My apologies for the massively long silence since TCR04. Like others, it’s been back to the daily grind and the almost predictable trial and thrills of everyday life. I’m now rooted back in that sense of comfort and familiarity. That so called comfort zone which tends to dull passion and excitement, which in turn makes the challenge of riding a bike across the European continent so exhilarating, I think.
Since the race my mind has been off on a bit of a ramble so I thought I’d share some quick thoughts, a bit of an inquest really, some things worked, some didn’t, sorry its no full blown day by day account of the race this time.
I finished the race in 14 days 2 hours and 35 minutes, not bad. After falling short the previous year the aim was to make sure I finished, I did, so that’s good. The problem is, my thoughts have opened up a Pandora’s Box of ‘what ifs’. What if I’d shaved off those couple of hours and minutes, that’s a 13 day finish. In Croatia I was caught in a kind of paralysis due to outrageously strong gusting side winds, it kept me off the road for 24hrs, is even a 12 day finish possible? Considering I didn’t take any bivy kit, if I had could I have had longer days in the saddle, especially in the mountains rather than being compelled to sleep in hotels? A few questions there, but the big one is…did I really push myself hard enough, maybe not?
It leaves me thinking I need to give the next TCR another shot, perhaps somewhere within is a 12 day finish, that’s not far off being in the mix, which wouldn’t be bad for a 58 year old codger. Its playing on my mind, come on, can the 2017 race really be any harder than the 2016 edition?
THE RACE EARLY ON
I reached control one in Clermont Ferrand (France) a little after 8.00am on the Sunday after riding 663kms in a little over 34hrs. I managed to snatch 2 or 3hrs sleep en-route and surprisingly found myself in 18th position. Looking back I probably could have committed to riding straight through without sleep, but the general approach on such long races is to hold back and not commit early. I do wonder if that natural ambivalence needs to be worked on, maybe I should just let the reins go, take the bull by the horns so to speak. As T.S. Elliot said ‘Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go’. Something I’ve been pondering ever since!
At Grindelwald (control two) I’d covered around 1,270kms in 3 days 1hr and 14mins (that’s a daily average of 420kms). I arrived around 10.00pm, I’d dropped a couple of places, was in 21st position. Tiredness was creeping in which was inevitable, time was starting to haemorrhage but I felt I still had a certain amount of control over it. I had a hotel room booked and a sleep in a bed was the reward for the previous couple of days of playing hobo. Scanning trackleaders there were half a dozen riders already over the mandatory parcour and a dozen or so were holed up in hotels in Grindelwald. A handful were 20kms back camped in Interlaken so I was relaxed about taking a room.
ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS
The mountains were always going to be a hard section for me, I’ve never really been a climber. I’m not afraid to say I’m a bit of a grinder. There were 8 major alpine passes to contend with stretching 500kms across the Alps and the Dolomites before reaching Alleghe (control 3). It was long hot days of riding with the return in terms of distance meagre at best. This was a place for grimpeurs which sadly I wasn’t.
Last minute I opted to travel light leaving my sleeping kit at home, I guess I was trying to box clever, in hindsight it was an act of sheer folly, but you learn from your mistakes. Each night in the mountains I was forced to take refuge in a hotel, a precedent which really hampered my progress. I lost my arm warmers but managed to find replacements in Grindelwald, but I didn’t get away that day until well after 9.00am. That’s a very late start in these types of races. A feeble excuse I know, ‘huh arm warmers’, but that was the truth. I was already traveling light and didn’t want to be saddled with regret so had to hang about until the shop opened. As well as that the cost of hotel rooms were inordinately expensive so felt the need to get my money’s worth by staying for breakfast, again delays.
I became navigationally embarrassed, took a wrong turn in the valley heading towards Grimsel Pass which took me up a much steeper road running parallel. It didn’t feel right but for some reason I carried on. You tend to do these sorts of things when your getting tired. The road eventually turned to gravel and then took me some way back down before finally joining the road which I should have been on. It took a lot out of me and by the time I’d summited Grimsel Pass I had to take a break to replenish energy levels. That didn’t really kick in quick enough to help so I struggled over the next pass, Furka Pass, which was the last of the three big alpine passes of the mandatory parcour. I arrived in Andermatt that day around 7.00pm feeling again energy-less and almost broken. A 10 hour day for a measly 70km return. That was when I was ambushed by a film crew. I think we’ve all seen the video…be gone Mike Hall!!
Somewhere along the way I’d also lost my route cue cards. If I’d had them to hand I’d have seen one more effort over the less daunting Oberalp Pass and I was then essentially into 120kms of downhill, rolling or flat terrain. With that knowledge just maybe I could have mustered enough energy to ride on into the night and bivy way down in the next mountain valley. Unaware and low in spirits I took a room in Andermatt, taking the easy option. When it came to mind over body, that day the body won. This voice was telling me I’d done my fair share of suffering. That evening I retired to my room guilt ridden after retiring from such a short day
The theme continued over the next two days, experiencing the ups and downs both physically and mentally of relentless riding in the mountains. Eventually, early evening after 5 days and 21 hours of sweat and toil, but not quite tears I arrived at control 3 in Alleghe. Unsurprisingly I’d dropped to 51st position. At this point I’d covered 1,700kms. Stats were pretty mind boggling, I had to look at it twice to understand the reality…285kms daily with an astonishing daily height gain of 4,100meters. How crazy is that!
I hadn’t been at the control long when it was reported that the high mountain pass of the Passo Giau (the mandatory parcour) would be enshroud in bad weather by midnight which would run into the following day. There was a window to avoid it which was probably best taken, reluctantly and with groaning legs I did. By midnight I was on top of Passo Giau making plans to head directly south, out of the mountains making a beeline towards Slovenia and the warmth of the Dalmatian coast. This was very much influenced by the fact a storm was blowing in, I was wearing everything I was carrying, still freezing cold and uncontrollably shaking.
Onwards, some catching up to do.
Part 2 to follow…