Racing London-Istanbul: My Route

A key challenge with the Transcontinental Race (TCR) is the route planning. We have three check points: Paris, Mt Stelvio in northern Italy, and Mt. Locven in Montengro. We have to pick the route between them.  This calls for balancing the distance travelled with the elevation gains. Some routes may be shorter physically, but have a lot of climbing. Then there are the ferry options. From the UK you have several choices, and then do you stay on land after Italy to Montenegro, or do you take the ferry across the Adriatic? Decisions, decisions… Fortunately for me, I am a highway engineer working in the World Bank so I’ve been able to call on the advice of several colleagues with local knowledge who have helped immensely.

I’ve been using www.RideWithGPS.com for the route planning. This is an amazing tool which lets you get a general route between two points and then physically adjust the route to try different roads, seeing what the impact on the elevation changes are. 

The approach I used was to come up with a macro plan by looking at distances and elevations, and then go through at a micro level adjusting the route so it was on quieter roads or more sensible. I did this by having short segments of a few hundred kilometres (easier to work with). Once I was happy with the short route I exported the .GPX files from RideWithGPS, merged them into a single large .GPX file with GPXMerge, and re-imported it to RideWithGPS.  I could then export it as a .TCX file to use on my Garmin 800 for navigation.

The first decision was where to take the ferry across the Channel (one is not allowed to use the Chunnel train because they only take a few bikes at a time and this would give an unfair advantage). The choices are Dover-Calais, Newhaven-Dieppe and Plymouth. I soon narrowed down to Dover or Newhaven. The advantage of Dover is that ferries leave very regularly whereas for Newhaven they only leave at 22:30 – this means spending most of the first day waiting for the ferry. However, Calais-Paris is about 140 km further than Dieppe-Paris. Allowing for a few hours sleep in the night, this would mean arriving in Paris about 10:00, compared to about 15:00 for the Dieppe option (where hopefully one can sleep on the ferry). Since this race is about survival as much as anything else I decided to save the 140 km and take the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry. Managed to score one of the last berths in a cabin of 4.

Routing to the location of Cafe Au Reveil Matin, the starting line in Paris for the very first Tour de France in 1903, was the next challenge (especially since what is currently called the Cafe Au Reveil Matin is not where we need to go!). The most direct route was through the city and I thought being mid-day on a Sunday in August the traffic would not be too bad. My colleague from the World Bank Jacques Bure told me that the route was past where his parents lived and strongly advised that I avoid that part of the city entirely. So I’ve chosen a route to the south which adds about 15 km and hopefully avoids much of the traffic.

From there it is pretty well a straight line to Zurich where a Swiss colleague Nora Weisskopf advised me to take the route to the south of the lake. She also gave me the details of some friends who have a bike shop which hopefully won’t be needed! Routing through the mountains to Italy is easier since there are fewer choices. Unfortunately we have to avoid the shorter back route to Mt. Stelvio as that is not permitted! Too easy compared to climbing all the switchbacks on the east.

From Mt. Stelvio I looked at the land options and decided on the ferry. There are a number of combinations, departing from Ancona, Pescara or Bari. Since one doesn’t know exactly when one will get there, it is impossible to know which is the most viable. So I’ve had to plan for all options, both in Italy and then across the Adriatic. 

The map below shows my route to Ancona. The distance is 1,584 km with 14,464 m of climbing (the bottom elevation profile). Ouch.

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Across the Adriatic my options for getting to Mt. Locven are Split or Hvar in Croatia, which are accessed from Ancona or Pescara; Bar or Durres in Albania from Bari in the south of Italy.  It is a real challenge as all involve trade offs. Heading to Split is the easiest, but it is a nasty ride from Split to Mt. Locven with 7,600 m of climbing over a distance of 335 km. This compares with a flat ride from Bar with 2,611 m of climbing (i.e. the height of Mt. Locven) over 84 km.  If I can get the timing right my preferred route would be Split-Hvar, but I’m not optimistic I’ll make the ferry connection. We will just see how things go.

The next-and in some ways biggest—challenge is from Mt. Locven to Istanbul. I wanted to avoid Albania because it is a pretty rough country by reputation. But my colleague Martin Humprhies who handled the transport portfolio in Albania was more sanguine about things so I’ve taken his advice and routed myself through there. Much less climbing than the northern route through Serbia. I’ve asked another colleague Orlin who is based in Sofia for help in verifying that the route is viable—often roads are gazetted which are actually not there, or border crossings don’t actually exist, so hopefully he’ll highlight any issues and I can further refine it. At the time of writing it is 1,200 km with 12,000 m of climbing.

A Turkish colleague Elmas put me in contact with a few Turkish cyclists and based on that I decided to avoid the direct route to Istanbul which would see me cycling through lots of traffic. I’ve opted for the longer (about 50 km) and more climbing (about 500 m) northern route. This avoids most of the city and drops me in towards the finish line at the Rumeli Hisari (Rumelian Castle) – a 14th Century Ottoman fortress in the Sariyer district of Istanbul.  The Rumeli Hisari is situated on the Western shore of the Bosphorus at its narrowest point, so the riders will finish with the tip of Asia, just 660m away. Here’s the route. Yes, lots of climbing through Macedonia!

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So if all goes well and I can make the ferry to Hvar the optimum route (i.e. direct assuming I don’t get lost!) for me will result in some 3,174 km of riding with 32,146 m of climbing. But I’m sure it will be more! This is what the route looks like:

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2 responses to “Racing London-Istanbul: My Route

  1. Chris,
    I have ridden the TDR in 2012. I am also riding the TCR 2014. I just built a new BMC GF01 with triple front chainrings. Where are you from? I am from Telluride, CO

    • Great minds think alike! They are great bikes aren’t they? I’m Canadian but have lived in New Zealand since ’83. You’re in a beautiful part of the USA.

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