What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – Transcontinental Race: Day 9 to 12

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Waking up while knowing you could have a easy warm-up by descending 80 kilometres into Italy was good for the mind. After 60km I bumped into the Belgian TCR veteran Rudy Rollenberg and we agreed that we deserved some fresh cake, coffee and coke. Felt good being able to talk Dutch and exchange a few thoughts about the race.

New at the blog? Read the previous parts first:

After the coffee I wanted to pick up speed and making sure I would cover at least 300km again. A quick stop at a bikeshop, cleaning my chain and increase air pressure back to 7 bar guaranteed fast times again. I completely forgot checking tire pressure and lubricating the chain in the previous days. Another learning, since I was riding with just 3 bar of pressure left. Not a problem with the 28mm tyres, but it costs energy which I wanted to spent on going fast.

Going downhill went perfect, laying down on the aerobars averaging 35-40km/hour on certain roads. I really liked the clean roads, I purposely choose a number of bigger roads so I was sure to be riding on average to good quality asphalt. Couldn’t really be bother by cars overtaking to close anymore. You certainly get immune for that after so many days on the road.

Palmanova Italy
Credits to Independent.co.uk

After having lunch in the beautiful Italian star fort of Palmanova I quickly raced to the border of Slovenia. To make sure I was making most out of the trip I ordered another huge, real Italian pizza at a great looking restaurant in Opicina. They already served some other racers so they were not really impressed by the amount of food I ate and were so friendly to fill up my water bottles for free.

Passing the border into Slovenia went quick, just rolled to the front of the row and no questions were asked. Bye bye Italy! It was just one road across Slovenia into Croatia and since I was ahead of schedule, I took a quick after dinner nap on top of one of the idyllic hills. Another 80km later I ended up in the city of Rijeka. 300km done in 10,5 hours, so I rewarded my legs with some decent proteins:

Proper food!

After dining in a luxurious setting, annoying the other guest with my remarkable combination of smells, I had to climb one last climb to my 5-star hotel. The owner was so friendly to open up the checkout at 06:00 am for me, so I was really thankful for that. I had no intention to wait for breakfast since I knew I would pass a big supermarket after 12 kilometre. The rest of the day was gruelling and epic, which is actually mildly put. During race preparation, I was really looking forward to this 150km section along the sea. Since I already shared my experience during the race, I just copied it into this blog:

How to love wind gusts

This morning I left my hotel early to go for a long day again. Within 15 minutes I turned around and went back to the hotel: the wind gusts were insane and literally blowing me of the road.

After checking the weather forecasts, eat a proper breakfast and see others starting to move around I had no choice then to go out and fight the wind. The first 50km were the most horrible ride I ever had. I have never been so scared for so long. This was the first moment in the race I thought about why the hell I was doing this. I took a much needed break and it occurred to me I was the only one taking road 8 along the coast. All others diverted into the mountains making me the idiot. As I was already so far in, turning back or going up into the mountains was no option so I just had to deal with it.

To love something, you need to know it. To know something, you need experience. After 150km in the wind I can assure you I know wind gusts!

They all start with subtle hints: it becomes slightly cooler, grass starts to move and leaves shaking slightly. After one to five minor gusts, the main wave of air will come. The cooler and more turbulent the smaller gusts are, the bigger the main wave will be.

Due to the hints, you can prepare: relax your muscles and steer to the middle of the road. The main gust will do whatever it wants with you so take as much space as you need and adjust speed accordingly. Just ride in the middle of the road, make some random movements so cars will not think about passing you. In most cases you can use your body as a sail, turn it in such position it catches the wind and generates free forward movement. If it’s frontal, just take it as a man.

Between the gusts there is an emptiness, use it wisely. I assure you the last 100km have been in complete harmony with the wind. I’ll never return to my hotel again… Embrace your fears!

What should have been the most beautiful part of the race, was a fight against nature. A fight against emotions. A fight against fear. I thought I would die, being blown of the road onto the beautiful cliffs of the Adriatic Sea. Pure survival. This is exactly what riding ultra races is all about.

Just to give you an idea:

Even 6 months later, I can’t believe I did choose to take a safer route…

A relaxed meat focused diner, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, made me settle back into reality again. I read through all the messages I got after sharing my experiences earlier that day. It gave me so much energy, I decided to stock up on water and food and ride during the night too. No one or nothing would stop me the upcoming hours, I won against the Bora winds.

The Croatian roads were great quality and similar to France going up and down a bit. During the nights temperatures were fine for riding and roads were empty so I made great progress. I finished the day with another shortcut (thanks Strava!)

They probably started with building a new road and then decided to use the money for something else. After a daily total of 325km I found a nice bakery open at 07:00, had a big & tasty breakfast with traditional Croatian breads while the locals were waking up in Sinj. Shortly after that I checked into a the only available hotel in town, to get four hours of proper sleep  in a normal bed. The woman at the reception thought I would stay for another night, so she was quite surprised when I was back within 4 hours. When I asked what I needed to pay she was still completely confused so I ended up paying 5EUR. Not bad for a hot shower and some quality sleep.

The next part would lead me into Bosnia and Herzegovina, aiming to get as close to CP4 as possible so I could battle the last major climbs during the day. I honestly can’t remember so much from riding through the country side except all the bad ass looking guys driving around in expensive cars looking aggressively every time. During the time I was enjoying a few ice creams at a local gas station, several people turned up filling jerrycans with fuel, while not paying. Even the police didn’t paid and every time the owner was moaning. Definitely like in the movies 🙂

I decided to ride until the moment I would be so tired I couldn’t turn the pedals anymore. While preparing the route I found a few sources stating the areas which still had active land mines hidden in the ground so I didn’t want to take a risk walking a few meters off-road for bivvying so I found shelter from the wind in the door of a old army office:

A shortcut into Montenegro

5:15 – Woke up really stiff, it cooled down more than I expected so the only cure for having it cold was start pedaling again.  With not much water and food left I hoped to find a refueling source soon but I ended up finding nothing for the next 4 hours. At least I had a can of RedBull to get going. It is incredible to see how your body is capable of just ignoring  hunger and thirst while pushing the pedals towards the next town. Bosnia is truly empty in some areas so preparation is key, if you don’t want to suffer.

Breakfast for champions at 05:15 in the middle of nowhere

On my way to the last town before the unofficial border, I rode into a group of three other TCR riders. They were riding the opposite direction so I turned around and caught up with them: they told me the unofficial border crossing didn’t let them trough. The alternative was an additional 140km and I was sure I would find a way to get across the border anyway. I had checked the TCR tracker and saw a few others had succeeded too. In Avtovac I filled up my bottles and thought a bit about the best tactics to cross the border. I put all the paper money I had left into my passport. After my other experiences in Bosnia, I was sure the Bosnian border police would be open for bribing. Once into no man’s land, I thought about faking some medical problems so the Montenegro officers had to let me through too. Or I would wait till lunch time and I would just sneak through. So much fantasies…

So up I went into the mountains and a border control car came into my direction shortly after. They looked tired and just rode past me, not even looking at me. I figured they had just changed from the night shift or just couldn’t care about an idiot on a bike wanting to cross a border that can’t be used by foreigners. Suddenly my Garmin send me on a small side road, away from the asphalt onto a gravel section. This resulting in walking up 500 vertical meters, which is already a serious climb by bike, and never saw anything that looked like a border. Checking my GPS I noticed I already passed the border and a few meters later I was back on smooth, downhill asphalt. I never stopped pedaling, still scared some angry Bosnian officer would show up and shoot me. Once I passed a family of Montenegrin people, I was sure I was officially into the next country. No official entry stamp but that would be another problem, for another day.

A few more kilometers went past before arriving at the next checkpoint in Pluzine. Built next to the Piva lake, their main focus is tourism. I quickly got my stamp and sat down for a nice lunch next to the lake, loading up with energy for the last brutal climb to checkpoint 4. Riding out of town, the climb into National Durmitor Park immediately started with a 15% section. I almost felt over due to the low speed, at least my muscles warmed up properly, ready to tackle a 1900m+ mountain. Temperatures reached levels above 30 Celsius, making it really challenging. Anyway, it was the most beautiful route I have ever ridden. Half way up, I decided to have a short 20 minute nap and give my legs a bit of rest:

Durmitor National Park

Due to the slow speed and hot temperatures, my bottles were empty before reaching the top. I was struggling to get to the top and the lack of fluids made it even harder. I noticed the weather started to change quickly. In the valley some clouds started to form, the views were amazing.  Not sure how I survived but once at the top, I descended as quickly as I could in my race towards liquids and foods in Zabljak.

Happy to arrive at checkpoint 4, getting my GPS tracker replaced so everyone could follow me again, I quickly stocked up on food in a small supermarket. It was only 19:30 but I completely ruined my legs the past two days so I needed to get some proper rest. There were no rooms available at the hostel where the checkpoint was located but I was helped by a local who offered his house as an option. I refueled, showered and felt asleep quickly, still on schedule for making it to the finishers party on time. No more real mountains, just 1000km and 10.000vm in warm weather.  I should have known better…

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