This may well be my last post before I depart to the race start in Geraardsbergen on Wednesday evening this week. Its been a long old road getting here, it will be good to finish and get back to normal life where I don’t have to worry about something which has quite literally taken it over. Saying that, the adventure begins this week, I’m carrying a little trepidation and nervousness about what the unknown will bring. I guess that’s natural at this point. One thing for sure I’ll be calling on lady luck throughout my journey as a lot will depend on it.
The kit conundrum
Over the last few weeks the training has tailed off and the focus has really been about final preparation and deciding what goes and what stays at home. Its not been that straight forward. It is a risk running bare bones but hopefully I’ve managed to strike a balance between what’s sensible but at the same time adventurous…well it is after all a race! I’ve tried all manner of arrangements in terms of bags on the bikes and I’ve also tried them all on the road. What you see in the picture below is what I’ve finally settled on and I’m pretty happy with it. Its not much when you think I’ll be on the road for 2 weeks.
However, when I do look at it, its not much more than I’ve been carrying on my Audax’s with the exception of the additional dry bag on the front. So the weight on the bike doesn’t worry me to much. I’m not 100% certain of the weight (not sure how accurate my scales are) but I reckon in total its around 32kgs with full bottles. I will be carrying a small lightweight back pack in the early days too, but again I carried a small backpack on most of my Audax’s so no worries there. So…what’s in the bags?
I’ve thought long and hard whether I need to take a sleeping bag or not. For the last 2 or 3 weeks I’ve been carrying one while out riding. The weekend before departure was always going to be decision time, just how barebones I’m prepared to go. I’ve been tracking the weather across Europe over the last few weeks, the 10 day forecast is that its going to be hot in many of the countries we’ll be transiting. When I say hot, I mean very hot. Day temperatures are looking upwards of 35 degrees and evenings a moderate 18-21 degrees, in the mountain valleys probably a little lower and chilly. I’ve decided not to take the sleeping bag, hopefully I wont regret it. So in the saddle bag is a bivy bag with a cotton sleeping bag liner. Also within is a small packet of Andrex clean washlets to clean the under carriage and a pair of light cotton shorts to circulate the air when resting , a neck warmer and a woollen beanie. I’ve also included a piece of bubble wrap which I’ll use to take some of the chill off the ground. That’s all stuffed inside a dry bag. When I stop all I have to do is open the bag and pull out the contents as one. Takes about a minute! Same process when packing up. A little longer to stuff but not much more than a couple of minutes. So I’ll be getting quite acquainted to the road side with maybe a little teeth chattering. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out, takes me right back to my army days!
Top tube bag under the saddle
I add this bag to contain the bits that I needed easy access to. Within I have 30 hydration and 20 multivitamin tablets. I can’t help but think that my diet is going to be junk and will surly need supplementing so in comes the vitamins. A pocket bottle of elite electrolyte. This is electrolyte in liquid concentrate form, add to water and the bottle makes up 10 litres of electrolyte. Two packs of dextrose energy tablets. Sun lip protection, Blistex relief cream, After a few days of long riding I expect I’ll be suffering with cold sores. 3 x Pro-plus tablets, 4 x extra strength pain killers. Spare cleat bolt. Travel tooth paste and a folding tooth brush.
Essentially this bag supports the cockpit area. So it currently contains my battery back up with USB cables to charge my Garmin 800, my mounted IPhone 4 and my pocketed IPhone 5. I’ll probably make more space up front for food by slipping the battery into my jersey pocket. Sinewave revolution dynamo USB charger. Another pack of andrex clean washlets. I want to try and negate saddle sores as much as possible so need to keep salt from accumulating around the under carriage. I’ll look to clean up a couple of times during the day and when resting. I’ve made up 5 small route cue cards, laminated them just to help at the start with navigation. I’ll mount them on the tri bars with a small bull dog clip. Just a simple method to help with routing and get me going in the right direction from the start. A couple of spare batteries for one of my rear lights. Nivea travel sun cream (factor 30) pocket size. With all that there’s still space for food tid bits.
Dry bag under tri bars
I did toy with the idea of putting the remaining items in the saddle bag but I like the idea of spreading the weight along the length of the bike. It gives a more balanced ride. I then looked at how best to attach the bag and decided against mounting it across the bars. I think along the underside of the tri bars works really well and is a little bit more aero. In my book every little gain is good no matter how marginal. The bag is an Alpkit dry bag, just a small one and I’ve used their straps to mount it. Its secured by two straps across the tri bars and one above the handle bar running both above and below the bag clipped together at the bag entrance. This makes it really secure and gives me easy access to the contents from the front of the bike without having to remove the whole bag. I’m really happy with this arrangement. So what’s in the bag…right at the back giving some padding against the stem I have a pair of thick winter waterproof gloves. I probably wont use them but it can get very cold descending mountain passing in the pouring rain. So I’m happy to take them in the bag in the hope they stay there. In a large pencil case I have the bike tool kit, the main items being three spare tubes, patches, tube of superglue, tyre patches, spoke key, a couple of fibre fix spokes, chain tool and links, mini pump, and other bits and bobs that could well get me out of trouble. Its a little light but as I’ve said previously I’m not planning to cover every eventuality. I’ve already booked lady luck for the journey! In their I’ve also got half a roll of toilet roll, more spare batteries (for lights and tracker), a first aide kit made up of the usual plasters, tablets etc. 2 more packs of washlets, a small bottle of lube wrapped in a small hand towel. Travel plug and a USB plug, handy when I stop to eat if I’m able to charge the Garmin or IPhone direct. That’s about it.
I’ve attached a feed bag to the front of the handle bars on the right side. To stop it rocking I’ve clipped it to the underside of the bag under the bars. It feels good there and doesn’t interfere with my knees when out of the saddle. In there I currently have a spare small water bottle. I’ll probably stick that in the back pack initially and use the bag for food and use the bottle to top up the others when necessary. In the mesh on the outside of the bottle I have the bike lock, the rest of the space I expect will hold energy gels or food.
That just about rounds up what I’ll be carrying on the bike…so pretty minimal actually.
I’ll be wearing club colours so will be riding in my Thames Velo jersey and gillet. I’ll also be wearing a summer neck warmer just to keep the sun off the neck. The jersey will be paired with a set of Lusso Peloton Pro bib shorts and British made! As its a midnight start I’ll likely be wearing a set of regular arm warmers and when its daylight and the temperature is rising I’ll switch to a pair of Sugoi arm coolers I’ll also be starting out wearing knee warmers which I can easily stash away. In my pocket I’ll have my second IPhone. That’ll just be used solely as emergency back up and occasionally checking into the outside world. The one mounted on the bike has no sim card and will be dependent of Wi-Fi/GPS and will be my backup navigation. I’ll probably use this to capture data for loading up on Strava each day. It just depends how the Garmin behaves, during testing both have worked fine, but you never know. I’ve prepared the whole route on RidewithGPS and have downloaded all of the tracks onto the RidewithGPS App so all are available offline on both phones. Just a quick one on both phones…on each I’ve downloaded various apps, Galileo offline mapping for all the countries I’ll be passing through. I’ll always know exactly where I am and I’ll always have the facility at hand to find anything that I’ll need along the way, bike shops, petrol stations, supermarkets and accommodation etc. anything of that nature. Other apps I have is bike repair, language translation, weather 10 day forecast and a host of others to help me along the way. Subject to retaining power all areas should be covered. In the remaining jersey pockets I’ll probably be carrying my favourite food for long rides. I’ll be taking along my lightweight back pack. I don’t plan to use it all the time but from the off I will be carrying plenty of supplements which should get me through the first few days. The bag folds into itself and is about half the size of a toilet roll so easily stashed. I’ll also be carrying a decent waterproof and fluorescent gillet both will be strapped to the top of the seat bag. There are probably a few more items I’m taking which I’ve failed to mention…but all in all I’ve kept things minimal and lightweight. Lets see what happens over the coming days.
Finally – a little on the route
I had wanted to tell you a little about the route but I’ve simply run out of time. Suffice to say the total distance is around 4,200kms with upwards of 40,000 meters of climbing. I have 14 days to get to Istanbul so covering 300kms each day will get me there in time for my flight. That’s not enough though…it would be nice to have at least a couple of days in Istanbul, whether that’s achievable remains to be seen, but I will be giving it a go. I do have a race strategy and I don’t particularly want to share it on here at this stage. So just to break the route down a little, its around 950kms (600 miles) from the start to Mont Ventoux. It would be nice climb early morning to avoid going up it in the stifling heat, I can’t imagine the Bedouin climb will be any different to the last time I went up it. Control 2 in Sestriere, just before the Strada Del Assietta is a further days ride away, around 250 kms with 18,000ft of climbing. Arriving in the evening is going to be interesting. The run across to Vukovar is a further 1,200kms ((750 miles approx.) much of it reasonably benign in terms of terrain. Nevertheless the weather is going to be very hot. Hopefully some tailwind and some chance of recovery. Heading back towards the Adriatic the terrain again gets very challenging. Once through Croatia, the run in to Montenegro from Bosnia is mountainous, the Dinaric Alps extends along the Adriatic coast. There’s a stretch of around 370kms to Mount Lovcen and control 4 which accumulates almost 25,000 feet of climbing and there’s no avoiding it. There are a number of options of options available to reach Istanbul from the penultimate control in Montenegro. Either way its a bike ride of around 1,200kms (800 miles). On one hand packing the climbing in early, back over the Dinaric Alps through the more remote parts of Serbia but leaving a much easier run into Istanbul via Bulgaria. On the other hand, what seems the more traditional route following the coast, looks much easier to navigate, but more populated with tourists, possibly making progress a little slower and possibly many nights of being hassled by dogs. Again very hot temperatures with Albania touching 40 degrees although when we get there I expect it have settled a little lower than that. Once through Macedonia your then into Greece which has its own current problems before hitting the busy roads into Istanbul. I have both as options but I’ll decide which I’ll take when I reach the turning point.
Well that’s about it. Less than 48 hours and I’m away. I’ll be leaving Wednesday evening heading down to Dover where I’ll stay overnight in a B&B bunked up with a fellow racer. Were then on the 6.00am ferry Thursday morning to Dunkirk which docks around 9.00am. Its then a 90 mile prologue to Geraardsbergen where we’ll then stay overnight in the race hostel. It’ll be good to catch up to fellow racers, and what a day to celebrate my birthday!
Everything starts Friday/Saturday at midnight, all riders will be carrying trackers, watch out for rider 67, that’s me. The race can be tracked here.
When I get chance I’ll be posting updates on Facebook, so track me down on there if you want to follow my journey.
The race manual including all the race details can be found here.
Riders starting list is here.
Happy dot watching folks and see you in two weeks..