TCR No. 4 Part 3: The Mountains. CP2 – CP3

I woke up much later than planned, but I really needed the sleep. After fueling up on the hotel breakfast buffet, I retrieved my bike from the cellar and headed up to Grindewald to start the CP2 parcours.

I nearly missed the hotel checkpoint, with the name on the buildings on both sides of the road, but safely pulled in to get my brevet card stamped in about 32nd position. I bumped into Darren Franks #114 and met the pairs #212, Andrew Boyd & James Stannard for the first of many times on this journey. It was great to meet up with and chat to some fellow racers for the first time since CP1.

Grosse Scheidegg

After a brief catch up and selfie with Darren, I was keen to push on so said my goodbyes and headed up the Grosse Scheidegg.

The views on the way up here were absolutely incredible. Just the sheer size of the mountains surrounding were quite intimidating and awe inspiring. I was buzzing over the mountain views. Never mind the steep gradient and the crazy bus drivers bombing up and down the mountain with their horns blaring.

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I saw a few more riders on the way up, #89 Joe Todd just after the CP & #93 Geoffroy Duassault again, but was mostly on my own just enjoying the scenery. Still, it was good to meet other riders again as the last couple of days had been quite lonely.

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Breakfast #TCRNo4S154 #TCRNo4

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Going down the other side I caught up with another rider, but never got a name, but think it was #14 Jack Thompson. It was really steep and quite sketchy going down, but I love descending, except when a big bus is roaring up the road towards you. Had to duck off the road a couple of times as it was definitely not going to stop…

Grimsel Pass

The surface and road leading up the Grimsel pass was great, but there was also a bit of traffic, most of it trying to race up the pass. Along here I bumped into the #212’s again who said hello handed out some haribo and were off up the road after a short chat.

This was a long and quite tough climb, but once at the top I was rewarded with a view of the Furkapass. This looked spectacular, and really quite daunting.

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Furkapass

The descent down from the Grimsel pass was really thrilling and fast, but before I knew it I was up and heading along the Furkapass. I loved this climb. It was quite warm and there was an extraordinary large number of flies, all wanting a taste of the salt deposited on my lycra. In fact, a cyclist road past with at first glance was a dense fly patterned floro jacket. It wasn’t until a few of them flew off did I realise that they were all alive. I spent much of the climb swatting them away, but it really took nothing away.

I was quite glad to get the elevation and feel the air cool off. You could certainly get a feel for the glacial air, but it wasn’t at any point too cold. The conditions were absolutely perfect for this climb.

https://www.relive.cc/view/661927554

A quick stock up with some water and snacks, I headed off down the mountain. Yet another awesome descent, despite being stuck behind a bus for much of it. I pushed on down to Andermatt, where I stopped at a restaurant for a well earned lunch of spag bol, plate of chips and a large coke. #93 Geoffroy also stopped and ordered the same on my recommendation, and we chatted about our journey so far.

Oberalppass

I didn’t spend too long and made straight for the next 2,046m Oberalppass. This wasn’t too bad, but I was quite happy just to keep turning the pedals and enjoy the scenery. The descent of the other side of this was quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had going downhill. A perfect surface, wide sweeping hairpins mixed with long twisty straights. I was in heaven! Even the short section turned to gravel by some roadworks barely made a dent in my impression of this road.

It kept going for probably about 30km, steadily winding downhill. I turned off at Ilanz and started climbing again. Again, another stunning road and climb, with stunning scenery along quiet mountain roads. It was early evening by now with the sun low behind me, and I was buzzing from the day.

I had planned to push on quite a bit further than I did, but while rolling through the town of Bonaduz, I came across a hotel that just looked too inviting. It was a recently re-opened and re-furnished hotel, and was without doubt the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at.

I bagged an amazing luxury room for 95 Swiss Francs. They sorted me out with some slippers to wear down to the restaurant, and arranged for an iPhone charger next to my table in the restaurant. The food was most excellent also, as was the beer and ice cream. If you’re ever in Bonaduz check out the Hotel Ante Post (or at least the Hotel that has replaced it). I’m going back for sure.

Using the weighing scales in the room, I learnt that I had managed to lose 5 kg since the start of the race. I’ve always had a bit of extra timber, but I hadn’t expected to lose so much so quickly!

https://www.relive.cc/view/661927554

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Luxury Randonneuring!

Albulla Pass

The next morning I woke at 4am, packed up everything and retrieved my bike from the underground garage. I noticed my tracker had a mix of green and red lights flashing, but figured it was just a lost signal from being indoors overnight.

It was a bit of a struggle to get going in the pre-dawn darkness, and was starting to get concerned as my tracker had not picked up a signal. I also had a bit of an upset stomach which was not used to 2 proper meals in one day, so was feeling a bit uncomfortable on the bike.

I was a bit stop start that morning until yet again I realised that I couldn’t control the tracker issue, at least not until I got to a town that could sell batteries. Once I’d gotten past this I was able to get into a bit more of a rhythm and started making some progress up the Albula pass.

This was an epic climb, and as I started up it #93 Geoffroy came past again. Had a quick chat, but he was clearly stronger than me so I let him go on.

A little further up the climb I came across a veteran of the TCR, #42 Zbyněk Šimčík and we rode on up over to the top of the pass together chatting away. It’s crazy to meet people all the way out in the Swiss Alps that live maybe 5 miles away in Twickenham. Nearing the top, which seemed to take forever to arrive I spotted what I thought was a cat crossed with a rabbit. It turns out they were Marmots (technically squirrels apparently), and were responsible for what I thought was bird song/squeaks on almost all of the mountain passes I’d been over. Once you’ve seen and heard one, you start to see and hear lots of them.

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#42 Zbyněk Šimčík

By the time we got to the top I was totally bonked. I had to say my goodbyes to Zbyněk, and find some food in the cafe at the summit. All that was available was eggs, bread and OJ. This turned out to be a perfect breakfast. While I was eating inside I saw the #212’s yet again, and recognising my bike they called out my name. These guys were hilarious, but it was starting to seem like they were stalking me! I popped outside to say hello, but I needed to eat up so I let them get on while I sorted myself out.

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The goal for the day was to get to CP3, and maybe past if it wasn’t too dark. I hadn’t made much progress till now, mostly as I was going uphill, but also as I was faffing with the tracker again. I thought it might pick up some signal again once I was through the pass, but it wasn’t playing ball even after turning it off and on again. I gave in and stopped in a town before the next climb and installed some fresh batteries. I couldn’t find any of the ‘recommended’ batteries, so some Duracell’s would have to do until I got to CP3. Once in my tracker picked up satellite almost straight away. Result!

There were two more climbs done before the long descent out of Switzerland began. Originally I had planned to take a bit of a jolly up the Umbrail pass, and come down the Stelvio into Italy. Given how slow I’d been that day and that I was actually doing quite well positionally, I figured it would be best to save that for another day. I stopped just before the Swiss side of the border to spend some of the last of the francs and stock up on more calories.

 

Italy

Through the border it was all downhill to Bolzano. An interesting route through here that I hadn’t paid too much attention too when plotting. It followed a fairly busy cycle path through various orchards of apples most of the way to Bolzano. The path followed the crisp cool blue waters of a river for the most part, which really helped as it was about 38 deg with a steady headwind coming up the valley.

Before getting to Bolzano, I found myself a McDonald’s. It was too good of an opportunity to miss, and stocked up an large amount of burgers, ice cream, coke and fries. When clearing away the table, I managed to put my phone down on top of the bin, then turn around and head to the loo. Not sure why I came back past the same bin on the way out, but was most surprised and very lucky to find my iPhone still there!

I discovered an awesome climb out of Bolzano in the early evening sun. The views were yet again incredible. This was the Dolomites for sure, with some incredible and dramatic scenery.

Shortly before the sun went down I came across a small town having a festival, which gave me a chance to stop and switch my dynamo across to the lights. I would have loved to have stayed and sampled the food and beer but was really keen to keep moving. Had to stop to let this finish though!

There were two more climbs to go before getting to the start of CP3, and I was really pushing to get there before midnight. I got to the bottom of the last climb, the San Pellegrino pass thinking it wasn’t that big a climb, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. When all you want to do is get cleaned up and go to bed, the small matter of a mountain pass of 1,918m and another 30 km’s to ride once over the top.

It took what seemed to be an absolute age to get over the pass. I was tired and going really slow. At the top I was quite keen to push down the other side and took an awful lot of chances flying down towards Alleghe. Near the bottom of the descent, I noticed my brakes weren’t working as well as they had been. After a few close calls on some hairpins, I reluctantly knocked back the speed well before the corners.

I caught up with another rider, #12 Stephane Ouaja, a few kilometers before Aleghe and we rode and chatted together until we got to the town. When we found the road down to the lake front it was quite clear I had worn them out and nearly rolled down a cobbled street straight into the lake. Not the best way to end the day!

I was totally cooked by now. Sadly there were no more rooms available, so both Stephane and I chose to sleep in the hotel lobby.

The Passo Giau would have to wait until tomorrow.

Stats

  • Distance: 509.7 KM
  • Ride Time: 27H 20M
  • Elevation: 10,382 m
  • Calories: 10,119

Strava Files

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TCR No.4 Part 2: Attacking the Jura

As much as I had realised I would be unlikely to compete with my choice of route, I thought that I should at least make a good go of it. Had a quick clean up at McDonald’s, stowed the emergency cheeseburger, packed up the bike and pointed it to the lumpy horizon. I had to laugh at myself as they came closer.

Hills 1: Thiers, Col St Thomas, and down to Roanne

There was a mostly flat and reasonably quick run to the first of the hills, but boy did it step up in Thiers. The town has an almost vertical ramp up into the town followed by an intricate lace of roads on the side of the hill that must average 12% all through it. I was feeling quite strong, and with the race in progress at the back of my mind I pushed up quite quickly.

Fortunately the steep bit didn’t last for too long, after which the gradient eased as I came up and out of the town. The views from up here were fairly incredible, I had a go at capturing some of this here:

Once over the top, reinvigorated with the views, I started pushing on really enjoying just being on my bike. There’s something about a good dramatic view that really gives me energy, which was quite fortunate! The road was fairly level but still a false flat until it started winding up and up. It was getting fairly consistently steep, and didn’t seem to want to relent. Half way up I found a freshwater spring so lept on the opportunity to fill my bottles. It was another hot day, and this water was really refreshing.

I pushed on, and finally crested the top. It was a fantastic climb, and fairly tough – a straight ramp up over the hill.

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Going down the other side was a blast, must have been topping out at 75/80 kph on a mostly straight descent. I thought then that I’d accomplished the hills, but after a quick check of the profile on the Wahoo, and a glance at the next lump looming into view I realised that this would not be the end of it! There would be a four categorised climbs before I’d eventually get to Roanne. I rolled into Roanne and decided to check my progress on the tracker. Jack Thurston captured the moment quite well with the below tweet.

Hills 2: Cow Country

That wasn’t the end of it though. After a brief respite the rolling hills went up again. The scenery was pretty fantastic, but was really slow going.

About now is where I realised I had put my iPhone into ‘No Service’ mode. I was killing apps to save battery, but managed to kill the settings app when in Flight mode. If you kill the network settings in flight mode, when you turn it back on it needs to re-initialise and authenticate with Apple before it will connect to a cellular network. It requires WiFi to do this, which is tricky to get in the hills of central France. A real pain and daft ‘feature’. I spent an absolute age trying to get it working before I had figured out the above. I had recalled having the problem before and a google search found the solution, so I spent about an hour trying to ask some really friendly, but non-english speaking locals to borrow their phone to do a google search. I failed miserably.

“I realised that there was no point in wasting time over something that I had absolutely no control over.”

 

It’s at this point I realised that there was no point in wasting time over something that I had absolutely no control over. Sure, it was frustrating and I was feeling really out of touch, but there was nothing I could do about it then. This was a good lesson for me to learn, and to learn fairly early in the ride. It would come handy later on.

Shortly after, in the middle of nowhere on the edge of a valley I found a pizza van. I didn’t hesitate and rolled over to order two pizza. One for now and one for breakfast, and sat down to enjoy the late afternoon view over the valley.

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Honestly thought I was hallucinating. Heaven!
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PIZZA x2

 

Wine Country

Once I had filled up, I headed off to find it was all downhill to the wine country which looked incredible in the slowly setting evening sun. I’d made it over the tough obstacles for the day, and now it was time to put some speed down to make up time. It might have worked had I not kept stopping for photos.

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Sunset on the river Saône

This day was capped with a McDonald’s in Bourg-en-Bresse shortly before midnight, where I took the chance to re-charge as much of my devices as I could, get clean and eat lots. I headed out of town keen to find a bivvy spot and get some sleep. I’d only managed maybe 3 hours until now, so was keen to get my head down. I wasn’t feeling as tired as I had been, but the push to the McDonalds had taken a bit out of me.

I followed my route out of town towards the next hills, the Juras, keen to find somewhere away from town and the road. I found a spot in the foot of a valley that was nicely sheltered from the road and settled in. I unpacked my bivvy, but was tired and in a hurry so only half inflated the mattress and crawled in. It was a brilliant starry night, and it really didn’t take me too long to drift off.

Here is the ‘relive.cc’ video from the day: https://www.relive.cc/view/660129862

Hills 3: Misty

I woke up after maybe 2.5 hours sleep. I was absolutely freezing cold. As I shifted in my bivvy something in the woods starting barking. I don’t know what it was as it was a really odd bark. In anycase I was too cold to worry about this so I started putting on ALL my clothes in whatever order I picked them out in. All the while shivering uncontrollably. Knee warmers, rain jacket, arm warmers, gilet, snood, everything. I packed up the rest of my things in short order and pushed on up the road. It took no time at all before I was sweating it out, at which point I realised that my light rain jacket was under my arm warmers and gilet. Kind of felt like I’d put my underpants on the outside. A short stop to sort all this out and I was back moving again.

This part of the route was basically the only way through the mountains within about 40km, so when I saw the ‘Route Barre’ sign at the foot of the pass my heart sank a little. I decided to ignore it and hope it was still passable. It was a fairly short 12km climb with a gradient that was fairly steady. All the way up I was weighing up my options, praying for a clear way through. I didn’t quite fancy re-routing on the fly at 5am. Still, as I was heading up I was checking for alternatives on the offline maps on my phone (Maps.me). A lifesaver when you’re in ‘No Service’ mode!

On the map I could see another road splitting off the main pass, going through a small town and joining up with the original planned route the other side of the pass. I had to chance this as there was no way through the roadworks. The whole carriageway was fenced off. Fortunately the detour was a complete success. It was an odd night with a cold misty fog blowing around and really didn’t get me off to the best start to the day. Dawn was fairly special though and most welcome.

 

Hills 4: Saint Claude, up to Switzerland

I arrived in Saint Claude on a massive downer. My EU dual USB plug decided it didn’t work anymore, and there was nowhere open serving real food in the town. I settled in a service station eating crisps, coke, cake and chocolate thinking about my options. It was quite a low point, but yet again I realised there was nothing I could do about the USB charger – it was out of my control. I had all day to plug stuff into the Dynamo in anycase, so I got myself together and headed up the next hill.

Did I say hill? Not entirely sure of the name of this Col, but the Haut Crete Saint Claude (I read Hors Categorie) was a bit of a beast. A very rewarding beast at that. It was early, and the morning mist was still clearing from the hills, but it was feeling warm going up this. I had to strip off the layers as I was getting hot, but as I climbed I could still feel the crisp cold air of the mountains. I like this.

“I had to strip off the layers as I was getting hot, but as I climbed I could still feel the crisp cold air of the mountains. I like this.”

 

The climb was fantastic, and the day was turning out to be a cracker. Over the top, the road was fairly poor, but only on the ascent. When it came to rolling down the other side, the surface was great and the views amazing.

I rolled across the border to Switzerland and the first thing I noticed was the drivers. So aggressive. I’m used to this commuting in London, but it was a bit of a surprise. I tried my best to ignore it and spent a long time rolling down the hill towards Lausanne. I had a huge grin on my face and was seeing lots of riders for the first time in a while so I waved to them all like a crazy person.

Lausanne! ❤️

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The best of days!

It was hot here, but the views of Lake Geneva were incredible. I stopped at a cafe at the bottom of the descent to get water, ice cream and some food along with Wifi. The route down into town was quite pleasant. It was quite quick going, occasionally stop start with traffic lights, but it was a remarkably quick town to get through.

After devouring a chinese (yes, I would like extra rice please), I rolled up and out into the vineyards to the east of Lausanne, where I heard someone call out my name. A dot watcher had come out to find me and we rode and chatted for a while. As we were doing so a car rolled past with a woman leaning out taking a picture on her phone – another family of dot watchers! This was quite cool. I stopped and chatted to them a little further up the road, and they kindly offered me some water and a bit of food. We rode on together for a large part of the climb, and was great to chat to someone after being alone for so long.

From the low of the morning, to this generosity of strangers was such a huge difference. It absolutely was one of my favourite days of the whole trip.

Hills 4…. Juanpass & Interlaken

Climbing out of Lausanne was quite an effort, but I was taking it easy for the most part while chatting with the dot watcher (who I think was Pierre – I’m so bad with names, sorry!).

I stopped and sat down in the shade in Bulle ahead of what I knew would be a bit of a tough climb. I saw #93 Geoffroy Dussault ride past. He had been following a similar path and had finally caught up with me. After several cookies, half a packet of crisps (it’s a big pack), haribo and some water, I pushed on up the Juanpass. This was the Alps proper, and was a truly stunning climb. The valley leading up to it was stunning, with the climb itself was really quite tough and steep but with splendid views.

The views all the way up were pretty epic, and the I topped the pass in the early evening sun listening to my bottom bracket and the sound of music from the hills. I was buzzing!

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A tough, but awesome climb

I was quite worried with my brakes rolling down this hill. The road was good, but steep and with lots of hairpins. I stopped halfway down to check out the rear brakes believing it to have worn out. Turns out the pads must have had some glazing causing some noise under braking rather than from wear. This was a bit of  relief as I only had one spare set of pads.

After a quick pit stop in a Spiez McDonalds (that was expensive!), I pushed on along the side of the lake to Interlaken where I found my first hotel of the trip.

The first hotel I stopped at in town had one last room available for 110 Swiss Francs. Ouch. I had already worked out that this was quite expensive, but I really didn’t care and told the manager as much. After a brief chat, sorting a place to keep the bike and telling him where I had ridden from and heading too, he kindly gave me a free can of beer. Love the Swiss hospitality.

A long shower, quick clean of my bibs and base layer I tucked into the can of beer just after 11pm. I woke up at 6am with the lights still on, and the half drunk can next to the bed. It had knocked me for 6! Literally 🙂

Next up, tackling CP2. Lots of real climbing was about to begin!

Relive.cc video for the day – an awesome one! https://www.relive.cc/view/661283950

Part 2 Stats:

  • Distance:  490 km
  • Ride Time: 22H 43M
  • Elevation Gain: 7,041 m
  • Calories: 12,876

Strava files:

 

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The view east from the Juanpass

 

TCR No. 4 Part 1: Start to CP1

Wow. The start was pretty incredible. I had barely time to process it before I was trying to work out which way to go next.

A cobbled descent off the Muur, hang a right, spot Paul #67 and gave him a shout, then hang a left where almost everyone seems to be going straight. A pair went past shouting “another one for the cool route!”.

No sooner had they passed me and were pushing on they took another turn, then I was alone. It might have been 2o minutes, but that’s all it took. for the next hour or so at various junctions you would spot another rider, maybe the tail light of one down the road, or a dynamo light over the shoulder.

I don’t really remember how hard I was pushing, only that I was conscious that there were riders to chase after up the road and riders behind to push on from, while at the same time trying not to push too hard. When a rider passes, you sink a little and drift back. Then go again… always best to just stick to your own pace.

Before I’d realised it, the road signs were French and I was well on my way. I pushed on through the night until around 3 or 4am where I started slowing down and feeling really tired. My route was a little further west than most others by the look of the tracker, but I had made good progress. I could see that a large majority of riders were taking a flatter route to the east and seem to be moving faster. I don’t know though – your mind plays tricks on you.

I started looking for a bivvy spot. I had not planned to sleep at all the first day, but I was feeling so tired I felt that I had to. But then it happened. I looked over my shoulder and there was another rider behind me. That made my mind up – no stopping just yet!

I pushed on until about 7am, where I stopped on a bench overlooking the river. I was so tired, I decided I needed to take a power nap. It wasn’t the best sleep, but it allowed my head to shake off the sleepiness and fatigue that was slowing me down. With the day ahead, I actually felt fairly refreshed by the nap, as well as a few words of encouragement from some friends following my dot back home.

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Breakfast! Boulangerie – the staple fast breaker for many TCR riders in France

I’d done quite well with water and food through the night, only drinking about half my supplies of 1.5 litres. It was a relief to find a boulangerie at around 8am, to pick up some real food and stock up on water.

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10AM and the field is all over the place already

I remember looking at the trackleaders map at about 10am. I’d been riding for about 12 hours and had covered about 300km. I was quite pleased as it had been really quite lumpy with lots of rolling up’s and downs that slowed the pace somewhat. I wasn’t too bothered about where I was compared to everyone else, but it did help spur me on a little.

Long Straight Roads

Any encouragement was helpful, as through the day the roads became somewhat monotonous and repetitive. Up, down, up, down, up etc. But at the end of the day, all I had to do was keep going! To break things up a bit I had a bit of banter going on with some friends on WhatsApp.

It got really hot as the day went on. The sun was really quite strong, and I remember the further south I went, the wind started getting stronger. It wasn’t bad enough to slow me to much, but it was a hot wind and made it tough to stay cool. A couple times I was going to stop to load on some sunscreen, but then I would see another rider behind and want to push on. I managed to get sunburn on the palms of my upturned hands holding the aero bars. A first for me.

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Toucy

After about 400km, I got to the picturesque town of Toucy. It was really hot, and had achieved my base goal for the day. It was only 4pm though, and was a little unsure what to do. I even went to the local tourist office to see what hotels were available. Thankfully, all were closed or booked up for the national day which helped make my mind up.

I would keep going through the evening, bivvy, then push onto CP1 in the morning.

Shortly after Toucy, I found a nice quiet field where I could attend to a developing problem. Saddle sores. I was quite concerned that they had developed so early in the race, but was not surprised with the heat, sweat and inevitable salt build up. I cleaned up and applied some cream to help ease the pain, and pushed on.

Fuel

My food through the day was all junk. Ice creams, crisps, chocolate, haribo. I’d eaten the boulangeries delights in the morning, keeping one veg pie back for the night as a backup, or bonus breakfast. I stopped quite a few times for water and coke, and was steadily eating through all my nuts and bars I’d started with.

With the heat and drying wind, I also noticed that I was starting to dehydrate so I doubled up my hydration tablet dose to try and keep salts in the body, without worrying too much about a water deficit. This had seemed to work in the past, and helps me keep my energy levels up without burning through all my water to quickly.

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Loire Valley

A great highlight for me was riding along the Loire in the evening sun. It was quite stunning in places and is definitely a place I will come back to. Probably via a flatter, less straight and nicer road though!

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The Loire. I’m going back here.

First Bivvy… sort of

After the Loire sunset and a big dose of flies to top up on my protein, I was starting to get really tired. After Toucy, I’d planned to try and get another 160km in before midnight. 570 km in day one was in reach, but I fell just a little short at around 158 km.

The road was getting slow and lumpy, so I figured it would be best to get my head down and recover some energy for the next day. I found a field that was not too far from a farm house, and tried to keep quiet so as not to draw any attention. Just as a dog started barking I managed to smack my shin against a pedal which really smarted. I managed to stifle any yell of pain, and the knee swelled up instantly with a little bleeding. It was like this, but without any noise (One for the Family Guy fans).

Also, the field was one of freshly cut straw. Not the comfiest with crops of cut straw making it a bit like a bed of nails.

In anycase, I was tired and it was still fairly warm so I pulled my bivvy out and covered myself over on the ground and slowly drifted off under a starry night. Dreams mixed with my reality a bit here, and could have sworn I was chatting to people before I fell asleep. The joys of sleep deprivation!

I woke up about 2 hours later – maybe 2am, freezing cold and getting rained on with a bit of drizzle. Not happy. I’d had the foresight to cover myself in bug repellent, but they always find a spot, and had a nice juicy mozzy bite on the sunburn on the back of my neck. Great!

HILLS

I pushed on, in a very tired state, but didn’t want to stop. So many hills. You go up one, down for a little bit, then up another. This seemed to be repeated all morning long. It was quite mentally draining, especially with the lack of sleep.

It turns out that resting on the aero bars at 4am is a really good way to start to drift towards sleep. It was the first time I noticed myself starting to fall asleep on the bike. Fortunately, it didn’t get too far this time, and once I’d noticed it I was able to keep ahead of it to prevent it from actually happening.

Prior to getting to Clermont Ferrand, I think I found the biggest hill in the area. Lots of switchbacks wound up the hill for an age. I had spotted this on the profile of the Wahoo earlier in the morning and was sort of dreading it the whole time. In the end it wasn’t so bad, just a bit slow and a little steep in places.

Coming down off the hill, daylight was breaking so I decided to switch to USB lights and start charging the battery on the Wahoo. It was all in all a good dry run for the many mountains to come – both from the climbing and descending perspective, as well as still having the thought power to sort out charging the devices.

CP1 – Parcours

On the way into Clermont Ferrand, I found a large Boulangerie. Here I stocked up on water and purchased an entire baguette pizza. A full size baguette, halved and loaded with cheese and ham. Washing that down with some coke, it was the first decent bit of food I’d had along with a couple of baked items the previous morning. It was heaven!

I decided to get my act together and push onto the checkpoint hotel. When I got into town, I suddenly realised I didn’t make a mental note of which hotel it was…! Fortunately, another rider arrived at the same time and I followed them to the hotel.

The CP1 was hosted by Lezyne who stamped my card and pointed me in the direction of the toilets to get cleaned up. I had a short conversation with Mike Hall, where I explained that I’d basically been hallucinating, and it was only day 2.

It’s also here where I learned that my open jersey along the Loire had meant a base layer full of flies. It took a little while to sort myself out, have a go at cleaning my bibs, lathering on some cream to ease the already sore nether regions.

I chose to push on and get on with the final part of the parcours as my route back came down through town again.

The road up to the Col  quite steep, and with the fresh dose of rain that had started made me somewhat concerned for the descent.

My first McDonalds!

So, with CP1 done, I headed to a McDonalds just south of the airport to refuel, recharge and assess my position in the race. This was a major turning point for me, and one that I think helped me get through the rest.

I realised that I was going the wrong way. On the tracker all these dots were spinning off to the north east, while I was a lone dot heading due east for the mountains. In fact, there were three mountain ranges in my path.

It was here that I realised that my route was not ideal, and was not competitive. Riding through mountains is slow – it’s almost always faster to go around them.

But I like mountains! So that’s the way I was going, and that’s where it occurred to me – JUST ENJOY IT!

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Really no idea why I ordered a DIET COKE?!

Part 1 – CP1 Stats:

  • Distance:  708 km
  • Ride Time: 29H 53M
  • Elevation Gain: 6,085 m
  • Calories: 15,828

Strava Files

Starting the Transcontinental Race

Getting there

Crunch time! I booked my bike and I onto a Eurostar to arrive in Brussels the day before the race to allow me an easy night in Brussels, using a free night with Hotels.com to get a fairly decent hotel. I dropped the bike off at eurodespatch where I had arranged to meet with Neil from Bowman, who wanted to do a short interview for the Bowman video blog, and to hand over a spare mech hanger. Just in case. You can see the interview here on their Between the Lines Blog. Bowman Cycles also did a nice pre-race blog post with questions and answers from all the BC Pilgrims riders at this years TCR.

I bumped into a few riders in the train station, notably Socrates #34, and a few others around the Eurodespatch desk, and a few dotted through the station. I wish I’d paid more attention now, but with all the nerves and an inbuilt inability to remember names it was a futile task.

When I arrived in Brussels, I bumped into Olly #22, also riding a Bowman Pilgrims, and while riding through town to the hotel I bumped into Dragan #137. Meeting all the riders on the way out was great, and everyone’s friendliness and openness in spite of all the nerves jangling was a sign of the community that this event has. Strangers are also immediately comrades.

Brussels was a strange place at the time and possibly still is. Countless armoured personnel carriers and soldiers were all over the place, and is a really unfortunate sign of the times. That said, I didn’t feel any safer as a result – just found it odd that in this day and age you need to have such a large military presence in a city.

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After checking into the hotel, I packed and repacked a couple more times. Once I was happy enough I headed out for a bit of food and beers. I honestly tried my best to avoid drinking too much. Sticking to Westmalle Tripel may not have been the best strategy for this.

Race Day

The original plan was to meet up with a mid day group ride organised by Jack Keevil #11, however after waking up, lying in as long as possible then hitting up the hotel breakfast buffet, I realised I would need to hang around for nearly 2 hours in order to join up with the group. Nerves pushed me on, and I decided to just get to the start. The route was one plotted by Jack, and was perfect –  lots of quiet lanes followed by a jaunt along the river/canal.

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A sign of things to come!

Registration in Geraardsbergen was a fairly straightforward affair. Take a number and get in line! It was a great opportunity to meet other riders. Again, I forget the names of quite a few (sorry!), but I was chilling around and noticed some key contenders sat all around me – James Hayden #75 and Emily Chappell #7. I kind of felt a little bit of a pretender with all the seasoned randonneurs around me. It was great to catch up with riders who I’d met before the race having met either through social media or been on rides with. Chris Herbert #182, Darren Franks #114, Paul Buckley #67 & Philip Schwedthelm #16 were all there.

Once I’d sorted my registration, I went down the road to the pasta bar. I wonder if this place only opens as a pop up once a year for the TCR? Business was booming! I had a big pasta pot with Paul, then rode around town looking to stock up on some food and water for the night ahead.

Rider Briefing

Mike Hall gave a thorough briefing in the afternoon, after which we picked up our brevet cards in a handy waterproof Lezyne wallet and headed off into the town to kill the 3 or 4 hours left until the race started in the town square.

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NERVES!

I met up with Thimothy a friend from Belgium who had come down to watch the start. We met in the square for some food, and I tried and failed to eat a rather large portion of frites mayo, and as this photo shows my nerves were not very well masked.

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I wasn’t really enjoying the frites mayo… 😱

In fact, there were a lot of other riders hanging around the square not quite sure what to do with themselves. I bumped into Chris Herbert again, who by now had taken up smoking to calm the nerves. I was seriously tempted to join him.

We decided to head up to the Muur to try and kill an hour or so. It was nice to climb up to the top in daylight, and at least have a vague idea of the way. We ended up going the wrong way however, and via slightly less cobbled route which was probably for the best. Chris had a crash only a couple weeks before and dislocated his shoulder, but was determined to continue with the race. The extra cobbles would not have helped.

Start!

We all gathered back down in the square at 9.30pm for a 10pm neutralised lap of the town. There were so many people in the square to see the race off, and the atmosphere was buzzing. I managed to get all the Bowman Pilgrims together for a photo which was quite cool.

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Managed to get all the Bowman Pilgrims lined up at the start. #154 #22, #67, #182
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Amazing buzz!

After the town mayor set us off on the neutral lap, we made our way slowly up and round the town to while all the spectators lit their torches and made their way up the Muur. Coming back through the town, we were able to make a full attempt at the Muur. I made no attempt to hold back on the climb, I was absolutely buzzing!

Once over the top, past the crowds, it got really quiet. Riders turning off left and right, stopping to set up their kit, and make sure nothing had fallen off. Now was the time for racing. The next stop would be Çannakale for some. Many would not make it all the way.

Videos from the start

I’m not sure my words do this start justice, so here is a video short from the start of the race that might help a bit: FIRE & COBBLESTONES (also check out their other video shorts from the race)

My friend Thimothy also made a video and you can see me pass on the Kapelmuur – hopefully you can see this here TCR No.4 Start – Kappelmurr (this link may only work with friends on facebook)

TCR No. 4 – Final Preparations & Kit List

The last few weeks of July was all about getting all those final preparations complete. The bike, kit, route and final travel preparations. I spent an awful lot of time tweaking my bike, with some critical last minute adjustments that really made a difference on the race.

Service

With three weeks to go, I put my bike in for a service with Jonny over at Noble Wheels, who also built up my custom wheels. I also handed him a set of ACOR semi-hydraulic disc brakes to fit with the new drive train components. My disc brakes were a last minute switch from TRP Spyres which were woefully inadequate at braking to some rather impressive ACOR Semi Hydraulic disc brakes, cable operated hydraulic pistons. These were an absolute life saver, and must thank Chris Herbert, a fellow TCR entrant for the recommendation. The braking performance and strength are increased significantly. Finally, the week before the race I added some brand new tyres.

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Only used the brakes, already had Shimano Ice Tech rotors

Bag setup

I spent quite a bit of time refining the bag set up. Trimming back the straps to avoid the extra drag, and using a lighter to seal the strap ends to make sure they didn’t fray. On top of this there was a lot of packing and re-packing to find the optimum fit, primarily to avoid my right leg rubbing on the side of the frame bag. The Apidura bags are really quite simple to install, but this last bit of minor adjustment would make a difference over the course of the ride.

Dynamo, lights and charging.

With the dynamo hub, I needed to either be running both lights, or charging a cache battery or device – I wasn’t able to both at the same time. I had originally planned to put a switch in place to allow easy changeover, but never got around to this. I ended up piggy backing the connectors and switching them around manually when required. This didn’t quite work out, but was sufficient in the end. I hadn’t quite envisaged I’d become an electrician in my preparations, but I now own a soldering iron and have become qute adept at burning my fingers with it.

Route Planning

I broke down my route into 19 200km chunks to allow me to schedule and plan day by day in something reasonably ‘manageable’. I’ve definitely learnt a lot about the route, kit and bike that I’ll cover in a later post. But for now, I had a 3,800 km route with 60,000 meters of climbing. I sincerely hoped this was wrong, and thankfully it was but not by much less.

Pre-race Nerves

The stress levels in the month of July were a little off the scale, and for the weeks and days leading up to the race, I wanted nothing more than to just get on my bike and get going. I had some great rides in July with friends, allowing me to take some of the pressure off just by getting out and riding , forgetting about the up and coming journey. I also spent quite a bit of time in the pub after rides, enjoying the sunshine and warm evenings. Not sure this helped!

On top of all the last minute preparations, work was sticking its oar in, causing some unwelcome levels of stress to compete with that from the race. Lots of early starts, late night finishes, all while still trying to sort everything out meant that there was little time to take some down time and relax. Everything seemed to need to be done at the last minute.

Kit List!

Unless you want to geek out over kit, you probably won’t want to read on from here. This is a full list of the gear I took with me, with some reasoning behind it. Maybe interesting, maybe not!

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So much stuff! I sent a few bits back before the start, but somehow it all managed to fit in.

The BIKE!

My selection criteria for a bike was fairly straight forward – it needs to be light, look good and have disc brakes. It was an easy choice to come to ride a Bowman Pilgrims. There were 4 at the start line this year, including mine, so was a popular choice for sure. I’m on a 54″ frame, with some custom Noble Wheels built with Shimano Ice tech discs – 140mm rear, 160mm front, with some Continental 4000IIs 28’s. The rear hub a 350DT Swiss with some sick custom sticker work to match the G!RO kit, with the front hub a Schmidt SON 28 spoke centre lock dynamo hub to power the bikes lights and devices.

The group-set is a Shimano Ultegra 11 speed with 52/36 x 11/32 gearing. I’ve always liked turning a big gear, but also having a much straighter 52×28 makes for much more efficient riding.

Braking by ACOR Semi-hydraulic disc brakes.

My bars & stem are 3T Team ergo alloy, with Profile Design carbon aero bars, all wrapped up (badly) in Lizard skin bar tape.

Lights are Schmidt front and rear dynamo powered lights. I also had a set of front and rear Moon USB lights as backup, and for a head mounted light. Also had a Lezyne rear USB light as a backup-backup, and a large powerful Cateye USB front light.

Around the bike, I strategically positioned reflective tape. There are some great spots for this behind the rear dropouts, as well as on the chainstays and forks for side reflectiveness.

I added both a Garmin Edge 810 on a K-Edge mount, and a Wahoo ELEMNT mounted on the aero bars. The Wahoo was a recent purchase after some flakey moments with the Garmin meant I lost all confidence in it. After the new brakes, this was my second best last minute purchase ahead of the race.

The Bags, and the stuff stuffed inside!

I kitted the bike out with Apidura’s bike packing kit which I purchased in January before I realised there were newer versions due out. In the end, I was more than happy with the bags, going for the medium frame and saddle pack, and the large top tube bag that I used to keep my phone, batteries, cables and other electricals.

I also purchased an Alpkit fuel pod, also before I was aware Apidura were going to produce their own, but other than a slight mismatch in colour, it was ideal for filling with sweets, nuts and other snacks along the way.

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Fully loaded, en-route into London town to catch the Eurostar to Brussels. 

Clothes:

1 set of kit: 1x G!RO Sportful team bib shorts, 1x G!RO short sleeve jersey and a lightweight sportful base layer, 1 pair of socks, 1x G!RO windstopper gilet, 1x Fiandre NoRain long sleeve jersey, 1x Fiandre No Rain arm warmers, 1x Sportful Hotpack lightweight rain cape, 1x Athletic PDX socks (black w/red), Lake CX237 carbon road shoes (white), DeFeet oversocks, 1x cycling glove mitts, 1x full finger gloves, 1x full length sportful base layer, and a snood. No spare kit, just alternatives for almost any weather. A casquette would be provided at the start, so chose not to bring a hat.

For the times off the bike, I had 1x Nike running shorts & 1x Nike running top. Nice and light for those moments when I needed to clean or take a break from the bibs. No footwear.

Sleeping:

1x Alpkit bivvy bag, 1x silk liner, 1x alpkit air mattress and 1x emergency foil blanket. Also packed some Incognito mosquito repellant for bivvying at night.

Spares & Tools

3x spare inner tubes, patch kit, spare 3x spokes, pump, 2x tyre levers, multi spanner (esp for dynamo light bolt), small multi tool, small ratchet with multiple heads, scissors, lighter, cable ties, Rear mech hanger (forgotten to pack!), cleats and bolts, other spare bolts, velcro straps and spoke key (also forgotten), 2x spare disc brake pads.
I chose (forgot) not to include any spare cables. I was fairly fortunate to have not had any problems considering all that I had managed to forget!

Other Stuff…

I packed half a toothbrush, mini toothpaste, Sudocrem, Savlon, anti-bacterial wetwipes, P20 sunscreen, lip sunscreen, antihistamines, ibuprofen,  quarter roll of toilet paper, and 2x melolin gauze pads to help keep me clean, fresh..ish and on the road.

 

I had a selection of USB cables to recharge the Garmin, Wahoo, iPhone, USB lights and 2x cache batteries, as well as a dual port USB EU socket plug.

I brought with me 1x tube of SIS Hydration tablets, but chose not to bring any gels or energy food. I had a handful of various sweet/snack bars, and would casually collect them in the days leading up to the start, filling the bag with more until it started getting full.

 

I ditched my wallet, taking only a waterproof phone case with some cash and credit cards, along with my passport and other essential documents and visas for the trip.