Cycling to Eurobike
Have you ever made a deal, then walked away unsure about what on earth you’ve got yourself into? That was exactly how I felt when Josh Ibbett (2015 Transcontinental winner) locked in that I would join him to ride from Calais to Friedrichshafen in southern Germany for Eurobike, unsupported and unknowing what was to come.
Previous to setting out on this adventure, I had only ridden over 100miles once, never bicycle toured before, was using a borrowed bicycle I got four days before we departed and most importantly did not know what I was in for — all of the key ingredients needed to realise that this was not going to be a typical tour. After sponging off Josh’s knowledge learnt from his experiences during the transcontinental and cycling tours through Asia and New Zealand, I stood a greater chance of arriving in Friedrichshafen without never wanting to ride a bicycle again. Despite all of this negative energy, I knew that I am stubborn and arrogant enough to complete the tour.
The feeling of rolling out through the ferry doors at Calais knowing that all I had to worry about the next four days was to ride my bicycle was like no other sensation experienced before. Quite literally eat, sleep, ride repeat. Previously, I realised that all of my riding revolves around returning home for dinner, work or whatever else there maybe, ultimately restricting my riding without me knowing. However, this felt like complete freedom, knowing that I could theoretically ride anywhere I wanted and not worry about a thing. Perhaps that was why the first few miles felt so great.
I think I now have a love hate relationship with northern France. It is essentially dead flat plain great for chewing away the miles, sports rather monotonous scenery and the French appear to never open stores after midday. However, Josh and I made good ground, both taking turns on the front and rolling the cranks over in the cool of the late evening until we reached the Belgium border. After a quick celebratory beer and mars bar for supper (a great combo) it was time to look for a spot to bivvy. One thing I learnt quickly, was that Josh loves to 1) find the most cheeky spot possible to settle in for the night and 2) find it quickly. A compromise was made not to sleep in a small roadside church but rather to sleep in a hedge beside an ultra busy road. I don’t know what Josh was complaining about but I had a brilliant night sleep, he on the other hand spent all night wondering if cars were going to run over us.
Waking early, we made for a crazy dash to the nearest bakery, bought way too many croissants and then high tailed it into Roubaix with the goal to send a few laps around the velodrome. Thinking it would require a fence jump or a bargain with a security guard we were both surprised to see that the gates were wide open to ride quite possibly the worlds most famous velodrome. Good times, now for the cobbles.
One thing is for certain; the cobbles look A LOT smoother on the television and in pictures. Taking on the Le Carrefour de l’Arbre, Camphin-en-Pevele and the infamous Arenberg made me feel like my teeth had rattled out and I was almost certain to puncher, however the wheels stayed dead true and did not fail. Happy days. From here it was more or less skipping over the border between France and Belgium. The mercury was touching on 35 degrees centigrade, Josh was struggling with the heat a little, I felt like I was back home in Australia so that changed things up for a while until we reached the shadow of Huy late that evening. Having ridden around 140miles on and off cobbled roads, the legs were feeling not too great, however, Huy made certain that we were now well and truly broken for the day. A quick beer stop and spin to the next bivvy just let everything sink in and contemplate how tough the next day was going to be. But first we had to find a bivvy location.
As previously mentioned, Josh likes to be a bit sly where he sleeps. Read between the lines here — make sure nobody is still in the house before you plan to sleep in their backyard. After a sprint down a country road and a quick scout around a soccer pitch, a dugout would prove to be suffice.
Day three of the tour was emotionally mixed. If anybody tries to tell you that Belgium is flat — they are wrong. Very wrong. The morning started with a number of low gradient but lengthy climbs that found me shifting into granny gear more often than I wanted. On a normal spin, I would think nothing of it, perhaps even enjoy the rolling climbs, however, constantly in the back of my mind I could not stop thinking about how bloody far it was to Germany or even till the end of that day for that matter. This is what a significant challenge I found for tour cycling — not getting caught up with the distance. The distance is the devil, and I couldn’t shake it no matter what I tried to distract myself. Not even the nosebleeds worked.
Josh worked out that if he feed me and made sure I was drinking coke I was sweet for the next few hours as it is quite easy to forget to eat. This is why I think Josh is so good at races such as the transcontinental — he is extremely methodical in his approach to refuelling. Crossing over into Luxemburg we stopped for a good three quarters of an hour (the longest lunch break of the entire trip) for a massive burger. We had been battling a huge head wind for the past two days, I was hardly having any turns at the front anymore and quite frankly was in a place I didn’t want to be. The combination of a full stomach, pockets full of Haribo and waffles as well as the marble smooth roads of Luxemburg that afternoon made the morning slog disappear and turn into some of the best riding I have ever done. That was until the rain started when we hit the German border.
Being Australian, I don’t ride in the rain as often as the Europeans and British. Josh was now in his element. Nonetheless, still on my Haribo and burger high I found myself enjoying riding in the rain. However, spending five hours riding wet, knowing that there is a soggy sleeping bag to jump into isn’t the most inspiring situation. We found a Hotel that was a little out of budget and certainly received a few stares as we ate dinner in cycling kit. Washed and dried we headed straight to a warm comfortable bed.
The rain had not stopped over night and continued to fall in the morning. However, reaching Baded Baden at the foothills of the Black Forest was a small milestone for the trip and certainly made dealing with the rain a little easier. Up until this point Josh’s navigating had essentially flawless only missing the occasional intersection by a few meters however, the next challenge was ahead — an autobahn tunnel. Having less than a meter of footpath with a concrete wall to one side and cars travelling at light speed to the other is not the greatest place to be. After the autobahn tunnel incident it was smooth sailing through the Black Forest. With is challenging climbs and even more challenging descents it made for a great afternoons riding. We decided we would again stay in a hotel that evening. Our gear was a little too damp to have a nights sleep in and the rain was not looking to pass anytime soon. An evening spent in a Baiersbronn Hotel with quite possibly the least helpful staff gave us a chance to dry everything out and look forward to the final stretch to Friedrichshafen.
A few route changes were made to avoid a couple of climbs that were certain to break the legs. At this point I was quite surprised at how good my legs were feeling. Yes, they were toast, yet it was as if they were getting use to continual riding. Once we left the Black Forest, it was as if Friedrichshafen was around every corner. Despite this, Josh made a slight calculation error that meant we needed to cover an extra 30 or so miles. He said that he knew he made the stuff up on day two but was not game enough to tell me out of the fear of his own life — fair call.
Reaching Konstanz on the Boarder of Germany and Switzerland was a huge relief and meant there was only 20miles to go till we stopped in Romanshorn to catch the ferry over to Friedrichshafen. Simply enjoying the final few miles was a lovely way to end the trip. It finally meant that I would never have to hear Josh say “okay lets crack on” any more and rely on Haribo as a staple source of fuel.
Arriving in Friedrichshafen was a little absurd. Simply not having to ride a bike any longer just felt a little unusual and being able to rest for as long as we wanted to was fantastic and warmly welcomed. The kebab and beer marked the finish line for Josh and myself, now it was on to the next challenge — Eurobike.
Cheers for the support received from Hunt Bike Wheels for providing wheels and riding kit, Charge Bikes for allowing me to ride such a nice bike ideal for this style of riding, Fabric Cycling for components and mum for being a mum.