Catch up with the last post here: https://mattonabike.com/2017/11/13/cp2-to-bratislava/
To read from the start of my TCR, start here: https://mattonabike.com/2017/09/23/tcr-no-5-the-start/
Recovering in Bratislava
Having arrived at the hotel in Bratislava at around 4 pm, I had all afternoon and evening to relax before deciding my next move. The hotel was right next door to a McDonald’s and a shopping centre with a food court. I had a long bath, washed my bibs and base layer and headed downstairs to explore in my hotel slippers, off bike shorts and t-shirt.
It was a scorching afternoon, and was quite glad at my decision to stop for the afternoon and night, but had a nagging feeling a top 10 finish in the race was slipping away from me. I’d stopped in around 8th – 10th place. I popped into McDonald’s for a bounty McFlurry (amazing!), and headed into the shopping centre to find the food court. I feasted on some Chinese food – lots of rice and noodles, before heading back to the hotel for an early night.
I needed the rest, time off the bike to help my knees relax and soak up the Voltarol. When I was heading here, part of my mind was thinking this might be where I would scratch, but before going to sleep I reasoned as long as I could still turn the pedals, I had no good excuse to stop. Plus, after the 1,800 km to this place, I was fairly set in my mind about keeping going. I was less stressed about aiming for a top ten finish now, the focus was about easing back into the race and ensuring a finish without trashing my knees again.
Back On It
Turns out I was still restless. I was up and out of the hotel by 2.45 am, and onto the empty Slovakian roads. It was painful to see all the ground I had made the previous night had been lost, but I was reinvigorated with some quality time off the bike and a good 4 hours in the cool dawn to make some ground up to stay in touch with the top 10, still in around 12th spot.
I made good time very quiet roads, stopping shortly after sunrise in a service station to scoff some sandwiches, coke and ice cream – a perfect breakfast?! It turned out that a number of my planned roads were motorways, so I spent quite a lot of time detouring around them and planning the re-routing.
I eventually figured that others would be having the same problems, and through checking the tracking site free route, I was able to see where other riders ahead of me also had the same issues, so solving some of the trickier re-routes was a little easier by following some of their tracks. I stopped for an early lunch in Zvolen, finding the magical golden arches at the edge of town. The day had warmed up considerably, and the hint of the heatwave gripping southeastern Europe was beginning to bite the day so I was grateful of the familiar aircon, cool water, coke, big macs, nuggets and bounty McFlurry.
I’d barely got going again, when at the town of Banská Bystrica, my planned route was once again a motorway with no obvious way to route around it. I stopped in a service station to rehydrate, fuel up and plan way around. Scanning other riders routes proved interesting. Rider 146 abandoned the road and headed south, ultimately to go all the way around, a detour of at least a hundred km’s or more. Using a mix of mapping apps and free route, I found a path along the river until the road turned from motorway into legal road.
Next up was a pass over the Low Tatras in order to access the next valley, and the CP3 parcours up to Horsky Hotel Dom. The name the ‘Low Tatras’ is a bit of a lie really. It a fairly significant climb, topping out at around 1265m (est.), it was quite challenging in the heat of the day. I had to pull over into the shade early on, and took a moment to air my feet which were starting to show signs of hot feet. This is possibly the best way I’ve found to manage this issue, and whenever I stopped I take the chance to free my toes.
At the top I stopped quickly to take some coke on board, added one to the pocket and topped up the water bottles. After a really fast and fun descent, I was starting to see the High Tatras grow on the horizon. The afternoon had clouded over slightly, and the day was beginning to cool. I could see CP3 was in reach and was hoping to make it by sunset. I was really starting to enjoy the day!
A quick check of the tracker showed that #12, Stephane Ouaja was closing in. Coincidentally, we both arrived at the TCR No. 4 CP3 Hotel (Aleghe) at the same time last year, it seems we’d be likely to do the same. The roads were rolling, and after a quick hello and chat Stephane pushed on, able to ease up the hills being lighter and with a bit more energy.
CP3 – The High Tatras
Stephane must have stopped at a service station, as just before turning up to the parcours I passed him again. By now I had my phone playing tunes, the sun was setting, and I was in a happy place. I was back into 10th place (still a long way to go though), and my knees were no longer complaining. The CP3 road surface was rough and steep, but that didn’t matter at that moment. I was smiling and had Gramatik pumping on the phone. A happy place.
By now I had my phone playing tunes, the sun was setting, and I was in a happy place. I was back into 10th place (still a long way to go though), and my knees were no longer complaining.
Part way up the climb a car pulled up alongside, with Juliana Buhring, race director, who I’d not seen since the first night at CP1. It was so nice to have a chat and brought the race back into focus. She also mentioned there was a buffet waiting at the hotel, which gave me an extra spring in my step – I’d only had the can of coke to get me through the last stretch to CP3 and was getting hungry!
After a short chat, they headed on up to the checkpoint leaving me to grind out the last few km. It was great to see Robert Carlier #131 coming down, always nice to bump into a familiar face and say hello. These were some rough roads so I made a note of it, conscious that I’d need to descend this in the dark soon after. Would be a sketchy descent for sure.
I was welcomed into the checkpoint with Juliana jogging beside me for the last bit of motivation, and was a definite highlight of the race. I got my stamp, finding myself in 10th place. This was a bit of a surprise considering the time off I’d had yesterday, but had made really good progress. I was really happy after a great day on the bike.
I found the buffet and started piling up my plate with absolutely everything without a clue what any of it was. I think I did make a slight effort to take fresh veg and fruit as well, but I was really hungry and it was all good stuff. I was joined by Juliana, James Robertson and Stephane, chatting all things TCR, discussing possible race strategies, the field ahead and what was possible with the days remaining. Stephane was convinced I was playing mind games, but I was still in the frame of mind of focusing on finishing over race position, but he was convinced I was playing him. I suggested he could have 10th place for the price of a beer in Meteora.
After a bit of faff, re-stocked water bottles (it tasted weird, but was fresh from the mountain apparently), and rolled off down the hill. Stephane had left a little earlier to cement his top 10 position, but with a fair part of 2,000 km to go, it wasn’t going to make much difference.
The descent was super sketchy, lots of potholes and melted road meant for very slow progress. It was a glorious evening, with the lights of Poprad shimmering below, and with the one remaining checkpoint ahead, there was plenty left to play for. I was feeling pretty good, thinking I could make some good ground.
I noticed on the tracker, that Stephane had stopped at the bottom of the CP3 parcours. I figured he’d found a bush to bivvy in for the night, but it turned out he’d caught a flat on the way down. After coming off the steep descent, the road became fast and I flew down to town of Poprad, making excellent time on empty roads. I decided to put a few KM’s in between us before finding somewhere to bivvy for a few hours, but after a short time I found myself on a steady climb feeling sleepy. I’d been up since 2am so it’s not surprising, so pulled into a closed petrol station, set up my bivvy out of the way and got my head down.
- Distance: 385 km
- Elevation: 3,955 m
- Moving Time: 17 hours 33 minutes
- Strava File
- Ice Creams: 4