5 days before the start I arrived in Perth so I had some time to get used to the weather coming straight out of the Dutch winter. Welcomed by a happy, Swedish taxi driver, I felt home immediately. Within 3 minutes she was warning me for all the dangerous wildlife that I would face during my stay. During preparation I did some research about the actual dangers and it seemed OK to just camp at the side of the road and not have to worry at all. Luckily the focus shifted from spiders & snakes to the notable increase in the number of deadly shark and truck driver incidents the past few years. This gave me some comfort, knowing I wouldn’t be riding in any known shark territories!
I stayed in a luxurious hotel near the start point, hoping I would get some much needed rest and sleep after a few busy weeks finishing all work before leaving for 5 weeks. Unluckily there were road works during the night and the TNT I ordered to pick up my bikebox to ship it to Sydney didn’t turned up. In combination with my first jetlag ever I ended up at the starting line with 3 great hours of sleep. Let’s say I prepared my body for sleep deprivation perfectly. How about some dedication, right?!
Two days before the race we had the official briefing and beer drinking event. It would be a heroic event, why else would you have a dedicated beer brewed for the race? On the end it was just 5475km of pure fun! A official rider board had to be signed too, no way back now:
Bring it on!
Saturday, 18th of March, 6 am, Freemantle Light House, light showers and cooling wind. Just the way I like it. Around 70 women and men full of adrenaline sprint away after the sign has given by Jesse. No semi interesting speech, Jesse just wanted to race as everyone else wanted too. It was serious business, within seconds everyone was pushing it fast! And I mean really fast for a race of 5500km. Until the first serious climb we averaged almost 37km/h, including some hills. Crazy, considering our loaded bikes. I was feeling not so well, it seemed I ate a bit too much breakfast. The first group was immediately formed with all favourites included. Except one, Kristof was already a few hundred meters ahead, the Belgium legend was already showing his muscles. Once the first serious climb started, I told everyone goodbye and promised them a beer in Sydney.
The climb up Crystal Brook was irritating my stomach. I expected many riders behind me would pass me, but that didn’t happen. Once over the climbs, a nice tailwind made me able to push the big ring and the stomach pain slowly disappeared. Many rolling hills made the ride interesting and my focus was strong. Due to the colder weather, I didn’t had to stop for water at my first scheduled gas station. At a certain point I looked down at my Wahoo Element: over 2500m of climbing, 320km ridden with an average above 32km/h. Crazy tempo and it made me smile: the training of the past months had worked. I was really enjoying myself, long straight roads and almost no traffic. This was also the point I decided to ride to Southern Cross and not further since I didn’t want to push it to hard the first day. Easy decision since the next segment was 185km without any service stations.
In Merredin I briefly met Jackie Bernardi while we were getting dinner and breakfast sorted in the local Subway. 500 meters of the route, but the calories were needed. Jackie still looked quite fresh and was in good spirits. A nice target to chase the following days J I strapped a footlong on my saddlebag but somewhere along the road to Southern Cross I lost it. No breakfast, or maybe breakfast for one of the riders behind me.
I ended the day with 432km ridden and layed down my mattress in the corner of a community center to get some sleep. No snakes, no spiders, no super ants. Just a couple of mice which were scared to dead after I threw a bottle at them. Problem solved. Adrenaline levels were still high but I was able to get 5 hours of rest, 2x 2 hour sleep and properly hydrated I went back on the road in the dark.
Half an hour after leaving Southern Cross the rain and wind started and I had to laugh knowing there were still people sleeping all over the area waking up with a cold shower. That’s how ultra races should be, though from the beginning on! The headwinds were serious and the progress slow, speeds between 23-27 km/h on the but based on the messages I got from my dot watchers I knew I was doing OK and everybody was struggling looking to the GPS tracking. The roads were boring, the food was crap and no distraction during the riding at all. Perfect conditions for an ultra race, the mental game had a proper start and I was in the right flow. Just pedaling. Hours went by without anything notable but I was able to hold my position within the top 15 which honestly impressed myself. In the roadhouse I met a few other riders: I was clearly not the one suffering the most at that point. Somehow I get motivation out of seeing other people suffering…
I decided not to ride into the Nullarbor desert at dark risking hunger and thirst so I stopped at Norseman and get a few hours of proper sleep in a motel before riding the huge stretches of nothing between the few roadhouses. The surprise of the evening came when I cleaned my saddle sores. Due to all the adrenaline I hadn’t really noticed that they were quite painful. It seemed it got infected already and I had no painkillers with me so there was no other option than wait for a shop with a pharmacy department to open the next morning.
After a proper night of sleep (+/- 7 hours in a bed!) an enormous amount of food and some anti inflammatory pills I got back on my bike. Early mornings are always mentally challenging for me. I have tried different things but I can’t seem to improve my overall lack of motivation and morning grumpiness. If there is one thing that needs improvement, that is definitely the biggest issue. Anyway, I loaded my bike full of food and headed out towards the Balladonia Roadhouse, just a 199 kilometre segment. A great sunrise made my grumpiness disappear for a few minutes. The motivation went up once I saw a rider (the tough Mike Sheldrake) in the far distance. Finally I had someone to chase and that got my motor seriously up & running.
The only distraction from the straight roads were the numerous dead kangaroos laying on the shoulder of the road. Small ones, just a number of bones or freshly hit: for everyone a different taste and smell. I’m missing the smell of decomposing kangaroo in the morning. It tickled your senses and made you feel alive, a bit ironic though. At this point in the race I was still feeling sorry for these beautiful animals, not knowing they’re a pain in the ass in the period between sunset and early mornings.
At the Balladonia roadhouse I checked my progress and briefly catched up with a few other riders and the Rapha media crew. I got some compliments regarding my seemingly fit appearance. Not strange considering I had 7-8 hours of sleep while the others had half or even less than that. Weather changed to summer temperatures, reaching between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius.
The next segment to Caiguna was the segment I was looking forward to: it’s one of the longest straight roads in the world. Best place to do a time trail one can come up with! Moral high, nice weather and good legs. I loaded my bike up with 8 liters of water, sandwiches and a ton of snacks so I was ready for the rest of the day. The tactic was to use a heavy bike on the flats so the bike keeps on moving due to the momentum.
The longest straight road
No cornering or braking needed so just get your bike onto a nice speed and pedal easily forward. Just counting down the remaining kilometres to Caiguna. Singing out loud, the worst music ever, riding all over the road. You know the feeling every pedalstroke is perfect? I had the privilege to experience this for 150km…
For most people this straight segment was mental suffering on the highest level. I enjoyed it and was able to maintain a great average speed. One of the fastest riders of that moment! During the break in Caiguna I checked progress and moral was high as ever. I decided I would chase down the front “group”. Since my speed was much higher, legs were still good and the weather turned into a ice cooling wind and some light showers I set my goal at having breakfast in Madura with the riders racing for a top 5. After a double diner with +2000 calories I was ready to go!
The night shift was truly amazing! In between the rain, the sky was just incredible. I’ve never seen so many stars and the milkyway was clearly visible. I knew there were riders in front of me but when I arrived at Cocklebiddy roadhouse I was happy to see some of them sleeping. I think it was Jackie who was sleeping in front of the door, waiting to be opened again. I had bought so much food earlier that day so I only needed to refill my water. Ready to push the last 90km. I can remember messaging my friend Marten that sleeping is for pussies and he replied with “Happy Idiot”. Enough motivation for the rest of the ride. At 06:30 I turn up for breakfast, just missing Steffen & Sarah unfortunately.
Loads of calories and catching up with fellow rider Matthijs was good for the low motivation at that point. I even considered riding another 90km segment but the saddle sores had developed into something I’m still not sure how to describe so it was time for a shower and a bed. After 72 hours into the race, 1310km averaging 27,2km/h and 437km per day in challenging weather I allowed myself 4 hours of sleep. 4100 kilometres to go 🙂