Part 8 - Big old final slog

I’ll just finish this as quickly as possible now, given its almost 3 years since this happened!

Since I left off I rode through the Peja Valley into Kosovo, through the night and into Skopje. There I was low on tubes so in the morning after a night in a hotel I went searching for a bike shop.

Outside the bike shop

 Near the Greek border

Near the Greek border

 In Greece, overlooking Macedonia

In Greece, overlooking Macedonia

 Kavala - after cycling through much of the night

Kavala - after cycling through much of the night

First sign post! #tcrno4

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 Ferry to Canakkale!

Ferry to Canakkale!

Finally made it!

Finish line hugs. Joe Todd is one of the youngest entrants. #TCRno4 #TCRno4s089 📷 @jprobertson

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Part 7 - Miserable riding through Croatia then blown across Bosnia to checkpoint 4

Gospic -> Checkpoint 4
09:30 Belgium Time 6th August – 23:00 7th August
37 hours
509km
13.8km/h

Unfortunately this was a fairly miserable day.  I was berated with drizzle for the entire day as took a route through Croatia just in land.  The only slight enjoyment was the hourly wedding convoy which punctuated my journey.  One of them even handed me a glass of champagne.  After a thoroughly long day on the ride I managed to pump up my tyres in a bike shop and continued into the night.

The rain eased and the evening was actually rather spectacular.  As I climbed out of Croatia I this amazing sunset behind me:
 

After a damp 24 hours left Croatia for Bosnia with this behind me #tcrno4

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I descended from Croatia and into Bosnia and by the time I had crossed the border it was definitely nightfall.  The wind was really blowing and it even better, it was warm.  I decided to push on and I finally had some luck and was blown to Mostar, Bosnia's second biggest city.

Arriving into Mostar I found a petrol station and stocked up.  Strangely, there was an American traveler there stocking up on some vodka.  I had a bit of chat with him but I didn't get anything major coherent out of him and continued out of Mostar.  As I was leaving the city I got fairly large fright.  A driver on the other side of the road began heading into my lane so I cycled off the road into the hedge.   The car continued into the side of the road where I had been.  I'm not entirely sure what was going on, given it was 1 or 2 am I'm guessing it was a sleeping driver.

After leaving the city I had a long climb which I really began to feel tired on.  I realized I had run out of caffeine pills and now I had to resort to digesting Red Bull - which also does not have that much caffeine in or at least not as much as necking 4 Pro plusses do.

Climb over and a cold descent followed.  I kept my eyes peeled for somewhere to stay .  I went through a one horse town which surpassingly had a brothel.  I decided I'd keep on going and head for the checkpoint.  The final town I reached in Bosnia was the town of Gacko.  Now this town has a special place in my heart.  I have cycled through some miserable places and this is number one.  It's a small town dominated by a power station, the drivers weren't great and a smile was unheard off.  It didn't make it any better that the weather was overcast and windy.  Sorry.

Prior to the race there had been lots of discussion regarding a 'locals' only route between Gacko and Pluzine.  Initially I had planned to go around it and use the an official crossing but having observed some other riders already use it, I decided to take the risk.  I was at Gacko at about 7am so I thought my odds were looking good.  I found the road and I was immediately reminded of the previous year.  There were moments of regret as the road surface was pretty sketchy.  I walked some of it just to be safe.  Luckily, upon getting to the border with Montenegro the road surface immediately changed in lovely beautiful asphalt - with not border guard!

Off-road done and a quick but cold descent into Pluzine where I was hoping for the checkpoint to be there.  It was 40 or so over a series of climbs through Durmitor National Park.  I waited at the cafe, warmed up, chatted with the volunteers and luckily found a place to sleep for a few hours for 10 euros.  I returned a few later nice and refreshed, ready to tackle the climb.  I headed out with Jacapo and we leisurely chatted about the race and what could happen in the future.  We noticed that we had done 20km or so, yet with no real climbing.  We consulted our maps and we realised we had not done the correct parcour.  Immediately we sprinted back down to Pluzine and began the real climb, which was certainly a real climb. 

It was pretty interesting and went through some sketchy tunnels and by the top of the
platea it had become dark.  Then it became misty. And then rainy. And then extremely cold.  For two hours I cycled blindly over meandering hills.  I have never felt cold like that.  My knees had stopped working.  I made it to the town of Zabjlak which I guess is a sort of ski resort town and began pacing up and down trying to find the checkpoint.  After a while, I eventually found it where I was shivering profusely and the volunteers had considered driving up onto the mountain to make sure that I was still okay. 

Camille, kindly gave me a shot of something local, which apparently all of the riders had done.....

I was offered a bed and nearing midnight I concked out in a neighbours house.

No riders found. Basketball hoop found #TCRno4 📷@camillejmcmillan

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Almost midnight and #TCRno4s089 comes into CP4. Wow! What a ride... Rain and cold over the Pass. #TCRno4 📷@camillejmcmillan

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Yes, a shot of vodka will help. CP4 #TCRno4s089 #TCRno4 📷@camillejmcmillan

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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