Introduction

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Riding from London to Istanbul unsupported sounds crazy. Racing it even crazier. But that’s my aim this year in The Transcontinental Race. I’m not alone in this, there are another 100 cyclists planning to compete this year.

I am also going to be cycling to raise awareness and hopefully lots of money, for a charity based in Malawi called African Vision.

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In particular, ‘500miles’, which is an initiative that supports disabled people in Malawi. So don’t be shy, any amount will be warmly received!

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I have a couple of friends that I’ve made during previous rides who are also taking part – Steffen, a German-Greek, who I rode most of PBP 2011 with and Vasiliki, a Greek woman who I rode most of LEL 2013 with – both of them are fine riders and I’m hoping to see them on the route during the race. I’ve only had a very quick look at the route that I might take, but it looks like it’ll be a longer race than last years edition – possibly closer to 3800km.

At the moment I’m concentrating on my training and deciding on the kit I’ll be needing. My thinking is that the hard work needs to be done now, steadily building up the mileage as the seasons change. 

I started getting in the miles from the start of November, before I’d even entered Transcontinental, as I had already wanted to improve my strength to be fit enough to compete in the Mersey Roads 24hr TT in July.

The plan is to do around 1600km per month for November through to March, mainly through 200km audax rides, long club rides and my daily commuting of 50km a day. Then upping my ride distances from April. In May I’ll be doing the Bryan Chapman Audax event (600km) and am planning to ride to the start (about 250km), so that will be a good first test. In June I’m doing the Mile Failte, which is a 1200km audax event in South West Ireland. Hopefully by the end of July I’ll be as fit as I can be and I still intend riding the 24hr TT – hopefully covering over 450miles this time round.

The Transcontinental starts on the 9th August 2014 from Westminster Bridge, London, but it already feels too soon.

Transcontinental Race 2014

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Day 1


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

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!

Five minutes to go!

On the starting line - lucky #77

On the starting line – lucky #77

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Sean, Ian, Alan and Ishamel

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Matt, Nick and me on Westminster Bridge

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An empty brevet card

Oops. Broken jaw.

Oops. Broken jaw.

Day 1, Stage 1

Day 1, Stage 1

Day 1, Stage 2

Day 1, Stage 2

Day 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

Cobbles on the Champs-Élysées – bumpier than I’d imagined

 

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Obligatory Eiffel Tower shot

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Lovely flat roads heading east out of Paris

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First night sleeping rough, damp and cold

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Control point 1, Mike Hall and crew

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Cafe Reveil au Matin, Montgeron – The starting point for the first ever Tour de France

Day2, Stage 1

Day 2, Stage 1

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Day 2, Stage 2

Day 3:


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

A quick stop on the way to Belfort

Day 3

Day 3

Day 4:


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


Lake Zurich

Lake Zurich

Ominous grey skies

Ominous grey skies

Mike 'Shell' Sheldrake

Mike ‘Shell’ Sheldrake

A crazy ride through a tunnel at 1:30am

A crazy ride through a tunnel at 1:30am

Day 4

Day 4, Stage 1

Day 4, Stage 2

Day 4, Stage 2

Day 5:


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

Local Guildford ‘boy’ Chris Philips

Just what we needed

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

This is what greeted me in the morning

Another rough night - this time in a bus shelter in Davos

Another rough night – this time in a bus shelter in Davos

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Those clouds were hiding a lot of climbing

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The first of the three big climbs – the Fluela Pass

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Descending the Stelvio

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Still loads of ice at the top of the Stelvio

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I imagine that this is normally a very busy place – not today though

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It’s a great road


Various Stelvio pics


 

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Day 5

Day 5

Day 6:


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


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Lean and tanned and loving the day

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A Beautiful Ride!

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Sometimes the road just stopped

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#101 Matt Edwards

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Amazing cycle paths

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Smooth flat paths

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Great scenery

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Another bivvying disaster

Day 6

Day 6

Day 7:


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


Breakfast!

Breakfast!

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Just after trying to speed through the Slovakian border

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The road to Rjeka

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Lost in Croatia

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Trieste

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Handrailing the Adriatic for mile after mile

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Heading south down the Dalmation coast

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#91 Henri van Winkoop

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Clean plates

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Sleeping in a shower cubicle – not recommended

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Just keep going south

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Day 7 – See just how lost I got in Croatia

 

Day 8:


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


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Another camping mistake

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Stunning coastline – yes the sea is that colour

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A rare sight – a wide hard shoulder along the coast road

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I got a stiff neck looking to my right most of the way down the coast. What you can’t see is the wind.

Day 9

Day 8

Day 9:


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

Day 9 – Stage 1

Day 9 - Stage 2

Day 9 – Stage 2

Day 10


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

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Spotted just after the border crossing into Bosnia and Herzogovina

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The coastline was still beautiful

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Another border crossing- this time Bosnia and Herzogovina

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Climbing out of Kotor up to CP3, Mount Lovren, Montenegro

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#20 John Duggan – already looking a bit ferral

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John in trainers

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Checkpoint 3 – would be nice to revisit it one day

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Ready to set off from CP3

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An interestingly named Petrol Station in Albania

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Swing Bridge in the Uzel National Park

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Uzel National Park

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Welcome to Albania – not all the roads were this bad

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The elusive hotel in Leche


Various pics taken in Albania


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Day 10 - Stage 1

Day 10 – Stage 1

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Day 10 – Stage 2

Day 11


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

Cold coke

Cold coke

Breakfast soup

Breakfast soup

Sausages and rice for breakfast

Sausages and rice for breakfast

Breakfast stop

Breakfast stop

Great coffee in Albania

Great coffee in Albania

One of a million Lavazh’s in Albania

One of a million Lavazh’s in Albania

Day 11 - Note the detour having climbing out of Debar

Day 11 – Note the detour after climbing out of Debar

Day 12


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

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Stuffed peppers for breakfast anyone?

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Hot roads in Greece

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Blockhouse (with snake skins) in Greece

Complimentary snakes skins

Complimentary snakes skins

Day 12

Day 12

Day 13


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


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#101 Matt Edwards

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Not a bad place to kill a few hours

Heat blisters

Heat blisters

 

Day 13

Day 13

Day 14


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


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Melons!

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Mosques!

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More melons!

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The road to Istanbul

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Friendly locals

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Long hot roads in Turkey

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Crossing the border at 5am

Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee

Baklava mmm!

Baklava mmm!

First beer

First beer

Day 14 - Stage 1

Day 14 – Stage 1

Day 14 - Stage 2

Day 14 – Stage 2

Day 15


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.

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Made it

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Skinny legs

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Tourist in Istanbul

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#20 John Duggan’s malt loaf – carried from London to Istanbul

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Outside the apartment in Ortakoy

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Mike and Mikko at the afterparty

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Shell, John and Aaron

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Could have done with going to a Turkish barber

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The Bosphorus

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Allez! Doing the tourist thing

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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.

Everything’s going in the right direction

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Sorry about the delay in my posts, been quite busy trying to fit in training, working and family commitments.

Here’s a quick catch up of recent training.

After the disappointment of the Bryan Chapman Memorial, it was good that my mate, Mike Cook, was training hard for the Dragon Ride and was keen to do a 200km ride, so the weekend wasn’t a complete waste. We did a nice lap of the Ditchling Devil, although I was riding on my TT bike with only a 39 on the front and a 25 on the back, so I definitely noticed the climb up Ditchling Beacon, but it was just what I needed as my motivation was starting to flag.

A blue sky ride to Devil's Dyke with Mike.

A blue sky ride to Devil’s Dyke with Mike.

The following weekend, I was back on the Bentley/Alton time trial course, this time for a 100mile TT (still with a view to riding the 24hr TTSo that was May). I was sort of middling, nothing special, but pretty happy with a 4:14, considering I haven’t been riding at that sort of pace for a few years. It still hurt though! That was my last event of May, and I’d managed 77hours and 2096km (a bit shorter than what I’d wanted to do, but I had lost about 350km of planned distance due to having to skip the BCM).

With my mind now focused on the Mile Failte 1200km at the end of June in Ireland, I had to keep the training going. The following weekend I did another lap of the Ditchling Devil (this time in reverse).

I’d also bagged a ride on the Dragon Ride with Mike, due to a friend of his having to pull out due to a crash. I really enjoyed the Dragon Ride, it’s been a while since I did a sportive, and I really felt motivated by the extra competition. It helped that the scenery was stunning and the weather played along. We were riding the 225km route, a good distance for me as I’ve done loads of rides of this distance this year. I was delighted to find out that I finished in the top 15 out of everyone doing the 225km course, not bad for an ageing cyclist!

With only a couple of weeks until the MF, I felt I needed to fit in another long ride. I did some very quick route planning (just before I rushed out of the door) planning to just do a big loop down to Brighton, across to Rye and back home. Unfortunately I picked some pretty busy roads (the A27 is no fun on a bicycle) and then the A21. Still it was 317km by the time I got home, and it was just over 12 hours door to door. So all good training.

In the meantime, I’d realised that I wasn’t going to get any further sponsorship, so I’d finally caved in and ordered a set of wheels with a Son dynamo hub as well as an E3 light from Supernova. I’d hoped to have everything set up before the Mille Failte, but there was a delay in the wheels and they finally arrived the day before I was set to leave. I wasn’t going to add extra stress by trying to get everything set up the night before, so it meant I’d be using battery powered lights for my ride in Ireland…

I'm a sucker for some nice packaging

I’m a sucker for some nice packaging

Very nice, small but packs a good beam

Very nice, small but packs a good beam

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New DT Swiss rear hub

My Son Delux Dynamo Hub

My Son Delux Dynamo Hub

 

 

 

When Plan A doesn’t workout, time for Plan B

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The Bryan Chapman Memorial was one of my targeted training events. 630km over testing terrain in Wales should have found out if my body and bike were getting closer to being prepared for Transcontinental.

Plan A was to have a leisurely cycle to Chepstow on the Friday, a night in a B&B and then start the BCM with everyone else on the Saturday morning. I’d completed the ‘scenic’ route before in a time of 29hours, so was hoping to improve considerably on that for the ‘classic’ route, where I was hoping that at least I wouldn’t have to be braking down all the downhills as the gradients were less severe. I only left home later than I’d hoped. My front derailleur had been playing up and I was battling to shift between the small and large chainring. It turned out the hole in the frame through which the cable ran was blocked up with loads of winter gunk, it meant the cable needed to be removed, everything cleaned and then readjusted. My bike repair skills aren’t the best and I didn’t have a new gear cable so it was a bit fiddly getting everything working again. Eventually I left home at 10:30, no problem I’d just get to Chepstow a bit later than planned. I had planned a route that was 250km long, going via Gloucester to Chepstow. At around 4:30, I realised I was running a bit behind schedule after a couple of routing issues (which I really need to sort out before Transcontinental), so I decided to cut my route a little shorter and head to the Severn Bridge instead of going all the way to Gloucester. I’d just entered Malmesbury (for all my South African friends and family, this is not the one in the Cape), whenwithout warning, my rear derailleur just disintegrated.

Disaster!

Disaster!

 

It was 5:30 on a Friday afternoon, any bike shops were already closed. Luckily it was still light. There was only one thing to do, turn the bike into a single speed. Voila!

Be prepared this is a messy job.

Be prepared this is a messy job.

Single Speed!

Single Speed!

I know it looks a bit loose on the photo, but it tightened up and was rideable. I suppose I didn’t really think that it was worth carrying on to Chepstow. I had a fully loaded bike and I wasn’t too sure how long my bodged chain would hang in there. I took the more sensible option, (for once), and found out where the closest train station was. It was in Kemble – 7miles away. Well that was that, a weekend of cycling cut short. I caught the train home to London from Kemble and was home by 10pm. I suppose I could perhaps have done the BCM with the bodged chain, and if it had been during Transcontinental I would have cycled like that until I got to a cycle shop, but there’s not many bike shops out in Wales on the BCM and it might have just been plain foolishness to have continued. Still it was gutting. To make amends I did a lap of the Ditchling Devil with my friend Mike Cook on the Sunday, so at least I got in a 200km+ ride.

Testing my moving photography skills on Mike

Testing my moving photography skills on Mike

I'm sure that sign has been replaced since the winter - the old one probably blew over.

I’m sure that sign has been replaced since the winter – the old one probably blew over.

Time to mix it up a bit and a nice surprise.

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Part of my training programme currently includes the 24hr TT in July, whether this happens or not is still in the balance, but I thought it a good idea to at least find out what it feels like to be back on my TT bike – it’s been quite a few years since I pinned a number on and gave it some gas up and down a dual carriage way. I had entered the Charlotteville CC 50 on the Bentley course, not my favourite course, it’s a bumpy road and I always found it difficult to get going on it. I did however do my best 100 on that course, my first and only time that I did a sub 4hr ride, so I know it can be quick. It was a very windy day, a headwind going out to Alton, but nice and fast coming back. I thought I was doing alright, I caught quite a few riders in front of me, and in the first hour I was only passed by one rider. My arms and wrists took a real pounding on the rough surface, and I was very happy to eventually cross the finish line. 2:07:25, (winner did a 1:52!) and 27th out of 76 starters, not my greatest time or placing, but I was quite happy considering I’ve been training at around 28km/h over longer distances. I just have to remember that I need to be quick over 2400miles, not 50, but hopefully doing a few time trials will make me stronger. The next one is a 100mile on the same course on the 25th May, I’m expecting it to hurt. A LOT!

 

Now for the nice surprise – actually it’s two nice surprises. I’ve been writing to different cycling companies with the hope of securing some sponsorship to help me with the kit requirements of the Transcontinental Race. One of the companies I wrote to was Rapha Racing, and to my surprise and great pleasure, they agreed to sponsor me with some clothing. Fantastic! They have supplied me with some beautiful bib shorts, a top of the range Rain Cape and lots of base layers. A huge thank you to James at Rapha for organising all this lovely stuff for me. Luckily I haven’t had to put the Rain Cape to the test yet with the great weather we’ve had recently, but the shorts are amazing, soft and comfy, and they look great.

My lovely Rain Cape from Rapha

My lovely Rain Cape from Rapha

The second surprise was from my friend Pete at Milltag. Milltag design and print limited edition cycle wear. I enquired about having a couple of jerseys printed up for the race, and Pete has agreed to sponsor the printing and supply of them for me. This is great, my own bespoke jerseys for the biggest cycling event of my life, and a wonderful keepsake. So keep a watch out for some preliminary designs soon, would be great to get some feedback on the designs before I have them printed.

Fingers crossed that my letter writing attracts a bike supplier as my bike is very quickly falling apart.

I came across this French video the other day, Tour De France 1962, it’s like a different race nowadays. Have a quick look when you get a moment. Those guys were a tough breed, and I love the domestiques running in to cafes and bars for supplies.

 

There is still much to be done

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A beautiful Route out to Chepstow

DSC01632 Last weekend I did my first 400+km ride of my training for Transcontinental. It was the Severn Across 400. A lovely ride out from Chalfont St Peter’s to Chepstow and back. In 2011 I did this as part of my PBP training, I had Matt Scholes along with me and we were happy to finish in (just) under 16hrs.

Climbing up Symonds Yat - lovely

You’d think by now that I’d stop making rookie mistakes, but they still happen. I really should have taken more warm clothing – scraping the ice off the windscreen at 4:30am should have been enough of a clue – but I headed off with just thin lycra arm warmers and thin gloves. I was riding with Pete Kelsey (Milltag), we’ve ridden in each other’s company on more than one occasion, and Nick from Cambridge, another strong rider who I keep bumping into on these local audax events. It was immediately obvious that I was going to suffer until it warmed up. I couldn’t feel my fingers until about 9 o’clock, they were useless and even changing gears was a struggle, forget trying to open a wrapped energy bar. So Big Lesson Number one learnt: Always take enough warm layers.

Milltag Pete (not my best pic of the day)

Milltag Pete (not my best pic of the day)

After about 140km, Pete and I parted company, I was probably pushing a bit hard trying to take advantage of the slight tailwind. My hill climbing is probably the only part of my cycling that’s improved since my accident – probably helped by my slightly lower weight. Nick and I yo-yoed for a while. I reached Chepstow at around 2:15, so just over 8hours for 218km, happy with that. Now for the return trip, into a slight headwind. It was only 190km, with just one sanctioned stop at Membury services, how hard could it be?

Mr Fuzzy Crossing the Severn Bridge

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Welcome to Tewkesbury

 

Things went fairly well to Membury, which was nearly 100km away – by UK audaxing distances this was longer than normal. I stocked up on food at Membury knowing I had another 90+km to go. It was also starting to get cold again! Big Lesson Number two learnt: Always take enough warm layers.

I started to get very cold and to add further misery to the day, I managed to dump my chain between the cassette and wheel, and really get it stuck good and proper. This meant a very frustrating (and dirty) time spent fiddling with the chain and wheel, which I couldn’t get out. Eventually though I did manage to release the chain and get going again. Big Lesson Number three learnt: Make sure the gearing is working 100%.

It seemed to be taking me ages to do the last stage, I thought I was just tired and cold and that was the reason I was struggling. I eventually stopped to check out the rear wheel, and it was obviously buckled – either from one of the many potholes or perhaps the dumping of the chain caused the wheel to pull out of alignment. I was near Henley, so only 40kms to go, so I disconnected the rear brake and managed to align the wheel so it wasn’t brushing against the frame. Big Lesson Number four learnt: Try not to do stupid things – like dump a chain – cos it can cause more problems.

Finally rolled into the carpark at the start at about 11:15pm, so 17hr15 out on the bike. I was frozen and it took me about 20minutes to stop shivering. Big Lesson Number five learnt: Always take enough warm layers.

It may be the height of summer when I do Transcontinental, but I expect it will still be very cold in the evenings and early mornings – at least I plan to be prepared.

No place I’d rather be

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The Bluebells are out in force this year.

Three weeks since my last post and I’ve been racking up the miles. My total for the year is currently at 7295km and I’ve still got some big months to come. May and June will both be well in excess of 2500km with the events I’ve got planned, so I’m looking at around 13500km of training this year as preparation for Transcontinental, let’s hope it’s enough. I’m not the only one putting in the miles though, there’s some folks out there putting in even more work than me, (although I don’t think they all are holding down full-time jobs as well), so it promises to be a very competitive race.

I’ve also been enjoying the fact that spring is well and truly here. I can’t think of anywhere so beautiful as Surrey and the UK in Spring, it’s just bluebells, fields of rape seed and green tunnels of fresh leaves – amazeballs!

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Fields of gold on the A25

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Chalk Lane (no filters – it really is that green)

Club ride 1

Club run a couple of weeks ago, Matt was taking the pics (and laying down the hurt) and I was sticking to his wheel.

 

Club ride 3

This time feeling some of Matt’s hurt.

Club ride 4

Stopping to take pics – again.

This weekend I’m doing my first 400+ ride of the year, the Severn Across. I’ve done it before in just under 16hours – so I’ll be trying to match that again. It’s a lovely ride from Chalfont St Peter’s to Chepstow and back. Looks like it might be a bit cooler this weekend, but hopefully the wind is favourable, last time it was a block headwind all the way home from Chepstow, luckily I had my mate Matt with me for company that time.

I’ve also entered my first time trial since 2008 on the 11th May. It’s only 50miles, but I felt it was time to see if my left leg (the one I fractured) can manage the extra effort needed to ride faster. I’ll probably do a few more time trials if it does to prepare for the 24hr time trial in July. If I find it’s too sore or if I just can’t hold a half decent pace for a couple of hours I might decide not to do the 24hr, not worth running up an injury before the big one.

I also need to plan a couple of nights away wild camping, as I haven’t yet tried it and I have a feeling I won’t always be able to find a place to stay during the race. Just need to fit it in one weekend and go for it.

I have also bought a stack of maps not only to help me plan my route, but also as backups to the garmin in case everything should go pear shaped. Definitely want to know which village I should be trying to reach if the garmin(s) pack up. So far the maps have been unfolded and then folded up again, it looks like quite a job planning a route, so probably something to do on a weekend after a long training ride – so maybe this Sunday.

Cheers for now and ride safely

 

Time to start getting serious

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve managed two 300km audaxes on consecutive weekends.

Two weeks ago, it was the Dean 300, a lovely ride starting in Oxford, heading out through the forest of Dean, through Chepstow and then back to Oxford. It was an easy ride out to Chepstow with a nice tailwind. The forest of Dean was beautiful, everything just bursting with the signs of spring, just a pity it was too short. Whilst I was faffing in the carpark at the start of the event (I was running late as usual), I spotted a familiar looking bloke. It was Ed Pickup, I recognised him from reading his blog. Ed is half my age (at least), but has already done some great rides. Last year he was 4th overall in the Transcontinental Race. He completed the Trans Am route when he was only 19! This year he’s taking part in the Trans Am race and possibly the Transcontinental again. We spent a good few hours chatting whilst we rode out to Chepstow and on to the Somerset Memorial, where we eventually split to go at our own pace. It was useful taking to someone with the experience of riding and racing these long multi-day events, I’ll definitely be taking spare gear and brake cables with me on my ride! (Thanks Ed).

It was surprising to me to find out that this was Ed’s first ever Audax ride, he seemed to enjoy it and was doing a 400km the following weekend, all good training. Hopefully I’ll see him before he does the Trans Am – he mentioned he’ll be at the Bryan Chapman 600 in May (seems like everyone’s going to be there this year). You can follow Ed here, and read his account of his first Audax here.

 

You can check out my stats here.

 

Ed Pickup on his first Audax

Ed Pickup on his first Audax

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The Somerset memorial – at the top of a nice little climb (obviously).

This weekend I did the 3Down. Starting from Chalfont St Peters, heading down through the New Forest before heading back to Chalfont – again, a lovely route. The weather though wasn’t so appealing. I thought it was going to be warmer and drier than it turned out to be. I was dressed in shorts, thin arm warmers and short gloves, not ideal when it decides to rain for the first 215kms (A rookie error). It was a case of just getting on with the ride and toughing it out. If I stopped I was just going to get colder. I kept a nice steady pace and arrived back in just over 12hours, not too bad considering how cold I was. Sorry there’s no pics, but the rainy landscapes weren’t that exciting, especially through the New Forest where it was just a big hazy cloud of mist.

Stats are here.

Lastly, but not least, a big shout out to my first donation received for African Vision, now I really do have to do this ride!

Balancing acts

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Juggling training and family commitments is always going to be tricky – lucky I have an understanding family. The last two weeks have been busy with overseas visitors – family and exchange students, so fitting in quality training has been more difficult than normal.

Even so, I still managed to fit in a 200km+ ride a couple of weeks ago. This was the Kent Invicta Hilly 100km Audax, including the ride to and from the event, I ended up with 223km and just over 3000m of climbing, so all good stuff.

Over the next two weekends I’m starting to ramp up my training with 300km audax events on both Saturdays. Looking forward to the rides, but not the early morning starts. Right off to bed to bank some sleep.

Around the world in 80 days

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks and I’m a little behind with my blog – but at least my training is still on track.

I was invited to the launch party of the World Cycle Race at the National Gallery the night before the start of the World Cycle Race. It was great to meet up with some like-minded people and to finally meet Mike Hall, the organiser of the Transcontinental Race, long-distance rider extraordinaire, winner of the First World Cycle Race and all round nice guy.

I also met Joff Summerfield, famous for riding round the world on a Penny Farthing.

From left, Gaby Leveridge, Ben Thompson, Adrian O’Sullivan (I think) (all three Transcontinental entrants) and Joff.

World Cycle Race Launch Party

World Cycle Race Launch Party

Joff Summerfield

Joff Summerfield

I’ve been following the World Cycle Race, tracking the three competitors. The woman from Germany, Fran, has had to go home after getting tendonitis in her achilles, and it wasn’t worth her carrying on, she could only have damaged herself further. I wonder how much training she did with her bike fully loaded and whether the problems she had with her seatpost in the first few days caused this injury.

Briefne, the Irish fella is plugging away and it’ll be interesting to see if his pace picks up as he gets fitter and stronger – you can’t fault his determination, good luck to him.

Lee, the fastest of the three, is already in Croatia. His average speed is around 10km/h, including his stopping time. His ambitious aim of finishing the ride in 80 days would mean he has to ride at an average of +15km/h (not allowing for transfer days), so he has time to make up, whether he can do this or not remains to be seen. Read Mike Hall’s thoughts on this here.

 

Not much has been reported on the fourth starter, Prasad, who started in India, but last I heard it sounded like he’d had transponder problems and had fallen ill, so we can only wait and see.

I’ve still been trying to cram in as much training as possible, and this week I did my first 500+ week since last year, helped in the main by the London-Oxford-London Audax from Ruislip Lido on Sunday (276km). I’m definitely feeling the effects of that today, but I’ve found that I often go well a few days after a tough ride, and these rides need to be done. I had planned to just blast the route and put my fitness to the test. Things started off well and I dropped the entire field early on, but a slight gpx error at Great Missendon saw me doing a big detour and ending up back on the course about 20 minutes behind where I was previously. I chased hard for too long, eventually catching the front runners at Quainton and leaving them there to enjoy their tea and bacon rolls. I was then on my own again, leaving Oxford as the group arrived. The strong breeze was taking its toll though, and near to Didcot I was caught by the front group – I was starting to flag (I’d ridden 32 km to the start, spent 12km getting lost, so I already had about 150km in my legs) – and was now at a point where I was more than happy for the company. It was good company – a couple of triathletes, Richard Evans (who starts his round the world trip in 4 weeks time) and Pete from Milltag. We decided to stick to the A40 back to London, which wasn’t the nicest end to an Audax that I’ve ever done, and the last loop into Southall was probably a bit unnecessary. I got home just after sunset, absolutely finished.

A good turn out at the start of the London Oxford London ride.

A good turn out at the start of the London Oxford London ride.

I’ve also been trying to get a definitive kit list together – there’s a lot of things to get. One of my main worries is whether my Planet X bike can stand the training schedule and the race – especially when the bike is fully loaded. It’s had a problem with the headset for quite a while. It just keeps working itself loose all the time, even after replacing the headset last year. It’s loose again, and after reading up on the internet, I’m worried the frame has become ovalised over time. I’ll give it a bit more time before deciding if I need to get a new frame and fork, but at the moment I’m sticking with the Planet X, but I might need to tighten the headset at the end of every day.

Ups and downs

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There’s this fine balance between training and taking it easy, and usually I know when I need a break. In the last fortnight I had a really good first week – my highest mileage (472km) in a week since the beginning of December. Adding into this the fact that the weather was very windy, meant my long rides were tough rides into the wind (well for at least half the ride).

I also tried Barhatch climb for the first time in ages and gave it a little push just to test my fitness, (and to see if I could put in a decent time for my club’s hill climb championship), I was pretty happy just scraping in under 10minutes for the full 3.2km climb. This dud leg of mine is definitely getting stronger.

Trees down everywhere

Trees down everywhere – those trees were being held up by some very live power cables.

Last Monday I felt fine on my commute, but by lunchtime I knew I was not feeling great – sore throat, very thirsty and by the end of the day I felt terrible. By the time I got home all I wanted was my bed. I’d booked Thursday and Friday off work to get in some extra miles training, but I still felt a bit grim on Thursday. Friday was a beautiful day and I was feeling a little better, there was no way I could spend another day cooped up inside, so it was a case of just getting out and keeping the effort easy. Over the weekend I decided to ride alone so I wouldn’t be tempted to chase wheels all day. It seemed to work, I did 200km over the weekend and the bug seems to have gone.

Not a terrible week distance wise (292km), but just highlighted that I need to look after my self a bit better, no good pushing myself to commute everyday and then not being well enough to do the good long rides at the weekend.

On Friday, I met up with my friends who do amazing work and run African Vision, the charity that I’ll be riding for. Hopefully by this time next week I’ll have more details… and a link to BT mydonate.