All my cycling since November 2013 had been focussed on getting as fit and prepared as possible for this race. I had done over 16000km of training.
Unfortunately, I had picked up a few injuries in the last couple of months. I strained a calf muscle during the Mile Failte in Ireland which caused me to rest up for a couple of weeks. Then just as I felt ready to get back into training, on my first commute, I hit the brakes too hard and ended up chin first on the pavement, breaking my jaw in two places, cracking a couple of ribs and spraining my left knee – so that meant another week off the bike.
Luckily there was enough time for the ribs to heal and the jaw was nearly good enough to eat most things, but my knee was still painful. But, after all the effort that I’d put in, I was always going to be on that start line on the 9th August.
It was a great send off on Westminster Bridge, I had Karen and Anna there, as well as my friends Matt, Nick, Alan, Ian and Sean. At the 8th chime of Big Ben we were off.
Check out the great little video Matt made of the start
After 20km, it was obvious that my knee was not as good as I’d hoped and I was already finding every pedal stroke painful – not a great start. Unlike a lot of the racers, I was avoiding the A2, my ferry crossing was booked for 13:55 (I had to be there by 13:10), so I had just over 5 hours to do 140km. Tightish, but definitely manageable. I arrived on time, the front riders had however managed to catch the 12:55 ferry, so they were long gone. Unfortunately, the ferry was delayed by nearly an hour, so all the rushing was in vain. Quite frustrating, but if this was the worst thing to happen in the next few weeks I could live with it. Finally we were on our way to France. I strapped my knee with some KT tape and it definitely helped.
Vasiliki and me waiting at Dover
Once we landed at Calais cycles were only allowed to leave the ferry once every other vehicle had got off. Another delay. Finally we were on French soil – it was 17:45 and I still had 210km to ride to get to my planned overnight stop at Beauvais where Abigail was holidaying with Josh and his family. It was probably a bit too ambitious for Day 1, the road from Calais was very hilly and there was a strong southerly wind (hurricane Bertha was on it’s way to the UK), and I had a few navigational issues (unsurprisingly). I finally arrived at my stop at 3:30am – exhausted.
London to Dover: 141km, 1282m ascent
Calais to Beauvais: 209.4km, 1867m ascent
Total: 350.4km, 3149m ascent
Five minutes to go!
On the starting line – lucky #77
Sean, Ian, Alan and Ishamel
Matt, Nick and me on Westminster Bridge
An empty brevet card
Oops. Broken jaw.
Day 1, Stage 1
Day 1, Stage 2
I was up at 7am after 3 hours sleep. Not really enough and not what I’d originally planned. A few croissants and I was off. After the efforts of Day 1, my achilles on my right leg was now aching, probably compensating for the left knee. This was a problem. I’ve had achilles problems before and they are often crippling. In retrospect, I probably didn’t do enough training with the loaded bike and the extra weight of the bike weighing in at 17.9kg, was causing all sorts of problems that I hadn’t foreseen. My route into Paris was slow going, the road was constantly up and down – that’s what you get when you pick minor roads. It took longer than I’d hoped to get to Paris and the cobbled Champs d’Elysee. By now my achilles was sore to the touch, red and angry. I was worried, this could end my race long before Istanbul, with it in that condition I wouldn’t be able to do much climbing. The constant stopping and starting for the red lights through Paris didn’t help, but finally I made it to Control Point 1 at Cafe Reveil au Matin, Montgeron. It was already 14:40. It had been a slow awkward ride.
I rested up (and luckily missed a heavy downpour) in a nearby MacDonald’s with a number of other riders doing the same. I took the time to tend to my achilles again with some more KT tape. A few more routing issues to get away from CP1, but eventually I was heading east towards Troyes. I pushed on for another 175km. With no obvious town nearby and it getting late, I decided to to bivvy for the night. My first time. It wasn’t fun. It was very dark and tricky to find somewhere suitable. The grass was slightly damp from the rain earlier in the day and it was quite chilly. After trying a few spots but finding them all too wet or too exposed, I finally settled on a spot just off a farm track in some soft grass and set up my bivvy bag and sleeping bag and attempted to get some much needed sleep.
Beauvais to piece of ground east of Troyes: 296.9km, 1643m ascent
Total: 647.3km, 4792m ascent
Cobbles on the Champs-Élysées – bumpier than I’d imagined
Obligatory Eiffel Tower shot
Lovely flat roads heading east out of Paris
First night sleeping rough, damp and cold
Control point 1, Mike Hall and crew
Cafe Reveil au Matin, Montgeron – The starting point for the first ever Tour de France
Day 2, Stage 1
Day 2, Stage 2
Today was to be my second shortest day, only covering 250km.
I woke early after only a few hours of uncomfortable sleep. A heavy dew meant that everything was very damp. It was time to push on, but by the time I’d changed and packed up, it was already 7:50am. My achilles was unfortunately still constantly sore. After two nights of very little sleep and the stress of the days leading up to the race, I was flagging, a proper rest was needed. I’d also neglected, (or rather run out time), before I left the UK, to sort out data roaming, so I couldn’t search for hotel rooms without running up a very large mobile bill. I was therefore relying on Karen to help me – this was definitely not fair on her, I’d already given her enough to worry about by taking part in this race without her having to find me a place to stay. But we decided that I needed to rest, and rather than push onto Basel, I would spend the night in Belfort. Karen found me a rather nice IBIS hotel in Belfort, unfortunately it took me a lot of time rerouting to finally find the hotel, and I got to the hotel after 9:30 that night – and I was pretty hungry.
A helpful receptionist told me there was a Domino’s Pizza nearby, I guess I should have gone there first, but instead I was keen to get cleaned up. By the time I came down to reception to find out where the Domino’s was, the receptionist said they were probably closed – it was nearly 10 o’clock. Luckily she saw my predicament and offered to call them for me to see if they were open and could deliver. Luckily they were still open (just), but not doing deliveries, could I collect? Of course! I limped over and picked up a delicious large Hawaiian pizza, offered the receptionist a slice for all her help and sat in my hotel room devouring the entire thing. I then climbed into bed, setting my alarm for 6am, bliss.
Piece of ground east of Troyes to Belfort: 248.7km, 2419m ascent
Total: 896km, 7211m ascent
A quick stop on the way to Belfort
I set off feeling a lot better. I’d always hoped to not have to do much bivvying. I hadn’t practised setting up camp on any of my training rides, and hadn’t even tried it in the garden before setting off on TCR, if I had, I’d have realised that an inflatable mat was essential and that a warmer sleeping bag was needed. I hoped not to have to do too much more rough sleeping, but finding accommodation each night was probably one of the biggest challenges on this ride.
Luckily, my achilles was feeling more manageable. I was still aware of it, but the KT tape was doing a good job. The morning ride took me to Zurich and (after a few navigational issues), lunch at MacDonald’s – and a chance to catch up with what was happening back home and to connect to the internet and find out how the rest of the riders were doing.
I then pushed on to get as far as I could, my achilles holding up well. Somewhere along the way, I stopped at a petrol station (just before it closed), and met Mike ‘Shell’ Sheldrake – the first rider I’d chatted too for ages, and I enjoyed his company for a while whilst we ate ice creams and other ‘luxuries’ from the station shop.
I’d probably hoped at the start of the day to get a bit further than I did, but at 2am I decided to call it a day. Again, I hadn’t stopped to find a hotel, and when I saw a bus shelter just past Davos, I thought I’d give it a go. Audaxers swear by bus shelters, but this one was just too narrow, I set my bike up against it to stop me falling off the bench. Again, this was a very uncomfortable night bivvying. Things could only get better.
Belfort to Davos: 330.8km, 3137m ascent
Total: 1226.8km, 10348m ascent
Ominous grey skies
Mike ‘Shell’ Sheldrake
A crazy ride through a tunnel at 1:30am
Day 4, Stage 1
Day 4, Stage 2
At around 5am, I was woken by the rain. It was raining into the bus shelter. And it was cold. I was still tired and tried huddling up in my sleeping bag just trying to get warm and eek out a few more minutes of rest. It was a futile exercise, and I guess I knew it was. The rain was coming down very heavily and the thought of leaving the brief sanctuary of my sleeping bag wasn’t one I was looking forward too. I gobbled down a Mars bar to get me motivated. But I think seeing a couple of other riders pass me whilst I was still in my sleeping bag was the impetus I needed to get moving. My clothes were damp, and this wasn’t the best time to find out that my Revelate saddle bag wasn’t waterproof, my change of clothes were pretty wet. I was frozen, so I just put on all my clothes and headed out into the hills, at least my saddle bag would be light for the ride through the Alps.
This was to be physically the toughest day of the entire race. It was alway going to be hard, but the constant rain added to the scale of the challenge. The word epic, is becoming quite overused in cycling at the moment. Cyclists are going out doing a 200km ride and saying what an epic challenge it was. I’m trying to reserve it for days like this. Three huge passes in the Alps in driving rain. The first one, the Fluela Pass (2383m). I was caught on the climb by Chris White, who lives in Switzerland and is more accustomed to these type of climbs. He’s quite a light bloke and I just about managed to stay with him up the climb.
I stopped at a hotel/restaurant at the top of the pass and had a bowl of delicious goulash soup, and then another one! Here I bumped into Chris Philips from Guildford who, like me, was suffering with the cold. After warming up, it was time to head out again. A lovely long descent, but the cold, wet conditions had soaked me to the bone and I was shaking so much down the mountain that it felt like my bike had a speed wobble. There was nothing for it but to stop every couple of minutes or so, compose myself, stop shivering and head off down the hill again. I’m not sure what took longer, going up the mountains or down them. I was glad to find out at the after party that I wasn’t the only one who suffered like this, but by then we had recovered enough to be able to laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation. The second was the Ofen Pass (2,149m), more of the same – wet and cold.
Local Guildford ‘boy’ Chris Philips
Just what we needed
At Prato Allo Stelvio I was worried about spending a night in the rain, and for once I was more than sensible. It was just after lunchtime but I decided to book a hotel in Prato Allo Stelvio before ascending the Stelvio (2757m) . I saw a rider who’d just descended the Stelvio, he was regaling tales of ‘epic’ conditions at the top of the Stelvio, he was wrapped in plastic bin bags and looked pretty wrecked, and, he was collecting his saddle bags from the reception of a hotel (I was a bit disappointed by this as it was clearly not allowed in the rules). It was however, quite encouraging to find that I was only about 4 hours behind the top 12 riders. I started up the Stelvio in the dry, but the river that runs alongside the road was a mass of churning grey water, a clear indication of just how much rain had fallen during the day. I’d only just started the climb when I saw the first placed woman, Pippa, finishing her descent, great riding by her. The Stelvio is a monster and I now have even greater respect for the pro riders who race up here. The start of the climb, even before the 48 hairpins, felt really hard. It then just seemed to go on and on. I took well over 3 hours to make the ascent, but finally reached the top at around 6pm to be greated by a huge downpour and a thorough soaking again,whilst I looked for the control point. I was in 25th place. I’d made it up the toughest climbs of the race with my creaking achilles and for the first time in ages felt confident that I would be able to finish the race. Kristoff meanwhile was nearly at CP3.
I probably spent too much time at the control before descending, but I wasn’t really in a rush to go out into the rain. Also, I knew I had a hotel room waiting at the bottom. When I did finally decide to make my way down, it was 0C outside, and the descent was another frozen, shivering ride.
By the time I was back in Prato, it was pitch black and I spent an age trying to find my hotel, which turned out to be quite posh. I got a few odd looks from the staff when I booked in, but finally I was in my room. I’d just started to settle down for the night, checking in with Karen (after making a faux pais at the top of the Stelvio by checking facebook before calling her – will I ever learn?), when I got a call from reception. Would I be happy to share my room with another rider who was desperate for a room? I ended up sharing my room with Dylan Hubble for the night, he still had to make the ascent of the Stelvio but was seriously worried about the climb being scared of heights. It turned out that he did make the climb – and I’m sure he was glad to have done so. He had booked a flight home on the Saturday to be a best man at a wedding, and when he realised he wasn’t going to make it all the way to Istanbul before that, he called it quits at CP3.
The weather forecast for the next day looked much better, the front runners had all missed this day of horrendous weather, climbing the Stelvio in clear conditions. That’s just how it goes. Looking back on the day I was actually quite glad to have been part of this day made so much more challenging by the weather. Nothing comes close to feeling like you’re riding on the edge for a whole day.
Check out this video shot at the top of the Stelvio ‘Where did you sleep last night?’
The conditions might have been brutal, but the landscape incredible. All across Europe I kept thinking about how priviliged I was to have this opportunity to take part in this race. To have a supportive family, to be able to afford the trip, even though it had been quite an outlay to get to the startline, and to be fit enough and strong after breaking my leg a couple of years ago. The chance to do, and be doing, something extraordinary was just something I wanted to relish and remember for years to come.
Davos to Prato Allo Stelvio : 142.6km, 5075m ascent
Total: 1369.4km, 15423m ascent
This is what greeted me in the morning
Another rough night – this time in a bus shelter in Davos
Those clouds were hiding a lot of climbing
The first of the three big climbs – the Fluela Pass
Descending the Stelvio
Still loads of ice at the top of the Stelvio
I imagine that this is normally a very busy place – not today though
It’s a great road
Various Stelvio pics
Before heading off, Dylan and I gorged ourselves on the hotel breakfast, Dylan still undecided about heading up the Stelvio or just continuing eastwards.
As promised, the weather was beautiful in the morning. Today was to be, for the majority of the day, the best riding conditions over the entire race. The first section towards Maran, was mainly downhill on fast roads and I made really good time. After that the majority of the ride to Treviso was on lovely smooth, flat cycle paths flanked by the amazing views of the mountains on either side as my route took me eastwards out of the Alps.
Once on the cycle paths I briefly met Matt Edwards – we’d meet again later. I also hooked up with a German cyclist who was just out training, once I’d managed to communicate what I was doing, he was very helpful in making sure I took the correct cycle paths – a bit of help from the local knowledge always very handy. Without him, I’m sure I’d have ended up taking a few more wrong turns. Later in the day, Matt and I did meet up again and we cycled together to Treviso where we had a good early supper – Matt really likes his food! Matt decided to find a hotel, whereas I was keen to push on as I was feeling strong and it was still relatively early. I probably should have followed Matt’s lead because I hadn’t gone too far and my achilles started to ache again and I suddenly started to feel tired. East of Treviso towards Trieste the road became soul destroying. After the beauty of the majority of the day, this road was flat and featureless with a nagging headwind. It was the road of self-service petrol stations… and nothing else. I was getting desperate for a pick-me-up and started scanning every petrol station for a dispensing machine for a coke. No luck, I did however find a dispensing machine giving out porn dvds, not quite the pick-me-up I was looking for. To further torment me, the distance indicators were very inconsistent. One moment I’d see a sign for Trieste 57km, then a few kilometres down the road a sign for Trieste 69km! It makes you feel like you’re just going in circles (on a straight road).
I’d hoped to make it to Trieste today, but it wasn’t going to happen. Bivvy time again. I found a plastic swing chair in one of the petrol forecourts, seemed better than sleeping on the ground. I tried my best to get comfy, but it was a bit exposed and the breeze was just a little chilly to allow me to be comfy. It was also a bit too exposed to all sorts of people stopping to fill up.
Prato Allo Stelvio to Petrol forecourt east of Trieste : 348.3km, 977m ascent
Total: 1717.7km, 16400m ascent
Lean and tanned and loving the day
A Beautiful Ride!
Sometimes the road just stopped
#101 Matt Edwards
Amazing cycle paths
Smooth flat paths
Another bivvying disaster
I was awoken after about 3hours of sleep to the noise of people running around near me, quite un-nerving. A car was parked on the forecourt but there was a man sitting puking just behind me who looked like he had been in a fight or was drunk. I felt vulnerable lying there in my sleeping bag, not the easiest thing to get out of in a hurry. Eventually they went their own way, but I was now awake and decided it was time to get moving.
Trieste is basically the city bordering Italy and Slovenia. My ambitions had initially been to cycle from Trieste to Senj (on the Croatian coast), but this was not allowing for me going seriously AWOL in Croatia. SWRC now stands for ‘Scenic Way Round Croatia’.
I got seriously lost trying to get to Rjeka. I’d started changing my route to stay more on the coastal road and avoid the hills and the heat of the inland roads. As it was, the temperatures were well into the 30’s. I thought I’d just stay on the coastal road, but I didn’t even have maps for this area and I was battling to plan any route with my garmin, it just was too small to see a zoomed out view of a map of the region. My mistake was heading towards Koper, instead of staying inland and heading towards Kozina. It added hours to my day, I cycled on the same roads numerous times, baffled by the signs. I went down cycle paths that took me in the wrong direction. It was extremely frustrating. Finally I got back on track and was on the correct road to Kozina and then Rjeka. This was quite a hilly area too – hillier than I’d expected, so not ideal to get lost around here. On the road to Rjeka, I met Henri, a Dutch Chap and it was nice to have company for a while. As we approached the Slovenia/Croatia border, without actually realising it, we went flying through the border crossing. Up to now I hadn’t had to show my passport at all, I’d almost forgotten I was carrying it. Henri went flying through the border control in the truck lane, I was just passing through, when an extremely irate Slovenian official came flying out shouting for us to stop. No amount of apologising helped, and we definitely didn’t manage to raise a smile from her. We decided to be a little more cautious at the borders from now on as this could have been messy.
We arrived in Rjeka in time for supper. We both started with a main helping of spaghetti bolognaise – it didn’t touch sides and we promptly ordered another main course, this time a pizza. Henri had been booking hotels all along his ride, and booked a hotel for the night in Rjeka. (Unfortunately for Henri, he had problems later in the ride with his hub and didn’t manage to finish on his bike). Once again I decided to push on feeling good after our feedstop. I’d hoped to find something further down the road. I made it to a campsite about 35km out of Rjeka, Kamp Punta Povice, it was around midnight.
I was surprised to find the reception still manned and, as is the custom on the continent, I had to hand in my passport to book in. I tried my best to find a decent spot to lie down for the night, but the ground was quite rough and mainly dirt and stones instead of the grass I was looking for. Eventually, at around 2am, after being kept awake by the uneven ground and some disruptive locals who thought it would be funny to park outside the campsite hooting for ages, I fell asleep. An hour and a half later I was woken up by a huge thunderstorm and it was a mad dash to find cover from the rain. The only spot offering any cover was the toilet block – just a couple of toilets and a shower.
I didn’t have much choice and went for the shower cubicle. Throughout the rest of the night there was a constant procession of people in and out of the toilet block, and I’m sure they were surprised to see someone sleeping in the shower – especially as it didn’t smell very nice either.
Petrol forecourt east of Trieste to campsite Kamp Punta Povice: 269.1km, 1959m ascent
Total: 1986.8km, 18359m ascent
Just after trying to speed through the Slovakian border
The road to Rjeka
Lost in Croatia
Handrailing the Adriatic for mile after mile
Heading south down the Dalmation coast
#91 Henri van Winkoop
Sleeping in a shower cubicle – not recommended
Just keep going south
Day 7 – See just how lost I got in Croatia
I’m not sure that I actually had an plan for the riding that lay ahead, I’d plotted a route that took me slightly inland, but as I mentioned, I wanted to avoid as much climbing as I could. The coastline was absolutely stunning, and I’m sure I started to get a stiff neck from looking to my right most of the time. It was extremely hot, my garmin recorded a max of 41C on this stretch of road. It was also very windy, and not in a good way. It was what the Croatians call the ‘Bora’, the stiff Croatian wind and for the most part it was in my face.
The road was also pretty dangerous, drivers would hoot and just come right past you. The road was very narrow at times and the drop-off on the right was often sheer for over a 100metres it was quite hairy at times, and it wasn’t fun.
I planned to stop at Split. The riders who’d taken the ferry across from Ancona were already in Split, having made up a day on me and having had a good rest, so it was hard to think about it being a race, but I was still happy with my decision to do as much riding as I could. Just getting into Split was a nightmare, most of the roads were motorways, and I just couldn’t seem to find a simple route into the centre. Of course, I eventually did and then set about trying to find a hotel for the night. I was exhausted. The first hotel that I found, that looked affordable, was completely full, I was directed to another hotel – again fully booked. This was around 1am. I wasn’t sure what to do. I sat outside the hotel whilst I charged my phone in the reception and called Karen. She told me there was a campsite not far out of town, and she gave me the address. Sounded like the best plan I could muster for the night. The address, however, was a dead end. I just couldn’t find the campsite (I actually passed it the next day, just a few kilometres out of town), and decided to just bivvy again. I thought I’d made a good decision this time. A deserted looking church/municipal square with soft manicured grass and a low wall for shelter from any breeze. It was about 2am by the time I found this spot. At 6am, I was woken by what sounded and felt like a coke bottle exploding under my sleeping bag. The garden’s sprinkler system had just come on. Whether this was an everyday occurance or not I’m not sure, but I did see a grumpy looking man at the window of the main building as I dashed to grab my belongings, obviously not happy with a cycling hobo sleeping on his grass.
Campsite Kamp Punta Povice to Split: 345.2km, 2700m ascent
Total: 2332km, 21059m ascent
Another camping mistake
Stunning coastline – yes the sea is that colour
A rare sight – a wide hard shoulder along the coast road
I got a stiff neck looking to my right most of the way down the coast. What you can’t see is the wind.
I decided today that I was definitely going to stop before it got too late. My plan was to ride until the early evening, grab some sleep and then start of again later at night when it wasn’t so hot. I knew that Vasiliki was about 20km or so ahead of me, she’d missed her first ferry crossing, and had caught the ferry during the night. At around 2:30pm I found her at a roadside store tucking into some watermelon. Naturally, she was full of energy, whereas I was at the end of mine. We chatted for a short while, but on the first hill she left me, I couldn’t keep up, I’d eventually only see her again at the finish. She had planned to keep riding to CP3 that night, whereas I had already decided I was stopping as soon as I could.
I tried finding a hotel room at Slano, but I wasn’t prepared to pay for a 6 star hotel, so I continued southwards. I finally found a room for the night at a ‘Zimmer Frei’ house. It was a family room, but I was only charged 60 euros in stead of the usual 90!. I desparately needed to wash – not only myself, but also my clothes, as everything was now smelling quite ripe.
I got a good few hours sleep, rising at 11pm, and setting off in the cool of the night. Next stop CP3.
Split to room just north of Dubrovnich: 242.6km, 4186m ascent
Total: 2574.6km, 25245m ascent
Day 9 – Stage 1
Day 9 – Stage 2
I was glad to make it to the Montenegran border at around 2:30am. Even though I’d had about 5 and a half hours sleep, I was feeling sleepy. I decided to try a powernap at the border. Not a great idea. I was woken 20 minutes later by a grumpy customs official and decided to get moving – but the power nap had definitely helped. At the same time, #20 John Duggan arrived at the border (cycling in regular trainers!), and we set off together. The descent from the border was long and fast and before long we found ourselves near to Kotor Bay.
Mike Hall had said this was a beautiful climb to Mount Lovcen and worth doing in the light, so our timing was perfect. We cycled round the lake just as the sun was rising and started the climb before it got too hot. It was a great climb, quite long but not too steep, with fantastic views over the lake. We heard later that Kristof had taken the ferry shortcut across the lake and when he reached CP3 was told he could be disqualified. So he went back down the climb, crossed the lake on the ferry again, cycled around the lake and climbed the mountain again. He still finished over a day ahead of the second placed rider.
I, again, managed to get lost before reaching CP3. I just presumed the control point would be easy to find if I just followed the road, but when I started to descend without having seen the contol point I got a bit worried that I’d missed it. I hadn’t, but I hadn’t marked it clearly on my garmin. A few frantic texts to Karen and I realised I just needed to carry on a little more. It helped that John came flying past me whilst I was busy fiddling with my garmin.
Finally I reached the control at 9:55am. A great location. Good, cheap food. It was tempting to stay, but I still had lots of days of riding ahead. At the control, I caught up with Gareth Baines, Lee Pearce, Matt Edwards and John Duggan. Just as I was leaving the control, Ian Oliver arrived. The descent from the top of Mount Lovcen was amazing, and it wasn’t long before I was at the Albanian border. I really did start to feel a long way from home. My planned route was to ride into Albania, cut across Macedonia, and enter northern Greece just to the south of Prilep, but as with the last few days, things were often being changed on the fly…
Another video, this time ‘What have you been eating…’
I’d been on the go now since 11:30 the night before with just the single short power nap. My existing prejudices with regards to Albania being a dangerous place, meant I wasn’t keen on sleeping rough. I truth, people were generally friendly and probably just surprised to see someone cycling through their country.
I arrived at Leche just after dark. It was a large town and the streets were extremely busy with cars and people everywhere. I cycled down the main drag looking for a place to stay and a place to eat. I just couldn’t see any hotel signs anywhere. I found a cheap looking pizza place and stopped to eat and ask about a hotel. In addition to this being possibly the worst pizza I’d ever had, the owners of the establishment didn’t speak a word of English. After a lot of baffled looks, they finally worked out that I was looking for a hotel for the night. Perhaps they were new to the town, but they shook their heads saying there were no hotels in Leche! Hard to believe, but this was not the news I wanted to hear. More negotiations, and they seemed to have hatched a plan for me. There were some phone calls, and some more phone calls, and eventually there was a plan. There was a hotel about 6km west – not the direction I wanted to be heading. The owner of the hotel would meet me on the road and I could follow him to the hotel. Phone numbers were exchanged and eventually I set off to find this mysterious hotel. I had literally cycled less than a kilometre, and there, just past the roundabout that I entered the town at, was a huge sign ‘Hotel’. There was a room available – excellent – I didn’t need to cycle out west. 4200 Leke for the night – deal. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let me take my bike into the room it could be locked up in an underground garage – they guaranteed me it was safe, I was a little nervous, (again prejudices coming to the surface), but decided to trust them.
A good, clean room with air-con, a hot shower and a soft bed. Albania was looking a whole lot better. I just hoped the food would improve…
Room just north of Dubrovnich to Leche: 248.3km, 2571m ascent
Total: 2822.3km, 27816m ascent
Spotted just after the border crossing into Bosnia and Herzogovina
The coastline was still beautiful
Another border crossing- this time Bosnia and Herzogovina
Climbing out of Kotor up to CP3, Mount Lovren, Montenegro
#20 John Duggan – already looking a bit ferral
John in trainers
Checkpoint 3 – would be nice to revisit it one day
Ready to set off from CP3
An interestingly named Petrol Station in Albania
Swing Bridge in the Uzel National Park
Uzel National Park
Welcome to Albania – not all the roads were this bad
The elusive hotel in Leche
Various pics taken in Albania
Day 10 – Stage 1
Day 10 – Stage 2
A good start to the day – my bike was just where I left it, all safe and sound. The sun was shining. And, I had my first introduction to Albanian coffee. It’s good that I like an espresso, as this is how coffee is served. Strong and short. It is also extremely cheap – about 30cents for an espresso.
Breakfast was interesting. I stopped at a restaurant where the cook took me into her kitchen and showed me her delights. Soup, rice, sausages (What were you thinking??). Just don’t ask me what was in the soup, but it was hot and tasty. All washed down with an ice cold coke. It set me up for the first stretch of the day.
My planned route out of Albania was through the Ulez national park. It was a lovely
ride, even though I had my first introduction to some wild dogs, but they just wanted to chase me for fun – perhaps my legs looked to skinny for their taste. I also got an introduction to 7Day croissants. At first I thought these delights filled with preservatives would become my staple diet. It didn’t take too long to realise that if I had another one, I might be ill. I kept one tied to my saddle bag as an emergency ration, but if I never see one of them again I really won’t mind.
After the ride through the National Park, my intention was to cycle into Macedonia, cross the mountains in Macedonia and make it to Prilep in the east of the country. On ridewithgps, it looked like a nice lot of descending to Prilep once I got over the climb, which looked like it was about 1500m. On paper this all seemed like a good plan. All was going well. It was hot, but I felt good and was making good time. I was also heading east – whereas everyone elese was heading south and then having to head east – so I was hoping to jump ahead of some of the riders.
I was enjoying the climb and looking forward to the ride into Prilep. I’d figured out that with this route, I was on track for a 12 day ride, still a good time after the problems earlier with my achilles and the bad weather in the Alps. Suddenly the road just ended. It was suddenly a very rough dirt track, even on a mountain bike it would have been almost impassable. There was a small road to the right, but it only led to a small town. I waited a while at this dead-end, wondering what to do. I eventually flagged down a car, luckily the driver could understand English, their solution was that I had to cycle back down the hill and follow the road all the way to Debar (roughly 20km away) and head south.
I was just about to start down the hill, when Matt appeared. I wasn’t the only one who’d chosen this road. We made the trip back to Debar together and stopped for a quick lunch break out of the sun whilst we decided on our next destination followed by a short nap in an empty petrol station. We determined that we needed to head to Bitola via Orhid to get back on track. We were briefly tempted to push onto Bitola, but it was a good extra 65km away so settled on Orhid. We found a reasonable hotel for the night in Orhid and treated ourselves to a stress relieving meal at a nice outdoor restaurant.
Leche to Ohrid: 235.6km, 2870m ascent
Total: 3057.9km, 30686m ascent
Sausages and rice for breakfast
Great coffee in Albania
One of a million Lavazh’s in Albania
Day 11 – Note the detour after climbing out of Debar
We got going at first light. We quickly realised it had been a good decision to stop at Orhid. The ride from Orhid to Bitola involved quite a lot of climbing and the first 65kms were a tough start to the day.
Whilst on the road to Bitola, we saw a cyclist ahead of us. We thought at first that he must be the Macedonian Road Champ or something. From the back he appeared to be travelling quite light, he was also wearing what looked like a track helmet with a full visor! As we got closer, we realised he was another TCR rider. It was Aaron Beard. He’d bivvied at the top of one of these long hills – almost froze to death, and was pretty hungry. He was stopping as soon as he could for some food, whereas Matt and I were just getting going. So, it was a brief hello, and we went our separate ways.
Matt and I plowed on quite quickly crossing into Northern Greece. It was hot. The roads were quite flat and monotonous, and, we had a stiff headwind (of course). By now, my saddle area was really starting to hurt. It had started to hurt after the first 8 days, but now was really uncomfortable. I was trying to ride on the tri-bars into the wind as this was by far the most efficient way to deal with the wind, but being in that position was really causing my shoulders to ache and I was battling to get comfortable. It was almost better to have the occasional hill where you had to get out of the saddle.
Lunch was at Edessa. A failed attempt to have an afternoon nap in a small park and then we were off again. We had a bit of fun climbing over fences to get off a motorway, but apart from that we were just ploughing on trying to get as far as we could. As darkness took over we started to get a little worried about where we would get something to eat. We hadn’t seen anything for ages and the way we were heading only passed through a few small towns, so our chances of finding somewhere were quite slim. We then got lucky. Lagyna and we saw some signs for a Taverna, it looked pretty quiet though, but we decided to take our chances as it was the first place we’d seen. At first we thought we were out of luck. The owners of the taverna didn’t speak English but a quick phone call and suddenly their two sons appeared and they did speak English. We feasted on grilled chicken and chips, as much bread as we could eat, a huge salad and a couple of Frappa’s each. They were so friendly, and they wouldn’t accept our tip! Instead they insisted on giving us food for our breakfast. It was a slightly strange assortment of food, but most welcome. Stuffed peppers, bread rolls, boiled eggs and tomatoes. After loading up our bikes, we were off, without the foggiest idea of where we were going to spend the night.
Our spot for the night was an empty concrete block house. It wasn’t the most welcoming place. Inside there were 3 snakes skins lying on the floor and a fair amount of spider webs, in addition the floor was solid concrete. I was more than happy for Matt to have the room, and I decided to bivvy outside. It was hot and sticky and the mosquitos were out in force and I don’t actually remember sleeping at all. It was another of those night where I would have probably been better just carrying on. I guess I might have slept for an hour. I could hear Matt tossing and turning, I don’t think he got much sleep either.
Ohrid to block house: 319km, 1983m ascent
Total: 3376.9km, 32669m ascent
Stuffed peppers for breakfast anyone?
Hot roads in Greece
Blockhouse (with snake skins) in Greece
Complimentary snakes skins
Today was similar to the day before. Long, busy, hot roads. Sore shoulders, sore saddle. Matt and I just keeping each other in sight and stopping occasionally, we were consciously not drafting one another. At one point we were desperate to get out of the heat and eat and we stopped at a promising looking taverna. It was, however, very quiet. I thought it must have been closed, but Matt was determined and went looking for signs of life. Finally he found Leo, the owner, just about alive. It took some persuading (mainly I think, because it meant Leo – not the world’s fittest human being – would have to walk up and down from the kitchen to the beach area where we decided to rest and eat), but we did eventually manage to get some food and drink. It was a lovely spot right on the beach front on a shaded patio. But unfortunately we still had a long way to go.
We’d really hoped to make the Turkish border today, but the heat and general tiredness (and in Matt’s case, a very sore knee), meant that we stopped earlier than planned. We bivvied behind a low wall in what appeared to be the grounds of a deserted mansion. Just as we got comfy, we were disturbed by the owner wanting to know what we were doing. Luckily he was friendly enough and let us be.
Block house to garden in Greece: 321.9km, 1377m ascent
Total: 3698.8km, 34046m ascent
#101 Matt Edwards
Not a bad place to kill a few hours
I managed to get about 3 hours sleep – the longest I’d had for a few days – but still set off before sunrise. Matt was worried about his knee seizing up, so had set off before me, I didn’t think I’d see him again until Istanbul. Today I was determined, no matter how long it took, that this would be my last day on the road. I made it through the Turkish border at 5am. The road was suddenly far hillier than the flat roads in Greece – just long draggy climbs, but with a headwind, it meant you couldn’t just relax on the downhills. Whilst catching a quick breakfast of toasted cheese(s) and pepperami and making facebook friends with a Turkish waiter, I saw Matt go by, I think his knee was giving him real trouble.
My original route through Turkey would have taken me inland from Xanthi in Greece, but it would have meant more climbing, so nowI was following the well worn route along the coast. A busy road, but with a good sized hard shoulder. As you get closer to Istanbul, the road gets even busier and the hard shoulder just disappears. Because of this, the organisers had made it compulsary to enter Istanbul from the north. This meant that although we saw signs indicating that Istanbul was only 50km or so away, we had to make a huge detour inland. Matt and I were together again at this point, and stopped for a really good food stop – lovely, sweet baclava – before leaving the main road.
The next 80kms to the finish weren’t much fun. Matt and I had said our goodbyes, both agreeing that we’d like to ride the last stretch with just our thoughts as company.
Finally, after some more navigational problems, I was on the main road into Istanbul from the north. This was a really good road, almost like a motorway, and, in most parts smooth and pretty fast. Unfortunately, it was also a very dark road without many road markings. I’d be bombing along and suddenly not be able to see the edge of the road, it was pretty hairy at times. There were also road works scattered along it, and at times the road would suddenly turn to dirt – not ideal when you’ve been racing along at 40km/h. In addition, packs of wild dogs were lurking under the bridges – up to 12 dogs in a pack – luckily they were either too tired to chase me or preferred fighting amongst themselves, but none of them caused me any problems. Still, pretty frightening in the gloom of dusk.
Finally the last little stretch, and my garmin was showing me some short sharp little hills. Although I was right on the limit, I wasn’t going to walk, I’d cycled all the way from London to Istanbul and the last little hills, no matter how steep, were not going to be walked. Finally onto the flat road along the Bosphorus, and traffic! It was nearly midnight, but the roads were heaving with traffic. So much for a nice easy finish to the journey, I had to be extra careful. This is obviously an upmarket part of Istanbul and there were lots of people spilling out of posh restaurants into their luxury cars – not what I’d expected.
I knew the finish was near the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, near Rumeli Castle, but I managed to go cycling right past it. Luckily I spotted Ishmael Burdeau (he’d finished in 9th place and had arrived 2 days ago) and he guided me to the cafe, and bought me a celebratory beer. It was 23:44pm on day 14 – so it had taken me 13days, 13hours and 44 minutes.
Video shot immediately after finishing
It wasn’t what I’d imagined the finish to feel like, and to be honest at the time it was a huge anti-climax for me. Perhaps it was because it was late at night and people were about to head off to their hotel rooms, perhaps it was because there was the immediate worry of where I was going to spend the night, it could have been that I was just exhausted, or it could have been that I immediately knew I could have gone much quicker if I’d chosen to race it. Or, it might have been that I just wished I had my family there to celebrate with me. I’m not sure, but I’d plan my finish a bit better next time.
Anyway, a quick bite to eat and then the problem of where to sleep. Luckily John Duggan was there and he managed to find a hotel room for the two of us for the night. What happened next was total madness. We needed two taxis to take us to our hotel with our bikes, our introduction to Istanbul taxi drivers. An insane, breakneck speed journey, that felt like we were heading miles out of town. I thought that this was it, I’d cycled all the way from London to Istanbul and I was going to die in a taxi. It was nearly two in the morning but the roads resembled rush hour – crazy. As it was, our hotel was in the old city, very close to the Hagia Sophia. Another delay in getting some sleep – the hotel we’d ‘booked’ didn’t have any space. We thought we’d have to go back to the finish, and pay for taxis again! Luckily the hotel next door had a room. Finally we were in a room for the night and we didn’t have to worry about getting back onto our bikes in the morning.
Garden in Greece to Rumeli Cafe: 292.9km, 3017m ascent
Total: 3991.7km, 37063m ascent
The road to Istanbul
Long hot roads in Turkey
Crossing the border at 5am
Day 14 – Stage 1
Day 14 – Stage 2
John and I didn’t really sleep in. I was hungry and my mind was spinning wondering about where we were and what we had to do. When we’d worked out where we were, we realised we needed to be closer to the Rumeli cafe. John booked us a hotel in Ortakoy – cheaper and closer.
All we needed to do was: get our bikes to our new hotel, get to the cafe, pick up a couple of boxes for our bikes, take the boxes back to the hotel, pack our bikes, get back to the cafe for photos, and then get to the after party for the 6pm start! Easy!
As it turned out, we had to skip the photo session, Ortakay was still a little far from the Rumeli Cafe to be able to flit between the two. Our hotel was actually quite a dive, but it was cheaper than the previous night and it was more central. I guess after two weeks of roughing it, I’d have liked somewhere that was just a little more homely.
There was lot of faffing with the taxi driver to get to the Bosphorus Brewing Company for the afterparty, the taxi driver insisting we were there when we were in the middle of a residential area. Eventually, before the driver finally lost his temper, we got out and decide to walk following google maps – we should have just used our garmins, after becoming experts at using them over the last two weeks. (Unfortunately, someone had nicked John’s at the finish the night before, not a great introduction to Istanbul).
Finally we made it. It was great to catch up with everyone, but at 25 Turkish lira for a beer, (£8), not many people were getting too drunk. A very enjoyable evening none the less, filled with stories and laughter.
Tourist in Istanbul
#20 John Duggan’s malt loaf – carried from London to Istanbul
Outside the apartment in Ortakoy
Mike and Mikko at the afterparty
Shell, John and Aaron
Could have done with going to a Turkish barber
Allez! Doing the tourist thing
Kristoff, Pippa and Josh. The first two men, and the first woman home.
Hopefully the race just goes from strength to strength, I promised I’d not be redoing it immediately, even though I’d like too, but it’s a huge commitment in regards to training time and family time, but 2018 isn’t that far away.
Thanks to everyone who sponsored me a grand total of £1807.50 was raised for African Vision Malawi. And a final mention to Rapha and Milltag for their generous sponsorships.