Playing the long game, reflections on #TCR4
Just after 3am a lone rider appears out of the night, emerging into the main square of Canakkale, Turkey. This central plaza, cloaked in the silence that only comes during the small hours of the morning, radiates the heat that has been building up over the summer. He slowly comes to a stop, his journey finally over. Having caught the organisers and affectionately named ‘dot watches’ by surprise, he looks around looking for the final checkpoint of the 2016 Transcontinental Race. Having literally crossed a continent, his legs are burnt out after the final push from the ferry that brought him across the Sea of Marmara. As if in slow motion, he takes out his mobile phone to send a whatsapp to his personal ‘dot watchers’ who have been tracking him on this epic ride.
3788,8km in 12 days: no, we are not talking about a road trip where you’re whisked along in the comfort of your favourite car, but 12 days of hard graft, unsupported riding from Belgium to Turkey, a feat of endurance riding that merits the term epic as its description. Just take a minute to think about that distance; riding into the unknown in search of the Transcontinental Race’s illusive check points. Once that has sunk in, and you realise the enormity of this ride, then you understand the joys of finishing something this momentous.
When we heard at our Swiss HQ that Philipp Schwedthelm, ASSOS UK’s Sales Manager and Product Trainer, was dutifully training for this race, we were excited and nervous for him in equal measures. Ten days after finishing an amazing 18th in this year’s race, he’s now back in the UK office and adapting to life without purely his bike for company. We caught with Philipp to chat about his ride.
What anxieties and things were you nervous about prior to the race and did they manifest themselves? Plus, what were the moments and challenges that were unexpected?
In the last week before the race I was really nervous. Had I chosen the right route? I was not sure what to expect in the Balkan region. What about riding at night, traffic, would I be able to sleep outside…
None of the anxieties manifested themselves. Once chosen, you need to stick to the route. Looking at the other riders will make you nervous.
After many hours in saddle, my experience was of sleeping everywhere. I even tried 20min power naps on a bench. Nevertheless, I realised that I recover better in hotels.
In Kosovo I had bad luck with dogs. But other than that, I had no problems in the Balkan countries and I met many friendly people along the way.
How did you choose the route? Were there any surprises and challenges? Would you have made any changes?
I think route planning is essential — and experience is definitely helpful. For future events I will invest even more time and double-check border crossings for example.
The plan was to find a direct way between the checkpoint and — wherever possible — avoid too much climbing.
In the Balkans there are still plenty of gravel roads and the shortest way is not always the fastest. I wanted to avoid the busy roads around Skopje in Macedonia so I crossed the border between Kosovo and Macedonia further in the East and went directly to Kumanova. The connection there is not yet ready and the road was actually blocked by big rocks.
I climbed the rocks with my riding shoes and the bike on my shoulder. On the other side of the rocks there was a digger waiting.
The driver was as surprised as me but was so friendly to help me. The workers were just shaking there heads while I continued on a 10km gravel road to Kumanvo.
What was the highlight of the trip?
The highlight of the race was Durmitor in Montenegro. I crossed the border from Bosnia Herzegovina to Montenegro in the afternoon via a gravel road. It was very windy and I ran out of food and water. I almost bonked but somehow arrived in Pluztine and ordered a lot of food. I actually wanted to get to CP4 on this day and was thinking about doing it at night — but to get there I would have to do an additional 50km with 1,500m elevation. Due to the wind and the freezing temperatures I decided to stay in Pluztine for the night and passed Durmitor in the morning at sunrise. It was still pretty windy but I was rewarded with stunning views.
What was the hardest moment and how did you overcome it?
During a long race like this it’s up and down with emotions. Your mood can change within minutes and there were several moments I had to overcome.
The hardest moment was probably in the Alps on my way to CP3. I had serious problems with my neck and I was barely able to lift my head.
Uphill I was looking at my stem, following the line on my Garmin and lifted my head only once in a while.
Sometimes I was late noticing potholes, which made it worse. On descents I had to stop regularly to stretch my neck and shoulders because I couldn’t brake anymore. On this day I only rode 205km, a long way removed from my daily target. In the end the long rest actually helped to recover from the first few days. The result was a strong second week in which I could increase the speed again.
When was the moment that you realised that you would finish?
After CP4 I had still over 1,000km ahead of me but I felt really good and thought that I could make it if nothing unforeseen happened. The situation changed in Kosovo: 20km after crossing its border, 2 dogs chased me. One dog somehow hit my back wheel. It was a loud noise and I was certain that all my spokes could have got damaged. I was able to stay on my bike but full of adrenaline I didn’t stop to check my wheel before I reached the next motel. The next morning it continued like this.
In Kosovo I was chased by so many dogs, which was mentally really exhausting.
Luckily the situation changed in Macedonia: no more dogs. Crossing the Greek border was the moment when I realised I will make it. My last pull was 480km from the Greek border to the finish line in Turkey.
What emotions are you feeling now and how was the moment when you finished?
I finished in the morning at 3am. As I was the first one to take a different ferry a bit further North, they weren’t expecting me to arrive so early and actually missed me. The feeling was somehow amazing and I was super excited. But at same time I was so tired and exhausted that I didn’t really know what to do.
I don’t remember what I did on the first day. During the first night after finishing I woke up and didn’t know where I was.
It will take a while to grasp everything. In general I think I recover really quickly but recovering from a race like this can be a long process, both physically and mentally.
And what about the kit? What are your three pieces that were the perfect partner during this epic race?
1. sturmPrinz : I usually started riding between 4am and 5am, before sunrise. Even in the South it can be chilly at this time of the day.
I was also happy to have it for long descents in the Alps. Plus, we also had a few days with rain.
2. The new FF_1 shorts: the material is lighter and it dries faster, which is an asset when you want to wash it and dry it overnight. A bit more compression is also really nice during long rides. Even after more than 10hrs on the bike the fit is amazing (even better than the regular Equipe). I had no problems with saddle sores.
3. Arm and kneewarmers: Essential! You can use them in the morning/evening when it is usually a bit colder. I also tried to keep my knees warm at all time to avoid any problems caused by pedalling so many hours each day. It’s easy to get rid of them when it gets warmer too. I stored them in my frame bag to have easy access.