Final thoughts before TCR No 5 – and why I will not be racing it

Version 2

At the time of writing it is exactly 72 hours until I will stand on the Muur in Geraardsbergen (Belgium), together with some 300 other crazies, and set off into the night to ride the Transcontinental Race No. 5. About 4000 km across Europe, visiting 4 iconic climbs as checkpoints and finishing in Meteora, Greece. No fixed route, self supported and the clock never stops – whoever gets there first, wins.

I have been looking forward to this for about a year now, ever since I volunteered at one of the checkpoints in TCR No. 4 and basically knew that I would get a spot at the start line. The level of excitement varied greatly over the year, oscillating from anticipation to doubts and right now knowing basically just two states that change about three times a day: from thrills of exctasy to get this going to outright panic.

Mike

But things for me have also changed over this year, affecting how I have been riding lately. I don’t know if it is me getting older or if things really are getting worse out there on the streets, but I find it less and less enjoyable to ride my bike on larger streets with even just a moderate amount of traffic. Passing cars seem to be getting closer and there seems to be less respect for cyclists. So I found myself gravitating to small roads with almost no traffic whenever possible, loosing my dislike of gravel, in fact starting to look for it.

Then Mike died. I was on Mallorca for five days, giving my training a much needed boost. Checking the race status of the Indy Pacific Wheel Race before going to bed I watched with horror as someones harmless tweet (something like „road block on road such-and-such — hoping Mike isn’t forced to stop“) turned into certainty that  there had been a crash and Mike had been killed.

Motivation at a low

Motivation was low after this – not just because of the uncertainty whether or not the race would actually go on, but because Mike’s death all of the sudden turned that vague, undefined feeling I had into a brutal reality.

I know all the figures and statistics and am convinced (and can statistically proof to you for all what it’s worth) that cycling is a relatively safe sport – but feeling that is something different.

So for a while my heart wasn’t into it. Add a horrible bike crash in the family (all good again, phew!) and for a while I would rather ride an hour long detour – including a 17% incline on a blocky MTB single trail on a loaded road bike with 25mm tires for good measure – just to avoid a 15 minute climb up the Fernpass. Which is not a nice road traffic wise but definitely not that bad. Riding like this eastern European roads would be challenging…

Change of approach

Luckily that improved and I am more relaxed again. As I said, I know the figures. But the ease of riding comfortably on a road with more traffic still isn’t back, and I doubt it ever will be completely. So the two overnight endeavors I started as training rides (Candy B. Graveller – text in German only – and Rando Imperator) were gravel events. And the route I have prepared is definitely not the quickest or flattest, but what I hope will have the least traffic. I also expect myself to look for alternatives while I ride, occasionally trying out smaller roads and cycle paths.

So in a race context this translates into: more km, more climbing, less gas stations and McDonald’s (fuel!) on the way. More chances to get lost, hit gravel or catch a flat due to road debris. Not really what you would plan if you wanted to ride across Europe as fast as possible.

„This is not a Tour“

The thing is, I would never have raced for podium or a place in the top 10, 20 or even 50. I don’t have the legs for that (even if training would have been what I wanted it to be) and I definitely don’t have the mind for it. I like sleep too much, I like good coffee and cake too much, and it is difficult to resist the urge to stop and indulge if I pass a good locking ice cream shop (Italy will be full of temptations!).

Mike once wrote a great article titled „This is not a Tour“ (read it, it’s great!), explaining how racing – instead of touring – something like the Great Divide or the World Cycle Race doesn’t make it less enjoyable, but maybe even more enjoyable. And I totally understand what he says, and when I signed up for TCR No. 5 I thought that I would be able to properly race it. I thought I wanted to race it. Not against the likes of Kristof or Björn or the other big shots, but against my own clock. Get to Greece as fast as I can.

„This is not a Race“

That changed for me, and I hope the words above explained that. Writing it down certainly made it clearer for myself. So when I get on my bike this Friday and set off into the night with 300 others crazies I will not race them. I will ride my heart out, I will pedal through the night, I will get up too early and I will eat too much fast food. But I will not ride the fastest route, I will chance gravel where I wouldn’t have to and I will definitely stop for ice cream more often than is necessary.

So for me, this is not a race. And that is perfectly ok for me.

Post Scriptum

Well, this post turned out a little different than I had expected. Originally I wanted to write a few words about the training, gear, route and last minute niggles. So here is at least a little of that in a nutshell, a proper post about this will follow after the race. Including a what worked and what didn’t.

Training: not exactly what I wanted it to be – but it never is, so that’s ok. At least a few long distance overnight rides in there. And the doc says I am pushing more watts than last year, so legs should be ok.

Gear: The bike has been tried and tested for years now (VPace T1ST), so no worries about that. But I have to admit that knowledge of my bivvy setup is at least in part theoretical. And the new navigation (Wahoo Elmnt, thanks!!) hasn’t been properly tested, so I carry a Garmin as backup. But I am confident. Oh, and it is of course way too heavy, coming in at 21kg all in – without food and water! No idea how people get their stuff down to 16…

Route: Around 4100 km with 43.000 m elevation gain (according to Komoot). When possible I chose smaller roads, even if that meant extra km or some extra climbing. I relied on strava heat maps and google streetviewed some of it. But I am far from a complete walk through on streetview, so there will be surprises…

Last Niggles: Getting to the start line was supposed to be a leisurely 5 day bike trip, scouting some of my route along the way, occasionally taking a local train. But a broken through axle in the girlfriend’s bike saw us stuck in Munich for 4 days, so it will now be a car ride up to the start. So much for the final test of my final setup and accustoming myself to the Elmnt.

But looking at the torrential rains we are having at the moment it might even be better for my motivation, so maybe that’s a good thing, who knows…

Follow me: You can watch the race unfold here at Trackleaders. Most likely I will be dot number 153.

I won’t take the time to post blog entries while I am on the road but will try to give quick updates on the Facebook page  and share the occasional photo via Instagram. If you want to shout out some encouragement, please do so – there will be times I will need it :)

Thanks!

A great and loud Thank You!! to the organizers team that stepped in and made it possible for the Race to go ahead. Dealing with the personal pain of loosing Mike and still putting this on is incredible. Thank you for the opportunity of the adventure of a lifetime.

 

Additional info:

If you didn’t know: Mike Hall was THE long distance cyclist and the organizer of the Transcontinental Race. He died on his bike in a collision with a car this March, during the Indy Pacific Wheel Race in Australia

More info about TCR? Let Chris White explain here.