My 2015 ‘A’ race was the Transcontinental Race (TCR) which went from Belgium to Turkey. It took me 16:10:17 to cover the 4,214 km (with 31,515 m of climbing) for 54th place out of the 156 starters (only 76 of us finished).
The key rules of the race are simple:
- It is self supported which means it is just you and your bike with nobody else to help. If something goes wrong, you deal with it. You can’t get/give help to other riders, and only commercial services available to all riders (e.g. bike shops) can be used.
- You must visit four check points on the way to Istanbul. Between these points, you select your own route—which you must navigate on your own.
These races are very challenging not only physically but more so mentally. One plumbs the depths of exhaustion beyond what is imaginable and trying to average 275 km/day and 2,000 m of climbing each day (my target) puts huge demands on the body—hence over half of us not finishing!
Like all bikepacking races it had many highs and a few lows, and overall was a fantastic race which I would highly recommend. Rather than a ‘blow by blow’ account of the experience, I’m going to share some special (and not so special) aspects of the race.
The Warm Up
At 13+ days, last year’s TCR was over too quickly so what better way than to try and ‘yo-yo’ the 2015 race by riding from Istanbul to the start line? Of course that was under the assumption that the race would be of similar length (3,400 km) to last year. When Mike Hall announced the route at 4,200 km I had already booked my tickets so the die was cast … I would arrive in Istanbul on 5 July from New Zealand via Hong Kong and ride the previous year’s check points to the start line. I timed it to have three days to recover and then I’d head back with the race.
With all such races one has a very structured training program and I planned my work travel schedule around this. I was going to spend most of the month of June at home in New Zealand for a final three week block of training before a taper. Unfortunately, my wife’s sister died 31 May so I went to Australia and had to also reschedule my work travel which meant that I had a total of about 300 km of riding in for all of June. Not ideal, but life often gets in the way of important things like riding my bike.
A second complication arose two days before I left New Zealand. It was found that I had a severely infected prostrate—a legacy of a biopsy done some months ago. This meant that it was a tad uncomfortable to sit on my bike seat and that urinating was a bit difficult/impossible. After discussions with my doctor and wife I decided to shorten my warm up ride from 3,400 km to 2,800 km, with a lot less climbing. This was a better compromise than their preferred option that I don’t do the warm up ride at all.
I arrived in Istanbul at 05:00 on Sunday 5 July after a 29 hour trip from Nelson New Zealand. I built my bike at the airport and grabbed a taxi to the Rumeli Hislari (the finish line for the TCR) and at 08:00 began my ride.
My two week ride to Gerarrdsbergen Belgium is a whole story in itself. The weather was brilliant—although very hot at times (hitting 44 degrees C one day!)—and the freedom of just riding my bike as much as I wanted to each day was great. I was able to visit a number of friends (Svetlana in Serbia, Alex in Luxemburg, Leandre in Belgium), was traumatized by traffic in Bulgaria, had two of the other TCR racers ride out and meet with me (Marin in Croatia and Walter in Austria) and overall had a great ride. I did not ride too hard, averaging 214 km/day, as I needed to consider my lack of race fitness, prostrate infection (I was by then on a 3 week mega dose of antibiotics), and the need to race back at 275 km/day. I think I nailed it right and felt really good when I reached the end. My friend Simon Ellis who lives in Brussels rode out to meet me and took the photo below. He then kindly took me to his place where I recovered with good company, food, and too much Netflix.
The start was at midnight on Friday on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, a steep narrow road with cobblestones in Geraardsbergen, a town about 50 km west of Brussels. I cycled over on Thursday and enjoyed catching up with old and new friends. Registration was in a large hall and it was exciting to see all the bikes lined up, ready to race. Some people were trying to sleep in the hall—and elsewhere—but I just ended up going up to the restaurant on the Muur and chilling out for the day. I’m a bad sleeper at the best of times, especially before a race. As the day wore on the riders arrived and we had a great time catching up and chatting.
After the race briefing we all finished fuelling up and towards midnight lined up on the road to the Muur. I put myself towards the back as from experience when things start the adrenalin runs and people go off very fast. It is a 4,200+ km race so what’s the rush? They handed out lit torches to people along the side of the road and after a speech the bell rung and the race was on! We did a circuit of the town, passing over the Muur again, and then were on our way. We all had our own routes and from my middle pack position I could see the red lights of everyone going in different directions. The race was on.
Control Point 1 – Mount Ventoux
Our route took us south from Belgium through France to Provence where we had the first control point to check in at the top of Mt. Ventoux. The ride took us through the beautiful French countryside and we treated to views of the vineyards of Champaign. I particularly enjoyed a stretch where I rode along a canal, bumping into a few other riders who took the photo. One of the key aspects to the race is that each rider chose their own route so often we would ride for extended periods on our own until we would converge on what would be the optimal route along a section of country.
I developed problems with my rear wheel hub and had stopped regularly to try and fix it. The wheel was not running true and I would have to stop and tighten the bearing cap and then realign the wheel. Otherwise, the tyre was rubbing against the frame. This had first manifested itself in Belgium after my warm up ride and I thought I had fixed it, but after 500 km it was clear that the problem was getting worse very quickly. Nick Hutton grabbed the photo below of me working on my bike by the roadside.
I was hanging out for the bike shop at the Bedoin, the town at the base of Mt. Ventoux and so when I rolled into town I went straight to the shop and asked the mechanic to work on the wheel. While he did that I sat outside with several other riders catching up and above all, eating! I would see a lot of these riders over the following days as we were forming into our ‘natural’ groups.
All of us have different riding styles and abilities. There are the super fast serious athletes who can do 350-400 km/day and will kill a ride like this in 10-12 days. Call them the ‘Top 10’. The second cohort are 13-14 days, then my group which was the 15-16 days. Others are slower. Within each group there are two dominant riding strategies. Some ride fast and hard, and then have a long recovery, others ride long with short sleep periods. I’m not a fast or strong rider so I fall into the latter approach. I’m quite comfortable riding my bike 15+ hours in a day—or longer—and 5/6 hours sleep is all that I need to be ready to go again. I also have frequent short stops…
With my wheel fixed I climbed Mt. Ventoux. I had ridden the road 10+ years ago with my friend Bryn Jones and so knew it was a long, steady—and in places hard—climb, but nothing to be overwhelmed about. Except for the fact that the last few kilometres were done with my tyre rubbing against my frame! The mechanic had not only failed to fix the problem, but he had torqued the axle cover so tight I was unable to adjust it. Not fun.
Towards the top we were treated with very strong and cold headwinds so I was very glad to reach the checkpoint and get my Brevet Card stamped. Marion and Kevin were there and I bid them farewell—until February 2016 when Kevin will be coming to Nelson to visit me before we ride the Tour Aotearoa.
I toyed with the idea of returning to Bedoin and the bike mechanic but that would effectively lose me half a day so I decided just to soldier on and hoped to find someone down the road who could fix my wheel properly.
My riding approach is to go until I’m very tired—or at least have done a minimum of 275 km—and then look for a place to stay. If I can’t find a convenient hotel, I will bivy. There are different approaches to bivying, some like bus stops, others ditches, but I prefer schools. There are often covered door ways, covered outdoor lunch areas, etc. which means you don’t need a tent. One added advantage is that if anything untowards happens to you, it is a public area and someone will find your body …
After Mt. Ventoux—the door way of the local government office. Nick and the others chose a campground but was noisy.
After Ljubljana in Slovenia. It was 01:00 and I was getting cold so decided this school was a good place to crash. Was woken at 05:00 when the bus driver grabbed his vehicle.
Bosnia—South of Tuzla. School picnic area. Began to bonk at 01:30 after a 293 km day. Enjoyed the cushions!
Bosnia-Near Tjentsiste. Arrived at a cafe frozen about 22:30. The owner gave me a tea and offered to let me sleep in his outdoor area.
Hotels were always a treat—and I was very grateful for the Garmin 1000 and the ‘Points of Interest’ feature where you could identify lodging near you. It’s a feature all riders should be familiar with. In the end, I bivied out five nights and twice I stayed in two hotels in one day (had an afternoon kip outside Venice and then when a lightening storm came in at night decided it was unsafe to ride; when I got my food poisoning—more below).
Control Point 2 – Strada dell’Assetia
We had been forewarned that after Control Point 2 we would have a difficult section to ride—some 45 km of unpaved roads. What I hadn’t anticipated was the difficulties of getting to CP2 and that it would almost take me out of the race.
After leaving my bivy early in the morning I met Valter from Italy who I would bump into regularly for the rest of the race. We rode together looking for food and then later parted our way. We had a few mountains to climb on our way to CP2—3,285 m to be exact—but I didn’t expect it to be a particularly onerous day as it was only 217 km.
It was delightful riding through France—it is such a beautiful country—and the route I had selected was relatively free of traffic. The lavender gave the air a rich scent. Wonderful. It got busy towards the tourist area of Savines-le-lac, but I was soon again on quiet back roads. There were two options to take and I definitely chose the best route. A bit more climbing but no traffic! It was a real delight to come around a corner and in a tiny cluster of houses and find some ‘Blue Dot Watchers’ who were following the race on the Internet. The first time I’ve ever had a fan club!
After getting my bike repaired in Briancon—more on that later—I began my final climb towards Sestriere in Italy where CP2 was located. On the way I was really surprised to be hit by an asthma attack. A bad one. Normally, I can anticipate it coming on and it is triggered by my breathing very deeply on cold days, but it came completely out of the blue and I have no idea what triggered it.
I used my inhaler but it hardly helped and I was in really bad shape when I got to CP2. Could not think clearly and having real trouble breathing. I had not had such a bad attack since the 2011 Tour Divide when it took me out of the race. My mind was so befuddled I was unable to find my prednisone which was a steroid to take in an emergency situation and I considered going to the hospital—if there was one—to see if they could help. After finding my prednisone and more hits of my inhaler things settled down a bit. I had a chat with Nick who is a doctor and he suggested that I just continue with the prednisone and take it a bit easy for a while.
I followed his advice the next morning—my goal was to ride very slow and easy and not task my lungs. They definitely were not at 100%—in fact it would not be until Albania that they began to feel right again. We were treated with a lovely morning and the ride was a delight—even if the road was not.
The road was unpaved and the surface was very poor in places. As a result some riders got punctures. Many of them. I think that the record was nine for one rider. So my lasting memories of the road were: (i) the need to get a good line when riding roads like this; and, (ii) catching up with faster riders who punctured! Here are some photo memories of the ride.
I was really pleased to get the photo below at the top. Took a lot of work—including pushing my bike on sections when my breathing wasn’t up to it—but I was making forward progress.
If you want to finish respectably in one of these races being prepared to ride at night—or all night—is essential. This becomes particularly important when temperatures are high in the day time as the cost of riding a few hours in the 40’s can be expensive relative to the distance covered. It also has the advantage of avoiding a lot of traffic. After Assettia I did a night ride through northern Italy where I covered a lot of kilometres on flat and empty roads.
In order to do this safety I use a fibre optic vest which flashes like a Christmas tree called the Tracer 360. Best money that any cyclist can spend. You are visible for a long distance. In fact, vehicles approaching even slow down!
I did a lot of night riding during the race. With my other lights (more below) it helped to no end with keeping myself in the race. The only disadvantage was that I had to deal with dogs. DOGS. MANGY, HORRIBLE, NASTY, EVIL DOGS. It’s bizarre. Last year, I had few problems but this year, it was downright traumatic.
I was chased by six packs of dogs in Albania, one in Macedonia, and at least ten during my last night’s run into Istanbul. Some showed incredible tenacity—chasing me for a very long distance—while others fortunately gave up after only scaring rather than terrifying me. In one village different packs of dogs took turns chasing me, and unfortunately I missed my turn so I had to do a longer more circuitous route around the village to reconnect—with of course more dogs chasing me over the longer distance! The worst was one night in Albania where this dog would not give up. It was pitch black, I was pedalling flat out, and all I could hear was its panting and toe nails scratching the pavement to try and get me. I am normally an animal lover but it got to the point where I would spend time fanaticizing about how to do the world a favour and kill these dogs. That was by far the worst part of the trip.
Control Point 3 – Vukovar
One of the nice aspects of getting to a control point—besides that you are one step closer to the finish—is that you meet up with the other riders. Often one spends extended periods alone—which is all part of the adventure—but it is great to catch up with other riders and hear about their experiences. Then there is the opportunity to have a good meal!
One interesting aspect of endurance racing is the way that most regular social conventions don’t apply. For example, when I sat down at the table in Vukovar there was a half drunk bottle of water and no ‘owner’. So I just helped myself and when the owner came back I told him I hope he didn’t mind but I had some of his water. He didn’t mind. When Valter—who I met the morning after Mt. Ventoux—arrived he saw me eating lunch and asked if he could eat my toast because he was very hungry. I of course said yes. I also gave him my salad which he devoured. When it comes to satisfying our immediate food needs we do what we can. Fortunately, we would never act that way in real life…hopefully!
A race like this also relies on volunteers and without them nothing would happen. It was always nice to meet them and I really appreciate the time and support they give us. Davide on the right said he plans on writing a book on endurance cycling and would ‘stalk’ me if necessary to get my inputs. I told him it would not be necessary given the time and effort he has contributed to making this race happen.
In my other major races I have been fortunate to have no major mechanicals but that was not the case this year.
As I mentioned earlier, I had some problems with my rear hub which meant that, in spite of the efforts of the mechanic before Mt. Ventoux I ended up climbing the last part of the mountain with my tyre rubbing on the frame. In Briancon I found a bike shop where the ace mechanic Chloe did her best to try and fix the problem. This is her on the right working on the wheel. In the end she didn’t have the necessary part so I had no option but to buy a replacement used wheel. This served me well and got me to the finish line. What of my nice existing wheel? God is good. The owner of the shop winters in New Zealand and so he is going to put it in his bike box and send it to me when he gets there.
My second problem happened just as I entered Slovenia. It was quite the welcome. Firstly, we had 61 km/h headwinds—there was actually a sign to measure it (one rider recorded over 90 km/h!)—and then we had a big climb over a mountain. As I was about half way up the mountain my left pedal began to act up and by the top of the mountain it was clear that the bearing had gone in the pedal and it was toast. It was 19:00 on Friday night so I was not optimistic of options. However, I had not counted on the helpfulness and hospitality of Slovenians!
At the first major town after summiting there was a bike shop, but it was closed. I went to the restaurant across the street and asked if they had a contact for the shop. The woman (right) was most helpful and said she would try and so I ordered a pizza. She came back later and said they had tracked down the owner who was on holiday outside the country but the bike mechanic was on his way in. Before I had finished my pizza ‘Robbie’ had arrived and he opened the shop to get me a new set of pedals.
Cyclists have many options for pedals. I use Shimano SPD cleat compatible pedals because these are the most common that you can find. While they had SPD pedals in stock, they were ones designed for mountain biking. The ones that I was looking for had a much larger surface area than the SPD mountain bike pedals. However, beggars cannot be choosers so I took the SPD mountain bike pedals and happily headed out. I gave Robbie a large tip for his inconvenience and coming in late to help me out (the pizza lady also got a large tip!).
The next morning I continued on and at 10:00 I found another bike shop and they had a more suitable set of pedals so off went the ones from the night before and on went the new set. The shortest time riding with new pedals ever! The bike mechanics were really intrigued by the race and—like everyone else—could not do enough to help me out. Great people the Slovenians.
What about punctures? I ran tubeless tyres on the front and rear at the start, and the replacement wheel in Briancon had a tube. I had no flats for the front, and one on the rear—after the nasty section at Strada dell’Assetia. It was almost comic. I get through this difficult section unscathed, where many riders had punctures, ride my bike for another 6+ hours, and am sitting in a small town having dinner when the proprietor comes in and says I have a flat tyre.
The most amazing story is my front wheel… I was coming down Mt. Locven at night and I was distracted by a vehicle pulling out from the side. I hit a pothole at speed—the impact was such that my handlebars dropped out of position. I was really surprised not to have a flat tyre. What I did have was a very serious dent in the rim. Believe it or not, I rode over 1,250 km without losing air on my tubeless tyre. It’s a testament to the quality wheel that Tristan from www.wheelworks.co.nz builds. He’ll have this back soon to fix but well done Tristan.
Control Point 4 – Mt. Locven
With three of the four control points at the top of mountains, riders could be excused for cursing Mike Hall a bit. However, this was the one time when I did in fact think that he went a bit far with things. We were asked to do a ‘parcour’ (i.e. deviation) to the top of Mt. Locven and note the elevation of the restaurant. That meant not only extra kilometres of riding, but about 400 m of needless climbing. All for no good reason at all. I don’t mind these sorts of challenges on the way forward, but digressions like this? Nope. Not appropriate IMHO. But I get ahead of myself …
Kotor Montenegro is at the foot of Mt. Locven and is on a large horseshoe bay. The approach from Bosnia led us through a descent to sea level, then a ride around the harbour, and a long ascent to the control point. For those of us who were here last year, we knew what to expect. The photo to the right shows the bay and in the distance is Mt. Locven. We were going to have a very long climb of 1,700 m up the hill.
This is one of the most amazing harbours in the world and a very popular tourist spot. I arrived in the afternoon and everyone was still enjoying the warm sunny weather and the beaches were packed. That, of course, meant lots of tourist traffic and since the road was very narrow with no shoulder it was not the most fun cycling.
I needed some fuel before starting my climb (more on food later), and so stopped at a shop and got one of my staples: bread and drinking yoghurt. I sat on the seawall and enjoyed the ocean in the afternoon sun, watching the happy tourists. Life is good. I was tempted to stop for a larger meal but since the control point was at a restaurant I figured it would be better to stop there for a time. So on I went and soon was doing the climb.
Yes, it was hard work, but the afternoon views we were rewarded with were just stunning. I had a smile on my face most of the way up, and regularly stopped just to admire the views.
Sarah welcomed me to the control point and stamped by brevet card. She then gave me the bad news that the restaurant was closed. Not what I needed to hear. As I went to head out Kurt from Belgium arrived—I had last seen him days before. I headed up and up to the needless parcour, where not only did Kurt catch up with me, but so did Martin from Romania who I thought was way ahead. Martin had major electronic problems and had spent half a day in Kotor getting them resolved. We grizzled about the parcour and then parted ways—Martin and Kurt were doing Bulgaria whilst I was doing Greece. On the way down we met Alain from Switzerland who was just starting the parcour climb. Nice to have these brief catch ups.
As mentioned above, on this descent I hit a pothole which bent my rim. Shortly afterwards Martin caught up and I decided to join him at a restaurant and get some dinner. My vegetarian needs proved too much for them so I ended up leaving and went down to the town at the bottom of the mountain where I got some pizza. This leads me to an important subject … food.
Food—or to be more precise—calories
At home in New Zealand I follow what I call the ‘free’ diet. Meat free, dairy free, gluten free, and sugar free. When I’m racing this goes out the window—except the meat free. Much as I may wish to, I just cannot bring myself to eat meat. In light of this, I know that I will have a very sub optimal diet and I’m just grateful for having something that I can eat to keep me fuelled to move forward.
I carry with me a bit of paper which has—thanks to Google Translate—the message in every language for the countries that I will be visiting that I’m a vegetarian and some options for food. Below is an example of this. Quite helpful and it has served to get me meals in the most remote places where people don’t speak English, French or German. Digression: German is the most useful second language to have in the Balkans. Amazing how widely spoken it is.
On the back I have a table with a number of staples which I can use in shops to identify supplies. Overall, very useful. Especially when printed on waterproof paper (we tend to sweat a lot when riding!).
The hot food choices usually came down to two options: omelettes or pizza. My record was five consecutive meals with omelettes. The best meal I had? Two pieces of pizza at 05:00 in a cafe after an all night ride.
Another staple, mentioned above, was bread and drinking yoghurt. These were often available and were so refreshing. The photo below was taken outside of a cafe just before the Albanian border. Some of the best yoghurt I had anywhere was that morning. After seeing this photo Lis decided to burn my shirt after the race ….
Then there is ice cream. I did not reach the heights of last year where I had seven Magnum ice creams in one day, but I still had my fair share. In Slovenia I came up with a new definition of gluttony: following a five scoop ice cream sundae with a four scoop ice cream cone. Hey, it was a really hot and long day. Besides, I dropped about six kg over my 7,000+ km of riding so in spite of my best efforts I had a calorie deficit!
For two weeks the race had pretty well gone to plan. I had managed to average 278 km/day. It was Friday night and I was in Greece with 600 km to the finish line. I had checked into a hotel that morning and was refreshed ready for a strong push to the finish. My goal was to do a 400+ km run into Turkey, and then grab a few hours sleep before the final run into Istanbul on Sunday. There were a number of us all riding around the same times—Rik, Martin, Ry, Alain, Piero, Valter—and Sunday would be a busy day at the finish line. I wanted to be up there with them.
The ride went well and for the first time on the race I met up with another night time rider Derek (Des) before Kavala. He caught up with me from behind and commented that my illuminated vest made me look like some sort of strange underwater creature. He was tiring so I left him about midnight as he was going to bivy for a while or find a hotel and continued on to Kavala heading towards Turkey. Even at 03:00 the city was still abuzz with people on the streets. I stopped by the harbour and admired the beauty of the city lit up by night. An amazing city. It was shortly afterwards the wheels fell off my race.
About 05:00 I got hit by a massive wave of nausea. I found a bus stop outside a cemetery and lay down for a while but soon was vomiting into the bushes. My insides also felt like they were about to explode and I could hardly stand. My GPS told me there was a hotel 1.5 km away and I decided to try for it. After getting only half way before a vomit/toilet stop, I knew I was in trouble. Managed to make it to the hotel and the night watchman gave me a room. I then spent the next few hours on the bathroom floor talking to the toilet and having hot and cold flushes and sweats. When I went to the reception to get some water to rehydrate I almost passed out and had to sit down while they fetched me something to drink. It was then back to the room to collapse on the bed or visit the bathroom as what seemed to be everything inside me came out. Working in developing countries I’ve had my share of food poisoning, but this was by far the worst I’ve ever encountered.
About 17:00 I decided that I could get on my bike and continue so I went out and off—very slowly. About 40 km later I was lying on a bench by the side of the road having decided that it as been a bit premature my getting back on the bike. Hard to turn off race mode! There was another hotel about 15 km away and I made it there and checked in. Another rider’s bike was outside. It would have been nice for some company, but I needed to collapse in bed again. I staggered to the room and was out for almost 10 hours. Unfortunately, I still felt unwell the following morning but managed to have a bowl of corn flakes and a piece of bread, even though they made me want to throw up. Then it was on the bike again—heading east towards the finish.
We had lots of headwinds which just added to the challenge but I made progress and just before the border stopped at a petrol station for some ice cream when Marius Ratkevisius from Lithuania came in. Nice fellow and it was good for my spirits to have brief catch up with another racer. I was really pleased to cross the border into Turkey as that meant that there was only some 300 km to go.
Unfortunately I was not getting better and I was having trouble keeping food down. By now I had long exhausted any of my reserves and so was running on adrenalin. The regular stops to address the explosive diarrhoea were becoming very tedious.
Marius caught up with me again about 22:00 while we were on the road into Tekirdag. One of his rear lights had failed so I rode next to him on the busy road where my illuminated vest had enough light for both of us. He had wisely decided to take a room in Tekirdag and suggested that given my condition I should do the same. It was a tough call as I was feeling pretty done in, but since I was not getting better but worse my concern was that the next day it would be even more difficult. I would also not have the advantage of the darkness to cover for my regular toilet stops by the side of the road! So I decided to take a shot and just ride through the night and try to finish.
Suffice to say that was the worst night for bike riding of my life. I was attacked by at least ten packs of dogs, could feel my energy levels dropping precipitously—by then is was about 48 hours without a proper meal—and once the sun rose I had to deal with the hundreds of heavy trucks travelling at speed on the road into Istanbul with little or no shoulders. By the time I got to the turn off and the climb to the parcour before the finish I was a wreck. But I made it and put on Phil Collins to celebrate my entrance into Istanbul—a tradition started last year with Rickie Cotter.
I was relieved to reach the Bosporus and rode along the sidewalk/bike path where possible, other times battling traffic on the busy road. Was almost sandwiched by a car and bus but managed to avoid that one. I would not have been the first TCR rider to have an incident in the traffic a few km from the finish. I was really pleased to finally arrive at the finish and be greeted by Mike, the race organizer. All the fellows I had been racing against had finished the night before, but that didn’t matter (too much), as I had made it.
My final time was 16:10:17 which gave me 62nd place. Below are my daily distances for the race—you can see where I bailed near Venice on Day 6 due to lightening and where I got sick just before the end. Ironically, my longest day at 410 km was the last day – and also my largest for climbing at 3,800 m. I averaged 263 km/day (was 278 km/day before my illness!) and 1,970 m of climbing.
From there it was to my hotel, get the bike boxed and the next day to Canada. The legacy of the food poisoning has lingered—five days after finishing I am still unwell and do not feel like eating—but it is slowly passing and my appetite is returning. Good thing as I dropped 6 kg over the 7,000+ km of riding and my wife is complaining about being able to feel my kidneys
Thanks to Mike Hall, Anna, the volunteers for creating such a great race, and also to my fellow riders. It is an amazing—and really challenging—experience. This race deserves to be on every bikepackers bucket list as it is truly one of the best races out there.
Postscript – Reflections on Gear
Here are some thoughts on gear for those considering racing the TCR or similar:
- If you can afford it, buy a BMC GF01. This is the most amazing bike for long distance riding as it just absorbs the road shocks like nothing else.
- Ride tubeless 28 mm wide tyres—especially if there is going to be a section like Strade dell’Assettia! My Hutchison Sector 28’s performed flawlessly. In the event you do get a puncture, they are quick and easy to fix. I suspect that one reason I was able to continue with my bent rim was due to running tubeless.
- Be sure that your bike set up allows for a variety of hand positions. A number of riders lost feeling in their hands, had numbness, etc. Most of them were running aero bars and had limited options for hand positions. I use aero bars but ones which have the pads spring mounted so they are out of the way of the top of my handlebars. This means I have the full top of the handlebars for holding onto. I also use a thick tape and gel under the tape. Even though I rode 7000+ km over a 5 week period, I had no numbness in my hands whatsoever.
- Run with a dynamo hub as that ensures that you can power all your gadgets and can ride at night without worrying about losing power.
- Use the Busch+Muller Lumotec Luxos U as your front dynamo light. This has a built in USB connection. The light is brilliant and the USB integration makes this the perfect solution. Yes, you can try others such as the Supernova and Plug 3, but the Luxos is such a better product, easy to install, and so reliable why waste your time with anything else? (for the record, I’ve a Supernova and have had 2 x Plug’s fail. I’ve now 3 x Luxos U’s).
- For your rear light I prefer the USB rechargeable Niterider Solas light. After riding all night I put it on the USB charger and it is ready to use again in a few hours. Puts out an incredible amount of light.
- Get a Tracer 360 fibre optic vest. It will keep you very safe at night.
- Plan for things to go wrong. Take a 4 x AA USB emergency supply in case your dynamo fails. Have spare USB cables.
- Be sure to have some form of chamois creme with you. I put mine into very small plastic pill packets which means that I don’t have large containers. Use what works. Personally, I like D Z Nuts.
- Have a very simple ‘night pack’ with the core essentials for when you grab a hotel room. That way you can leave all the non-essential gear on your bike. My bag is below and included: travelling toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor (I use soap for creme), some Ambien sleeping pills; lip balm. Missing is a small pill packet of Assos Skin Repair Gel that I put on my never-never region. It was used up when I took the photo.
It transpired that two other racers got severe food poisoning in the Kavala region. One scratched and the second finished after spending 24 h in the hospital. So definitely there was something going on! Perhaps with the economic crisis they are keeping food too far past the use by date, but it seems like more than a coincidence that
Great report and advice as always Chris
Sorry to hear about your illness – you were going really well.
See you next year?
All part of the adventure! No, after doing the TCR two years running time for other adventures. For now 🙂
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eye opening experience. Salute.
Hey Chris, great website. Your posts have been super informative and motivating helping me prepare for my first race. Did you use your brd achiles again ? Would you recommend them ? Do you ride with them or wear the post ride during your rest stops ?
Thanks for your feedback. Glad that you are finding the site useful! The BRD braces can be a big help. I wore them sometimes when riding as it is not good to sleep in them – which is what you should be doing when not riding or eating 🙂
However, more importantly I’ve found that my Achilles problems were due to a weak soleus muscle (see here). My physio did some strength tests on my legs and found I was really weak. She advised this is common among cyclists. Apparently when there is a strength imbalance the weakness goes to the most flexible part of the system–i.e. the Achilles.
She gave me a simple exercise which is a bent knee calf raise. This is the key: the bent knee. You stand on a stair with your knee over the toes and do a calf raise. Then add weight over time to strengthen. It’s amazing as regular calf raises are easy but with the bent knee, could hardly do a few. Not helped by an old running injury. Here is an example of how they are done (with improvements!). I did these for a long time before the TCR and had absolutely no Achilles problems. Still took my BRD just in case!
First pair of the SPD pedals were bought (and pizza too) in Logatec, Slovenia, after the big climb from Ajdovščina (the Walley of Burja wind). Great stufft to read.