Transcontinental Race 2018 – My Journal

For the first time I publish my TCR Race Journal bi-lingual. Suchst du nach der deutschen Version? Folge diesem Link.

The Transcontinental Race! A race over around 4.000 km across Europe. From the hallowed cobblestones of the Kapelmuur in Geraardsbergen, Belgium to the sandstone rock crowning monasteries in Meteora, Greece. That was the mode for the last two years and the 5th and 6th edition of this race which can truly be called epic. And I took part in both of this editions.

You could write so much about the Transcontinental Race – and so much was already written indeed. Also from my side (for the 2017 edition and preparation follow the link for an overview on all posts tagged Transcontinental on this site). You can tell stories, report experiences, write about the nature of self supported races and the logistics and tactics behind it. On Training, preparation, mental attitude etc. pp.

Foodhaul and Snack Stop in front of a small super market in Montenegro

But wait – these sentences are already from the introduction of the first of two articles I wrote for the last Transcontinental, TCRNo6 in 2018.

Indeed, so much I could write. And I have already. Quite exhaustive on the pure numbers, data and facts in my last two articles. I showed and analysed my velocities, sleep times, rest times etc. and made comparisons between 2017 and 2018. On the last TCR I even photographed each and every food haul I made in super markets, gas stations and the like and worked out a complete energy balance with take in and expenditure.

You can find those articles here (they are written in German but you can probably can make sense out of the many tables and chars anyways. And for the rest you could opt for google translate):

the first one here: The Transcontinental Race: Numbers, Data, Facts – TCRNo5 and TCRNo6 in Comparison

and the second here: Ultracycling-Nutrition in selfsupported Races: Across Europe from Super Market to Gas Station – my TCRNo6 Nutrition Journal

Both posts include a wealth of experiences and learnings I made in these both Transcontinental Races as well as in another bike packing race in 2018, the Three Peaks Bike Race. And you can find many other posts covering bits and pieces of gear and kit I test and tinker with here on my site.

But a detailed journal like I did for the TCRNo5, well that was still missing and I hadn’t started on it yet. Too big seemed the task ahead. Too much other stuff, private and work, was to do. Why – I even hadn’t georeferenced and keyworded all my photos until Christmas! Not to speak about the careful RAW development and the stitching of the odd panoramic.

Would I really want to speak or write, respectively pages long and in detail over my TCR? Oh, yes, I want. Whether it has to be that detailled like for the TCRNo5 – we will see. I would like to try to be a bit more concise this time. We will see, whether I will suceed in that. If I’m about to begin to write…

Apropos speaking – yes, I already held one talk also for last year’s edition. Again on invite of the ERG 1900 e.V. I talked in mid January. On stories, experiences and the nature of such self-supported races. On my learnings in general and on the Transcontinental Race No 6 specifically. It was once again a real pleasure for me. Many thanks for the reception. And I derived from it the motivation to finish more of my photos and put a presentation together.

Talking cycling. Cycling far. :)

Because of this, I now just beginn to tell. I plan to publish my TCRNo6 Journal posts section wise. From Control Point to Control Point. But before this. Here: the Start.


TCRNo6 Journal, Part 1: The beginnings and the start

Meteora again! My heart is pounding. I have to swallow. Wow, again it’s Meteora as a finish. For the second time in a row the same place. My chance to finally reach Meteora. That place which I held in nearly mythical air the year before after seeing the pictures of this breathtaking world heritage. Which I couldn’t reach in 2017. „Only“ about 600 km – you could truly speak of „only“ in the scope of the continental spanning race which is the TCR – were separating me from it when I had to scratch in northern Bulgaria. A holiday, planned too ambitiously short and also some planned buffer days were already out of the window as I arrived in the town of Wratza, ill with diarrhea and after already having delays due a broken front wheel. So I decided to scratch, cycle the remaining 160 km to Sofia and fly back home.

So now my second chance! Even with a completely different destination town I probably would have been hooked. So resounding was the experience of my first TCR which also was the first ultra-distance and bike-packing experience for me ever. So I conducted the application process of the TCRNo6 with my usual diligence and motivation. And this process is no small task! Over 40 questions are to be rigorously researched and answered. These all serve one purpose: proving whether the applicant is aware of the task and the risks ahead. Whether he grasps the scope of the endeavour. Whether he engaged with the race manual and the first sketch of the layout of the route. And whether he recognises and respects the spirit of the race. Two weeks time are usally given for the application.

For the TCRNo6 the announcement came rather late – at the very end of 2017 / beginning of 2018. The application period ran until mid January. This is very late for a race of this dimension and accordingly needed preparation. But, given the utmost sad circumstances after Mike Halls death even before the TCRNo5 more than understandable. It’s just wonderful, that this race could and can live on. 

Also my own circumstances, while way less grave, weren’t anything but ideal. At the time I worked on the application I even hadn’t received a diagnosis yet for an accident/stress rupture after a nordic skiing incident which happened right at the first of January 2018. Since that I had a cast around my left foot and waited for computer tomography and how and if I had to undergo surgery!  Was it calculated optimism or „screw it – I just have to apply, no matter what“?

A little later I have the result: nearly complete rupture (98 %) of the tendon of the big toe of the left foot. Responsible for the complete ability to lift the foot. Surgery, stitching it together again, sick note, foot in the airwalker. Prolonging the sick notes date by date. In the end I’m only on Good Friday outside on my bike again.

A little later I have the result: nearly complete rupture (98 %) of the tendon of the big toe of the left foot. Responsible for the complete ability to lift the foot. Surgery, stitching it together again, sick note, foot in the airwalker. Prolonging the sick notes date by date. In the end I’m only on Good Friday outside on my bike again.

In the midst of this time I also knew since 20th of February that I won’t take part at the TCRno6. The results of the application where communicated on this day. „Unfortunately your application was not successful in the ballot…“ it reads… I’m totally down but it’s a bittersweet kind of emotion. Well, maybe that’s for the best for me and my ruptured tendon this year. So I’m sitting there. And pondering. But not for long. Already the next day I subscribe to the Three Peaks Bike Race! Yeah – I know. This is totally nuts, but I just couldn’t help myself. Already in late 2017 Michael Wacker e-mailed me and tried to tempting me for it. He and a companion had just established a new organisation: Adventure Bike Racing. And both now where creating and organising new self-supported bike races. I first declined because I didn’t want to commit myself to two ultra-distance races in one year. Neither from the needed time nor from the physical strain that would mean. But now as I had the refusal from the TCR…

So I registered for the inaugural Three Peaks Bike Race. From Vienna to Nice, around 1.600 km. It was a blast! You can read all about it in my Journal here (Post only available in German). That race was about to begin in June.

While I was recovering from the surgery I couldn’t do much for my physical preparation. Just to be disciplined with my nutrition so as not to gain surplus weight. Then, I slowly and carefully began with first sessions on the turbo.

First careful „Movement Therapy“ with the Airwalker on the stationary Trainer.

Good Friday then for the first time outside again. Allright, this just might work out, I was now sure. Well – at least 70 % of the time. 30 % (at least) I was brooding and trying to make sense out of listening to my body: does it have to ache in this certain way? Is that normal and to be expected, that it is twinging there? Is that more or less slight throbbing after a hard ride a good or a bad sign? The views and consultation of my doctors, while consolating, couldn’t fully satisfy me. So I went through ups and downs.

Into this banged suddenly the enquiry of Anna Haslock in the beginning of April: There were now places for participating the TCRNo6 available again! Out of the understandable uncertainty over the future of the race, over the late announcement and late confirmation already the number of applications suffered a blow for 2018 and also from the confirmed applicants an unusual high quota of people who chose to not finally register for the race or pay the due racing fee as I understand it. So they contacted race veterans like me.

What do you do, if you already only want to do just one and not two Bikepacking races in a year even when healthy, wenn you have a full calendar and you are currently questioning yourself whether that twinging in the foot means you are on a good or on a bad way regarding convalescence? Well of course – you immediately check your calendar whether there is space for the Transcontinental in July and August!

What do you do, if you already only want to do just one and not two Bikepacking races in a year even when healthy, wenn you have a full calendar and you are currently questioning yourself whether that twinging in the foot means you are on a good or on a bad way regarding convalescence? Well of course – you immediately check your calendar whether there is space for the Transcontinental in July and August!

Because… Meteora! And #ImgoingtoseeEurope. Such a second chance doesn’t come twice. So I immediately confirmed my participation on the spot an payed the fees after I found against all my expectation that indeed I had space in my calendar.


To Geraardsbergen!

I already know the process of registry and start, the surroundings there and also the way to Brussels and from Brussels to Geraardsbergen. Like last year I travel (like so many) first to Brussels and then ride my bike from Brussels to Geraardsbergen. Last year I used a one way rental car. This worked very well and was way more relaxed than by train but wasn’t really cheap. For this year I had another idea: I drive with my own car to Brussels airport and park it in a long term parking house. I wouldn’t fly home to Düsseldorf or Cologne but simply to Brussels. Exactly so I executed this and it worked out perfect.

From the airport I’m riding my bike relaxed on the same track to Geraardsbergen like the year before. I again enter the city alongside the canal and like last year my first stop is the „Pasta al dente“ take-away bistro. This seems already nearly like TCR furniture and always has something special up their sleeves for the TCR participants. While this was all very new for me at the TCRNo5 I already see familiar faces now. Marion Esfandiari for example, the resolute-resolute-personable guardian of the TCR facebook group. New for 2018 is official program already at the evening before the registration. This takes place at the marketplace in the vicinity. So I’m heading there. Here’s a first riders get together and a small podium interview round. The composition is slightly different then announced but no less interesting with last years first female rider, Melissa Pritchard, with last years second place Björn Lenhard, with Mikko Mäkkipää, the only participant who has entered (and finished) all TCRs and with Josh Ibbet, who won the Race in 2015.

On the evening before the Registration and the race start. Podium round with Juliana, Melissa, Josh, Björn und Mikko (left to right).

There are food trucks there and we can pass the early evening with small talk and catching up. There are also some interviews requested and given and the ever popular past time which is looking after other participants bikes and bike setups has its first share.

The Race-Podcast needs content. Björn at the evening befor the Race.
Now it’s my turn… ;-)

I – like not so few others – hop on my bike quite early in the evening still. I again only found an accommodation outside of Geraardsbergen. No wonder – Geraardsbergen isn’t that big. My Air BnB lies in Michelbeke, right at the foot of the Berendries. On of the renowned Helling climbs of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and other flemish races. Just shy of 15 km I have to ride to it. I do it very leisurely. Don’t I dare using any precious energy I will need from tomorrow evening on!

The small B&B proved to be a true jackpot. A very likable hosting couple. Talks circling around the Tour de France and the Ronde van Vlaanderen. On the copious filled breakfast table also some cheese. This one is made by the mother of Frederik Backert I got told. He is a rider in the professional team Wanty-Groupe Robert. And how other could it be that the only other guest is of course also a TCR participant. John from England, Cap No 227. He’s a bike mechanic. I realise that also for this profession the saying from the shoemaker and his shoes holds true. Bar tape has to be wrapped still. And a bike-packing bag still has it’s place to find. John’s not really satisfied with every option he tries while we talk and digest our breakfast. This as he isn’t unexperienced in distance cycling. E.G. he has ridden the Trans America Bike Race he tells me.

While he is cobbling and tinkering I already get my bike out of the shack. Here it is before the start in all it’s glory. As it stands there, it weighs 18,8 kg fully loaded. With energy bars etc. for the first hours but without water yet.

My J.Guillem Orient in front of the Garage of my lovely hosts in Michelbecke.

We want to ride to the registration together. This already started sometime at mid morning but will continue till 16:00 o’clock. After that it’s the rider briefing and after that the start is only at 22:00 in the evening. This year on a Sunday. Not on a Friday like the year before. So I’m sitting quite relaxed at our B&B in Michelbeke and gladly accept the offering of a second breakfast and the making of a lunch package. John still finishes his bike. Well, in the mean time we really should get moving. Around 13:00 o’clock we are finally heading to Geraardsbergen.

The registration takes place in the Jeugdcentrum. John headed to a gas station – needed to buy last minute spares. I get greeted by the usual busy activity. The registration process went really smooth this year. Even three volunteering mechanics provide three parallel obligatory bike check lanes.

Not only that I myself recognize some familiar faces, no, also some people seem to recognize me from my postings on my blog or on twitter or instagram. Well, maybe also from facebook, but facebook isn’t really a cool and user friendly social media, if you ask me. Oh well, same could be said about any other social media which fell from grace and introduced non-linear time lines… But I digress. A few people I also met earlier, e.g. Svenja last spring in Hamburg, where I was invited to gave a talk at the very pleasant „Pedals & Poets“ evening. I especially enjoyed having met Johanna and Marion at the registration. Both started as a team in the pairs ranking and did their first bike packing race. Normally they are at home in the opposite spectrum of bicycle racing – fixed gear criterium like the Red Hook. Like I last year they now stood without any prior experience before their TCR. To cut the matter short: they would master this brilliantly and I had found a wonderful „carrot“ which I could use throughout the race for my own motivation. You automatically happen to find a range of other participants after a few days who are having a similar rate of progression like yourself and are staying in striking distance. Sometimes in front, sometimes behind. Or always just so ever a bit in front. And where you are always keen to look where they are in comparison to your own position. And Marion and Johanna would progress quite admirably.

We are sitting in the inside of the Jeugdcentrum after the registration and chat. They both have permission to have a personal photographer in accordance with quite strict restrictions of interaction. Sebastian (@click.inspired) will follow their tracks across Europe but is only allowed to very sparingly come near them to photograph at few places and will be tracked separately as to prove to to not provide unfair support.

Another familiar face from TCRNo5 and since then contact over facebook is René who again has added another range of custom carbon tuning to his bike. Well I won’t say that this would be a goal of mine, but his setup certainly is very interesting and has lots of details. It’s more than justified that he and his bike found the interest of the GCN guys who were also at the start to capture the atmosphere. Have a look at their video and René’s bike here:

https://youtu.be/ZEImemPWBnU?t=435

Some time later also the rider briefing is done and the Brevet Cards are handed out. Job Simons, the son of the late Frank Simons who died in the first night of last years race held a very emotional speech. I also talk to him later at the Pasta al dente.

Now the only thing which was there was the strange time like in between dimensions between rider briefing and the start of the race itself at 22:00 o’clock. Some riders tried to dose off (or even sleep) as long as they could in the Jeugdcentrum. Some leave for the several cafés and Pizza places in town. One of the nearest and more quiet places is above the Pasta al dente in their first floor. Actually a take-away you can reach the first floor via a small staircase for the toilets. But there are also a few nice and quiet tables. So you can rest, sheltered maybe from the wind or some rain drops. But this year it’s dry for the start.

Just a last bowl of pasta and then I part push, part ride my bike to the market place. Klaas is there with a colleague of him. He came all the way from Germany, just for the start! To take the start atmosphere in and also to say hello to me. Great stuff. The market place is filling with yellow and fluorescent garments – ready for the fall of the night.

Participants slowly gather on the Market Place in Geraardsbergen for the start.

The historic town caller is proclaiming the usual words and greetings. There is a marriage proposal on the stage and the crowd is cheering the „Oui“ from Melissa. Shortly thereafter we are clicking in!

„Oui“

The usual neutralized round through the town so the spectators have time to go to the Kapelmuur and to light their torches. Only – this year there are no torches allowed. The summer of 2018 was unusual hot and dry in nearly all of Europe. Just the day before the start Belgium officials prohibited open fire. So – without torches but like the year before with great cheering and much adrenalin we climbed the steep cobbles of the Kapelmuur. Like last year, I crest the hill without problems and start in my preplanned route. Like 251 other ultra endurance cyclists around me. We are forming a long chain of red backlights through the night.

Finally it has started!


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