4 days have passed since I left Geraardsbergen and the upcoming hours would determine the outcome of the race. Since I knew it would be a tough and long day in the mountains I got a few hours of extra sleep and made use of the hotel breakfast. I knew many riders were already up and tackling the first pass of the day. For me, the dots on the Trackleader maps were targets for the upcoming 24 hours. The scenery was awesome and within two hours I had finished one of the steepest climb of my route towards Turkey: the main part averaging 11% over 7 kilometres was conquered. Holy sh*t, that was tough on legs. I was literally crawling, meter by meter getting closer to the summit. At 60rpm, 9-10km / hour I was happy my knees didn’t break down.
New at the blog? Read part 1 first: Transcontinental Day 1-4: Enjoying France!
A few busses made me do some off-road too, later on I heard they have priority road access making too much use of their loud horn while riding up and down with tourists. On my way to the top I passed a few riders and at the top I was able to catch up with fellow Mason Rider Sertaç Unal and the crazy German Oliver Wolf. Check out his website at http://www.thepedalist.com/, since he was followed by a film crew and I’m sure it will become an epic documentary. Back to the road: good to know I was not the slowest cyclist in Switzerland at that moment, it sure felt like that. Not sure if the people I passed were TCR riders or tourist, but I felt proud and that’s what counted at the moment.
Hitting a cow – always watch out during Swiss descents
The descent was tricky but awesome. Nice corners and my Mason behaved really well considering the additional luggage it was carrying. In one sharp corner I heard some cowbells already before seeing where the road went but I never thought about those cows standing on the road. I crashed into ones fat ass, not hurting any body parts or breaking my bike and the cow ran away. Not sure if the Milka chocolate it was responsible for will taste as good as normal. Next was another huge climb, not as steep but long enough to be categorized as HC (Hors Categorie, above all other categories).
Next was the Grimselpass, a steady climb of 25km and 7% average and immediately after the descent the third major climb, the Furkapass, started. Hours went by, picked up some fresh mountain sourced water along the way and enjoyed too much delicious Swiss chocolates. I was too busy focusing on a steady pace and enjoying the fun, so I forgot to make any pictures of probably the most beautiful part of the race. Darren’s picture shows what I mean:
Picture by Darren Franks
Too many uphill kilometres of pure bicycling fun. Nothing really special on the end, but I have to say I really enjoyed the distraction by all the supercars passing by at full throttle. Spotted new Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and Porsches which took my thoughts away from feeling the painful legs I was having. I came up with some brilliant plans to get enough money to buy my own, but due to the lack of sleep the ideas were a bit strange while thinking them over a few days later J
Epic mountains were done! From now on, I knew I would be able to finish the race if I was able to keep all my body parts together. Finishing the epic climbs and actually enjoying them, gave me so much confidence. The hours after that were probably boring since I can’t remember anything about it. Switzerland is awesome for cyclists: enough public water sources and plenty of shops to stock up with food throughout the day. I didn’t make much progress in terms of mileage, only 120km but it was OK for the moment. During the evening it started to rain when I catched up with a few Swedish riders who were going to sleep in a parking space. I choose to book a cheap hotel and go for an early start next morning, I earned it.
Waking up, everything still wet, was not motivating but I checked the weather forecast and route details for the day and a few flat parts were making me jumping on the bike happy again. A few small climbs, still bigger than the ones we have in the Netherlands, got my muscles burning again. At the summit of one of them I sat down in the sun, enjoying breakfast and feeling lucky I was able to participate in the race. I think my mind forced me to think that way, since my ass was really hurting at this point in the race. Luckily the days after it got better and I actually finished the race with no bottom problems at all.
Back on the road I was aiming for Italy! Enough money spent on expensive food, time for some real pizza and coffee. The scenery was beautiful, riding along a small river through some fruit yards. Had a lovely diner in the early afternoon since I wanted to push hard during the colder evening. I’m not a morning person at all, so at this point in the race I decided to do take it more easy during the first hours of the day and push hard during the evenings. Didn’t make sense to fight against my usual performance pattern.
In the afternoon I got a warning from a friend who was camping in France at that moment (thanks Roy!), storms were coming in over the Alps. After checking out some weather apps I decided I needed to get out of the valley before the evening and hopefully the storms would stay in it. The idea was to have a short bivy on top of the next mountain and do a long day after. I managed to reach the first summit but all suitable sleeping places (I checked for bus shelters up front!) were occupied by fellow racers. You’re all racing 4000km and still fighting for sleeping places, that midnight joke got me more energy to do the next climb too. Reaching that summit, I found a nice kinder garden including a real house! Knowing it could be raining during the night, it was the ideal spot for the night.
After a few hours I woke up because of the thunder and lightning taking place in the valley. It was a breathtaking spectacle of mother nature. After enjoying this free nightly theatre, I got another 2 hours of sleep. Waking up was painful but I knew I had to get going as fast as possible since rain was expected. It took 15 minutes before hell broke loose. An incredible amount of water was pouring down. I bought a really decent (and expensive!) waterproof jacket but I was soaked within minutes. I found some shelter in a little village but nothing was opened yet so I sat down in someone’s garage and waited for the rain to calm down a bit. That didn’t happen, so at 08:00 finally a café and bakery opened so I could have some breakfast. While the rain continued I rode towards the first serious climb of the day. When I reached the summit, the final stretch of road was blocked by the police due to the dangerous conditions of rain and lightning. I ended up in a hotel bar with a few bearded motorcyclists that were also doing a few thousand kilometres road trip. They ran their engines on gasoline, I ordered some classic Swiss pies and deserts. After 40 minutes the road was opened up again so I could finally continue.
Reaching the summit made me smile: considering the circumstances I was laughing out loud about how crazy I was enjoying riding my bike uphill in the worst conditions cycling conditions you can imagine. 3 hours had passed and I had done 12km since waking up. 300 meters into the descent my Garmin send me into a little side road. It probably was the shortest route downhill. The road started with some gravel but within 800meters it turned into a much rougher surface. I found a nice downhill mountain bike trail with water flooding all over!
The easy part – the only place I was able to break and eat some Haribo’s!
I remember the chats I had with the guys from Mason that the bike should be able to handle rough conditions so I just went for it. After crashing a few times, slowly tempering my speed a bit, I had the most fun in the past two days. The bike survived, I convinced myself I had more CX and MTB skills than I thought. Going downhill with a road bike, loaded with 6 kilos of additional luggage is not the easiest way to go, but I managed and due to the awesome bike I enjoyed it. Only downside (no pun intended!) was that it took me 3 hours, while taking the car friendly route would probably take only 30 minutes.
It was becoming dark again and I was really hungry. Didn’t really had proper breakfast and lunch (Proper food means enough calories by the way) so when I rode into the next big city I booked a shabby hotel and bought three pizza’s. Checked in, washed my clothes, ate another pizza and went into a deep REM sleep.
An 04:00 start and pizza breakfast was scheduled but I snoozed a few times. Waking up and getting on the bike in the morning was getting more difficult every day. Being on the road for over a week clearly made me mentally unstable. Multiple mood swings a day made it challenging but finishing was still the main thought. I apologise to any negative replies I made in conversations, I had an obvious excuse, right? I still was “happy” with the progress so far and not feeling any pressure to push myself to the limits yet. Riding around position 70 and knowing some people would not finish anyway I was still aiming at a finish in the top 50%. Good enough for my first endurance race ever.
Anyway, time to get moving that lazy ass again towards checkpoint 3. The weather was crap again and it started raining in the afternoon. I soon reached Alleghe (1806km and 6 days, 15 hours had passed since start) and got my soaked brevet card dryed in their drying room. Clothes were hanged out too, but it was just to moist to get anything really dry. After eating some focaccia and soup I was ready to climb the second biggest climb on the list: Passo di Giau. Featured in many professional races, I was looking forward to experience it myself. Stocked up with food in the neighbouring supermarket, ready to go for more adventure! Putting on my wet clothes dampened my enthusiasm a bit but I knew others were not going up today anymore due to the challenging conditions. Indirect encouragement by seeing others struggling was strong 🙂
I took me 2 hours to reach the summit, with heavy rain and 2 degrees Celsius outside temperature it was a truly epic climb. Since a few other riders were enjoying, or least trying to enjoy it too it gave me enough motivation. On the way to the top, I passed a few names of Dutch cyclist written on the road. Great distraction of the cold and steep conditions. What a brutal climb. At the top we were welcomed by the Pedaled guys with warm tea and had to pose with a happy face. Thanks guys for providing everyone with tea, I saw you were suffering in the cold too!
Look how much I’m enjoying! Credits to Pedaled
The descent was dangerous, due to the fact I was completely soaked and temperatures were nearing the freezing point. I had to stop multiple times to warm up my hands since I couldn’t properly brake anymore. I was lucky enough to had hydraulic brakes so I didn’t need full power in my hands. Still fearing for my live in some corners, but I got back to Alleghe safe. Never done something as insane as the previous three and a half hours. Got another coffee at the checkpoint before descending into Italy a bit more.
Checkpoint 3 was completed, I was half way my road to Turkey and didn’t had any real major physical issues. Mentally I had been challenged but reflecting on the past week, I had thoroughly enjoyed the trip and moved my limits massively! Usually racers ar finding day 3 and 4 the most though ones, since the body is still resisting. After that, it accepts the situation, exactly what happened with me so I knew I had gone through some lows while continuing. Still on schedule to make the party in Çanakkale, I went to sleep, dreaming about the unknown roads of the Balkan, chased by dogs and fuelled by meat, lot’s of meat.
Setting new personal standards and reaching the limits of what is considered normal is what the race is about…and those limits would soon be moved again.