My Transcontinental Bike Race 2015
I had finished work at lunchtime on Wednesday, giving me time to pack the last couple of things and to say good byes to Trina and my boys before my Dad picked me up for our drive down to Folkestone for the night and then on to Geraardsbergen and the Muur.( I know a real cyclist would have just cycled there but I was resting my knee!)
The next morning we were up and joining the massive tailbacks to get on the Eurostar, only to end up behind the TCR team car. This was when excitement and reality hit, I was in a race across Europe and they had a team car!
We got to our very quite hotel (Best Western) on the outskirts of Geraardsbergen, unloaded and I then repacked everything to ensure I’d not forgotten anything. We went out for tea and then an early night, although I didn’t get that much sleep as I was thinking of what was to come and how far I’d get on my knees.
We were up early the next day, Start Day. Massive breakfast, repack the bike again and off to the registration event. I joined the queue of nervous and excited cyclists ready to go feral for the next two weeks. I met a few faces I’d seen on Audax rides and from reading as many blogs as I could find to get information on what happened last year and how people’s training was going this year. It was weird knowing all about people without having ever met or speaking to them.
A quick walk around the town and a trip to the top of the Muur. All the time seeing people with bikes packed to the gills. Back to the hotel,repack my bike again and I tried to have a nap before the rider briefing at 6pm. My brother turned up and he’d brought his bike to ride up the Muur! So a final repack, toilet and put on the clothes I would hopefully be wearing for the next two weeks and a phone call back home. It was just a 10km ride to the start but even on this short ride I could feel a niggle in my right knee but it felt great to be packed and ready and cycling in a foreign country.
Rider briefing attended and just 5 hours to go until midnight. Outside hundreds of bikes and people had appeared, some of the bikes were amazing, even some custom made aero bags on a TT bike were the talk of the evening. I tried to get some more sleep at this point but it wasn’t happening, although the quiet time was good to process what was happening. It was now getting dark and everyone was buzzing. Tv crews were interviewing people, photographers, dignitaries, racers talking bikes, routes, food and kit, families and friends and locals just coming to see what all the noise was about.
I had read somewhere that there was going to be torches at the start of the TCR this is what a kind of hoped it would be like. It wasn’t far off.
Just before midnight we started lining up on the Muur, somehow I managed to get almost to the front of the line, not really where I wanted or expected to be but I thought I might as well make the most of it. Said bye to my dad and brother and awaited the clock bells.
We were off!
Day 1, 00:00-23:59 25th July
Stats 257.36 miles, 14.8mph, 2658 m, 17.12hrs Riding
The neutral start was fast, whizzing round Geraardsbergen behind the TCR car with its boot open and a camera man hanging out the back, with a police car and bikes flashing their blue lights. I gave it some beans back up the Muur and through the cheering crowds and smiled at my Dad as I went flying past into the unknown. My route was loaded up but straight away I went off course as I started to go round the neutral loop again. Turned round and back on to the route (1st of only 2 navigational errors, so not bad). Everyone quickly dispersed, riding with a few riders, leaving them at a junction, catching some more up and then leaving them, with people turning off at seemingly every junction. Soon I was alone riding through the dark.
To my right I saw lightning and hoped I’d avoid the worse, it seemed to be chasing me. It rained on and off and eventually it absolutely chucked it down luckily I was just going past a garage so I pulled in and was joined by another rider. I put on my waterproof and waited 5 minutes. It slowed slightly so I set off again. The roads were quiet with just lorries at this time, always in the distance was the blinking a red bike light. I was probably going faster than I wanted but I was near to the front and wanted that to last as long as possible, plus I thought my tracker was telling everyone how well I was doing. The sun started to show and it got lighter and windier and still showers, I was getting hungry, I’d got what felt like a kilo of jelly babies, fig rolls and cereal bars in a Alpkit Stem cell on the handlebars but I soon got bored of the sweet stuff. I ended up only eating about half of it and binning the rest after a couple of days (So wasted energy carrying that!) I was going through a town, when I noticed a local with a french stick, luckily the bakery was on the same road and was open. There was a few bikes outside already and my first chance to practise my appalling french. They were heaven, a Croissant x 2 and a Pain au chocolat and a Coke, quick chat as we ate and watched riders going past in the rain.
Back on the bike and still feeling good across rolling countryside, quite a strong head wind and rain showers. I got to the outskirts of Reims, in my planning I’d chosen to take a wide loop of Riems to avoid busy traffic. It was still early so it probably would have saved time if I’d just gone straight through but I thought it best to stick to the route I’d got. The sun came out a bit and I started to warm up so took off my waterproof only find that it had stained my perfectly white kit blue! I’d only been going 8/9 hours and already it was dirty! I checked my phone for the first time, messages from my family telling me to switch on my tracker, it was! I spent the next 30 minutes struggling to undo the tiny screws that hold the battery in, as I thought they maybe were dead. Battery replaced and switched back on, I set off again hoping that it would start tracking me.
Lunch was also spent at another bakery (When in France!). The rest of the day was spent pedalling and looking down at the Garmin, just stopping at McDonalds for le Big Mac. Every McDonalds you went in there was always at least 1 TCR rider in there.
The plan for the day was to get to Chatillon-Sur-Seine which was about 400km/250 miles from the start. In my planning I’d seen that they had a campsite. 350km done and I stopped to treat myself to a box of ice creams (I’d burnt a lot of calories!) and sat and ate them in a lovely park. 400km done and I was sat in another McDonald’s as all the Supermarkets had closed. I chatted to another rider (Sorry I’m really bad at names and numbers) who was planning to keep going. It was about 8pm at this point so really I should have kept going as I was about to make a bit of a mistake.
I got to the campsite but the office was closed, so I just went in. Next to the toilet block was a TCR bike. The kind rider gave me the code to the toilet and shower block. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to wash my kit and have a shower. At this point it was getting a bit cooler. So I had a shower and washed my kit, didn’t have soap or a towel! Had to dry myself with my wet kit and put on the tiny runners shorts I had brought. Luckily at this point it was dark. I then found a little spot for my sleeping stuff. I’d only tested the sleeping mat, liner and bivi bag once in my house and I’d had issues getting the mat in the bivi bag with me! Anyway 10 minutes later and all I’d managed to get in was my legs. I was worried I would puncture the mat on the floor but there was no way I was getting in with the mat. I must of looked a real idiot to the campers sat in their caravans and tents. Took about an hour to get to sleep.
Day 2, 00:00–23:59 27th July
Stats 181.01 miles, 13.3mph, 1574m, 13.29hrs Riding
I woke (1:30am) up shivering badly after about an hour and a half. I got dressed in my dripping wet kit, so I got even colder, packed up and set off. I’d not got any real food and Garmin said it was 4 degrees. I was bloody freezing, it was pitch black and my head torch lasted about 20 minutes before the batteries went flat (I was expecting it to last about a week, realised later this was due to the bad angle on my main light, meaning I had the head torch on more!), so I’d just got the dynamo light and it really wasn’t at the best angle, due you the limited mounting options I’d got. I was pretty much falling asleep on the bike at this point and hearing things. So that was a long few hours!
Finally saw a McDonalds but it didn’t open until 10:30am! Eventually I came across a local bakery umm pastry!. The sun was now up and I was warming up, I found a layby with a picnic bench. I laid out my mat on the top and got into my bivi bag and had a couple of hours sleep, woken by car drivers beeping me and a local race course! Later in the morning I found an open supermarket and bought pizza, chocolate milk and water (Every supermarket stop involved chocolate milk!)
The first day, due to adrenaline etc.. I’d not really had much of a problem with my knees. One thing I’ve not mentioned in the first post was that the physio had suggested putting my saddle up 5mm or so as this may help lessen the amount of bending my knee was doing (1 month before the start). This did nothing to stop my right knee from hurting and it did. My left knee felt fine, the problem was that my hamstring was now really tight in my left leg, I think due to the extra stretch. Every 10–15 km’s I had to stop to stretch my leg, which really helped but not for long. It felt like I was constantly stopping for food or to stretch. On a normal long ride I’d probably go at least 50km between stops and I was aware that I was losing time and places. By the afternoon my legs were in some pain, so I made a plan to stop in Lyon for the night get a hotel and hopefully the rest will sort them out. Coming in to Lyon I found the least painful way of pedaling was to stand and sprint for short periods then coast then sprint again, made it much more fun.
I stopped at a garage outside Lyon to get a coke from the vending machine, the cooler must have been broken as it came out about boiling temperature. This really pissed me off!
I finally made it to Lyon and booked in a hotel for the night, it was probably only 7pm, so plenty of time to keep riding but my legs weren't having it and I knew there was a big hill tomorrow. Once I’d plugged everything into charge, it didn’t take long to fall asleep.
Day 3, 00:00–23:59 28th July
Stats 185.92 miles, 12.88mph, 2587m, 14.41hrs Riding
Today's goal was to get to checkpoint 1 at the top of Mt Ventoux about 170 miles away. I was down for breakfast as it opened and was out for 7:15am. So nearly 12 hours spent stopped, not good for a constantly running bike race but I needed to rest my knee and hoped it would get me further down the road. I managed a few miles before I had to stretch my left leg, my right knee was a constant pain. So I put my saddle back down the 5mm to where it had been for the previous 5 months before the physio appointment. This seemed to make an almost instant improvement in my left leg and the stops gradually spread out a bit more. Which would have helped get some more miles in but unfortunately I developed another issue which was causing me to stop at almost every McDonalds and Carrefour supermarket I went past….the shits! I did discover that event the smallest Carrefour has a toilet, although most of them were disgusting even before I arrived. This lasted from mid morning until I got to Bedoin and had a proper meal.
It was quite a boring day riding down the N7, I’d run out of things to daydream about and it was just a matter of pedalling along the flat hot road.
Rather than take a direct route to Bedoin I’d selected in planning to stay on the N7 all the way to Orange and then turn left to Bedoin, this would add a few KM’s on but save me climbing. It was around 5pm, when I first sighted Mt Ventoux in the distance and I hoped to get to Bedoin while the restaurants were still open, then get to the top. So I picked up the pace, I’d not used my aero bars all day as it seemed to make my knee worse, so I adjusted them up so that my light was finally pointing at the right angle on the road (much better) I made it around 9pm after a final toilet stop (I was so grateful that I had packed wet wipes!)
A fellow rider had recommended a pizza place so that was first port of call and pizza was ordered. By the time I’d finished there was 4/5 TCR riders chatting about what was to come and how it was going. I did get a pro tip that I should have ordered 2 pizzas, one for now and one for the morning.
It was very tempting to find a hotel, sleep and set off early in the morning but I wanted the challenge. The climb is 22km and in the dark it seemed to last forever. By the time I got to the forest section my knee was killing, so it was ride a bit and walk a bit. With the very slow speed my dynamo was only just lit, so mostly I was going by moonlight. The odd car would go past, then the TCR team car pulled over with a “How’s it going” on it's way down the mountain for sleep. A quick chat to Mike about my tracker, which still wasn’t tracking and I was back on my way. Once I was out of the forest I was almost out of water and the wind really picked up. Eventually I found a tap and topped up the bottles. I kept expecting one of the others I’d eaten pizza with to over take me, as I was going so slowly but no one did. Once past the turing I’d take on the way back down I finally saw 3 or 4 riders heading in the opposite direction at speed.
Day 4, 00:00–23:59 29th July
Stats 118.62 miles, 12.1mph, 2707m, 9.47hrs Riding
The final couple of KM’s were really tricky as it felt like the wind was trying to push you over the edge. Finally made it to the top at 1:50am and woke the nice people at the control from their sleep in the camper van. Pot of Pringles to celebrate at the top, then all my clothes were put on for the decent back down. It was great to have made it to checkpoint 1 as I really didn’t know if I would make a day. So the trip down started, really wanted to have a nap now but it was too cold for my sleeping stuff up here. As I got further and further down the other side it warmed up a bit. I made it safely to Aurel, having passed a few bivi bags at the side of the road, already fast a sleep. I found a nice spot on a stone bench next to a church and I was a sleep quickly. My alarm woke me after 3 hours and I was shivering but I delayed for another 30 minutes. I packed up and quickly found a bakery for probably the 30th pastry in 3 days. Someone had left their helmet in the bushes at the barkery seating area, saw the guy going the other way about 10 minutes later going to pick it up!
Today was going to be the hilliest day so far and I hoped to get to checkpoint 2 in Sestriere by the end of the day. The profile on the little cards I had done didn’t look too bad, forgetting that the scale was different on every card! There were a few hills on the way, it was still early so the weather was perfect for riding. Unfortunately my knee wasn’t in a great way and I did need a couple more toilet stops in the morning! Food wise today was the usual, the odd McDonalds and mostly ice creams, coke and biscuits(This was one of the reasons I signed up, someone ate 10 Magnums last year!). At one supermarket it was like a coffee morning for TCR riders, after nearly 1000 km’s there must have been about 8 of us there clomping around with arms full of chocolate milk, water, cakes and coke.
My second navigation/ route planning error occured as I was cycling along the N94, were there appeared a no cycling sign, so a detour up what seemed like a mountain around the blockage, I came back down the hill at the next roundabout only to find another sign, so I had to go back up again and try the next exit. By now my knees were quite swollen and pedalling really hurt and standing to pedal resulted in really bad pain. I did forget about the pain for a bit a I went past the huge really blue lake, it looked amazing and I so wanted to have a dip.
I’ve never been to the alps or anywhere with really big mountains like these! When you look at pictures you just don’t get the scale, they are massive. After another McDonalds stop I booked my hotel in Sestriere and thought I was only 3/4 hours away, took me 9. Towards tea time my knees were done and any kind of pressure on the pedals and I’d get a real pain.
Looking at the elevation card it looked like there wasn’t much more climbing to go. I rounded a bend in the road and saw this switchback road climbing up the mountain. It was the main road up to the Italian border. I had little food and it was still hot, I slowly spun up. I was unable to put any pressure on the pedals so my arse was also now killing, every now and again I’d try standing to relieve the pressure but my knee would just collapse. So it was a case of walking up the narrow shoulder and riding the less steep bits. As I was going up I knew my TCR was over, my goal was to get to the border. I was really upset at that point and trying not to cry as I pushed my bike to the top. I finally made it to the top and tearfully pulled over in a car park and phoned home to tell them it was over. My adventure was over, I was gutted. I composed myself and started thinking how to get out of here now. My computer said it was just 15 km to checkpoint 2. I found an open restaurant and asked how far it was to Sestriere. I was told it was downhill for a bit but then a big uphill, not what I wanted to hear. So I asked for a taxi to Sestriere.
The next morning I woke up at my hotel and walked over to Checkpoint 2 to hand back my tracker (Which had just started working! The was passed to Karl Speed, so at least my tracker made it to the end) and pull out of the race.
Looking back at my TCR I was gutted not to finish but looking at the positives I know that it wasn’t a failure.
I was only 60 km or about 8 hours behind my planned schedule even with a knackered knee, too many stops and 12 hours in a hotel.
I’d cycled twice as long as as I’d ever cycled before. 1200 km in 4 days
I’d met a load of great people
I’d eaten a lot of French Pastries (Delicious)
I’d had an adventure!!!
Would I do it again? YES