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.

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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CP2 to Bratislava

If you’ve not seen the earlier posts, you can catch up from the start of my TCR No 5 journey here: https://mattonabike.com/2017/09/23/tcr-no-5-the-start/

Heading into the Po Valley

I was super hungry after the long climb up Monte Grappa, light was fading and was getting a little chilly. After a short chat with the Pedal Ed guys & Stephane, I layered up, said goodbyes then headed down the hill. It was super steep, and wasn’t all down hill. In fact, a considerable ‘reverse’ got in the way of speeding down the hill and left me peeling off a number of the layers as the hard work climbing again made me overheat.

I eventually found myself at the bottom of the long, twisty and a little bit sketchy descent, and into a small town where I was able to find a pizzeria at around 9.30pm. I should have ordered two, but made up for it with another ice cream dessert.

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I was keen to make a little time up, so decided to try and push on to make the most of the quiet roads at night. A lot of folks feel it’s more dangerous at night. I’m not convinced. Traffic is much lighter, more visible, and as long as you are well lit and with reflectives, so are you. All said, I soon felt the long day starting to catch up with me so decided to look for a bivvy spot. I settled in for the night in an old churchyard at the edge of a town to get a few hours sleep.

I managed to get a some decent kip, but my body woke me well before my alarm with the need for a number 2. I’ve never wild pooped before, but I was busting and had to go. TCR diet makes this a difficult process, but I was very satisfied with lightening the load despite stepping in my own poo.

I cleaned up thoroughly, packed up my bivvy and headed off making really good time on the flat roads. I set off around 4.30 am, and was going well until just after dawn when I started bonking so stopped for coffee and croissants, but still wasn’t right. I pushed on anyway, and found myself riding into a headwind. By now the roads were getting busier, and I was again starting to question if I should be on the road. I pulled off onto a side street to assess the route. It was maybe only a couple of km’s before my route turned off, but I could see a route through some back roads, so followed them to avoid the busy traffic. It was ultimately futile, and would do this a few more times through the morning. It gets frustrating and added to my further lack of enjoyment of Italian roads.

I was also struggling for energy, so headed for a small town. It was on top of a hill, perhaps the only in the area, but I needed a break from the busy roads. I sat down in the square, took off my shoes and socks to liberate my feet and sat there for a while watching the town go about its morning business. I wasn’t thinking of scratching but I was at quite a low point. Stopping is a good way to recover energy, and think about the next move. Looking at the map I could see this last stretch of main road wouldn’t last long before it turned into a prohibitive section where I would be able to turn off onto a gravel detour. I dug deep, found a little bit of motivation and went on my way, only to stop briefly at a fountain as I was leaving the town.

The gravel road was in a wonderful valley, meandering alongside a wide river where many locals were already out in the early afternoon using many of the pools and river bed as a beach. My route would follow this river up through a gorge, heading towards Austria. I had a quick stop for a snack and some coke and ice cream in a small town when I joined back onto sealed roads, before what I had hoped was a short climb. It turned out to be a long, hot and in places quite steep. It was around here I started getting a few messages. At times you can get lost in the race, occasionally feel like you’re all alone, then you get a tweet telling you ‘Phenominal work you’re doing! You’ve got this!’ .

(thank you!)

The mental boost I got from this tweet out of the blue was better than that stuff Lance said he didn’t take. I also got a number of texts and WhatsApp messages. Seems the dot watchers had got a little concerned by a tweet about some suffering early on, and I was enormously grateful for the encouragement.

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The Belgie in the wild

 

After pushing over the climb I found a small town and yet another pizzeria. This wasn’t the fastest pizza place in Italy, but I really needed the refuel so was happy to wait and hide a little bit more from the baking day. It was getting hotter and hotter..

The last few hours in Italy was spent on a bike path winding up towards the border with Austria. It was incredibly hot, but there were a number of tunnels on the bike path which were blissful havens from the heat, super fresh, cool tunnels that just as you were about to feel cold, thrust you back into the hot afternoon.

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Bike paths!

Once into Austria I made a quick pitstop for water, snacks and some more ice cream, as well as a chance to liberate my hot feet. What I should have done about now is loaded the next route file on my Wahoo, as the one I had loaded would send me about 15 km away from where I wanted to be. A minor frustration, and once I’d worked out a way back to my route, I was back on course in no time. If you plot overlapping route files, make sure they follow the same route!

Austria

This part of Austria was dotted with lakes that were popular with the locals enjoying some watersports and sunshine. I made another stop next to a lake to stock up on food, drink and water ahead of a bit of a push overnight. I didn’t really know what I would find ahead so prepared as best I could.

I had a really pleasant afternoon winding through the Austrian hills, but soon came to realise that many of the riders ahead had chosen very different routes to mine. I became convinced my route was no good so looked at re-routing to follow. Then it sort of dawned on me… Who cares what everyone else is doing, this is MY adventure! I threw caution to the wind and headed towards my scheduled mountain pass to finish off the day.

I started climbing the Klippitzterol at around sunset. I was running low on water so stopped in at a hotel in ‘Lölling’ (lol) for some water, and chatted with the bemused barman about my journey and plans for the evening. I was very tempted to stop and have a good meal, beer and room for the night, but was super motivated to push on.

The road was completely empty, with maybe one or two cars passing on the way up. The sound of crickets filled the air, along with the noises from me and my bike. It’s a decent climb, at 1,642m I felt it was quite achievable, however I hadn’t really looked at how steep it was. In the dark, with the moon and crickets for company, it was hard work to keep pushing up the steep incline. Then it happened. It still freaks me out a bit now. I was really struggling. Then in unison, ALL the crickets stopped. Every single hair on my body stood on end with instant goosebumps… I imagined response to silenced crickets meaning some sort of predator was close… I wondered what was out there? Was it me, something in the forest, or was it something beyond that? Spooky!

Then in unison, ALL the crickets stopped. Every single hair on my body stood on end with instant goosebumps..

I’ve no clue what caused it, but the adrenaline rush and the focus it brought was intense. It helped me keep going to the top of the climb. The fatigue may have helped, but I found myself able to imagine the same thing happening and my body gave the same reaction – goose bumps and hair standing on end all over – and a little shot of adrenaline. I didn’t want to overdo it and risk an adrenaline crash and the inevitable fatigue.

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Became a little manic after climbing at night

At the top I had a quick selfie, added some warm clothes and started the descent. About 15 km of near arrow straight road with maybe one hairpin. I’ve never travelled 15 km so fast on a bike – was an absolutely buzzing descent.

At the bottom, I realise there’s one more hill to go for the night, a long draggy 2%’er. I notice on the tracker that I was on track to overtake two other riders by taking this route, and I was super happy with myself. I maybe got a little carried away and thought up a plan to keep pushing through the night to Slovakia, mainly as I am really enjoying the empty roads. It was only 10.30pm and I was a little confused as to where everyone was.

Over the top, I was flying downhill again, averaging around 65-70 kph when at the last minute I notice a turn off the road on the Wahoo to avoid a banned tunnel. I very nearly flew straight threw it! I continued to make the most of the gradual downhill for another hour or so before fatigue starts to set in. I knew I needed to find somewhere to bivvy, and managed to find a small lay-by to camp in for a few hours.

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Sleeping at the side of the road

I could have done with a couple more hours rest, but really wanted to keep moving and maintain this lead I’d created. Silly really as it was no lead at all and there was over 2,000 km to go, but you don’t always think straight in situations like this. I’d applied some Voltarol to my knees, which were still a little sore from the last 4 long days and steep climbs. I made it through to dawn and a small town bakery for some breakfast. I was in a bit of a mess and in need of a shower and proper rest. I promised myself that I would make my way to Bratislava and take a hotel. I booked the nicest one I could find, half expecting that due to my knees I might need to scratch there.

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Sunrise in Austria.

I pushed on through the dawn light, on roads that were hillier than I was expecting until I finally came out of the valley and on the the plains headed towards the Slovakian border. These roads got a little hectic, and was a little uncomfortable riding on them, but there was little choice to re-route here so I carried on for a bit. It was getting hot as well, and I was getting fatigued so when I spotted a small monument at the side of the road I decided to pull over and have a short nap. I was there for maybe 20 minutes before a friend called my phone to see how I was doing. It hadn’t occurred to me how it might look to dot watchers where I’d stopped on the side of what appeared to be a really busy 4 lane road for a nap.

I carried on snoozing for a few more minutes then decided I’d best crack on before I’d have my mum and sister calling to see how I was doing… I’ll choose my snooze locations better next time!

It wasn’t that long before I spied the magical Golden Arches of a McDonalds where I had a big lunch with #131 Robert who was already finishing up his first course of chicken nuggets. We were following a very similar route and it was nice to have someone to talk to for the first time since Monte Grappa (that I could understand..).

It seemed to take forever to get to the border, and I would stop another couple of times for snacks, water and ice cream. A lot of the roads that you would expect to be quiet empty country lanes had a continuous stream of HGV’s. I have no idea where they were coming from or where they were going, but it made for uncomfortable riding.

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I wanted it to say Burgerland

One last climb and I was rolling down a hill towards the border and Bratislava. I bumped into a really friendly dot watcher who rode with me all the way to town. We chatted, and I think I gave an interview for his vlog – see below. It was the first dot watcher I’d met on the race and was really good to chat, however I was super keen to get to my hotel and get clean, fed and to sleep so we said our goodbyes and I made my way through to the hotel.

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Interviewed by a dot watcher!

Finally found the video – can’t seem to make out a word I say though!

This was a really short day, especially considering I started at 3 am, and it was now only 5 pm. But I really needed the rest. My knees were suffering so I would make the most and recoup some energy before pushing on the following morning.

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Luxury Hotel + Slippers + White Socks!

Stats:

  • Distance: 610 km
  • Elevation: 4, 458
  • Moving Time: 26 hours, 50 min
  • Strava File 1, File 2
  • Ice Creams: 6

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.

TCR No. 5 Kit List

I’ve been struggling to write anything about my TCR experience this year. Last year the words flowed fairly freely, and I was keen to get everything documented so I had a record of the adventure. This years write up is coming, but it’s just taking a little longer to process it into something that I’m happy with.

For now, I thought I would leave you with a kit list – everything I took with me to Belgium for the start of the TCR, the things I sent home from the start (thanks Thimothy, beers next time you’re in G!RO), and some of the things that didn’t make it with me to the finish.

Kit list

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Too much stuff?

The bike

Frame: Curve Cycling Belgie Spirit Ti Disc, size 54. Amazing bike!

Groupset: Shimano Ultegra 52-36×11-32, with Juin cable actuated hydraulic disc brakes. Could have done with a 34 up front, but managed with what I had. Brakes were flawless, but I started with old pads that needed replacing on the first mountain descent.

Wheels: Custom handbuilt Noble wheels, DT Swiss 240 rear hub, Son 28 12mm thru axle dynamo hub front, 160mm rotors front and back, Continental 4000 IIs 28mm tyres, with a touch of reflective tape. These wheels have now done two TCR’s. So happy with them.

Cockpit: Alu 3T Ergonova bars, Alu 3T stem, Lizard Skin camo bar tape, Profile Design carbon handle bars, Profile Design aero bridge mounts (x2), Wahoo aero bar mount (x2 for multiple positioning), Quad lock mount for iPhone 7. Super happy with everything, but could have done with a better bike fit so as not to be stretched out on the hoods and drops. Position has caused bad Ulnar Palsy again this year.

Electronics & Lighting:

  • Son28 Dynamo powering Supernova front and rear lights. During the day, Ewerk USB converter for charging devices. Light has very little stand charge, but a great beam. Must fully disconnect Ewerk from system when light is running as there’s not enough power from the hub for both. When E Werk is not charging anything, the light would drop every 10-15 seconds for a moment.
  • SPOT Gen3 Satellite tracker with spare Energizer lithium batteries. Flawless.
  • 2x iPhone cables, 2x Micro USB cables, 2x 5200mAh Anker power bar. Changing up the power bars for a 1x 20000mAh. Both were empty by Bratislava.
  • 1x Cateye Volt 800 front light (backup + bivvy light), 2x Moon Crescent rear lights. Used front light mainly for Bivvy lighting, rear on busy roads. All lasted the whole trip without re-charge.
  • 1x iPhone 7. Essential. Komoot, Wahoo app, Maps.me & Google maps were absolutely essential for re-routing. Google was also really handy in locating a bike shop in Romania. Booking.com for hotels in Austria day 2, Bratislava day 5 and Bulgaria day 9. And of course Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, Trackleaders, Email, SMS etc. etc.
  • 2x Wahoo ELEMNT, 1x Garmin 810 (sent home before start along with a mini USB cable). Used the spare ELEMNT once, but reverted back to the main one due to GPS dropouts. Only two issues with the ELEMNT – battery went flat in Romania while repairing a puncture – can’t seem to recover that ride. Froze on last 750 km run to the finish (I think down to me messing around with my HRM), but recovered the ride when restarted.
  • 1x spare Dynamo hub cable, 1x headphones. Did not need either.
  • Apple EU USB plug. Best USB plug I’ve ever had – small and light.

Bags:

  • Apidura Medium Frame and Saddle back with Large top tube bag. Bags were full all the way, but managed by keeping some on top of saddle bag.
  • Alpkit fuel cell. Perfect for loading up with snacks!
  • PedalEd musette. Used occasionally, was very handy to have something when bags were full.

Cycling Kit:

  • 1x Sportful bibs, base layer, jersey, gilet, light rain jacket, Stelvio rain jacket, arm warmers, track mitts, neoprene full finger gloves (never used), knee warmers (didn’t use, and lost either in Austria day 2, or a churchyard in Italy)
  • 2x Athletix PDX socks (1 pair disposed of in Bratislava. Washed in Austria, but never dried. Fruity!)
  • 1x Defeet oversocks (never used)
  • 1x Lake CX237 cycling shoes + 2x wedges
  • 1x PedalEd #154 casquette
  • 1x Kask Mojito helmet
  • 1x snood (never used)
  • 1x reflective vest

Off bike

  • PHD synthetic down gilet
  • Running Tee and shorts

Tools & Spares

Spares: 3x tubes, 2x spokes, 1x gear cable, 1x brake cable, 2x brake pads, cleat, cleat bolts, chain links.

Tools: 2 tyre levers, 2x Co2 cartridges + inflator, 1x pump, scissors, multi tool & multi wrench, 8x cable ties, spoke key, wet & dry lube

Sleeping Gear

Alpkit Hunka Bivvy Bag and Numo inflatable sleeping mat, RAB Silk Liner. A simple and effective setup. Light, but maybe a touch bulky.

Hygiene

Toothbrush (half, disposed of in Bratislava. Pointless without toothpaste and was past the point of no return by then), wet wipes, P20 sunscreen, Incognito insect repellent (deet free), sudocrem,  savlon, 1/8 roll of toilet paper, Kleenex tissues, sunscreen lip balm, melolin gauze. Antihistamines, Nurofen. Voltarol gel.

Misc

Notebook with checkpoints, parcourse and route options. Insurance, medical documents. Attaquer pouch for cash and cards, Lezyne pouch for docs & passport, passport.

2x King cage aluminium bottle cages, with a Wolf tooth B-RAD Mounting Bases – 2 Slot to lower the water bottle on the seat tube (maybe 1cm, but makes all the difference). 2x water bottles ~1400ml total.

Food

SiS lemon Hydro tabs and Berocca vitamin tablets – Berocca for the morning, hydro for the afternoon. Super mix of both for the bad diet days! By Romania, as both were in the same tube, they became indistinguishable from each other both visually and in taste.

Nuts – always have some in the bag, the cashew and almond mix I didn’t tap into until Macedonia and it was heaven.

Naked bars – a great way to get good nutrients in and sate the hunger

Soreen. Standard.

Summary

Bike weighed in just over 16kg with water. Just about everything I took with me, was used, but I have an idea of what I can leave behind next time. Doing so in some cases is more of a calculated risk. At the end of the day, I was happy with what I took, and would take most of it again.

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Twix melts in heatwaves.

Dot Watching The Transcontinental Race #TCRNo5

Action For Kids – Donate now!

First things first: I’m riding the TCR in aid of Action for Kids charitable trust again this year, so please take a moment to follow this link to donate!

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/matthewfalconer 

Action For Kids has been helping transform the lives of young people with physical and learning disabilities, across the country, since 1991, through the provision of mobility equipment, learning, training and support. This is a fantastic charity, and your donation can make a big difference!

Dot Watching – what is that?!

Dot watching is how you follow me on the Transcontinental Race. There is no TV coverage, no radio, but there is a better way… Each rider in the race has their own satellite tracker assigned to them, which can be followed on a tracking site in the form of a dot on a map, but you can also interact with me and other riders on social media. No assistance can be provided though, but words of encouragement are welcome! Some more info below, but you can really get immersed in the race this way…

How to follow me – Rules of Engagement

First thing to mention is that this is a solo self supported race, where any form of outside assistance is not permitted. Any communication with me on the road must not be assistance. “Keep going, you’re doing great” is just fine, but any information about other riders positions, my position or similar is not allowed unless the same information is provided to all the other racers.

Dot Watching

Official Dots: http://www.transcontinental.cc/

Unofficial-official Dot:

One of the most interesting things with the dot watching is using the many different resources on the internet to follow progress. Watch the tracking site seeing where a rider stops, then zooming in on Google Street Maps to have a look what is there, look on weather sites to see the conditions they are facing, then check social media to see what they’re saying. A truly unique way to get an insight into the race!

Also, check out this post from last years TCR: http://www.transcontinental.cc/blog/2016/7/29/prepare-yourself-for-the-task-ahead-dot-watching

And a post from Brooks blog:

http://www.brooksengland.com/en_uk/blog/confessions-of-a-dot-watcher.html

Social media

My hash tag: #TCRNo5cap154 – Cap #154

It’s not just me!

There are 300 entrants to the TCR No. 5, so there are plenty of others to follow. In fact, there are so many other stories out there to get hooked on, it would be a shame to just follow my dot! Get involved, get tweeting and chatting with the dot watching community.

Official channels:

twitter hashtag: #TCRNo5

TCR Social Media:

Other riders to watch:

Full rider list: http://www.transcontinental.cc/riders

Meteora