CP1 Schloss Lichtenstein to CP 2 Monte Grappa

I had a relatively good night sleep at the checkpoint in Honau at the foot of the Schloss Lichtenstein Castle, albeit only about 4 hours. There were a few comings and goings in the night, but I needed some sleep and was happy to wait until dawn to get moving. It was chilly when I woke up, but it was a really nice morning with the stream bubbling away next to the hotel garden where I’d bivvied up.

I ate what was left of the pizza and packed up my gear, being careful not to wake the fabulous volunteers snoozing in the gazebo. I was still half asleep, and my urge to get moving meant I’d forgotten to bother about getting water and breakfast in the Hotel. Quite a few riders had stopped in overnight and was also quite keen to get out ahead.

Within no time, I was on the CP1 parcours, a fairly short climb up to the castle. It was early and my legs had barely woken up, so was climbing nice and slowly. About a quarter the way up, James passed by dancing up like a mountain goat. I felt no urge to chase him down, wished him well on the ride and got on with my own thing.

A quick selfie at the top, and I rolled down headed towards Austria and some of my favourite riding of this years TCR. The roads were perfect; empty rolling countryside, and it was building up to be a beautiful sunny day.

I remembered some great advice for finding water in rural France, so decided to see if it applied to Germany as well. After an hour or so of wondering if there were any villages in Germany, I stumbled across the perfect candidate. I’d found a church with a graveyard complete with the outside tap for watering flowers on the graves perfect to fill my bottles. Result.

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Church + Graveyard = Water!

The route wasn’t particularly flat, and had a number of fairly steep lanes to navigate, so it wasn’t the fastest way to Austria, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It did mean that I was burning energy that I didn’t have, but eventually I managed to find a boulanger in a small town called Biberach, where I had a couple of sandwiches, water, coffee, coke and croissants. Basically filling up for the rest of the day.

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Fueling for the day

After refueling, I packed the croissants into my back pocket and got my head down for the day. The sun came out, and made for a perfect days ride at first. By early afternoon the day was scorching with temperatures hitting the mid to late 30’s C. I was so happy to come across the most amazing spring in the town of Oy. A large obelisk of rock with water pouring out of the top. A quick wash with my head under the spring, and I was ready to push onto the border.

Thinking of warmer days… this incredible spring saved my day on the #TCR #tcrno5 #tcrno5cap154

A post shared by Matthew Falconer (@b1rdmn) on

For the most part I had some more lovely empty roads to follow, but near the lovely town of ‘Wank’ I found myself back on a main trunk road and using the bike path along side it. I followed this path on and off all the way to the Austrian border, where I rolled over a bridge and it ended abruptly. The Austrians hadn’t managed to build their side!

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Pulled off here for a minute…

Entering Austria was where the real climbing would start. I spent a long time riding towards a horizon that was slowly getting larger and larger, and looked quite spectacular. The first climb was the Fern pass. Bumper to bumper with cars. It was chaos. I followed the road passing most of the traffic until I found the cause of it all, some sort of festival. The traffic didn’t really relent so I headed off onto a bike path to get away from it all.

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Traffic!

I followed this for some time, and while checking social media on this quiet empty road, I chanced to look up to spy a car that was flying towards me at speed. It didn’t slow down, but I managed to swerve off the side of the path to get out of the way. There were a few more to follow, all likely locals taking shortcuts around the bumper to bumper traffic on the Fernpass.

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Hills hills hills!

Thankfully, the car traffic led off into a road tunnel, and I followed the near empty road over the rest of the Fernpass to Nassereith. By now I was starving, originally planning to eat in the valley leading up to the Timmelsjoch pass, I found a McDonalds in Imst, after one of the most fun and fast descents in a while. Cars, motorbikes and motor homes all cheering me as they went pass. At least that’s what I think.

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Golden arches.

After an enormous feast, I pushed on towards the valley. I chanced to look over my shoulder to see the most threatening sky… The storm couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. The Timmelsjoch pass is up to 2,500 meters, and the road leading up from the valley to the summit is around 60km, plus a long descent to Merano meant it would be a 5 hour minimum. Not what you want to do as the sun is setting behind a ferocious thunder storm.

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Stormy skies

I’d literally turned onto the valley road when the rain started, so turned back a couple hundred meters to a petrol station for shelter. I knew right away, that was my days riding done. 250km was far below my intended target, but I figured I would make the most of an early finish and focus on an early start the next morning. I booked a room in a town up the valley and made my way up as the rain had started clearing. The hotel was perfect, with a Chinese all you can eat buffet restaurant across the road. Unfortunately, after washing my bibs and laying down for a moment on the bed I was lights out in an instant and failed to get any dinner!

My alarm work me just before 2am, and was kitted up and rolling by 2.10am. The Timmelsjoch is a really tough climb, and not one I would recommend to anyone, especially if they’ve not had any supper the night before, or any breakfast that morning. Not only is it a really long climb, in the dark it’s fairly uninteresting.. but the worst thing is the profile and gradient for the last 12-15km. It took me 55km and 4 hours to summit. Really slow. Really hard. The sun had come up, and it was small consolation that the views looking down to Italy were quite stunning.

The descent down into Italy was great fun. The views were spectacular; endless switchbacks with about 18 tunnels. I had to stop half way down to change my brake pads that had worn out. Top tip – even if there’s some bite left, get fresh pads for the TCR!

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Descent of dreams

I stopped at a grocery near Merano and finally had my breakfast at around 9 am. I was glad it had finally warmed up after a fairly chilly descent. I took my time to eat, drink and restock my food and water supplies before heading further down the valley. I’d lost a lot of ground overnight to other racers with the stop and taking on the Timmelsjoch while others were taking the easier, but busier Brenner pass to the east.

I found the roads down towards Trento a little tedious, but really scenic. A mix of quiet roads to Bolzano that I remembered from TCR No. 4, with long winding bike paths that would end suddenly next to a busy road. I found myself on the SS12 just before Lavis, and had to pull off the road as it felt really dangerous. I ended up rerouting up a windy twisty, and quite steep hill to get a village road to avoid it. It wound down into Lavis eventually, where I found a cafe for some ice cream, coke and a bit of shelter from the sun.

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Bike path Italy!

The only way to get past this town was to find a small town bridge a way of course, to ensure I avoided the SS12. It was a bit of a faff, but after the previous experience and as there was a portion of it that was banned, I felt it was a worthwhile detour.

Shortly after the stop I bumped into another cyclist on a really nice gravel tourer with just a handlebar bag. We chatted briefly at a set of lights before moving off… it hadn’t occurred to me that this was another TCR rider, he had next to no kit! At the next lights I noticed he had a Spot tracker on his handlebars. Turns out it was #131 Robert Carlier, a TCR veteran from 2015. It turned out his garmin had failed and was navigating on a mix of paper maps and a phone strapped to the handlebars. We both rode together for a bit on and off, both getting a little lost trying to find a route around the SS12 past Trento, then we came across possibly one of the most horrific little climbs, easily a steady 30%’er for a few hundred meters in the peak heat of the day. I managed to get up it without stopping, but nearly lost balance a number of times. Robert came unclipped at one point, but soon managed to get going again. We both agreed it was one of the worst climbs we’d ever done… That might change before the end of the day!

Shortly after we separated when Robert pulled over for some water. We would criss cross our tracks for the rest of the day.

I stopped at a cafe for some pizza, more ice cream and some coke as I was getting a bit wrecked. The route was all over the place, part meandering roads, part bike paths. At one point I came across a railway crossing that had just had fresh tarmac laid and was closed. I hid under a tree while the workmen who’d just finished removed the barriers. Hot day!

I drank a lot of water, stopping only when really necessary, and would regret not stopping for a proper feed before the end of the day.

My route went all the way down to Bassano del Grappa, before heading up to the checkpoint start location at the foot of the checkpoint 2 parcours, Monte Grappa. I was greeted by some very cheerful folks at the checkpoint, who were super happy and very welcoming. I managed a quick shower (using my base layer as a towel… not as bad as it sounded), before bumping into Stephane Ouija, #12. We had a quick catch up before I headed off to get some sugar drinks before tackling the climb. I scoffed some crisps to get some salts back in, topped up my bottles and was keen to push up the hill.

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An incredibly tough but rewarding climb at sunset.

I nearly had to push the bike up a number of times. The early start, the Timmelsjoch, the hot day and short sharp climbs without a proper lunch meant I was running low. It was early evening, the light was fading, and I was really keen to complete the climb before the sun set. It’s a really tough climb, and does not relent. The guys from Pedal Ed were on hand, primarily to photo Stephane who is sponsored by Pedal Ed. They followed us both up the climb taking some fairly epic shots in the fading evening light. The finish of the parcours was at the Rifugio Bassano, a restaurant that was unfortunately now closed. The route went past the Sacario del Monte Grappa, a monument and tomb to 12,615 soldiers. It is a special and poignant place.

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North East ish from Rifugio Bassano. Slight cloud inversion

Stats:

  • Distance: 619 km
  • Elevation: 7,685 m
  • Moving time: 29 hours
  • Strava File1, File2
  • Ice Creams: 5
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TCR No.5 – Start to CP1

I was buzzing after rolling over the top of the Muur. Feeling some of the heat from the blazing torches and people cheering is an amazing experience. It’s not long before you’re following red blinking dots down the road. It is kind of surreal.

I managed to make it over the top of the Muur in around 20th position. That wasn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly helped narrow the focus and get on with the job, but most importantly allowed me to navigate the Muur without holdups. As I picked up my route and settled things calmed down really quickly, but I was making the most of being ‘warmed up’ from the Muur and started pushing on. I had lots of targets up the road so started easing up and passing them. I recall going past both Bjorn and James, shortly after both of them powered past. I hadn’t slowed down but they’d be going easy initially, before putting the gas on. It was a really fast start, with a few of the big names pushing hard early on. I kind of got swept up in it and joined in.

Feeling some of the heat from the blazing torches and people cheering is an amazing experience

I was expecting to be spending lots of time on empty roads in the countryside, but with my routing this year I’d been much more direct and chosen more major roads that were considerably faster. At one point though, the road I was on turned from a 2 lane single carriageway into a 4 lane dual carriageway. There were no signs or indication it was a motorway, so I kept going for a short while. I became concerned with how safe it was, and if it was even a legal road, so I looked to detour around to my next turn. I found a lovely country lane with some inevitable rolling hills, and was back on route within about 20 mins. I dropped a quick WhatsApp to Race control to let them know, just in case I’d been on a road I shouldn’t. I’ve since had a look and still can’t tell either way.

This would be a bit of a theme for my race. I would constantly find myself on busy roads that I was genuinely unsure if they were permitted. It adds considerably to the stress, not knowing if you’re breaking some rules, and ultimately wasting time finding ways around.

Just after dawn, I found myself feeling really quite fatigued. I knew that once the sun would come up I would feel much fresher, but I decided to stop on the side of the road for a quick sit down and power nap. I’d ridden over 200 km in 8 hours without stopping so it was needed. I can’t have been there for much more than 10 minutes, when I saw Andy Sallnow #134 and another rider pass. I maybe had another moment or two of trying to snooze, but I’d already managed to shake the fatigue off. I jumped (grudgingly swung a leg over..) back on the bike.

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Always go a little crazy when the sun comes up

5km down the road in Arlon, just before the border with Luxembourg, I found a boulangerie where another rider #94 Matt Kimber stopped for a break. I ordered up coffee, croissants and an apple turnover and made for the bathroom.

While using the facilities another pair arrived and by the time I’d rushed down the baked goods, another few were arriving. They must have done some good business from TCR riders that morning.

I’d managed to get out ahead of Matt, who I had been leapfrogging a few times in the early dawn and was taking a nap. Freshly fueled, with at least some de-fatigue time, I was motivated to push on a bit. I think the next 20km must have been downhill or with a tailwind, but either way I felt I was flying along, and made good time to Luxembourg. A short rest and a bit of food might have been the key bit.

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Dreamy Luxembourg tarmac 

The roads there were something else, so smooth and gently rolling. I was really enjoying myself. This lasted right up until the next French border where just before I’d routed down a cobbled descent, a small price to pay.

Needless to say my route was quite weird. I crossed the river and into France for the second time, but it wasn’t long before I made the German border and was winding through bike paths in forests heading towards France for the third and final time.

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France/German border

By 2pm I was feeling quite tired again so decided to take another stop under some trees to shake the fatigue. It was here that I first heard some news about something happening to another rider, with some speculation about it being a TCR rider. This made snoozing difficult, and with no confirmation I was just hoping it was nothing serious. As I couldn’t rest, I pushed on again for another hour or so. Tiredness and thoughts plagued my mind, and with the heat I decided to stop again, this time in a village where I checked my phone to find I received an email notifying that we had lost Frank Simons, rider #172.

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What would Mike do? #BeMoreMike

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself at this point. With fatigue high, and the heat making it tough going, I stayed there for a while thinking things through. I hadn’t met Frank, but felt a connection through the family of the TCR, and this left me feeling quite sad. I was also unsure how I felt about racing, and whether I should continue. I tried to snooze, but with everything running through my mind it wasn’t possible. I decided to make my way to CP1, sleep on it, and see if I wanted to carry on.

I set off, and within minutes had bumped into James Hayden. I always like to say hello, so pulled along side to chat, and also to have someone to talk to about Frank. He’d not had the news and was in a bit of shock when I told him.

We rode together for a short while, chatting. I needed to be on my own to process the news, and I suspect James did too. We were riding at a similar pace and not really separating so I decided to stop at a kebab shop for some calories.

The next part of the ride was my least favourite. I found myself on various urban roads, some busy, through lots of towns and mixing a lot with traffic, or criss crossing the road trying as best as possible to follow really poor bike paths. This was completely different to my experience in TCR No. 4, where I spent almost all the time in the empty countryside or in the quiet mountains.

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Standard servo refuel

Once into Germany, after making my seventh border crossing of the day, things eased up a little. I recall riding through a town and up this ludicrously steep hill and into the forest and countryside beyond. I was annoyed by the climb, cursing my routing skills yet again, but it was actually fairly pleasant. The day was cooling down, the temperature easing and the sun setting while riding through a relatively quiet forest.

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I was starting to get hungry again, and chanced upon a small pizzeria where I bumped into Ian To #16. We had a chat while eating pizza, discussing the news of Frank, and the merits of continuing. There was the question that came up again – is all this worth the risks involved? I didn’t know the answer, and is a lot to process in such a short space of time while being part of it all.

Ian was keen to push on to the Checkpoint where he’d make his choice about continuing. I really wanted to do the same and get some sleep. I finished up my massive bottle of coke, saved half the pizza, and drank the rest of the ice cream (it was still warm out). With water bottles topped up from the town spring outside, half a pizza strapped to my saddle bag, I pushed on into the fading light.

Darkness stirred some of the fatigue again, but I felt I had plenty of energy, and managed the last few hundred km’s of the day with some decent speed in spite of a bit of climbing involved. I somehow managed to get to Checkpoint 1 ahead of Ian through some miracle of route planning. I was welcomed in by some familiar faces which I genuinely wasn’t expecting. It was great to catch up with Daniel Fisher, #133 from TCR No. 4 – we battled all through Greece for 11th & 12th last year. Also, Joe Todd was there, several volunteers and Juliana Buhring with her welcoming hugs. We had a chat, and by now I’d made my mind up – I would continue the race. It’s what I had trained for and worked towards for so long, I felt it wouldn’t be right to stop when I was still physically and mentally capable. Also, I had arrived around 12.30am in 7th place, and was super happy to be a good position. It felt wrong to not make the most of a really good first days ride.

Some people often comment about how lonely it can be riding the TCR, and wonder how do I manage. There is the great sense of community in the TCR, a feeling of being part of something bigger which gives me a feeling of never really being alone.

There is the great sense of community in the TCR, a feeling of being part of something bigger which gives you a feeling of never really being alone.

It was great to chat and catch up with everyone, but I was so tired. I had a quick clean up and change in the toilets of the hotel, which was now closed up for the evening, and set up my bivvy by the river with a couple other riders.

Stats

  • Distance: 596.7 km
  • Elevation: 5,487 m
  • Moving Time: 23h 53m
  • Strava file
  • Ice Creams: 2

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5,600 m climbing – didn’t quite avoid all the hills… had a good go at it though!

TCR No 5 – The Start

Having completed the TCR just one year previous, you would have thought I would have been much more prepared second time around. I basically left a load of stuff to the last minute and ended up panicking right up until midnight on the day before travelling to Brussels. Work was really busy in the last few days and I ended up having to work Arizona time for some of that week.

As much as there was last minute packing, I’d actually done a good job of lining everything up ahead of time. My route was in a much better shape. My kit was, and has mostly been ready to go since coming back from a week bike packing around Sardinia in May. I’d somehow managed to add significantly more stuff to the bike this year though.

My full kit list can be found in a previous post here 

Getting There

I did exactly the same as last year – Eurostar across on Thursday, night in Brussels, spin over to Geraardsbergen in the morning for Registration and pasta. I was fortunate to be in a hotel with several other riders so had some company on the ride across, with Scott #131 and Eric #119.

Registration

This was a little slower this year, in part due to new process for checking kit etc. and in part due to the increased field – 280 starters, up around 60 from last year. It was a great chance to catch up with friends and some previous years vets, meet new people and generally relax. Relaxing was tough though. All you want to do is just get going.

Mike Hall

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Losing Mike in the Indy Pac in March hit everyone so hard, and the team did an incredible job putting the race together at such short notice. During the briefing there was as you would expect an extra emphasis on safety, but also some insight on the rules of the TCR from some videos Mike put together earlier this year. It was strange to have Mike still give the briefing. There are some lovely words here by Juliana Buhring on why it was so important for this race to go ahead: https://cyclingtips.com/2017/09/keeping-mike-halls-legacy-alive-transcontinental-needed-continue/

Stocking & Fueling up

A good friend from Belgium, along with his family met with me in the square and we shared a few cokes, coffees and nervous looks. Thimothy has been able to come to both starts, but then heads over to England the following day for Ride London. He kindly took a bag of things that I deemed not required (couldn’t fit into the bags…!), as he would be stopping by G!RO while he was over there. I’m terrible at throwing things away, and saved having to post it.

I stocked up at the local supermarket on water, haribo, some snacks and some coke. I just needed enough food to get me through the night, and stopped off in the strangest restaurant/diner for a chicken burger and chips.

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A great friend of G!RO, Thimothy and his boy.

The Start

Last year the start was buzzing with anticipation and excitement. It was the same this year, but with remembering Mike with a minutes silence and a raucous applause and cheer, there was a tinge of sadness. This somehow made my nerves bubble quite a bit, but that is to be expected with something like the TCR.

After some lovely words from Anna and Pat, we were counting down to the start with the Mayor setting us off for a neutral lap of the town before the assault of the Muur. I’d made a point of being much closer to the front this year. Although it makes little real difference over the course of an 4,000km race, I was keen to be at ahead of the crowd so as not to get held up.

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“Nothing worth anything was ever easy” – Mike Hall, as quoted by Patricia.

As we rolled around the town I was super nervous, hoping not to stack it before we even started. I spotted a few friends from last year, said hello and wished them a good race. It helped me settle a bit.

Then came the Muur. I really don’t remember last year’s run up the Muur. I’d visited Geraardsbergen in April when there for the Ronde, but this time it seemed much tougher. My HR was red lining early doors, as I pushed over the bridge up the hill and back into the market square. I decided to ease off a bit so as not to blow up, and found a nice rhythm.

Thimothy was just by the restaurant after the steep bit just before the top, I spotted him on the way up and gave a wave (see the video below!). The climb up through the crowds with the flaming torches is something special.

 

So soon afterwards, the crowds are behind you and you are on the way. Only 4,000 km to go.

Stupid me #1

It’s amazing how much you can learn in the first few days of the Transcontinental Race, things that you would have thought you might have picked up before hand. I decided to make a list of some of those points in the hope that I’ll remember them for TCR No. 5.

At least that is the hope! Failing that, it makes for an entertaining list of stupid or funny things that I did, or should have done, or that just happened during the race. I’ve a feeling this is going to be a long ish list, some funny, some just plain dumb, others a little concerning and questionable decision making. At the end of the day, a list things not to do next time round. This is part 1 for now, we’ll see if there’s enough to add (remember) from the rest of the race.

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Start -> CP1

  • Not drinking enough. Really dull, I know but was an important lesson I learned quickly. I made sure that my hydration drink was doubled up with tablets to make sure I got my salts
  • The route I took. I wasn’t the only one, and it wasn’t that stupid, but it was really hilly. Lots and lots of rolling ups and downs on rural French roads. I did about 6,000 meters on the first day even before I got to CP1.
  • Not sleeping in the night. I was really sleepy at one point on that first night, and was rolling through the countryside looking for a suitable field to bivvy in. I had zero experience of bivvying, knowing where to bivvy, or more importantly where not to bivvy. In the early hours of that first morning I was about to stop. One look over my shoulder and the sight of a Dynamo light set my mind straight – ride through the night. Its not the daftest thing, and maybe done me alright in the end.
  • Seeing things/hallucinating at night became quite unnerving. I’m really quite comfortable in my own company, but I think a big part of me needs to have people around or to interact with. When I was tired, alone and looking at the shadows in the trees from my dynamo, a combined sign and street post, I would see people, faces and all sorts. Some were downright scary, others were just weirdly familiar. The first two nights before I got any sleep were so bad for this.
  • Not stopping to put sunscreen on Day 1. Again, a rider was following me. I felt like had to get away, but they kept getting closer and closer… All very daft. I ended up taking a detour down a random road and found some shelter from the sun and lathered on the sun screen. But not before my hands, arm, face and the palms of my hands (upturned while on the aero bars…) were red with sunburn. Everything was sore already!
  • No Chamois cream. I’ve not used any in over a year now. Day 1 on the TCR my arse was shredded to bits. I yearned for chamois cream, or something to take the pain away. I did learn that after about 4 hours, the pain subsides. Until you shift your position in the saddle. Then there’s another 4 hours of pain.
  • Not stopping for proper food. I found a boulangerie in the morning on Day 1 and bought some choquette’s and two pies. I saved one, ate the other. Everything else I ate that day was junk – crisps, chocolate, ice cream, haribo, fruit mentos. A baguette and some cheese should have been the order of the day.

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  • After nearly 600km from the start, I decided I was too tired to go on. I crept into a field where straw had just been harvested. Clumps of 2 inch high straw stems littered the field like an inviting bed of nails. I crept into the field, made my bed and suffered the discomfort
  • Banging my shin on my pedal. This field was close to a farmhouse so I wanted to be as quiet as possible. I banged my shin on the pedal and all I wanted to do was scream! It instantly swelled up to a tennis ball size lump on my shin with a trickle of blood.
  • Not really making my bed and laying on the straw. I just laid down in the warm evening covering myself with my gilet, looking up at the stars and drifted off to the throbbing of my shin. I woke up maybe an hour later with light rain falling shivering heavily. No other option than to pack up and get moving.
  • Riding through the early dark morning when dead tired. Aero bars, night time, 6oo KM in the legs with 1 hour sleep = drifting off/micro sleeps on the bike. I managed to catch myself before it got to far, but should have got myself more sleep
  • Racing another TCR rider through Clermont Ferrand to CP1. I make it to the checkpoint start, and forget which is the checkpoint hotel. When checking my notes, the rider I had just raced arrives and rocks straight up to the correct hotel, ahead of me.
  • “Up the stairs, to the left of the lift” is what she said. I got in the lift and went up one floor and couldn’t find the bathroom. Back down and turned right and there it was.
  • The state of my shorts. And my arse. Sore. I lathered sudocrem and savlon on the sore bits. Really don’t think it helped much.
  • Chamois cream? Damn it.
  • Following the CP1 parcours loaded on my GPS. I was so focused on following the parcours exactly, I wasn’t really looking where I was going. Off route came too many times
  • Not listening or writing down what sign or date I needed to look for at the top of CP1 parcours as evidence of completing it. It was a date on a sign in a window. I think..? No one asked for this information anyway, but I wasted about 10-15 minutes at the top looking for it… Was anyone else sent on this treasure hunt?!

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If you have enjoyed this, let me know in the comments below as I have many more tales of woe and failure to divulge.

TCR No 5 Training Update – Feb to May

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted, and there’s a lot that has happened in that time. I thought I would share some of the things I’ve been up to as part of training for the TCR (aka just having fun riding my bike… mostly), and then give an overview of where I am in my training and preparation.

The Curve Belgie Spirit

The first thing to mention is I managed to build up my ‘adventure’ bike at the end of February. I’d trained an awful lot over winter on a fabulous Colnago aluminium CX bike, clocking up over 4,000 km since December, but it was time to put the Ti to the road.

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😍

Wales – Mac n Cheese Tour

My first big trip/ride of the year was to see my mum in St. Davids, West Wales. I’ve done this before and learned an awful lot about riding a bike, and riding through Wales (and where not to ride…) – last year’s adventure is blogged here [LINK]

This year I went much earlier in March on a Friday, took a much more direct route, got utterly soaked and frozen, but arrived in St Davids in considerably less time than last year, beating sunset by a couple of hours. The Mac n Cheese was incredible as ever!

I rode back to Bristol the Sunday to get the train back home in some appalling wet and (tail!) windy conditions. A really good ride though!

  • Strava: Dwr Cymru
  • Distance: 242km
  • Elevation: 2470
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The infamous ‘Mac n Cheese’. Well earned!

Mini France Tour – Abandoned

I had planned a 500km weekend, 100km to newhaven, 300km Dieppe to Caen via rural France, then 100km Portsmouth to home over 36 hours, using the ferries as my ‘hotels’. I bailed on the way down to Newhaven after getting soaked on the way down, getting a train home from Lewes. The next day was spent with some mates riding from pub to pub in one of the warmest and sunniest weekends of the year to date.

Crashes

The next day was my first crash. Lost the front of the bike on a descent and went straight down on my left side causing a small amount of road rash and a little dented pride. No harm done really, but cut my G!RO Sunday ride short to go nurse my wounds.

The following weekend, I’d signed up with some TCR vets (the Gravélo Test Team) to do a Gravel ride with the Sunday Echappee team – a 200km mostly gravel ride north of London. I lasted about 50km, even before we hit gravel. I went down on muddy, greasy corner that was a concrete farm road. I went down really hard on my right side, in the process snapping both of the shifters on the Curve. I felt ‘fine’ at the time, but a taxi to the train and a long journey home allowed everything to develop.

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Not supposed to look like that… 😪

Roadrash was bad on the leg, left hand/wrist felt unusable, ribs hurt when I sneezed and right shoulder was sore.

My immediate concern was for the wrist so got that checked out on the Monday ahead of the trip to Girona on the Thursday, followed by a weekend in Ghent for the Tour of Flanders. Not ideal.

G!RONA

This trip had been one I looked forward to for quite some time. With a group from G!RO, we signed up with the guys from Sommet.cc for 4 days of Spanish sunshine, food, drink, and amazing cycling. We were looked after by the team running the Service Course, Espresso Mafia and La Fabrica – run by the retired pro cyclist Christian Mier and his wife Amber.

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Oh yes! Espresso Mafia produces the goods

Day 1 was a short bike check in the afternoon after arriving. At this point my hand worked OK, but I’d managed to lose all confidence in descending. Strava

Day 2 was like we’d been transported to Flanders – cold rain meant a very damp run to the coast, but totally worth it for a fabulous stretch of road. Strava

Day 3 we hit up the Mare de Deu del Mont – a really challenging but incredibly rewarding climb with many characteristics of the Hautacam in the Pyrenees – steep in places, but no consistent gradient to allow any sort of rhythm. The views from the top were spectacular. Strava

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G!RONA

Day 4 was a short ride, then pack up and fly home. I’ve never, ever, ridden with such a bad hangover. A spin up to Els Angels and some really stunning winding roads made for some great riding – just not for me. No confidence and feeling rotten – should have stayed in bed! Strava

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A rare picture of me in a dark place.
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G!RONA

Mike Hall – Ride in Peace

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Mike, doing what he loved. Pic: Indy Pac 

I’d become an avid watched of the Indian Pacific Wheelrace, and was enthralled with the race that had developed between the leaders, Mike Hall and Kristoff Alegart. Tragically, Mike was killed in a collision with a car on the 31st March. The race was cancelled following the incident.

Mike Hall has had a profound affect on my life, and his loss also affected me deeply. Since I took part in the TCR last year, the possibilities of what can be achieved on a bike; the places you can go and the distances that can be travelled by bike have made the world a much smaller place for me. This wouldn’t be possible for me if it had not been for Mike Hall, the man behind the Transcontinental Race.

I had only met him a handful of times at the TCR, and chatted a few times through email. Even so, he has led me to aspire and to achieve many things that wouldn’t otherwise have even been considered rational, let alone achievable. I’m not alone in this, and his work and inspiration has led to ultra distance riding and racing becoming mainstream and accessible to many.

Ride in Peace, Mike.

Flanders

An annual trip out to Flanders with a few regulars from G!RO is always a good way to clear the head. We head out on the Saturday, drink, watch the racing on Sunday (with a hangover), then ride on the Monday before heading home.

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Tom!

After the news of Mike, I made a point of plotting the ride to take in Geraardsbergen and the Kapelmuur. It was strange being back there, but felt the right thing to do. It was also a lovely ride, having organised a group ride with some guys from Bike Radar, Peloton de Paris and few others.

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Flanders

Belgie Party! Wales #2 – Easter Holidays

After a short spell of cold, I fixed up the Belgie with some new Shifters and began plotting. For Easter I’d planned to do something a bit extra, and to try and encompass the #BeMoreMike attitude to riding. Originally I had no set plans, but as things turned out it became clear that I had to go to Wales the long way, then once there head to my mums again. This time taking the hilly route.

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Black Mountain, Wales.

The ‘long way’ to Wales was heading South West to the New Forest, across to the Mendips and Cheddar Gorge before crossing into Wales.

After an overnight stop in a Hotel, I headed to the Brecons, taking in some of the Dragon Ride climbs – the Rhigos and the Black Mountain (from the South), before heading into Ceredigion and finding the lumpiest route to St. Davids.

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The Belgie loves Wales.

It was a tough tough day, riding uphill into headwinds all day, but I was rewarded with some more of my mums amazing Macaroni cheese.

 

Audax – Oats and Coast: Abandon..

I think Wales took a little too much out of me. On the way back (again to Bristol and the train) I noticed my right Achilles tendon was sore. I thought little of it, and continued as planned the following weekend to do the Oats and Coast Audax with a group from G!RO.

I only managed to make it 130km around before I had to bin it and get the train back. I’m still to complete an Audax, with the only other one I entered I abandoned after 50km due to heavy snow.

The 'I've had enough' look. 📷: @jfrowland

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Injuries

With a London 2 Paris ride and a week in Sardinia I decided to get someone to look at my Achillies. While I was at it, I also wanted to get my shoulder seen to as it was still painful after the crash in March.

Fortunately I’m covered with Bupa through work and was soon speaking to a Physio about my problems. It turns out the Achilles is less of an issue, but the shoulder is a torn rotator cuff. I’ve been having physio on this for over a month, with more sessions to come, but with the plans in May and the TCR on the horizon, I felt it’s best to get fixed up smart.

Challenge Sophie London to Paris in 24 hours Sportive

I did this last year, and likely will again next. This is a fully supported ride from Greenwich to Paris in 24 hours. A great route supported by a slick team meant a really enjoyable 24 hours spent riding and meeting new people, breezing into Paris in around 23 hours. I had planned a solo ride home afterwards, but with the achilles still not 100% I felt resting ahead of Sardinia would be for the best.

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PARIS

Sardinia!

I first went to Sardinia in 2011, not long after I started riding a bike in the quest to get a bit of after summer sun, and explore somewhere new. When I was there I borrowed a hotel mountain bike and discovered some epic climbs for the first time.

I had to go back and conquer that climb, and as many of the others that I could in week long bikepacking adventure around the Island.

Dropping my bike bag off at a hotel I would stay for the last two nights, I headed around the coast clockwise. Stopping in pre-booked hotels, I was able to hold a firm goal each day to motivate me and help keep going.

Sardinia is a stunning place to ride a bike. Lots of climbs, switchbacks vistas, coast roads and descents. I covered about 1,100km in the week, with about 4 & 1/2 days of cycling. I took a planned rest day after 3 & 1/2 days, as well as final day by the pool at the end. The weather was all sunshine, but did get a little hot at times.

I can heartily recommend some of the roads south of Alghero; I rode up the coast at sunset and it was a particular highlight. The two days I spent riding in the East mountains were very special. Lots of incredibly quiet mountain roads, with the occasional small town or village here or there. Many adorned their walls with murals depicting some of the history of Sardinia – exploring Orgosolo is a must as this town has some of the best murals on show.

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Full route followed can be found on Spot Walla: https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=13c7858e7753faad80

 

TCR No 5 is ON

After a really difficult time processing the passing of Mike, his family and friends and sponsors of the race came together to work out a way to make sure the TCR goes ahead. This was confirmed pending clarification of some of the finer details before the end of the May bank holiday. Almost everyone I’d spoken too was keen to at least be there in Geraardsbergen in July, but having an official and controlled race is such a great way to honor Mike and what he created with the TCR. It was also crunch time for many, being a huge commitment in planning, time, money and mental preparation in order to be ready in time for the start.

 

G!RO to Paris in 24 hours… and back again!

Finally, the last training rides in May was a G!RO to Paris adventure cooked up at a New Years Eve party. Jordan who runs G!RO, Jon and myself made for a neat group of strong riders, even if some of us hadn’t been on a bike in a week or so (tapering!).

Jon and Jordan arranged to meet their wives in Paris to make this a much more of a civilised trip, unlike the trips to G!RONA and Flanders.

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G!RO 2 Paris Squad

We set off from G!RO around 5.30 pm and we were joined by another G!RO regular, Dan for the ride down to Newhaven on the Friday in absolutely perfect conditions – a beautiful summer evening in the lanes. A quick pitstop in Lewes to load up on some food for the ferry and breakfast before hopping on to the boat for the night.

The overnight Newhaven – Dieppe ferry is a dark dark place. It’s maybe a 4 or 5 hour ferry ride, during which you probably are able to sleep for about 30 minutes in total.

We docked in France just before dawn at around 5am and slowly made our way down to Buchy for breakfast at around 50km. None of us had a lot of energy, but some coffee and a pitstop at a boulangerie help recharge the batteries. The next 100km was just perfect – weather, roads, mates, a stop by the river for a some lunch and then some ice cream.

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PARIS II

It got really hot after that, and the last 20km as always was a bit of a slog into Paris. We all arrived with no issues in just under 22 hours.

The return leg was a solo run, leaving at 4am to catch the 12.30pm ferry back, followed by a 100km spin back home. Managed to make excellent time to Dieppe, covering 173km in just over 6 hours. The total time back was just under 17 hours, a personal record for me.

TCR No 5 Training Progress

So I’ve done almost all the riding I wanted to do with regards to training for this years race up until this point. I’ve managed to get a great week in Sardinia as part of some multi day experience, albeit more of a touring holiday I managed to learn a fair bit about myself and plenty of distance on the new bike.

The injuries and crashes have set me back mentally somewhat, and have been a challenge to overcome. I’ve lost my way a bit with looking after myself and diet, which was on track until the crashes. I was on track for my target weight of 78kg, but since March it’s only been going up. Now the confirmation of the event is there, I will be focusing on using that to motivate me to eat better and look after myself. I’ve also given up drinking again – this is always the fastest way for me to drop kg’s!

I think I’ve done as much endurance training as necessary, so now its time to focus on building up my fitness with higher intensity training, as well as focus on working my core and healing my injuries with some physio.

I’m not worried about my shoulder, but keeping a close eye on my achilles – this was a common cause of scratching in last years race.

In the meantime, I do have one last adventure to plan for – a long weekend in the alps playing in the mountains!

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La Toussuire, France. Switchbacks 🙂 

 

 

Heading for Some Mac n Cheese

Its time to take my new TCR machine on a test ride to my mums for some macaroni cheese. She makes the best. Trick is, she lives 430km away in St. Davids, in South West Wales. You can read all about my trip for Mac n Cheese last year here: TCR Training Ride

This year, I’ll be riding my new bike from Curve Cycling that I bought from G!RO Cycles, a Ti Belgie Spirit built with most of the parts from the old bike. I’ve had a couple of rides so far and I’m seriously impressed. I’ve been riding with a huge grin on my face most of the time.

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I’ll be raising money for Action For Kids charitable trust again in the lead up to, and during the TCR. I reckon this little adventure is a great way to start raising some funds – so don’t be shy, click the link below to donate, it’s a great cause:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/matthewfalconer

You can follow my progress through a bit of dot watching as I’ll also be testing my own Spot tracker. After the loaner on the TCR failed and I still don’t know if I’ll get my deposit back, I figured I might as well get my own as the deposit/cost is not much different and will have plenty of other adventures to get the most out of it. I’ll be setting off a little after midnight on Friday morning – you can follow me here.

Also, keep an eye out on http://instagram/b1rdmn for some posts of the journey.

I’ll also be cycling back some of the way on Sunday. Due to work and time constraints (also, have you seen this weekends weather?!), it’ll only be to Bristol but tracking will still be active.

Why am I doing this? A great excuse to get a proper test ride in on the Belgie, a bit of endurance training, see my mum and eat a bucket load of pasta and cheese sauce. I also just really enjoy riding my bike, specifically riding it in Wales.

Happy Saint Davids day!

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2016 Round Up

What a year.

Politics and celebrity deaths aside, for me it’s been all about the Transcontinental Race. It is more than that though, to think of everything I’ve done to get me there and then beyond; its been incredible. Most of this I’ve blogged about in previous posts but it’s worth mentioning again the amount of fun I’ve had preparing for the TCR while riding with a great bunch of mates. If you want to see those TCR posts, start here

#dawnraid #ridewithmates

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These guys have been with me all the way from winter rides in January through some crazy overnight rides and long mid summer rides. The knowledge and experience I’ve gained just through chatting to some friends and others I’ve met on or in the cafe after rides has also gone a long way to helping me prepare. I’m often terrible at taking on good advice, but with the sheer amount of it some actually stuck in the end.

What an amazing day to be riding a bicycle. #GIRO #Sundays #ridewithmates

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The TCR itself went better than I could have possibly imagined. I originally had an optimistic plan of a 10 day finish but that went out the window as soon as I realised how poor and naive my route planning was and I hit the third set of mountains in France. Still finishing in 12 days, the main goal I had focused on, was achieved with a time of 11 days, 9 hours and 26 mins. 12th place was a huge surprise, but there were a number of strong riders that scratched ahead of me. Most importantly was how much fun I had doing it. The freedom you feel, coupled with all the sights, sounds and people you meet on the way has me hooked on this type of adventure. The bug has been caught, without a doubt. I’ve met some great people through the TCR, and I’m still meeting them. This is a big community, and I have been fortunate to meet some incredible people. You meet them on the road, at checkpoints, at the finish, at meetup rides and events. The common language and similar experiences, as well as the shared bug for it breaks down barriers.

I was absolutely blown away by a surprise party that the crew at G!RO threw for me when I came back from Turkey. Such a nice gesture, and is certainly a highlight of my year. Since that, it has been tough time post TCR. A little bit of the blues, low motivation, some injuries lingering on. As a result, not being able to ride was tough for a bit, but I did just enough to keep myself happy. I’m really quite lucky to have a good bunch of friends around me that will keep me motivated and join me in slightly crazy rides. One issue that I still have is that I have no control over my diet anymore. Possibly a hangover from the TCR, but maybe just who I am. January will need to see some significant weight loss and will power. Needless to say there’s a lot of stored energy to burn and a lot of ideas to use it up on.

I took the opportunity to relax a bit and try to recover, but still managed to get in a few adventures with the G!RO crew in late August and September. Riding just for the sake or riding with your mates, with nothing to prove is why I do this. Highlights were a late summer cruise out to the Chiltern’s via Henley, and a ‘Castle Crusade’, in search of all the castles we could find between Portsmouth, Steyning and Esher.

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Castle Crusade – Braking the rules…

In September I took part in the Revolve 24 team relay event at Brands Hatch. This is so much fun despite the tough endurance nature of it. This was the second year I’ve taken part in it with a team from G!RO Cycles, and is the best fun you can you can have on a bike with mates. So much fun! The first session on Track was a Le Mans style sprint across the track, jump on the bike and go for it!

Some serious competition this year as well. On the third lap, I gave way to let some others do the work and rolled onto the last wheel. The last wheels legs were ripped. This wheel turned out to be Jason Kenny’s. I narrowly beat Jason to 2nd in the fastest lap competition. Yes, that’s right, I’m faster than Jason Kenny!

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2x Team G!RO ready for Revolve24

We were doing quite well, but I think my tactics failed us towards the end. For much of the night we were holding 2nd, but gradually lost out to 3rd and finished 4th in the 4 team relay. It’s partly a luck game too – missing out on the mini peloton after a changeover meant working solo and sapping time. Still so much fun. Was a great chance to catch up with some fellow TCR No. 4 riders Paul Buckley and Stuart Bernie who were part of the team that pipped us to 3rd. Josh Ibbett was also there with the Bike Channel, and was great to see all the familiar faces.

We were racing with two 4 man teams from G!RO, and a lasting memory for me was finding a rider from the other team out the back of the track at 4am. What followed was a little over an hour of 2-up chaingang after we had managed to drop the hangers-on. Tired, cold, wet, with heavy legs smashing it round a very lumpy race track – couldn’t have been in a happier place!

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Could have done with some of that on the TCR…

Since September, things went quiet on the bike front for a bit. Sort of. I went to Las Vegas for my sister’s wedding and hired a bike. Naturally!

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It brought me no extra luck.

Biggest highlight of Vegas (after my sister’s wedding of course!) was a road trip out to the Grand Canyon North Rim, an incredible place!

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Grand Canyon North Rim.

I got out for one last big adventure at the end of November before the cold settled in. I rode the bike down to Newhaven on Friday night to catch the ferry to Dieppe. From there I rode down in the cold and dark night to Evreux, then up through Calvados towards Caen for a stop in a hotel before a ferry home the next day. I really enjoyed the lanes and countryside of Calvados, and must plan some more adventures like this. It was worth it just for the Boulangeries!

Boulangerie to the rescue! #hungry #veloenfrance

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Christmas was once again a bit of a focus on the festive 500. I also had a target mileage for the year, so used both as some motivation to get some miles in over the Christmas period. I spent Christmas in Kington, right next to mid Wales, and used the opportunity to its fullest. On the way up from my mums in west Wales, I stopped off at Brecon and did a loop of the Black Mountain and reverse Devils Elbow. Stunning place.

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Devils Elbow, Brecons. A great playground!

Boxing day I headed over to the Elan Valley. Despite some navigational errors and some dead ends, I had one of my favourite days riding of the year. The Elan Valley is a special place, and I’m making some plans to go back there very soon!

Top of Elan Valley dam. Stunning place, perfect day. #ElanValley #dam #wales

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I rounded it off with a trip down to Gospel Pass on the way back to the smoke. A really tough day, and a much steeper climb than I had given it credit for. Worth the effort by the time you get to the top – the views are incredible.

To round of my year on the bike we went for a social with the regular G!RO crew over to Windsor for some Iced buns, a perfect way to cap the year off. This ride brought my mileage for the year up to 13,000 miles, just shy of 21,000 kilometers. Happy with that!

This has been an incredible year, and have been really fortunate for the most part. Thanks to everyone that’s been a part of it! I can’t wait for all that 2017 will bring, with lots of challenges and adventures already planned and ready to go. Watch this space – I hope to keep it interesting!

Happy New Year!

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TCR No. 4 Part 7: The Final Push to Çanakkale – Part 2

Greece:

Shortly after as dawn was breaking I made it to the border. I was starting to flag a bit, but there was a certain euphoria at having made it through the night and into Greece. This started to catch up with me and in the early morning sun, and I began to nod off. I decided enough was enough and pulled into a field to sit down for a short snooze to shake the fatigue.

A dog barking in the distance snapped me back into waking, realising that it could be a TCR rider approaching. Time to hop on and push on.

The short cat nap did little to lull the fatigue, but I was handling it for the most part. I’m not sure when my beloved Sportful no rain long sleeve jersey fell off the back of my saddle bag, but I only realised shortly before Seres. I back tracked for about 6 or 7km and found nothing. The frustration of losing my best jacket which had my last good inner tube, large chocolate 7 Days croissant, and my l’Etape du tour 2014 snood; it was quite a low point, losing the time in the search, riding through large puddles from the previous nights rain multiple times in a vain search for my jacket.

After giving up, I resigned myself to making sure I was refueled and covering all the things that I could in order to keep myself moving. I stopped in Serres at a cafe and stuffed myself with a large baguette, washed down with a couple of cokes. Checking the tracker, it was getting close with a number of riders closing in. Again, time to get moving.

I stopped briefly outside of town only to see Daniel Fisher motoring past in an aero tuck. I jumped back on, and proceeded to do my best to chase him down. I mean, I had to have a go, right? We leapfrogged each other a couple of times on the road to Xanthi, and in conversation on one passing, it turned out that Daniel had picked up my lost Sportful knee warmers having found them on the gravel road in Macedonia. Result! Apart from that, it was a bit of an unspoken battle and felt good to be in a bit of a race.

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Using the heat of the day to toast a ham and cheese baguette. The only photo from Greece.

Suffering

The heat of the day was building with a steady headwind. It was wearing me down, and after a bit of a battering on the cobbled streets of Kavala both my bike & I needed a little TLC. I had to make a hasty repair with cable ties to my seat tube bottle cage that cracked on the cobbles. I also noticed my dynamo light connector had broken while switching to charge devices, so that would need some fixing before a final push overnight to the finish, but could wait for now.

One thing had been building all day – sore feet. All the cycling through muddy puddles had taken their toll on my shoes, socks and feet which were all still wet despite the 30 deg C + temperatures. After seeing Dan & my route split at Xanthi on trackleaders, I took some time out to tend to them while eating ice cream and drinking a double espresso. Trench foot is what it turned out to be, and it was very painful. I aired my feet, socks and shoes for as long as I could, but was itching to get moving.

I took a southerly coastal route to Komotini, so was fairly exposed to the headwind. It was tough going, and although I felt I was losing lots of time, I really wasn’t that far behind Daniel. Even so, by Komotini I was bonking so pulled into a garage to get water, coke and food. I was greeted by some incredible hospitality. The owner could see I was suffering and after a short conversation about where I was going and where I had come from, invited me to sit down and have a coffee and water with him. He refused to take any money for it, and was a really nice moment discussing Greek, Macedonian and Turkish politics.

It was time to push on, and the dogs that had been sat at my feet while chatting away were now chasing me down the road. Little buggers! Before long I was through Komotini and on the road south towards Alexandroupoli. There was a small set of to hills to navigate as it was getting dark, and yet again some distant flashes hinted at an encroaching storm. The darkness set off the fatigue again. With the added heat,  I was really flagging and it got a bit dangerous as I was nodding off at times on the descent. I eventually gave into fatigue and made camp in a bus stop for about an hour to recover enough to push through the night.

After about an hour I felt OK again, more driven by hunger than anything. I stopped in Alexandroupoli and ate crisps, coke and chocolate at a cafe and topped up my water bottles. I figured with about 200km to go, this could well be the last stop, so made the most of it.

Pushing up to the Turkish border was really tough. There was a steady cool headwind pushing down the hill towards me, and I was literally crawling. It was quite a low point – I had energy, but no motivation to use any of it. I kept on looking to the distance thinking that the lights ahead was the border, but it just never seem to come.

That’s when Sylvain #223 pulled up along side. His company helped me get through that short eternal road to the border. We rode side by side chatting all the way, sharing concerns about the route to take to Çanakkale. We finally made the border and the 5 or so checkpoints at about 2am. I lost Sylvian for a bit – he dropped something them met again a little further down the road. This was it now, the final stretch.

We road together for a bit, but being on the motorway it became necessary to separate. I really found my rhythm here, and before long I couldn’t see Sylvains dynamo light behind me.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. I had some really strange deja vu with some bizarre feeling that I’d done all this before. I had of course completely forgotten about the last hill on the motorway before heading down towards the Gallipoli peninsular, and it seemed to go on for an age as well. The sheer number of buses that past fairly close and at seemingly enormous speeds was a little hairy at times. I couldn’t quite fathom where all these coaches were headed at 3 or 4 am.

My left Achilles tendon decided to give up about here. I’d been pushing quite hard through the night, so must have just pushed it beyond its limit. For a large part of the hill I was pedaling with one leg.

The fatigue really set in too. Theres something about long straight descents at night-time that really send me to sleep. It was getting sketchy at times, but for now it was OK. My tendons were thankful for the rest.

It was about 5 or 6 am, and I was starting to really feel the fatigue. I had been glancing over my shoulder looking for the tell-tale dynamo light creeping up, when I turned back to look where I was going it was off the edge of the road, just as a bus sailed past. Before I could correct the course the front wheel was over the side of the tarmac and I was down. The small 2-3 inch drop was more than enough to stop me in my tracks.

I got up quickly, dusted myself down and basically jumped straight back on. From near sleep to buzzing with adrenaline in one spill. I’d managed to graze my arm and leg, but was largely feeling OK. I kept going for another hour before the inevitable adrenaline crash – I was double tired now. A quick stop in a service station for coffee led to some really friendly staff cleaning me up. There was a fair bit of dirt and blood on my arm and it looked bad, worse than it actually was. They kindly cleaned me up and gave me a free coffee before I jumped back on and headed on my way.

Dawn was breaking now, but the fatigue was still trying to put me to sleep. I didn’t want to stop for the fear of someone overtaking me. If I had mobile data in Turkey, I would have been able to see that I had a good hour or more on the next rider. I didn’t, so I pushed on, keeping the legs turning.

This is where I started talking to things. Partly because I was going crazy and partly to try to stay awake and alert. I would greet road signs and have very one-sided conversations. This carried on for a while, then I tried to mix it up a bit with putting in some efforts. Once I saw the 50km to go sign, I thought I’d pick up the pace.

I tried, really hard. There was nothing I could do to maintain any kind of effort. My heart rate just wouldn’t get about 110. This was annoying! I just wanted to push on and be done, but it wasn’t going to happen in a hurry. This was a grind.

I had a nice burst of pace shortly before the final town of Escabat, and the ferry. Out of nowhere, while slightly drifting off again, two angry dogs came barreling out from the side of the road intent on savaging me. That really woke me up. They had no chance of catching me though – adrenaline really does the job.

I arrived in Escabat, found a cash machine and bought my ferry ticket – the next one having just arrived. I’d done it. This felt really odd, probably as I was so tired, but it was hard to fathom any of it. I was a bit gutted I had no power in my phone and no way of taking pictures or letting anyone know, but I was sure people back home were all following the dot.

I boarded the ferry and purchased a coke, crisps and chocolate feeling utterly elated. I sat down, and slowly drank and ate. I fell asleep then, waking just as the boat was docking in Çanakkale. A sketchy walk down the stairs to collect my bike and  walked off the ferry.

A short pedal around the corner to the clock tower, and that was it – finished! The race crew and volunteers were there to check me into the finish, stamp my card and congratulate me. I was asked how I felt at that point, and honestly nearly burst into tears there and then. I didn’t feel I had the energy for that though. I felt relief, euphoria, happy, sad, all sorts of emotions that are hard to describe. I’d had the time of my life and a big part of me didn’t want it to end.

I was asked how I felt at that point, and honestly nearly burst into tears there and then. I didn’t feel I had the energy for that though. I felt relief, euphoria, happy, sad, all sorts of emotions that are hard to describe. I’d had the time of my life and a big part of me didn’t want it to end.

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Photo: James Robertson – the only photo I can find of me at the finish!

It would take a while to source the hotel, food, clothes, flip-flops, ice-cream, kebabs and new iPhone cable before I could start taking photos and get in touch with everyone back home. But that was all OK.

I finished in 12th place, after 11 days, 9 hours and 26 minutes

I finished in 12th place, after 11 days, 9 hours and 26 minutes. My main goal had been to complete the race in less than 12 days, giving me a good few days to unwind in Çanakkale ahead of the finishers party and heading home.

It took me a while for all of this to sink in, and as a rookie in the TCR I kind of felt like I didn’t belong there so close to the top riders. Chatting to everyone in the days after helped reconcile this, but until I have another go I’m not sure it’ll be fully resolved. I’m definitely going to try to have another go at this!

Final Word

This has been a truly life changing journey for me, and wouldn’t have been possible without everyone involved with the Transcontinental Race. It’s a huge community, that almost seems like a (slightly crazy) family.

THANK YOU!

To Anna & Mike for organising such an incredible event, to everyone behind the scenes that helped bring it together. To Tom for sorting out my new tracker. To everyone who watched over my little blue dot for two weeks, everyone at the start, each of the checkpoints and the finish, many of whom are volunteers.

To all the riders I met along the way, to the dot watchers that came out and said hello, to everyone on social media who wished me luck.

THANK YOU!

I feel really quite privileged to have been part of this incredible event, and hope to come back and have many more goes at it in the future.

Photos from Çanakkale

That's a wrap! #TCRNo4 finishers party done. #TCRNo4S154 congratulations to the winners and finishers!

A post shared by Matthew Falconer (@b1rdmn) on

 

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The Pilgrims at the clock tower

Kebab eater in Cannakale @nelsonisherepeople @radrishi @danlapierre9 @b1rdmn

A post shared by Stephane (@kiwistephane) on

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Feeling happy to be done!
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The bike that got me here..
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Trojan horse from the movie Troy
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The biggest of the many kebabs consumed in Çanakkale
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Greeting new finishers and handing out beer
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Boxed up and ready to fly home
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Your winners at the finishers party! From Left to Right: Emily Chappell, Kristoff Allegaert, James Stannard & Andrew Boyd
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Homeward bound!

Stats

  • Distance: 1,096.6KM
  • Ride Time: 42H 44M
  • Elevation:  6,160 m
  • Calories: 23,471
  • Bags of Haribo: 7

Strava Files

TCR No. 4 Part 6: The Final Push to Çanakkale – Part 1

While resting at CP4 on the Sunday afternoon, checking Facebook when I saw some from family indicating that sadly, my Nan had passed away over the weekend. This was a bit of a shock. My gran was a vibrant character, even at 95 years of age was very active. I made some calls home to see how my mum and sister were doing, and came away lost in thought, but also with some added determination to get to the finish for my Nan. Before the race she had been really interested in all the training and the riding I had been doing and had sent a good luck card to wish me on my way. I had meant to give her a call before I left for Belgium to say thank you, but with all the preparations and last-minute packing, I sadly didn’t get the chance. My mum reassured me that this was OK, I had asked her to pass on my thanks before the race and she told me how proud my Nan was of me. This gave me a powerful determination to ride – to finish and finish strong.

She told me how proud my Nan was of me. This gave me a powerful determination to ride – to finish and finish strong.

I love this pic of my Nan, mum and me taken a few years ago:

 

I woke on my alarm at 4am. I’d spent the previous evening sleeping, eating pizza and drying my clothes and shoes with a hair dryer. Putting them on in the morning it was clear that they were still quite damp. I’d resigned myself to getting wet anyway, so wasn’t too bothered. Most of the riders that had arrived the previous day had already pushed on, including the #212’s and #223 Sylvian. A couple of others, Daniel Fisher #133 and Stephane #12 arrived in the night and were also getting up ready to move out in the morning. I was quite organised and after a quick chat with the checkpoint night shift, rolled off down the hill towards Kosovo.

First a long twisty wet and foggy road down, then a couple of moderate climbs, but nothing too challenging apart from one shortcut through a ridiculously steep back street that thankfully didn’t last too long. The last of the climbs was the gentle road up to the Kosovan border shrouded in yet more fog.

One of the lasting memories I have of Montenegro is its familiarity. The place reminded me of my home, Wales in many ways. Steep misty valleys, rocky mountain tops. It was a feeling, and outside of the Durmitor National Park and the road to Kosovo may have little reality beyond my own mind. I regret that I didn’t really see the place, mainly thanks to the shroud of darkness or the aforementioned cloud and mist, and as such I took no photos in Montenegro. This is something I’m going to fix one day!

Check out some of the vimeo videos from the Durmitor National Park here, part of some of the incredible photography and videography from inside the race this year – https://vimeo.com/178151522 

And the official Transcontinental Race YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKRsd5HOKbR2O4517b7cmLA

Kosovo

The border of Kosovo was shrouded in fog in the early morning. It wasn’t that cold, but visibility was fairly low. After a short chat with the border guard I was off down the misty hill into Kosovo, following a very cautious car. This was fine for me, as the car was a good marker for all the hairpins on the way down. It was about midmorning by the time I was down the and into plains of Kosovo.

I really had no idea what to expect from Kosovo. It was poor, that was obvious. Despite this the friendliness of the people I met was fantastic. Each time I stopped, I would be invited to sit down and talk about my bike and the trip I was on.

Sadly, my impressions of the place went down a few pegs as I moved through the country. The traffic, pollution and driving standards were all worth a few swears as I made my way. It had heated up a little bit as well, and in general really didn’t enjoy my time there. Being driven off the road by a lorry was not fun.

I’d not seen any riders since leaving the hostel in Montenegro, but I did spot some carelessly discarded Haribo Golden Bears on the road (a shameless waste of a favourite) – a clear sign that there were some TCR riders not too far up the road. I still had no data so couldn’t check, but it was a nice incentive to pick up the pace a little.

Going via Pristina was not part of the plan, more of a miscalculation – I skipped my tuning from my GPS file and used offline maps to take main roads. The town was gridlocked and a little hairy at times. Once through it was a relatively straightforward road down to the border. Again, no photos, but don’t feel an urge to go back and correct this. I made the border in the late afternoon, feeling fairly pleased with my progress and glad to have Kosovo behind me. I found the people incredibly friendly, but it was not a fun place to ride my bike.

Macedonia

Shortly after the border, I stopped in Skopje for some food and refreshments, only really the second stop of the day. I bought a feast at a service station that also had free wifi. This was a first chance to check on my position on trackleaders, as well as getting in touch with friends and family. I had been fairly pleased with my progress since Montenegro, but the encouragement I was getting was blowing my mind and driving me on even more.

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Taking stock in Skopje – in the pack chasing the top 10

One of the good things about Kosovo had been the road surface. This kind of fell apart in Macedonia. After setting off from Skopje, I took the only road I knew was available – a sort of back road to Veles. This had to be the worst road on the trip so far, and was just unrelenting. It all started off harmlessly enough, with some minor cobbles exposed under some fading tarmac. As I left civilisation, the road just got worse.

I heard there had been some floods in Macedonia while holed up in the hostel in Montenegro and that it was best to avoid roads to the south of Skopje, and looking at trackleaders I could see other riders had done the same.

This back road surface had deteriorated even further as a result. It was broken, warped, potholes, even large sections of cobbles thrown in. On top of this there were places where large amounts of gravel, sand, mud and debris had been washed across the road. It was tough on the contact points, with my hands taking the brunt of the impact, with my hot feet and saddle sores also wholly unimpressed.

Dogs

So far, I had little to worry about from the canine threat. I had one huge dog chase me in Croatia after passing his patch of burning rubbish. No barking, growling – just chasing. Another dog I came across in the Durmitor national park, a huge sheep dog guarding his flock of sheep. I stopped in the road with nowhere to go. The dog slowly walked towards me – in a moment of genius I reached into my food pouch and broke off a stick of Twix chocolate bar. I made a friend there and then, and passed happily through the flock.

At the foot of a hill late in the rural Macedonian evening, I passed a small house with a dog barking. At first I thought little of it – he was barking away seemingly inside the borders of the property. All of a sudden this beast burst through a hedge and was snapping away at my heals. The burst of adrenaline and pace and the surprise at my own shouting at the dog was fairly intense. The unexpected burn up the hill used up a bit of energy, and only added to my frustrations.

Keep Going…

It was difficult not to let these frustrations get to you, but when its dark and you’re tired it can be tough. The only thing you can do is keep going. Before long I arrived at the vibrant town of Veles. I thought about stopping and take on food and water, but felt the need to push on. Not long afterwards I was rewarded by the company of James & Andy, the pairs #212’s, after meeting them on the side of the road.

It was great to have some company and chat away, and was one of the nicest evening rides I’d had. Obviously riding side by side, listening to some of James’ music and chatting away the kays time flew by for a bit. With the frustrations and dark times I’d had that evening, it was a welcome relief.

We kind of took a wrong turn at one point, and ended up at a dead end that allowed a hop over the fence to a service station. I didn’t need to stop and was keen to get back on my GPS route, so I said my goodbyes expecting to bump into them when they caught me up.

This decision felt like a really bad idea shortly afterwards. I found my road fairly quickly, and almost as quickly as that there wasn’t really much of a road. It was about 15/20km of unpaved gravel track. Early on, there was a tunnel rudimentary carved out of the rock. It was only short, but was teaming with bats chirping away. I’ve referred to this road in conversations many times, and have named it the ‘Bat Cave Road’. I swear, the bats were laughing at me. The thunderstorm started then, and thats when I knew I was going to be in for a very long night.

I swear, the bats were laughing at me. The thunderstorm started then, and thats when I knew I was going to be in for a very long night.

I was trying to keep moving, keep pushing to get through the road. Lots of deep muddy puddles with all sorts of surprises lurking underneath came and went and was starting to feel quite confident. That of course is when I noticed my back wheel was feeling more than a little soft. Great. My first puncture after 3,000KM in a thunderstorm on some unknown road in Macedonia. I checked the tyre to find a large length of wire sticking out. I was still impressed the stones hadn’t pinched the tube, but I was soon to be less impressed by my light situation.

Running dynamo lights means that when your wheel stops moving, your light stops working. I had no cache battery to run it off, so had to resort to the iPhone torch. Not the most practical, but really glad I’d been saving the battery.

I worked quickly to get a spare tube out, hiding at the bottom of my pack. I emptied the contents onto the road, and made quick work of replacing the inner tube. It was filthy work, and was a bit hurried, but I managed to get it all back together in relatively good time.

When putting my kit back into the pack I discovered I’d piled it all onto an ants nest. Everything was covered in large ants. A bit of a shock in the dark – like something out of a horror movie with bugs crawling everywhere, but I quickly shook off as many as I could, packed up and pushed on again.

I maybe lasted about another 3 or 4 km before I accepted the next puncture. I hadn’t put enough air in the first time so made sure I put more in this time to prevent another pinch flat. Getting the wheel back on was a nightmare. I’d managed to dislodge the brake calipers, so had to reset them in order to allow the wheel to turn. I must have spent an hour on fixing both punctures and brakes.

The relief of leaving this road was immense. Buy now it was raining steadily, so took some shelter in an underpass in order to check everything was ok in some street light. After a short stock take and composing myself, I realised I lost my knee warmers and my Sportful Hotpack rain jacket on that one bit of road – the two specific items I was looking for to continue through the night. I wasn’t going back down that road for them. I accepted the loss and pushed on towards the Greek border.

Stats (part 6 & 7 combined)

  • Distance: 1,096.6KM
  • Ride Time: 42H 44M
  • Elevation:  6,160 m
  • Calories: 23,471

Strava Files

TCR No. 4 Part 5: Storms and CP4

I finally plucked up the energy to push on. A few km’s down the road before Sinj, I found a grocery store and loaded up on food and water. I was fairly baked from the last couple of days and a really bad night so refreshed my water and food reserves, enjoying the ‘delights’ of 7 day croissants yet again. Once I sorted myself out, it was time to push on in a break in the weather.

This break didn’t last that long as the rain and storms kept escalating. At one point I swerved off the road and took shelter under someone’s porch in a torrential downpour. The rain was intermittent but heavy, however I was already soaked so soon realised I was just wasting time hiding from the rain.

I managed to push on for another 20km or so. Each time I crested a hill a clap of thunder would drive me on seemingly chasing me. I finally gave in and found a cafe at a roundabout shortly before the Bosnian border. This was a good stop, as it gave the weather a chance to clear, to load up on some coffee, and for me to get a little extra charge into the iPhone by MacGyvering the cable by holding it at angles. Sadly, this will be the last time this cable worked.

I set off after a couple of hours, followed over the hill by yet another thunderstorm. Keeping low and plodding on.

Moving closer to the Bosnian border the signs of the war are still very visible. Many burnt out buildings riddled with bullet holes. For the most part there had been little I had spotted before this apart from a APC turned memorial next to the road not long after Gospić the previous day, but the signs were becoming more frequent.

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Every chance I got I stopped looking for a new cable for the iPhone, but it seems the whole of the Balkans runs on android phones that use the micro USB over the iPhone. I’ll remember this for next time!

Moving down into Bosnia was uneventful except maybe for the loss of all mobile internet, right up until Mostar. The only internet I was able to use was to photo a cheese and ham baguette stowed on the aero bars. When back in the UK this short Instagramming session cost about £20 in roaming data and was probably the reason data stopped working as it maxed out.

The last was such a hit. Here's lunch! #TCRNo4S154 #TCRNo4

A post shared by Matthew Falconer (@b1rdmn) on

I thought I had been making great progress, but had foreshortened the distance from here to Pluzine in my mind, the start of CP4 parcours. This was frustrating.

The road down into Mostar was fast and horrendous for a number of reasons.

  1. The road. More badly laid tarmac that hurt every contact point with the bike. Hands, Feet, Butt.
  2. The horrendous wind. It was blowing in every direction at about 70-80 kph. I still don’t know how I made it down that hill without laying the bike down.
  3. The heat. Coupled with the wind, it was quite brutal.
  4. The dust. Combined with the heat and the wind.

I found myself swearing at the wind, dust and heat many times in Mostar. The dry and dusty wind made it tricky to see and control where I was going.

I finally managed to navigate my way out of the town heading towards the local border crossing after Gacko. Between a massive long climb and Gacko there was a small matter of the most oppressive valley I’d found. It went on forever, seemingly trapping me in with no obvious end to it.

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No way out… this valley was a struggle.

Gravel

It finally relented and I came out into the industrial town of Gacko. I had a couple of options here, and was especially nervous about the border crossing into Montenegro. There were many discussions in the lead up to the race over the validity of it, and I knew that there was a long gravel road involved with a local crossing point that I might not be allowed to cross. My original plan was to enter Montenegro from the north, with this as an option to cut some distance and time and after spotting a few riders ahead of me using it on the trackleaders site, I took the chance and went for it.

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Nearing the gravel road watching the last of the day drift away

I got to the bottom of the gravel road about an hour before sunset, and slowly edged my way up. It was kind of a bad time to try it, as if it failed I would have had to navigate the gravel road down in the dark, re-routing about 120km.

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Sunset from a gravel road on the Bosnia-Montenegro border
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The road that mostly destroyed my shoes

Fortunately, after a bit of disagreement with my loaded strava route I found my way over the mountain, part walking part riding right until the border. The road literally changed instantly from gravel to possibly the nicest tarmac of the trip. Heaven!

This was a beautiful road winding down the side of the valley down towards Pluźine and my only regret was that it got quite dark and I didn’t get to see it in its best light. You could still get a real sense of the road and environment though, and the road was a real joy.

I rolled in to Pluźine really hungry, so went looking for some food. Literally as I came into town the place went pitch black in a power cut. Yet another thunderstorm had followed me here and had taken out the power. I wandered around a little aimlessly in the dark for a bit until I found a disco bar and pizza place next to the closed hotel at the bottom of town. While ordering my food I weighed up my options, either find somewhere to stay in town or push on up through the CP4 parcours in the dark and stormy night. I really didn’t fancy the later so I asked around for a place to stay and came up trumps with a wooden cabin at the bottom of town for €12. A fair bargain! I ate my Pizza washed down with a coke and headed down for the night.

CP4 Parcours

The next morning I woke late again and had a really good omelet washed down with a thick Turkish coffee. It was my first time drinking one of these, and had a bit of a surprise at the bottom of the cup!

I settled up for the breakfast and coffee and headed up to the petrol station at the edge of town to get some supplies. Here I bumped into Sylvain Blairon #223 and Stuart Bernie #142. I grabbed a few bits from the service station and we all started up the climb together.

I was fortunate to have had a good night sleep and feed, where both Stuart and Sylvain had arrived later in the night and slept rough in a carpark and I don’t think ate well. Before long I was pushing on ahead of them both and made my way up the mountain into the misty rain.

At first, the climb was really pleasant. The whole place kind of reminded me of Wales. Hilly and a bit damp with some lovely fresh air. As I gained some altitude, it was clear the weather over the Durmitor National Park was not going to be good. It started off with misty drizzle that developed into driving cold rain over the top. What I could see of the views was fairly spectacular, but for the most part the entire view was hidden behind cloud. I had to use all my layers to keep warm.

After about 50km I made it to Žabljak. I was frozen and needed to get out of my wet gear, but couldn’t find the checkpoint hostel. I went up and down the street a few times asking for directions until I spotted a TCR and Apidura flag half way down a sidestreet. I was welcomed by the Apidura team manning the checkpoint and got my brevet card stamped, somewhat stunned to find I was in 10th position overall. I decided there and then after a few really tough days that I was going to get clean and dry, refuel and dry out my kit.

The hospitality and friendliness of the family running the Hostel Highlander was fantastic, and shortly after a hot shower and change I was feasting on eggs, bacon, bread, granola, jam… everything on offer. All washed down with more of the Turkish coffee that I was starting to get a bit of a taste for. Stuart, Sylvain and Samuli Mäkinen #84 arrived shortly after me. Stuart & Samuli didn’t stop long and pushed on. The #212’s arrived mid afternoon and were also in a bit of a state from the cold.

 

Take a Break!

By now I had resigned myself to staying the night, making sure my clothes were dry and I was well rested. Many other riders arrived through the day, all the while my position slipping ever further back, but it was good to take the step back and stop. It was a really difficult thing to do, but I think it was a really good idea to recover some energy and make a push for the finish the next day.

It was the shortest day of my TCR but seems I needed the sleep.

I sneaked into the hostel full of riders. Make your own minds up. #TCRno4 📷@camillejmcmillan

A post shared by The Transcontinental (@thetranscontinental) on

Stats

  • Distance: 327 KM
  • Ride Time: 15H 47M
  • Elevation:  4,645 m
  • Calories: 7,335

Strava Files