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.

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

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

A post shared by Matthew Falconer (@b1rdmn) on

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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Looking Forward

So, here we are. Another calendar year has ticked over, and there are plans to be made. This year everything leads towards the Transcontinental Race No. 5. Yep, that’s right, after last years race I caught the bug for this sort of thing. Many are surprised I’m going back for more, but I couldn’t be happier that I’ve been accepted back in.

I will be using my place in the TCR to raise money and awareness for the amazing charity, Action For Kids. The race is a huge commitment, and there will be over 6 months of training, planning and preparation to get me to the start line. Action For Kids is a charity aimed at giving opportunities and a chance for independence to young people with physical and learning disabilities.  Any donations will be a huge help to the charity and can really make a difference. It will also help keep me motivated in the race!

Please donate here http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/matthewfalconer

What next?

January

Weight Loss: Focus for January is to try and work off some of the timber I’ve added over December. I’m really a bit disappointed about how out of control this has gotten. I keep blaming the appetite that I acquired as a result of last years TCR, but I think I just got a bit lazy with looking out for what I eat and how much training I do.

Fitness:  Along side the weight loss, and to help it along I’ve started to do some indoor training to improve the quality of work I do increase my aerobic fitness on top of a strong power base. Lots of turbo and rollers sessions while watching Netflix or listening to some tunes.

Ride Far: With the exception of a few mini adventures in Wales over Christmas, I’ve not done much distance riding. Aiming for a couple of century rides before the month is out!

February

New Bike: Sad to say that I managed to break my Bowman Pilgrims. Terminally. This bike has been an incredible companion on some fairly incredible rides, breaking down many barriers as to what is possible on two wheels. It was such a joy to ride, and sad to say that journey is over. The bike is just a tool to do a job, so the search for a new one begins… N+1 and everything…! February will be when I aim to get this onto the road.

Ride Further: I need to get plotting to find some new lanes to explore. This will be about ramping up some mileage and some endurance ahead of the next few months. Things are looking quite interesting! I’m tempted to put a trip to West Wales down, but will have to see how the new bike is coming along and be sure the weather is going to play nice.

March

Keep going: March will be about assessing my fitness, weight and endurance levels. This will be a chance to work on some of the areas that are falling behind. Training for the Transcontinental Race is a really tough proposition to understand what you need to do. I’m hoping to replicate what I did last year, but try and fill in some gaps and include improvements. Hoping to have achieved some weight loss goals by this point.

TCR No. 5 Planning: I’ve already got some routing done, hopefully will have the kit sorted – any gaps will need to be filled, or planned.

G!RO…NA: Off to Girona for a long weekend of Spanish roads and Cols with Sommet Cycling Tours. There are perhaps 10 of the Cafe regulars heading out for some much needed fair weather riding and a taste of Spain.

April.

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Flanders: Probably more of a drinking weekend – heading over on the Saturday, watching the race on the Sunday, riding Monday. I’ve made the mistake of underestimating the damage Belgium beer can do on your hangover, so I will have this in mind next time.

Wales: If there is no February or March trip, it must happen in April. I’ve got to go visit my mum! I may as well just head down anyway as this is a great part of the world to explore

Heart of England Audax: Some unfinished business here. Last year I attempted this Audax with James, only to be caught on the first big hill by a snow storm. We made our way to a cafe in Broadway to warm up – never been so cold! – before heading back to the car in a taxi.

Paris – Part 1: As per last year, I’ll be riding with Challenge Sophie on her London to Paris 24 hour sportive on the last weekend of April.

May

Paris-London: On the Monday, as I did last year I will ride back from Paris. Hoping for warmer weather this year – suffered with -5deg C, but it was at least dry!

Sardinia: I’m making the most of some air miles, and flying out to Sardinia. I will be taking my bike and bikepacking gear for a week of bike packing around the island. I went to Sardinia a few years ago just as I got into riding, and found some fairly epic roads. Will quite likely spend most nights in hotels, but there will be some bivvy practice ahead of the TCR. It’s a really good opportunity to get everything bedded in and discover any kit issues or deficiencies, or even excesses.

Paris… Again!: Another round trip over the bank holiday weekend. This time with a whole day in Paris on the Sunday before heading back early on Monday.

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June

TBC: Early June is currently a little open. Possibly the Dragon Ride again, along with the Fairies flattest 300 audax. Will have to see how things are.

Alps Trip: A small group of friends hiring a van and heading to the Alps. Got some epic rides planned in over a long weekend, covering some epic climbs and roads of the Alps.

Final Prep: This is almost the last chance to test any kit, fix any issues or add/remove any items from the inventory. Hopefully most of this will have been sorted out in May…

July

Panicking: As per last year, July is about tapering. And final preparations. Getting ready for the journey across Europe. Last year I put on a bit of weight this month, so will try and taper with an ease in diet at the same time. Or maybe just make the most of the extra weight by stopping less often on the TCR!

The TCR Starts: 28th July, on the Muur in Geraardsbergen. 10pm.

Eeek!

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August

TCR: Still going hopefully! Lots of ideas about how long this is going to take me, but ultimate goal is to finish, and do so in time for the finishers party. I learnt a lot last year so hope to use as much as that to make life easier for myself. But there is so much that’s different, there is inevitably going to be so much more to learn once again! One thing that I keep reminding myself of is how lucky I was throughout the race last year. Bad routing through France aside, I managed to get ahead of, or just miss an awful lot of bad weather. Cold & rain in the Swiss Alps and Dolomites, the winds in the Balkans, the worst of the rain in Macedonia.

Rest: Beyond the TCR I’m planning to chill completely for the rest of August. I may put something together on August BH with the G!RO crew, but seeing how much damage my body took last year I’m not sure there’ll be much I can realistically plan for.

September, and beyond…

Seeing how I recover, I hope to enter Revolve 24 again. A 24 hour team relay (or solo…?!) race around Brands Hatch. Even if I don’t ride, I’ll most likely go along with the team to help everyone out.

All said and done, there’s much to look forward to, and you’ll be able to follow this journey here.

Photo Credit for header photo, at the summit of the Passo Giau, TCR No. 4, CP3. Photographer: Giovanni Maria Pizzato for PEdALED