th - The JB Run 110km
16th - Steam Ride: University Challenge 300km
23rd - Buckingham Blinder 400km
30th - Brevet Cymru 400km

May
7th - Old Roads 300km
15th The Great Escape 200km

June
4th - Asparagus & Strawberries 400km | 9 Countries 600km
5th - The London Ditchling Devil 200km
11th - Tan Hill 600km
25th - Offa's Dyke 600km

July
2nd - Kingdom of the East Saxons 400km
9th - The Buzzard 600km
16th - Dunwich Dynamo 400km
 



 

Kit list

First 2016 kit list

So here is my first 2016 kit list compared to my 2015 kit list.  It's fairly provisional but this year I want to sort the kit out very early in order to really test it out.  First step is to get the wheels and dynamo system set-up.

My thoughts on 2015 kit and changes I’d make for 2016

Bike:

 

Wheels:  
Mavic Ksyrium - I had no problems with these however after the event I had noticed there was a bent spoke and a large ding in the back rim and they’re fairly out of true. The spokes on this bike also pose a problem – they’re bladed and not particularly common, making it hard to true, especially in Albania far from a shop stocking Mavic Ksyrium spokes. Perhaps not the most ideal wheel for a race like this.  The safer wheels to go for would H Plus Son Archetype or perhaps Mavic Open Pro.

Handlebars:
When I was getting the handlebars Tim Williams expressed concern at their material - carbon.  They also didn't fit my body that and have to slightly bodge them.  I also wasn't able to attach my tri bars in a particularly good position and they actually scratched the handlebars a lot.  I'm not sure whether it had any structural impact but I was always eternally worried that the bars would snap at that point.  So for 2016 I’ll definitely be getting rid of the carbon and getting a decent set of bars that fit me.  Last year I also just borrowed a random pair of tri-bars from a friend so I will definitely consider these more.

Gears:  
One of the cables snapped - next time fresher cables.  I would have liked a 32 teeth sprocket on the back however if actually did some more training then a 28 would probably suffice for next year too.  So no particular change here except obviously new chain, cassette, gear cables and good clean before I leave.

Saddle:  
Selle SMP hybrid.  Absolutely fantastic, so problems what so ever.  Only improvement would be to get a Selle SMP Composite or something to save weight.

Pedals:  
No problems with these - only potential improvement would be throwing more money at it i.e. hello Speedplay.

Tyres:
Continental 4season 23c Only two punctures on these over 4000km and only one of them was during the race.  Only I wish I had gone for at least 25c for the Asseta and comfort overall.  Although I didn't find it a problem at all but maybe 25c will be even better.

Brakes:  
Now like tubulars a lot of people were raging about disks - I had no problem with caliper brakes at all and didn't have to fuss around with wheels.  Although given some significant money I'd definitely consider it but for next year at the moment just some fresh pads and cables.

Clothing:
Helmet:
Kask Mojito was absolutely great - at no point did I feel I was overheating and in fact I wore my cap the entire time.  An aero road helmet would be able to significantly improvement however I’d get one if this helmet broke.

Sunglasses:
No problems - just a bit shit.  

Kalas race suit:
No problem here too, will use again.  The Castelli one can't justify the price.

Arm warmers:
Asos.  Would want some slightly warmer ones.

Leg warmers:
Castelli Nanoflex - no problems here.

Gloves:
Castelli.  I didn't really use mine but might be necessary if I started getting hand problems.

Socks:
Castelli. No problems, just smelt pretty bad by the end.

Waterproof gloves:
Castelli. No problems, just a tad small plus I lost one of them.

Rain coat:
Castelli.  Great that it is reflective but only relatively waterproof like most cycling rain coats – probably could upgrade it but not necessary.

Gilet:
Absolutely fantastic, I got the top of the range one.  Even in Europe in summer it got close to 5 degrees at night.

Luggage system:
Bags:

I went for the small Apidura saddle bag combined with the top tube bag.  

I absolutely adored the top tube bag - perfect for keeping things in close at hand which is what I least liked about the saddle bag.  Next time I'd go far a cross tube bag and another top tube bag - making sure I can access everything whilst cycling.  In the back I'd keep only my sleeping as I'd only need that when sleeping - duh!  I also broke my saddle bag by not tying it properly onto my bike one day so it hit my bike wheel and got a hole in it.  Otherwise used correctly it's a fantastic bit of a kit.

I also stuffed my jersey full to the brim with food, next time I'd want to avoid this so I need some extra space for food.  Perhaps a feed bag and a small bar bag that I can stuff with food.  I thought if I could tie some sort of semi elastic net to my handlebars that might work.

Water systems: 
I carried 2 800ml bottles and I had no problem.  I'd often whack a couple of extra in my jersey which would cause some back pain.  So definitely next year 1 litre bottles and find some spare space for a third or a platypus in a bag perhaps.

Electronics:
Charger:
I had two of these and they were pretty heavy although reliable and kept me going for probably 72 hours with no charge.  The thing I'd want to do is save weight on cables and get shorter/less fiddly ones.  Also definitely Dynamo next year with only 1 reserve charger and 1 emergency very small 1 EE power bar type charger.

Back lights:  
The back light had no problem with - didn't change the batteries once.  I would have liked a reserve and a bigger back light saying 'hey, look!  There's a cyclist here'.  But I had zero close calls at night so I can't complain.  

Front light:
The front light was a big issue.  My ideal setup would be a cheap battery powered light to be seen that I can wack on at twilight and then a super powerful eye-of-Sauron type one for when it’s pitch black.  My head torch was great in Western Europe but once the roads turned to shit it was a no go.  It also kept falling off my head. It was useful for setting up camp and off bike stuff but my phone would have sufficed. 

Phone:
iPhone No problems here.  It would have been great to have 3G but that's just a money issue.  Also would definitely want a fully water proof yet usable case - is that possible?  Also the potential to mount it on my bike would be nice.  iPhone 6 is a big bulky though. Worked well as reserve navigation too and it was actually my primary navigation for a while as Garmin maps are absolutely awful in Turkey, Albania and Macedonia.  However the need for that could have been negated had I actually done some decent route planning.

Batteries:
Carried way too many last year.

GPS:
Like the phone would've liked it to be waterproof however no problems here except for one day when it didn't record my data except for my distance.

Reserve GPS:
Garmin 500 (reserve).  I brought this as a reserve but didn't bring a cable to charge neither had I uploaded the files to it. 

Power chargers and cables
I had 3X USB cables and 2X iPhone charger which could fit into my 4 socket USB charger and could charge all my 4 electronic devices at once if needed.  Only change I would make is trying to reduce the space and getting the minimum length cable to do the job.

Sleeping system:

Needs some significant reconsideration.  I had huge issues with temperature.  A bivvy is the only essential piece of kit I'm going to boldly say and I didn't have one.  I froze to death every night.  I'd have to search for decent covered places and that would fuck up with my sleeping pattern and wasn't entirely efficient.  It also meant more hotels albeit nice and a definite necessity from time to time but it was costly in both money and time.  The sleeping mat was great.   This is something that needs to be TESTED.  

At the moment I’m considering as a very minimum a super lightweight Rab one which has a pack down size similar to that of tennis ball.

Repair kit:

The only repair I personally did was one tube. I need more spares and a greater knowledge.  I saw about 3 bike shops in my entire journey - if I'd fucked upped badly I'd have been screwed.  Also my pump was pretty shit.  I should have also try and locate some bike shops a long the route.

So next year:
2X quality tubes
Very good service just before
Greater maintenance knowledge
Tried and tested pump
2X tyre levers
Puncture repair kit
Multi-tool + spoke key
Spare spokes
Spare gear and brake cables
Spare link + quick links
Bike oil

Hygiene Stuff:
Medication:  
I'd want some decent strength caffeine pills and painkillers.  Luckily Europe loves pharmacies so getting stuff wasn't too hard but I was lucky and nothing ever struck in the middle of the night.

Toothbrush/toothpaste:
Could go smaller/chop of a bit

Chamois cream:
I used Asos stuff which I was happy with however it was in a rather bulky container.

It would have also been good to have some mosquito spray and sun cream

Other
Passport
Money: need a small strong sealable bag for the coins.
Lock:  ditch, hardly used it in the end

Entered the 2016 Transcontinental Race!

So after long consideration I have decided to enter the 2016 race.  I put my application in and am now waiting.

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc



What really clinched me this year was the route.  There will be significantly less traffic, no headwinds in Istanbul, no Po Valley and more climbing (which actually keeps your mind easily occupied).

 

Start // Muur Kapelmuur // Saturday 30th July 2016

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Control 1 // Clermont Ferrand / Puy de Dome

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Control 2 // Grindelwald / Grosse Scheidegg / Grimselpass / Furkapass

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Control 3 // San Pellegrino / Passo di Giau

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Control 4 // Pluzine / Durmitor / Zabljak

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Arrive // Gallipoli / Canakkale

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Photo source: www.transcontinental.cc

Transcontinental Race 2015

So here it is.  My story,  2644 miles, from Geraardsbergen to Istanbul over 2 weeks and through 11 countries.   It was a pretty awesome experience and definitely, by far the toughest thing I’ve ever done.  I’m going to apologise upfront for the pictures – often Id forget to take some, or they were too blurry and I didnt have a film crew to take non-selfie pictures of me.

The past 6 months...

November 30th 2014, I'd signed up.  I had filled in the questionnaire but had my doubts I'd get on.  Oh shit, 'what experience do you have in this kind of thing?'.  I had no response and just left it blank.  If I get on, the next 9 months will be plenty of time to get 'experience'.

Surprisingly a few weeks later I got the email saying that I had been accepted.  This was an even bigger 'oh shit' moment; somehow I had managed to slip through the net and Mike had let me sign up.  Now what was I to do?

The first things I did were to start reading others' blogs and to start saving some money.  Nothing really happened from October till January - it was cold and I was working long 80-100 hour weeks but the plan was, come January, to get on the bike and start pedalling.  The initial plan was to start at 100km a week and increase it 5% each week.  The weather, winter and work continued to play its toll and training never really took off. 

At about this point I decided to start on the off-bike preparation.  So I created this site to start both documenting the process and getting my thoughts onto paper.  I came up with a kit-list in February.

Then in late February/March I went off to Japan to begin my 'training'.  I didn't do as much cycling out there as I'd hoped but I definitely kick-started it.  The cycling out there was fantastic; smooth roads, considerate drivers and brilliant climbs but the temptations of Japanese beer, sushi and onsen were too much and subsequently spent rather more time off the bike.  I would certainly recommend Japan for cycling - you just need a lot longer.  Three weeks is not enough for both sightseeing/cycling/eating/drinking in a country.

When I got back to England I realised my fitness was not what it should have been and at this point my training had to kick up a gear.   I decided to go largely vegan for a few months which resulted in a significant weight loss of about a stone however I wouldn't say it was necessarily down to the vegan elements of the diet more the fact that I didn't eat so much shitty MacDonalds and frozen pizza.  Although don't get me wrong, I love MacDonald's, and it would form a core staple of my TCR diet.

In terms of cycling I started up my usual things; chain-gangs, TTs, club runs, casual rides with my dad and friend Robbie Zhao.  But the cycling never got too serious in terms of miles.

It was at this point I spoke to a friends dad - head of British cycling development and here was his advice:

'The advice you need, only a doctor can do well. '

Other than that he suggested that training needn't last longer than 4 hours as this was the point at which fat starts to get burned and this is what I should train my body to do well.  He also said that to supplement these 4 hour rides with weight sessions and stretching.

Nutritionally he said that it was key to continue eating and that no more than 60g of carbs was needed and anymore would waste energy in terms of digestion.  He also stressed the importance of protein and suggested that 10g an hour was a good idea as well as lots before and after.

I encountered my first other TCR rider when André Schuster emailed me having found my site and asked me some questions.  It was a great relief to discover that I had someone in a similar boat in being as inexperienced as me.

Over the next few months the training grew albeit very marginally but the kit list grew more specific and longer and I started to ask for sponsorship.  I was very lucky in that another friend's dad, Iain Brown, kindly bought me my rain jacket and then a few weeks later my local and the best outdoor shop in Cambridge - Open Air - gave me a Rab gilet.

With 2 months to go I knew what I needed to get but didn't have the money - it was going to be close before the event before I got everything - leaving not a lot of time for kit testing.  I also began my route planning.  If I'm honest, I basically just let Strava do the entire route which actually worked out well - mostly.  I'll come onto the rest of that later.

With about a month to go I did my first big ride of the year - the Dunwich Dynamo.  I did just about 350km. However, I pulled my Vastus medialis and ended up in A&E.  I thought this was curtains.  I expect the cause of this was perhaps pushing it too hard on the London-Dunwich section and then stopping at the beach in Dunwich for a full English without stretching.  The good news on this ride was that I had felt no other pain at all - certainly thanks to Tim William's excellent bike fit which he had done for me a few weeks earlier.  One week off the bike focused my “expert” abilities on route planning, kit ffinalising, Wiggle ordering and Netflix.

On July 15 I left the UK with my two friends Robbie and Ollie to head to France for a week of Alpine cycling including l'étape du Tour.  As you can imagine this trip turned into another classic 'Joe Todd tries to go cycling in another country but ends up doing something else/drinking a lot'.  We did manage the étape which I did in 8 hours and 11 minutes.  But after that we spent a lot of time drinking and we found a lot of pleasure in hitchhiking and spent the remaining 4 days after l'étape going up and down the mountains thanks to the generosity of strangers rather than our bodies' fitness.

Back home on the 22nd I had only 36 hours before I needed to leave for Belgium.  A quick kit wash, final purchases and bike service all ensued.  Final meals, and friends were seen.  I cleverly had the idea to stay up late the night before in order to get my body ready for the midnight start - really good idea that was!  At 6 am my mum kindly drove me to Cambridge railway station, and transferred some money into my almost empty bank account , and now the adventure was about to begin.

I caught the 0715 training from Cambridge to King's Cross.  It was the commuter train and I could tell everyone was keen to avoid the cyclist in Lycra even though at this point I was still very clean - I'd literally used a week's worth of soap in my last shower in lieu of probably not washing much for the next two weeks.  Then I took the Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels.  This was very smooth - no issues here and did manage to get 3 hours of sleep on the train.  After that I had a short 40 km cycle from Brussels to Geraardsbergen.  Now this got me worried.  I started cycling and found myself on cycle paths and gravel roads - now these are car free and nice for a casual cycle but not for serious clocking up of mileage - was this a sign for what was to come thanks to my lazy route planning?  I also had my first puncture and my headset started clicking - which actually continued for the next 14 days.

At Cambridge station

At Cambridge station

I arrived in Geraardsbergen tired and stressed out.  To make matters worse I had only navigated to top of the Muur and had no idea where anything was.  I saw another TCR rider and thought about asking but was worried that he'd only think 'if this guy can't find the registration centre then how will he cope with getting across the entire continent'?  So after an hour or so of cycling around Geraarsbergen I came across more and more cyclists and found the registration centre.

I joined the queue of waiting participants.  I was pretty nervous and shy and spent most of my time trying to figure everyone out.  Nelson Trees introduced himself but I was a bit out of it to really chat - luckily I'd meet him a few times later and he turned out to be a great guy.

Registation hall featuring sleeping cyclists 

Registation hall featuring sleeping cyclists 

With registration done, tracker on and pre-photo done I went in search of a bike shop to sort out some niggles and buy a new tube.  After that I went to the first of many Lidls to stock up on food.  Here I'd meet the great Simon and Jon who I'd consistently meet for the next week.  We then cycled up for the final briefing on the Muur where I met another Cambridgeshire racer - Alex Metcalfe and fellow LFGSS forumer James Hayden, who would go on to absolutely smash the first half of the race but unfortunately ended up with Shermer's neck.  He was certainly my favourite serious guy and he even let me drill him for a bit for advice at the end.

This was the point where my 'stay up all the previous night' plan started to fail.  They had promised to reopen the registration hall for riders to get some sleep.  I turned up at around 7pm but it wasn't open till 10pm.  It did give me a good chance to meet some other riders and was the first time I'd really experienced some of the TCR camaraderie, which I would come to love.  Christian Ekdahl, Gregory Barry,  two Australians, Matthew Swain and I all had a big chat from the race to kit choices and with two Australians behind present obviously Durian rider.  Eventually I got in and used the WiFfi, charged my phone and ate a giant pile of mayonnaise and chips, but failed to sleep.

Back to the top of the Muur

Back to the top of the Muur

At 11:30 it was back to the top of the Muur.  It was very exciting up there.  Lots of fire torches and large crowds had gathered.  There were cameras and even drones!  I finally bumped into André about 15 minutes before the start - wished each other luck and shook hands.  The mayor came out and gave a speech and before we knew it we were off.

Day 1

The race began at 00:00 on July 25th.  It was pretty exhilarating, especially with it being my first ever mass race start.   We began with a lap of the Muur with the control vehicle - all of the serious guys (and me for some reason) were riding at the front right behind the control vehicle.  I caught up with James who was chatting to Josh Ibbet who would go onto win the race.  I wished James the best of luck with the race having read his blog I knew he was serious about racing it rather than surviving it like my plan was.  After a final climb of the Muur we finished and departed our own ways.  Another 'oh shit' moment: I was the only one to go my direction and I ended up on a bloody canal path.  

After about 15 km I eventually see some lights - it was André!  So we cycled together for a while but after 40 km or so we made our separate ways - André to the east.  At about 2:30am the clouds had thickened and I could see some lightening in the distance.  Luckily the storm didn't hit until about 5am.  I was also, at this point, absolutely starving. Luckily I entered a village and found a bakery open, I met some other riders here.  With my jersey stuffed with croissants and coke I headed back out into the night. 

Early morning bakery

Early morning bakery

When the sun started to rise so did the storm.  Headwinds and thick rain came down through northern France.  I began to get really cold so I decided It may be sensible to ignore my initial plan of no stopping till night on the first day.  I felt pretty shit.  I managed to find refuge in an abandoned barn where some French yoofs had started to literally shit everywhere.  I got naked and tried to dry my clothes.  I struggled to sleep constantly worrying that French yoofs would come to do their daily shits to discover a naked English guy and have a field day.  I managed to get a few minutes of sleep but woke up to find a mouse crawling over my leg.  I felt really shit.  I was still cold and now I felt guilty that I had stopped so early on.  I put on my wet clothes and continued on.

First sleeping spot

First sleeping spot

The rain started to relax a bit but my left leg began to hurt. It was then exacerbated by the undulating hills of Champagne.  I eventually found a town with a pharmacy and got some Dolipan - a lovely strong continental pain killer.  Speaking to my sister, who is a doctor, she informed me that what I had been doing was extremely dangerous - I'd been taking about 4-8 grams of paracetamol a day, which could have resulted in liver failure.  This was the turning point of the day.  The weather improved and my leg healed up and I was able to appreciate the magnificent French countryside of Champagne.  The rest of the day went without any significant events.  I got to Troyes where I demolished the first of many MacDonald's and utilised the Wi-Fi and toilet facilities. I enquired about a hotel but it was about 150 euros.  I continued on for about another 80 km.  This part of the trip was fantastic - I was in the lovely French countryside it was warm and I was the only person for miles and the wind had died.  I got to a small village and built myself a small shack in a building site.  At about 10:30pm I was fast asleep. 

The scene for the day...

The scene for the day...

Champagne

Champagne

Day 2 

I awoke with a start.  I was absolutely fucking freezing. It was about 3am.  I knew I had made a mistake not bringing a bivvy bag.  My hands were completely numb and I was shivering uncontrollably.  I had to run up and down the street and do star jumps to warm up - even when slightly warmer it still took about an hour to pack up even though it was just a sleeping mat and liner.   I managed to get on the road at 4am, which was a bonus.  It was quite nice cycling on the truly empty roads and I even encountered a family of wild boars which squealed and ran away as some crazy cyclist woke them up at 4am.  When I got to a village a sign above a pharmacy revealed that it was 6 degrees!  Six degrees in France?! In July?!  At around 6:30am the sun rose and I found a small town that had a bank open.  I managed to get a good hour and half of peaceful warm sleeping done in the bank only to be woken by a man in military uniform standing above me trying to get money from the ATM above my head.

At 8am I continued my journey and was pleased to encounter Simon and Jon again.  They were just outside the village that I had been sleeping in repairing one of their many punctures, I waved and continued on - it would not be the last time today. 

Now this was the MacDonald's day.  I passed Jon and Simon again, repairing another puncture and entered the first MacDonald's of the day.  Now I must stress the importance of MacDonald's for me - it was my sanctuary from the race.  It was a nice air conditioned unit, with familiar food, power outlets, clean toilets, Wi-Fi. It was guaranteed that I would not be the smelliest person in there and nobody would give a shit if I fell asleep in there with my bike at the table.  It also became a common meeting point for TCR riders. At most points in the day it was virtually guaranteed that you would meet another rider tucking into a  family's worth of food.

The rest of the day was great - I went through some very nice white wine country and managed to maintain a fairly fast pace.  I got to a city.... And saw Simon and Jon again.  It was at this point I cycled on my first big road which I cruised down for 3-4 hours.  Second MacDonald's of the day done, I met Simon and Jon again as I was leaving.  We spoke of sores and the fine art of applying chamois cream.  Nearing Lyon I had my 3rd and final MacDonald's of the day - a perfect day for me.  

This next section was some of the best cycling I'd have.   The evening from around 7pm-10pm would become one my favourite times on the bike.  The roads had quietened, the heat & wind had dropped and I normally found myself in some nice place.  The roads around Lyon were fantastically smooth and rolling and went from quaint village to village.  

I got through to the south of Lyon and found a football stadium to camp in.  I got round to the back only to find another TCR rider already camped there!  Only after the event using track leaders did I discover that it was Neil Jack Peterson,  At around 1:30am I got to sleep.

Camp 2, a football stadium

Camp 2, a football stadium

Day 3

I was back on the ride at around 6am.  This day was fairly unexceptional aside from the immense heat and my obvious route failure.  Today I was going to reach Mont Ventoux but rather than taking the flat, slightly indirect route following the river I took the direct route which went over some large hills.  Compared to other days I only saw one rider (Emily Chappell) until the check point (CP).  

First site of Ventoux

First site of Ventoux

At around 7pm I had arrived at Bedouin and found some pizza. I had noticed that when I got to Provence all the villages had become extremely pretty and I just wished I was here under more relaxing conditions.  I tucked into my pizza and I was just finishing it when I turned around and saw Mike Hall and the others round the corner.  I had a great chat with them and met Barney who was filming the event and the eccentric photographer Camille McMillan, who had been on the Cambridge Chain Gang 15 years ago.  

With my morale improved, I continued on up the mountain.  Having been told that it was the perfect time to climb, the wind having dropped and temperature cooling, I found myself in that perfect 7-10pm time yet again for the third day in a row except this time I was climbing Mont Ventoux - a true bucket list climb.  Previous to that the hardest climb I had done was Col Du Glandon, which now seemed easy in comparison.  The first 2 hours were in the steep forest then the final 8k was on the intensely windy open section.  The temperature had really dropped but I continued on, powering up still only in my skinsuit.  At about 10:00 I arrived at the summit and passed Jon and Simon again.  Only at this point did I realise it was  absolutely freezing.  

The gang in the cafe

The gang in the cafe

With CP1 done and 65th position I was fairly happy.  To take some refuge, I went into the Mont Ventoux cafe/bar where an Italian team were buying everybody beers and chips - the dinner of champions.  The wind was howling and the prospect of leaving the warm cafe with the good company was not good.  After about an hour we had stuffed our jerseys with newspapers and went outside.  The wind was so extreme that I descended the first 3 km unclipped at about 10 km/h.  From then on the decent was fantastic.  Silky smooth roads with few bends found me 20 minutes down the road having done 15 km in the village of Sault.  

I decided to continue on from Sault to the village of Aurel.  Cycling from Sault, as I looked in the hedges I could see about 10 cyclists all bivvying alongside the road and I found myself a nice storm drain to sleep in.  It was surprisingly warm especially with the newspaper. 

Camping in a storm drain

Camping in a storm drain

Day 4

The fourth day was absolutely fantastic.  I awoke at about 5:30am and I peered out of my storm drain to see a rider passing by.  By 6 I was on the road and the day began with a very pleasant 8 km climb through some Provençal villages.

It was here that I met my favourite racer. I'd just finished the climb and then I saw a rider coming towards me.  This was my first encounter with #159 Patricio Ortiz de Rozas.  We cycled down the mountain together and for most of the morning.  Pat was a great guy we cycled out of Provence and past Gap which took about 6 hours.  We discussed everything from our injuries to Ventoux to motor biking.  Just after Gap we got to a fruit market at which point I left Pat in search of a toilet and a recharge point (a MacDonald's would have been extremely useful!).

The ride from Provence to Gap was brilliant - it was largely downhill and came through a fantastic gorge.   Then from Gap it entered the Alps where it became stunning - the only problem was the intense heat.  Passing through the Alps we passed lakes and went up climbs and a MacDonald's (where I bumped into Pat again and a crazy German guy who shared my passion for MacDonald's). 

Selfie with a really nice lake

Selfie with a really nice lake

Before CP2 there would be 3 fairly significant climbs. The ffirst was along the valley floor to Briancon where I met the Italians again.  The second I did with a pair of Germans (after another MacDonald's of course) where we went through some pretty cool tunnels.  The third one I did extremely slowly.  Eventually at about 8pm I got to the check point.

Of all the check points this was my favourite.  As I had arrived so late (or relatively late) the organisers suggested that I leave Asseta until the morning and that I check into the hotel.  'Oh no! What am I going to have to do?!'  It was an easy choice.  I checked into the hotel and went for a great meal with some other riders, some of the volunteers and Camille.  A few beers later and some fantastic pasta I was back in the hotel washed and ready for some sleep.  To cut some costs I shared the room with another rider - Rod Aitchison.  We chatted for a bit about our rides, he was suffering from significant knee pain and had accidentally descended the mountain we were on from the wrong side and had to do a bonus climb.

Dinner with the group

Dinner with the group

Day 5

Rod and I had discussed putting on an alarm for 5am but for some reason both of us had forgotten.  In the end we woke up at 7am after a good 8 hours of sleep.  I went down to breakfast in my unfortunately still wet skin suit and I met Jon and Simon again who had arrived at the hotel late the previous night and had fully involved themselves in the hotel bar.  

I was told that the Assietta could take between 3 and 10 hours depending on conditions/punctures.  At 8am I set out on my adventure.  The first part was a 7km climb and I thought it was largely okay - there were some difficult patches where I really had to put down the power in order to avoid falling off.   After the first climb I caught up with Jon and Simon again.  I reached the peak at about 10am where I took some photos.

At the top of Assietta

At the top of Assietta

Little did I realise the worst was yet to come.  The descent was actually slower than the climb.  The road became brutal and my 23c tyres showed their weakness.  Jon and Simon swiftly caught up with me again.  Eventually 4.5 hours after I left I reached the bottom where Jon, Simon and I went for a great breakfast.  It was the first time I had encountered the crazily enthusiastic New Zealander Chris Bennet who insisted we all try the yoghurt.  He was correct and the yoghurt was brilliant but I couldn't help feel that it would be improved by some strawberry jam in the corner.

Pretty damn cool road

Pretty damn cool road

One final road climb up the Finestre and then an off road decent (which Contador had won on in the Giro) would finally see me done with the Alps.  However, near the bottom I bumped into André.  He unfortunately had had 5 punctures and looked pretty damn miserable.  Unable to do anything I was forced to continue to Susa.

It was after lunch and I had only clocked 50 km!  But now I knew it was downhill till Turin and then flat till Slovenia.  I shifted my saddle forwards and up for a more aggressive TT position (I'd regret that).   Finally though I managed some speed and got to Turin in about 2 hours.   Locating a MacDonald's in Turin I tested out the Italian fare and it was pretty damn good.  The fries were decent chunky chips and the burger may have even been served medium rare!

After that it would 160 km of the Po Valley.  At the start I relished the flat land but by the end it was my nemesis; a never ending hot road, with trucks, headwinds and bloody Mosquitos.  After spending many hours cycling I eventually found ways to overcome boredom .  Music helped a lot and I actually got a chance to listen to some music I hadn’t listened to a long time.  I also luckily have both the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars soundtracks on my iPod so I was able to play the movies in my head whilst listening to the soundtracks.  Another interesting thing to keep me going was the constant conversion between kilometres and miles.  I’d also treat myself every two or three hours to a quick look at my phone to see where I was on the map.

At 6pm I stocked up for the night with another brilliant MacDonald's and headed out into the darkness.  Just as I was leaving I bumped into Pat once again but continued on - he'd made a detour from his route to get here - for some reason my route naturally went past it almost as if some prior to the race I had pin pointed all of the MacDonald's in Europe and chosen a route between them.

This part was one of the worst for me. I rang my sister, mum and dad for the first time and they told me of the great fun they were having dot watching.  But then the Mosquitos hit.  I made the foolish mistake of stopping and immediately I was swarmed by them.  My body began itching intensely.  At times I would have to stop to itch.  I thought I was going to have to scratch (pun not intended).   Eventually the pain was too much - I found the first person and begged them for spray - nothing.  I found an Italian bar and they brought out some industrial spray.  After using literally a full can I was still in pain.  It was at this point that I first felt the generosity of the general public.  A group of Italians took me out to the streets and started throwing buckets of water on me.  This may not sound generous but it was truly was magnificent.  An old guy bought me some cokes and a panini.  However, the itches continued - eventually one of them took me to their house for a cold bath and even lent me their toothbrush and razor (I declined).  I was just finishing my bath when I heard lots of talking outside.  I peered outside and it was Pat!  

Pat had been speaking to the locals and they had informed him that the Po Valley at sunset was famous for small Mosquitos that would massacre anyone in the countryside and cause allergic type inflammation.  Pat and I continued on cycling together for 3 hours until we reached a hotel.  We shared a hotel room together.  It was quite a funny moment, at 3am Pat and I were both naked in our bathroom towels sharing some milk and cookies chatting about the ride so far.

Hotel room with Pat

Hotel room with Pat

Day 6

This was largely a very low day for me.  I had initially planned to be past the half way point by this day and so far this had not come to fruition.   Out of the hotel by 8am, my aim to was to hit my 400 km target by the end of the day - a target that I would not achieve, only increasing my feeling of guilt.

Eye lids still quite swollen the next day.  

Eye lids still quite swollen the next day.  

I managed a quarter of my target, 100 km, by noon and stopped off for an espresso.  The Italians do caffeine in a fantastic way.  I'd stop off in a little cafe and place a euro on the bar and be immediately presented with a double espresso and a sugar sachet.  You'd pour the sugar into the espresso and drink.  It was a brilliant drink with the bitter coffee followed by the intensely sweet dregs of the dissolved sugar/coffee mixture at the bottom.

At about 3pm after a MacDonald's I bumped into Jon and Simon.  I was pretty glad to see them as I had been feeling pretty bad all morning.  For the rest of the day I cycled with them. We had a good time chatting, stopping for Italian ice cream (petrol station ice cream), and trying to find a lake/river for swimming.  However, in the evening morale dropped.  Jon and Simon were both suffering from injuries. We bumped into a supporter who had been waiting for us with a sign - unfortunately we weren't as enthusiastic as we could have been.  It had been another long monotonous day in the Po Valley and now we had to transverse the urban jungle that is the outskirts of Venice.

Venice, or the part we were in, was awful. It was stop start traffic with confusing roads and prostitutes every 50 metres - far from the gondolas punting tourists down the canals.    Eventually we got to a MacDonald's where Jon and Simon kindly waited for me to charge and indulge myself in another fantastic Italian Big Mac.  

Jon in the Pizzeria

Jon in the Pizzeria

Eventually we finished with Venice but the rain had started.  Should we go on or not?  We made the correct choice and stopped. We went into a Pizzeria. At this point the rain absolutely bucketed down.  We were fairly close to Venice airport so we tried some of the nearby airport hotels but unfortunately all were full.  We ended up bivvying in the airport terminal which I personally thought was pretty good with it being warm and secure.  It was also the closest to being home I could see Easy-jet fflights were available for the next day.

Venice airport

Venice airport

Day 7

Jon and I awoke to discover that Simon, Jon's partner, had gone.  Simon had been struggling to sleep for the last few days and had decided to continue on for a bit - he was about 20 km ahead of us.  Jon called Simon asking what was up and Simon said that he may scratch but he was going onto Ljubljana and going to get an early night and sleep on the matter.   Jon went ahead in order to catch up with Simon and to see what the situation really was and whether a scratch was really on the cards.

In the morning I was going to be cycling through Udine in Italy where a friend of mine was training with the  professional cycling team Friuli.  However, my ffirst significant mechanical (a busted gear cable) prevented me from getting to Udine in time.

Nearing the Slovenian border I stopped following my route and just followed signs to Ljubljana.  This is how I met perhaps the most eccentric character on the race - David Goldberg.  

David Goldberg was a veteran to these events, having completed numerous Tour Divides and a Trans Am.  He had literally thousands of stories he could recite to me and did so riding a long side me with Italian and Slovenian lorry drivers bleating their horns at him without batting his eye lids - occasionally he'd say 'Man, I don't give a shit'.  We cycled for a few hours discussing everything and eventually got to Slovenia where we had lunch together.  David if you're reading this I still owe you 10 euros!  After lunch we parted ways.

David had taught me an important thing though - it's all about tits.  He stressed that Time In The Saddle was key to these events and it didn't really matter too much how fast you actually travelled when cycling just how much of your time was spent riding.  From this point my mentality significantly changed and this is really where I started to gain places.  I no longer would stop at every petrol station to stock up I would now fill every Jersey pocket and water bottle to the maximum extent and go for as long as possible without stopping.  I'd try to do everything without stopping. I even pissed a few times on the bike - mostly pissing all over my leg and shoes but by that point 'man, I don't give a shit'.

It was also this day that I really pushed myself and got ahead of the bunch that I was with.  I got to the Slovenian capital at around 8pm and rather than locating a MacDonald's, I located a supermarket and bought thousands of biscuits and chocolate bars - this was now going to become my diet for the next week. I thought should I stop here and get an early night and wake early?  I knew though that that plan doesn't work too well for me and I tend to wake up at the same time no matter what.  I decided to set the goal of Zagreb and I would not sleep until I got there.  This new goal setting process significantly helped me.

I finally got to at Zagreb at 3:30am.  It was at this point I felt most uneasy on my trip.  On my way a car had swerved into my lane as a joke at high speed, I saw a car getting pulled over for obvious drink driving and in Zagreb I saw a lot of violence between some kids.  Despite there being many signs for hotels I had a real struggle to find any.  Eventually after about 45 minutes of searching on the cobbled and tram lined streets I found a hotel.  

Day 8

Day 8 was one of my favourite days on the bike.  The roads were largely flat and it was the first day that there was no significant headwind (obviously there was still some).  I actually got quite lucky in regards to winds as apparently in Slovenia the next day there were gusts of up to 60 km/h

Out by 9am I was on the road again having consumed what was soon going to become an intrinsic staple of my diet - the hotel breakfast of loads of bread, ham and cheese.  I bumped into my first TCR rider in a long time Martin Frerichs.  We were both planning to get to CP3 that evening.

The day largely went well and I failed to experience the aggressive Croatian drivers that many riders spoke of.  Unfortunately Croatia was also the site of my last MacDonald's and from then on my diet would consist of buffet breakfasts and petrol station shit (ice cream, biscuits, chocolate, crisps and coke).  This perhaps explained my increase in speed too - no longer would I ever stop for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Another rider I passed

Another rider I passed

By 6pm the winds had completely dropped and I was really putting down the power, perhaps foolishly.  I was significantly wasting energy but it was fun.  It was about this time that I passed this sleeping cyclist - a classic TCR image.

Eventually at just before midnight I reached CP3.  The main volunteer gang had departed that morning but still there manning the CP were the lovely folk at Apidura.  A brief chat with them and a failed attempt to get some food from the hotel and I was checked in.  I had initially planned to wash all of my kit and sort everything but that failed as soon as I hit the bed. 

Bed for the night

Bed for the night

Day 9 

Eight hours of blissful sleep later I awoke feeling refreshed although panicked.  Quickly wolfing down another breakfast consisting of bread, cheese and ham I got on the road.  Luckily I asked at the CP if most people who had checked in the previous had already got on the road and most people had had similar ideas to me and had a lie in.

Today was hot and I noticed a significant worsening in drivers.  The move into Bosnia went without a hitch and I was pleasantly surprised - the roads were still in good condition and there were plenty of petrol stations with Wi-Fi.  It was also the day that I may see some of the CP 4/3 switchers.

Around lunchtime the traffic ceased but the hills started.  If I'm honest I actually don't mind the hills now - time seems to go by quicker and it was great relief from the past 4/5 days of flatlands.  However, it was the mountains that saw my first bonk - I got to the top of the climb shaking all over and went into a shop hoping that they would take card - nope.  Luckily I was able to roll down the hill a few km and I got to a petrol station.  Inside I ravaged them for three tins of sardines (for some reason I had a giant craving) and a whole pile of chocolate and Red Bull.  The guy running the petrol saw me massacre a tin of sardines and came out with a loaf of bread for me to have with  the sardines instead - a much better idea. 

Well-fed and covered in Sardine oil I continued down the hill.  After that I effectively had one long descent into Sarajevo.  I passed two of the 4/3 switchers one of whom was the absolutely crazy Stephan Ouaja #152 who was riding on a fixed gear. As darkness came so too did the traffic.  I found the best thing to do was to cycle fairly assertively in the middle of the road and hold out your arm.  I got a few toots but often they were toots of consideration after they had passed and I had waved at them.  I was fairly lucky with the cars and only had 2-3 incidents where they came within any significant distance (all in Turkey).

As I approached Sarajevo the traffic became immediately worse although it was pretty slow.  My initial plan had been to sleep in the airport on the south side and get a quick exit of the city in the morning. However, in the end I decided to go into the city centre.  To my surprise Sarajevo was in full party mode and I got a lot of abuse in my cycling gear.  I found a very nice/cheap hotel and slept.  Something I perhaps hadn't considered was that Sarajevo was not the halfway point between CP3 and 4.  It was certainly not the halfway point in terms of climbing - oh well, the next day was going to be tough.

Day 10

Today was a monster day with crazy climbing.  Up early - well, early for me I got on the road at about 7.  I could see large thunder clouds and waited for the rain to begin - lucky for me it never did.  The day continued and continued with climb after climb.  The day went fairly steadily through Bosnia. In the mountains, however, the shops were few and far between and I stupidly chose not to restock in order to save time.  I got severely dehydrated and by the time I was finally off the Bosnian mountains I was going delirious. Eventually I guzzled about 2 litres of water at the first petrol station and continued.   Looking to the east I could see some pretty impressive storm clouds.  Luckily I headed directly south for an hour or so and was able to avoid the worst of the rain.

From the Bosnian border to Koto border we had a very fast decent.  I really kicked in the gear and put down the power once again - perhaps foolishly.  I was hitting 70 km/h at times despite some Bosnian youths deciding it would be hilarious to overtake me in their car, then slow down.  I wasn't actually too fussed at the safety implications more that they had ruined my rhythm in my awesome Bradley Wiggins does TCR mode. Oh well.  Eventually I turned off to Montenegro.

By this point I had become sceptical of my own route finding - lots of times I had gone on rough roads that significantly slow you down, so I tried to communicate with a local whether my initial route would be bumpy or smooth.  His hand movements suggested bumpy but his thumbs up and big grin also suggested that I should htfu and do it anyway.

The road out of Bosnia was fairly bumpy but nothing to worry about - there weren't any potholes to watch out which is the key.  Eventually I got to the border.  They pulled me over.  Fuck, what had I done?!  They then took me into the office where three border police looked at me.  Eventually a fourth one entered only to be holding a bar of soap.  Apparently I was too dirty to enter Montenegro so they showed me to a bathroom and I had to clean my face and legs.  

Oddly, as soon as I entered Montenegro the road surfaces significantly improved.  After about an hour I passed by first other TCR rider in 24 hours: Andrej Zaman.  He was stopping for some food in a restaurant - I'd just had my dinner of a bag of haribo eaten in about 15 seconds.  The decent into the Kotor bay was fairly nice.  However, at about 10 km from the bottom,  I thought I had made a terrible mistake and gone down the wrong side of the bay.  Fearing that it would cost me hours I began frantically searching my phone.  I was screaming fuck all the way down the mountain.  To make matters worse I almost killed myself going into a pitch black tunnel with no lights and having to stop and, not realising my speed on the descent, almost skidding down most of the mountain.  Eventually I got to the bottom and realised that my route was probably the correct version and, had I followed my Garmin accurately, I would have probably ended up on Col d'Assietta mark 2.

It was also extremely hot.  I went round the bay thinking how nice it would be to come back here on a holiday.  About an hour later I made it to Kotor - I was pretty excited with the prospect of getting to the CP4.  I restocked, including 4 litres of juice, and headed up the mountain.  I thought it was a pretty cool climb actually - the hair pin bends were surprisingly flat and the views, despite being dark, were pretty cool. There was a huge lightning storm out on the sea which looked pretty sweet from up on the mountain. Barney drove past me on the climb up, apparently Josh was about to make it - so he was about 3-4 days ahead of me - fuuuck.  

Eventually got to the CP.  Unfortunately it wasn't the fanfare I'd hoped, just the quiet night shift, but it was still good to relax and chat for a while.  I was informed that I needed to continue up the mountain for a bit and collect what the sign said at the top.  Thinking it was only a few km up, I set off into the night.  Finally at about 2am I made it to the top of the mountain where I met Jonathan Elliot.  Despite it being close to 40oC at the sea it was absolutely freezing at the top.  I couldn't sleep there, so I headed down the mountain until it got warmer.  Eventually it did as I got to the town of Certinje - the old capital of Montenegro.  

I tried to find a bivvy spot but dogs would keep coming to find me.  Luckily the town had free Wi-Fi and I was able to locate a hotel.  I turned up and the receptionist said 50 euros.  Okay I thought.  Then he said, actually it's late - 36 euros.  Cool nice I thought.  Then he said fuck it's really late 25 euros.  Sweet, this really good.  Then he said, “Actually that includes tax I'll knock it down to 20”.  Wow that was the easiest negotiation I've ever had.  Got to the room and passed out for 5 hours.  

Day 11

Yet another bread, cheese and ham breakfast later I was on the road by 9am.  I did the 20 km descent to Podgorica.  Found some free Wi-Fi and searched for the nearest MacDonald's as it was a fairly large big town - but oh no: no McDonald's in the entire Montenegro. I'd liked you so much before today - cya Montenegro, hello Albania.

Within 3 hours I'd be regretting these words. Immediately across the border the roads worsened and it got hot - very hot.  Then about an hour in I had eaten all my food and drunk all my water.  Thankfully,there were plenty of petrol stations... but they would not accept my card or euros.  Eventually, about 2 hours later, I reached the town of Shkoder where I eventually found the only ATM in the entire city.  I took out some cash and continued the demolishing of Haribo and Oreos.

Eventually, I got out of the busy flats and into the mountains again.  I went past the infamous bear that tried destroying Josh Ibbet's bike as he'd tried to take a photo.  The roads worsened and got fairly pot-holly.  At about 10pm, where the road was particularly pot-holly I met Ervin.  Ervin was an Italian who had come to visit the rest of his family and his childhood home in Albania.  He saw me struggling and invited me to the house.

The hospitality was incredibly generous, despite me smelling like a skunk.  They washed and reclothed me. Then they fed me a feast.  They kept bringing out dish after dish even though I hadn't finished the first plate.  Eventually they brought out a giant bowl of offal just for me!  It wasn't bad actually!  At about midnight they saw me tiring and took me the bedroom.  I crashed out blissfully for 6 hours.  I felt bad though as I hadn't gone as far as I had wanted.  Nevertheless, I rationalized that the roads were too tough to navigate at night and it would have been a really inefficient use of my time to ride them at night.

Day 12

Waking at 6am, Ervin was already up.  It's at these times it's hard to tell people that I'm in a race and that as much as I'd  like to spend a leisurely morning eating breakfast with him and his family but I had to keep going.  Eventually I managed to coax him out of breakfast and as a compromise he gave me some red bulls, an emergency blanket, some plasters, Albanian currency and of course a selfie.  

Me and Ervin

Me and Ervin

I pushed through Albania and finally made it to Macedonia where I got my phone signal back.  I was pleasantly surprised my family were concerned that my dot had stopped so early the previous night.  Grabbed a whole pile of food and made my way through some mountains it was a lovely gorge kinda climb that led to a giant decent and long flat section into Skopje, which I really appreciated.  It was along a pretty sketchy road though, with trucks and then a giant thunderstorm, just as I wolfed down a whole pile of chocolate milk in a petrol station.  Luckily it was sideways rain so I could just hide behind a sign, and was left relatively dry, except for the lorries that went past that still drenched me.

At about 8pm I made it to Kumanovo. This is actually the first time I had followed my own route since Montenegro.  My initial route was a bit shorter but went straight through Kosovo - I decided against it - I was tired of dodgy roads so stuck to something more trodden.  I also wanted to avoid Sofia at all costs. Chris Bennet the yo-yo rider had warned everybody against and, it's also where Ultan Coyle (4th place on a TT bike and also 24hr TT champion) had 'Pringled' his wheel.

I ate two burgers in a petrol station and headed out for my final leg of today's journey into Bulgaria.  Unfortunately, the next 100 km were fairly miserable - very undulating roads, poor conditions and my lights were failing quite significantly.  It made night riding mentally intensive and when combined with fatigue, it could become dangerous.

About halfway I met some Macedonians and they told me it would get hillier. They also told me that they were happy to drive me to the border!  We also briefly chatted about my great surprise as to how good Macedonia was in terms of infrastructure.  About 3 hours later I made it to Bulgaria after a pretty steep climb.  I potentially illegally entered Bulgaria as the guy at the border crossing point just waved me through,  without looking at my passport - oh well, it proved no issue at the other end.

Then after the crossing it was a fast 20 km descent into Bulgaria. It was not fun at all. I imagined in the day it would have been great but by this time it was freezing, my light had completely gone, and I was just using my iPhone light.  There were also some pretty big potholes, which had I gone into at speed with only one hand on the bike, narrowly avoiding a race-stopping crash.

At about 3:30am I made it to the town of Kyustendil. I checked into a Hotel and Spa.  This was probably the best hotel that I had stayed in - generally I was feeling good - I'd pushed through and hopefully in 48 hours I'd be done.

Day 13

I woke pretty late on day 13 and was only the road by about 10am.  I received some brilliant news.  My dad was coming out and meeting me at the finish.  This got me pretty emotional actually. For the first time in the race, I knew I was going to do it and I was going to have someone to share it with.

I began really powering it - perhaps one of the worst things to do in terms of getting there - oh well.  Unfortunately a headwind started, I mean a proper headwind, and I was slow - struggling to maintain 15 km/h on the flat.  Luckily I knew there were some mountains coming and upon getting there the wind relented and progress continued.  The wind had put a real downer on me - if it had continued it could have added another day or two onto my initial plan.  

First sign to Istanbul!

First sign to Istanbul!

Four hours of hills of no significance, except for a very kind local offering to buy me a few drinks in a cafe, I arrived going downhill into Plovdiv, which was the main advantage of taking the Bulgarian route rather than Greece.  I really motored it through Bulgaria until about 8pm.  The night started and I got really tired.  I was getting some minor hallucinations and my lights were still not great. I had to stop every 20-30 minutes simply to compose myself.  I kept trying to convince myself to check in but I had told myself no stopping till Turkey.  Eventually after a decent 30 minute coffee break I continued and made it to the Turkish border.

The Turkish border was crazy.  Even at 3am giant queues lined up on both sides, people slept on blankets outside of their cars.  Luckily I was able to just dash though.  It was always interesting to see people's facial expressions at the borders when I cyclist would come through in the middle of the night.  After about 30 minutes I was through, and checked into a nearby hotel which would be final sleep for the journey.  If I'd been smarter I'd have checked the wind and gone on through the night and slept for a few hours in the middle of the day at the height of the windiness.  Although I'm being captain hindsight, and stuff normally failed according David Goldberg and you'd just end ruining any pattern and having a really shit next day. 

Turkey!

Turkey!

Day 14

Woohoo!  Last day!  I woke up at about 7am after only a few hours of sleep - smashed down a breakfast and got on the road with my jersey stuffed with about three loaves of bread.  My plan had been to go on the E80 as suggested, as despite it being illegal to cycle on, it was actually far safer than the N100 to the south. I began cycling on it and got to the first toll point where the police told me to get off.  They couldn't understand my point and eventually I had to give in, even after a second failed attempt at cycling through,  acting ignorant.  N100 it was to be then.

It wasn't too bad actually and I imagined it would have a greater frequency of petrol stations but there were more sketchy sections.  It was also at this point that the wind picked up and the most annoying hills in the entire world started.  Initially, I had some motivation as a noticed another spec on the horizon!  Another TCRer!  Eventually I caught up with Paul Toigo.  He'd gone through the night and was moving quite slow by then.  We parted ways.  I was finding this really tough.    This was by far the worst cycling I'd had done in the entire trip - it was just boring. I'd run out of stuff to think of.  

I decided to take refuge in a shopping mall as I'd looked to see the weather was worst was from 1-2.  I played a little joke and went through the metal detector into the Burger King and obviously set the alarm off. The security didn't seem too fond of me.  Luckily the Burger King staff loved me for ordering a family's worth of food and managing to eat it all.  The Burger King cheese burgers are really good!  As are the 1litre cokes.  Thirty minutes of sleep later and a few more burgers stuffed into my jersey I got back onto the road and headed out into the tornado.

Eventually, I must have turned slightly and the headwinds turned into crosswinds.  Progress increased but the danger doubled.  I was drifting 2-3 metres on the hard shoulder when a gust hit.  I was forced twice into the hedgerow.  I'm lucky this wasn't England as I'd have been forced into road kill instead.

Perhaps at about 6pm the wind dropped a few notches and I was able to push it a bit harder.  At about 150 km I got my first puncture of my race.  I was pretty angry and just sat at the side of the road for a couple of minutes.  I repaired it really quick - not bothering to check for thorns - I just wanted to get there.  I foolishly continued on the N100 for a bit longer into Silvily- this was the most dangerous part of my entire journey.  I held my arm out to keep cars away - it largely worked except for one van which brushed my fingertips.  I re-joined the much better E80 and knew I would be leaving the main roads for the final time and I would start my climbs in the mountains north of Istanbul.

I stocked up a lot with about 80km to go, having heard all of the warnings that you shouldn't forget to eat in the final section.  I started to enjoy the ride again, in the hills I couldn't feel the wind as badly.  The traffic was harmless but I had hundreds of dogs to deal with.  After a while my journey became terribly arduous as my Garmin wanted to take me on annoying gravel paths.  I thought that perhaps I sleep there and finish in the morning but that was really out of the question.  

After about 4 hours I made it Kemerburgaz, the site of my last climb.  I started ascending and was confronted by literally hundreds of dogs - all harmless though, just wanting a chase.  At the top of the climb I knew I'd done it - just a swift decent into Istanbul to go now.  Queue the music.

It was a pretty awesome feeling riding along the empty Bosphorous.  I had a giant grin and was laughing.  I narrowly avoided two taxis and rather getting angry I just smiled at them and continued on.  I really pushed this final section.  So eventually on August 8th  at  2 am I had made it.  4255 km, 101,749 feet elevation, 14 days, 2 hours and 11min.  

My dad and Mike's brother came out.  My dad and I hugged each other, perhaps the first time since I was a small kid.  I think his first comments were about how proud he was followed shortly by me looking like shit'.  I was pretty damn happy - I'd just completed the toughest thing I'd ever attempted both mentally and physically.  

Finish line

Finish line

Finish line

Finish line

Istanbul and the end

My dad and I stayed up chatting for an hour or so before eventually the adrenalin wore off and I got tired. I'd had one beer and felt pretty wasted and smashed my leg pretty heavily on the taxi as I tried to get in. 'Oh well, I'm not gonna need that for the next few days'.  Then the taxi driver had to slam the door on my bike in order to get the bike in.  'Oh well, I'm not gonna need that for the next few days'.  With my dad there he kindly got me a hotel room at the Hilton.  Despite being really tired I still made it up for the breakfast at 10am and raided the buffet.

The next day I headed down to a cafe and started meeting some of the riders and volunteers, lots of back slapping all round.  There was a brief photo shoot, then I went back to the hotel and out of habit ate three bags of Haribo in 20 minutes.

Then eventually I got back to the party.  The prizes were given out and stories were shared.  I managed to win a spirit of the race award for being the youngest rider, which was pretty cool.  I spoke to James about his seriously awesome ride and his neck.  He'll be back to demolish this race.  Then off to Bunk for the after party where I fintially got chatting to Nelson Trees.  Pretty wasted off only a few beers again, I made my goodbyes and set off.

The next day I had my flight to catch - strangely this was actually the most stressful part of my entire journey.  I had about 2 hours to dismantle my bike, find a box, navigate the absolute madness that is the traffic of Istanbul and get to the airport.  Eventually I did it, thanks to Sedona bikes that had kindly prepped everyone bike boxes.  I saw a stressed out Lee Pearce who was in the same position as me, trying to catch the same flight.  A few hours later we were sat chatting at the gate ready to catch the fflight.

Finally I just wanted to say a large thank you to everybody along the way:

The Perse School for their support.

Cambridge CC for always helping me along with cycling and facilitating it.

Tony Purnell for his great advice and helping me with some kit.

Shelford Deli and The Navigator for giving me two jobs this year.  I think washing pots for 8 hours a day really prepared me for the hours of solitude on my bike.

Robbie Zhao and Ollie Purnell for largely being training partners and helping with kit, and Zhao especially he sent me £20 with the message 'surprised you're not dead yet, this is for a couple of McDo on me'.

Open-air who very kindly donated a Rab gilet - which came in extremely handy - I hadn't expected such cold mornings.

Tim Williams for helping me out with the bike fit - I had no problems at all really: especially surprising considering the longevity of the event.

Iain Brown who kindly helped me out with some kit

Bike Ambulance the best bike shop in Cambridge and perhaps the world!  You can tell these guys give a shit about bikes and dont just want to fleece you out of money.  Theyve always helped me immensely from putting up with my stupid questions to giving me very generous discounts!  Cheers Rick, Andy, Sam and Josh!

All of the strangers I met along the way who were happy to help give directions, food, water and their home - especially Ervin.

All of the riders who made such excellent company, Simon, Jon, David and Pat.  It was a pleasure to ride with all of you guys.

Mike, Anna and all of the other awesome volunteers who made this possible and took so much time out of their lives.  Especially to Mike who had the genius to come up with such an awesome race.

Probably, most importantly to thank my family, however.  My aunt, uncle and cousins who all became fanatical dot watchers, it was always nice to know there was someone watching.  I don't thank these guys enough but my parents in particular - thanks for having me, clothing, feeding, and giving me bikes and putting up with me.  I know sometimes I may not show it, but I do appreciate you guys.

This is me signing out for a while.  I've got some thoughts and reflections, but this piece has taken ages to write, so they'll be coming soon.

It's coming...

Don't worry everyone, I've not forgotten - the race report and pictures will be coming soon.  I've been only on my phone so it's been taking absolutely ages - I'm about 8,000 words in and have only done about 10 days.

Just a quick summary:
It was absolutely fantastic although some extremely tough parts; definitely the toughest thing I have ever done both mentally and physically.

I was very surprised to come 20th in the solo category with a time of 14 days, 2 hours and 11 minutes. 

Most importantly I wanted to say thank you to everyone who made this possible from the supporters to my parents!

 

At the finish!

At the finish!