Thanks for joining me! I have been riding for a few years now and slowly riding longer and longer distances. This is my first attempt at a blog so please bear with me as I learn the ropes! Please find my blogs below as they appear.
May the road rise up to meet you – May the wind be always at your back.
The final Bikingman Race of 2018 starts in Taipei City at 0400 hrs on Monday morning (22nd October). Riders are arriving and busy preparing bikes, registering and undergoing the strict safety equipment checks.
The Bikingman Race team, led by the friendly, efficient, Axel have been busy looking after our pre race needs. The media crew of Anthony and David have been filming and interviewing the main contenders and setting the pre race scene at Race HQ, the Waypoint Bicycle Store at No10, Alley16, Lane12, Section 3, Bade Road, Songshan District – now thats an address! U-Tube clips are on the Bikingman website.
It is Sunday afternoon now as I finish writing this and the Race Briefing has just taken place at the Artree Hotel. A big emphasis on rider safety and the need to make sure the GPS Trackers are working.
The Race is termed a ‘sprint’ in ultra distance riding – total distance is 1128km with about 18,000m of climbing including the famous Taroko Gorge Climb in the National Park although we turn off 10k from the summit but are allowed to go the whole way if the mood takes us!
The route is mandatory, riding anticlockwise round the island with Checkpoints at Sunmoon Lake, Fangshan, The Tropic of Cancer marker and finishing back in Taipei City at Race HQ. The rules are strict for unsupported riding. We cannot receive any outside help, being self sufficient for feeding, resting and repairing. Drafting and riding in packs is forbidden.
Each rider has a GPS Tracker for safety and to show progress to friends and family and interested dot watchers. The Race is going to be intense at the head of the field where a small handful of riders are challenging for podium places, not only for the Tiawan event but the overall Bikingman 2108 series. They have raced in Oman, Corsica and Peru with Tiawan the decider for top spot.
As for me, I rode Bikingman Corsica in May (see earlier blog) and finished in just under 60 hours for the 700km and 13,000m of elevation. In Taiwan I think I will be challenging for the ‘Lantern Rouge’ and will be happy to finish on Friday in about 100 hours. Much will depend on the weather. Forecasts suggest it will be favourable but we have a northerly headwind forecast as we ride up the East coast after crossing the south of the island.
I am riding my lovely Mason Definition2 and have worked hard to lessen the weight given the big climbing days ahead. I have ditched the front bar bag with sleeping kit and plan to sleep briefly at a hotel near Checkpoint two after 500 plus km. We will see how that works out. The 48/32 chainring with 11/34 cassette should help on the climbs and the Exposure 30 tyres running at 60psi will give a little comfort combined with the SMP saddle. Hunt 4 Season SuperDura wheels with the SON deluxe 12 dynamo will run the front light and charge electronics with the Igaro D1 power converter. The Apidura bags have worked well all year. Painful feet have been a problem in the past on long rides but my Lake MX237 with extra wide fit have looked after me well over the last year. They are mountain bike shoes with SPD’s which makes walking during long distance rides much more comfortable.
There is a lot of talk about race strategy. Riding some of the remote jungle roads at night sound a bit scary with aggressive monkeys and other wild animals! Road conditions are variable but it is surfaced road all the way, however, if bad weather sets in for the mountain sections it could be quite a challenge. I hope to ride at least 250km per 24 hours. The sun came out this morning when I rode in the City to check the start and it was 30deg so night riding might be more comfortable.
Yesterday I took a ride out of Taipei for 30km reversing the final route of the race. Taipei City has been a cycling challenge and a steep learning curve. Exciting experience! It is a Scooter race track and you have to get into boxes painted on the road at traffic lights if you want to make a turn across the traffic. I managed to find the superb cycle track along the Keelung river before heading for a couple of climbs out into the country.
This is my first time in Asia and Google Translate has been on overdrive! The cultural experience has been incredibly rich and rewarding. A busy City but friendship all round and people so willing to help. The 7/11 stores are a cyclists dream. I thought I had picked up a bowl of porridge on the first morning only to find it was a meat soup! It was tasty! I did battle with my chopsticks at a beef and noodle place last night – not a pretty sight!
A noisy colourful festival came marching along this afternoon. Music, dancing and firecrackers. I am lucky to be here.
Tracking should be available on this link after we get going in the morning.
An early Monday morning rise was needed to book out of the hotel and ride through the deserted streets of Taipei for the start in front of Building 101 – the 1441ft high symbol of the city. As the 0400 hrs start time approached the Red Bull arch was populated by a mixed group of riders. Some were quietly sitting on their bikes, others running around doing last minute jobs or making adjustments but generally the air was filled with excited and anxious laughter and chatter.
The local Taipei Rapha Cycling club were kindly riding with us to guide us for a few neutralised kilometres to the edge of the city – the early start designed to beat the city rush hour. Axel, Mr Bikingman, gave us the countdown and away we went. I lost count of the traffic lights we encountered as we emerged from the city. The leaders soon raced away and I settled down to a steady pace, resisting the temptation to push on in the excitement of the morning. The media car with Anthony and David sitting in the back with the tailgate up and flashing hazards were busy recording the city exit.
Unsupported racing has strict rules about no drafting or outside assistance. Riding together meant side by side – not great on some of the busy roads – or at least 10 metres or more behind another rider. Throughout the ride one encountered other riders, often leapfrogging each other at food stops or overnight halts.
Daylight broke at about 0530hrs and we made good time heading south on an anticlockwise route around the island. First target for the day was Checkpoint One at Sun Moon Lake in front of the Long Feng Gong Temple. I spent some time chatting with Chris from UAE and was amazed to hear that he had only been riding for 18 months. At the end of the week he was to become the gutsy Lantern Rouge but more of that later.
The first few hours were fairly flat and although much was on fairly busy roads with small towns dotted along the way the alien nature of the environment created an interesting and exciting ride for me never having been to this part of the world before. Taiwan was rich with cycle lanes and felt pretty safe most of the time. By 0900 the temperature had risen to 25 deg with high humidity and by midday it was over 30 deg which necessitated regular drinking and refills at the ubiquitous 7/Eleven stores.
I think most riders developed a love/hate relationship the 7/Eleven and Family Mart stores during the ride. Superb for all your needs and easy to find in most towns they were a welcome sight when hungry and thirsty but microwave pre-packed food made to a consistent specification day after day begins to numb the pallet and mind! Having said that they were a regular meeting place with riders on a similar pace to me and often welcome company and opportunity for discussion about the previous and future parcours and options for night stops.
Just after the town of Zhuolan and eight hours in the saddle came the first good climb to 931m followed by a descent and climb back to Sun Moon Lake and Checkpoint 1 under the beautiful Long Feng Gong Temple which sits on the hillside overlooking the beautiful lakeland vista. As I climbed the ramp to the Temple and dismounted I looked down on a flat rear tyre – so perfect timing for a Red Bull break, some food and quick tyre repair.
By now it was late afternoon and a need to get some more distance under the belt before a quick sleep stop prior to tackling the next big climb to 1630m and the jungle section that lay ahead. I was keen to tackle the climb before first light due to the 30+ deg daytime temperatures with sauna like humidity. A few WhatsApp messages established there was a Motel in Zhushan thanks to Ed, 40km on from CP1 and thats where four of us arrived to share a motel room and a couple of double beds!
A strange experience with a drive in garage and all set up for discreet anonymous visits. So we parked our four bikes in the garage and jumped into bed for a few hours kip. I shared with Gavin and Ed has his own bed while Shannon had a couple of restless hours on the settee!
Day one complete with 275km and 4310m climbing, Av km/h 22.6, Av HR 117
Shannon and I had had enough by 0100 hrs and both got away on the road by 0130hrs. Ed and Gavin opted for a bit more kip. The cooler night made for much more comfortable riding and almost immediately we started the 45km climb to the Col at 1630m. The night jungle noise as we rode was very special. We had been warned of snakes hanging from the trees in the jungle sections ahead. The occasional bright coloured snake on the road, deafening Cicada’s and rumble in the jungle from a monkey or something worse and I was quite happy to have Shannon’s company, albeit further up the road – he was a much better climber than me.
As we neared the summit, dawn’s early light started to break to reveal spectacular jungle mountain landscape all around us. In the half light of the day I noticed the hillsides were populated with rows of uniform bushes and wondered what they were – felt a bit daft when I realised they were tea plantations thriving in this high altitude environment. As the grey light turned to colour the beauty was revealed – a first for me – never seen a tea plantation before!
The long climb had been remote and a refill of water and some breakfast was needed. Fenqihu was the first small town after the Col and I found a small local cafe just off the main road. Shannon and I, to our surprise, were able to order bacon and egg, fresh cooked with a bap and good cup of coffee. Perfect ‘start’ to a long day as we headed on towards the jungle section travelling South to CP2.
Axel must have worked hard to find the remote jungle roads he had set up for us. We headed along the Alishan Highway and skirted a large lake near Dapu township where another diversion was needed for food and water. By now the midday sun was beating down and humidity was high. At one of the turns onto the jungle track I missed it completely and ended up a kilometre down the mountainside before realising the error! Shannon was in the same boat and we both ground our way all the way back up and then a sketchy descent on rough overgrown track. Axel’s delight!
Mid afternoon and another stop for food and water in Daqiuyuan Township where Anne and Reinhard, riding as a pair from Germany, were also having a quick break. The road was then pretty much flat all the way to CP2 at Fangshan. We skirted along the foot of the mountains to the left and the flood plain of the river to the right all the way to the coast at Fangliao.
By now it was dark and the final bridge we needed to cross was closed which necessitated a diversion and few extra kms along the coastal road to the checkpoint at the Tiny Greece hotel. It felt a pity arriving in the dark as I would be leaving before daybreak so would never see the coastline.
Axel was there to greet us and I had pre booked a room at the Tiny Greece – the halfway mark at 540km from the start – and a few of us arrived about the same time to get our cards stamped and signed. For me it was 2053hrs and I tumbled into bed after sorting a shower, recharging the electronics where needed and rinsing out my bib shorts. Luckily there was a large fan in the room and directed onto the wet clothes they dried by the time I got going the next morning.
Day 2 – 270km and 5439m climbing, Av Km/h 19, Av HR 102.
Up at 0315 I was on the road in company with Ed by 0400hrs. We faced a climb of 20km up to 450m traversing the southern end of the Island before heading North long the coastal road towards CP3 at the Tropic of Cancer marker. Setting off early was good for the cooler conditions but also the route could be busy with heavy traffic, especially trucks. After a short time into the climb the rain started, softly at first and then pretty much a downpour. Some way up a welcome 7/Eleven emerged out of the mist and provided some hot food and coffee before completing the endeavour to the top. Then followed a bit of a crazy descent with water running across the road in heavy rain whilst being chased by trucks. They were fortunately slower on the corners and I was able to keep ahead for a clean run down the many switchbacks in the early morning gloom. Thank goodness for disc brakes. Ed was behind me with calliper brakes and didn’t enjoy it – besides they don’t get much rain to play with in Dubai where he lives!
Once on the coast the weather picked up immediately, demonstrating the micro climate you can find in mountainous regions. The initial section of coastal road north hugged the rugged mountainside often hanging over the beach below. There were numerous roadworks but the terrain was relatively flat with only a light northerly headwind that had been forecast.
It was a lovely ride along the coast with an ever changing seascape on my right and mountains to the left. Just after mid-day I hit one of those inevitable moments of deep tiredness and found a beautiful little seaside park with a picnic bench and got my head down for a 20 minute nap. It worked well and as I woke saw Anne and Reinhard ride past. Our paths were going to cross a few times in the next couple of days.
I arrived at the Tropic of Cancer marker – CP3 – after 12 hours of riding just after 1600hrs and took the required photograph to prove the time and date. Luckily Anne was also there and showed me how to upload the photo to the tracking system – MapProgress.
I wanted to get further north up the coast before stopping for a night break so I could hit the Queen Stage of the race – the 70km climb of the famous Taroko Gorge – early the following morning. I suspected it was going to be a full days work riding up the mountain and I wanted to ride it in the daylight. I guessed photo opportunities would arise around every corner and hoped for good weather. No point in climbing one of the most famous climbs in the world and not stopping to smell the roses?
As dusk fell the headwind died away a little and night riding was good. About 2030 hours I came across a small B and B on the beach and dropped down off the main road to check it out. Two delightful women were sitting on the decking and after calling out the daughter to translate they gave me an excellent room and were happy with the bike in the room and the proposed early start. I had a good soak in the bath!
Day 3 – 252km and 2748m climbing, Av 22km/h, Av HR 102.
Up just before 0400 I was on the road by 0415 and soon arrived at Haulien City and was glad to clear the suburbs to the north before the rush hour developed.
The road skirted the coast before heading inland and I stopped at a 7/Eleven for breakfast and bumped into Shannon and Ed as they were heading out towards the foot of the mountain.
Arriving at the start of the climb I passed the start area for the Taiwan KOM Challenge that was being raced the following morning – a serious 105km ride up the Taroko to over 3000m.
As I hit the base of the climb I could just make out some of the challenge ahead in the early dawn light – over 80km of climb for us to 2581m before turning north and the run back to Taipei. I was blessed with a perfect day for the ride – sunny, clear with hardly any wind.
The first section was the spectacular gorge which started as quite a wide river and then slowly constricted the options for a road getting narrower and steep sided requiring a few tunnels and overhead cover to protect from falling rocks. In short it was truly spectacular and I was forced to stop numerous times for photos.
Mason Definition2 meets Taroko Gorge
The early morning sun was shafting onto the surrounding mountains and it took quite a while for it to touch the bottom of the gorge. As I climbed and the temperature rose this was offset a little by the cooling due to altitude gained.
At 0845 I rounded a corner to find the road was closed for the next 45 minutes for repair work to stabilise the overhanging cliff. A small barrier was being managed by a friendly woman and we exchanged a conversation with the help of Google translate. I was joined by the the team from Oman who got frustrated with the wait and decided to take the chance past the falling rocks – amid much shouting from the road workers! Then I was joined by Reinhard and Anne who took the opportunity for a sleep on the road.
Villages were few and far between on the climb but there were some small stores, usually selling fruit and vegetables and then with perfect timing a small restaurant where I settled down for a chicken soup meal and coffee. Some of the tunnels on the road were quite scary, narrow with limited lighting. As I climbed the vegetation changed and nearing the top the clouds were beginning to build and swirl around. At one point the cloud updraft was amazing with a bank of misty cloud racing up the mountain over the road ahead.
There was a small descent before the final climb to the turn off in Dayuling where the route passed through a tunnel and then the long descent started. It was about 30km to the first township of Li Shan and we passed some small settlements and this side of the mountain was a big fruit growing area. Some of the hillsides were spectacular with every apple on the tree wrapped in what looked like a paper bag. Never seen it before but researching it later confirmed the bags are used for protecting high quality fruit of all types.
A 7/Eleven stop was needed in Li Shan and again I was joined by Anne and Reinhard. We were all feeling pretty tired and debated about staying in the town for the night as there were plenty of hotels listed. I decided to carry on and get over the last couple of climbs – to about 500m – before looking for somewhere to stop.
In hindsight this was a bad decision because the clouds rolled in and very soon it was 20/30m visibility with heavy drizzle and very dark. The last 20km of the day was not much fun and arriving at Nanshan township I dived into the 7/Eleven for a hot meal and warm up – such a contrast from earlier in the day.
The manager was very friendly and had his family in the shop and wanted his shy daughter to speak some English with me. I asked about a bed for the night and luckily the shop next door had a few rooms and promised a good breakfast but I would not be able to get my bike out of their garage until 0500. No worries because I had about 140km to the finish and Friday was my initial finish target so I should make the evening party in Taipei OK! A welcome shower and I was asleep in no time.
Day 4 189km with 6795m climbing, Av speed 16.6km/h, Av Heart Rate 100
I woke at 0400 and went downstairs to find fresh hot dumplings cooked and went for two – a sweet potato and a meat dumpling with coffee and banana. The best breakfast food of the week! The shop keeper family were lovely hosts and we chatted a lot so I only got away at 0530 in a cool clear morning and a beautiful descent down the mountain to the wide river valley below.
One of those starts to the day when one feels at one with the world and realise just how lucky you are to be in the here and now riding a bike in spectacular surroundings – and mostly downhill all the way to the finish!
I pushed on for about 30 km riding the edge of the wide river basin towards Yilan through some busy urban areas and a building rush hour traffic. Once the coast was reached the road climbed inland to 500m and then a further really sharp climb – a little sting in the tail. Half way up the climb I came across the Media team of Anthony and David with Didier who got busy doing some filming and in a small way helped me up this last little test. Once at the top I knew the way to the finish having ridden out to this point prior to the race.
The descent towards Taipei was fun and the traffic light at midday. I reached the excellent cycle path alongside the Keelung River and made my way for the last few kms to the finish at the Waypoint Armory Shop. Arriving at 1337hrs there was a warm welcome from the Bikingman team and other riders. Total time was 105 hours for the 1130 km and I was comfortably right at the back of the field.
Final day 143km and 1978m climbing, Av speed 21.9km/h, Av Heart Rate 94.
A drink or two later and some food and having booked back into the hotel I was ready for the Finishers party and dinner at the Artree Hotel. It was a great evening swapping stories and congratulating the winners of the Taiwan Race as well as the overall Bikingman 2018 series. Rodney from Peru was a machine and swept all before him.
The following evening several riders gathered with the Bikingman team at the finish to welcome Chris as he rode in after an amazing effort to ride the full distance, albeit out of time to be classified. He was only into his second year on a bike and had never ridden anything like the Taiwan event before. Really strong both in body and mind to keep going to the finish. Chapeau Chris.
On reflection I think I could have gone harder and had less sleep but I pushed too hard in the Corsica Race with short Bivi bag sleeps along the way and decided to take it a little easier in Taiwan and use accommodation. I also wanted to ride the Taroko Gorge climb in daylight.
My body, bike and equipment held up well. My Mason Definition2 was a joy to ride as always and didn’t miss a beat.
Bikingman Taiwan was a great event. Axel and his team had planned a great parcours and supported us well throughout the week. Can’t be easy when there is such a variation in speed between riders.
As I finish writing this the Bikingman WhatsApp group are talking about the difficulties of re adjusting back to normal life. For me targets on the horizon are key and I have just signed up for Bikingman Oman in February. That should do it! I am so fortunate to have such opportunities.
This was my fourth year riding this iconic event which is epic in scale and celebrates a moment in our history that stirs our pride as a seafaring nation.
The Trafalgar Way is the historic route taken by Lieutenant John Laponetiere RN (1770 – 1834) in November 1805 to report the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.
The official despatch from Admiral Collingwood was brought to England by Lieutenant Laponetiere aboard HMS Pickle. It contained the news of victory over the Spanish and French Fleets off Cape Trafalgar, Spain on October 21st 1805. Following an epic sea voyage where a severe storm required the ditching of four cannon to save the ship, HMS Pickle arrived in the English Channel where unfavourable winds dictated a landfall at Falmouth rather than Plymouth.
Lieutenant Laponetiere then started a journey overland by post chaise – a coach and four horses – to deliver the despatch to the Admiralty and King George III. The journey took 37 hours to reach the Admiralty Building in Whitehall, London. There were 21 changes of horses at Coaching Inns along the route and cost £46 – equivalent to £4500 today. The factual record of horse changes has allowed the route to be recreated today – as far as modern road infrastructure allows.
The victory at Trafalgar in defeating the French and Spanish fleets secured Great Britain’s safety from imminent invasion from Napoleon Bonaparte and established British naval supremacy for more than a century.
Ride the Trafalgar Way is a challenging sportive developed by Jim Bellinger. The full challenge, Colossus, is 500km (307miles) with 6,795m of elevation to climb, mostly in the first two legs to Exeter and Salisbury. The challenge is to complete the distance within 24 hours.
Four years ago I rode the Defiance route from Falmouth to Salisbury, followed the next year with Thunderer from Exeter to London. I then had a go at the full Colossus route in 2017 with my pal Neil. Riding as a team saves a lot of energy and we just made it to the Admiralty Building in Whitehall with ten minutes to spare on the 24 hour target. That year my computer read 498km so I rode down Whitehall to Parliament Square and back along the Embankment to Trafalgar Square to make the 500km!
So why ride it again? I love the history involved and have cycled in Spain visiting Cape Trafalgar. I live on the Isle of Wight with HMS Victory, Nelson’s Flagship, just across the water in Portsmouth. I have ridden numerous sportives over the last five years and Jim and his team have organised one of the very best events with fantastic support along the whole 500km route. This time I was riding it solo which promised to be a tough day in the saddle.
Cape Trafalgar, Spain – the sea battle was off this Cape and many ships were wrecked in the storm that followed
Race briefing was held the evening before at Penryn University Campus. The main message was the need to keep well hydrated in the hot conditions forecast for the weekend.
I stayed at a local hotel where the owner left me a good breakfast for my 0500 start. We gathered at Pendennis Castle at 0530 as the sun rose over Black Rock and Carrick Roads. This is a nostalgic headland for me having sailed my boat in the AZAB Race (Azores and Back), double handed, in 2007 with the start line between Black Rock and Pendennis Point.
We collected our tracking units and gathered for a start line photo before the off at 0610. I think we were all quite thoughtful about the twenty four hours ahead given the clear blue sky and early warmth of the morning sun already evident on our backs. The wind was forecast light and from the south west slightly following which was a big bonus.
Jim counted us down to the start and away we went with an steady ride down from the Castle and through Falmouth toward Penryn and the first main town of Truro. It took 25km before we cleared the upper reaches of the Fal Estuary just above Truro and there were a few short sharp climbs along the way to remind us what lay ahead. Truro was a bit of a ghost town as I climbed towards the first pit stop at Fraddon. My plan was to stop and refresh at each of the eleven pit stops placed roughly at 50km intervals along the route. A quick stop at Fraddon for water and some snacks was followed by meandering minor roads and climbing towards Bodmin.
Through Bodmin the route headed due East crossing the River Fal and on towards Liskeard before turning North East skirting the southern edge of Bodmin Moor and the first good climb to 300 metres. Upton Cross at 88km, at the top of the climb was a welcome stop for water, fig bars and a banana.
From the South East corner of Bodmin Moor the Trafalgar Way turns North towards Launceston and the Cornwall/Devon border at the River Tamar. I stopped at the Devon county sign for a quick photo before heading up the short sharp climb and on toward the Lewdown pitstop for more water and food. A real feature of this ride is the friendliness and support of Jim’s team at the stops and along the way. Ever present too was Jonathan Warren with his cameras and words of encouragement.
I rode for a while with Lorena who was the first woman to complete the Colossus ride in 2017. It was good to have some company to help wind away the miles. Sadly Lorena scratched later having had limited training time in the months before RTW.
Pictures – Jonathan Warren
I had the pit stops logged on a small laminated card with target times based on last years timing when Neil and I made it within the 24 hours. By now I was already behind schedule.
Riding into Devon towards Oakhampton, lying on the northern edge of Dartmoor was another solid climb, not steep, but about 20km in length. Once through Oakhampton the motivation was the pit stop at Whidden Down at 146km where hot food was being served. Jim had a sports nutritionalist planning the food and a great cook laid on sweet potato, tuna and baked beans, a much needed energy boost.
Riding a few ultra distance events has taught me the value of good normal food rather than a diet of gels and bars which are best left for the occasional boost when needed. My favourite gel is the SIS Double Caffine – usually reserved for the that time towards the end of a ride when one is in real need.
On from Widdon Down there followed a 30km run, mostly downhill, to Exeter. A City is always a challenge especially on a busy Saturday and it felt a bit hectic after the quiet Devon lanes we had been riding.
Leg one to Exeter was 173km with 2973m of climbing and took 7hrs 50mins.
After a quick stop I worked my way through the City traffic towards the new industrial area near the Airport to the East and on towards Honiton. There was a good climb out of Honiton up the Blackdown Hills towards Stockland and another welcome pit stop at 210km.
A nice descent to Axeminster and the River Axe followed with a brief excursion onto the busy A35 before detouring into the town and then a good climb north before descending back towards the Dorset coast and Bridport.
The next 15km ranged along the spectacular Jurassic Coast overlooking the 29km long Chesil Beach and The Fleet, a narrow tidal lagoon, with Portland Bill in the distance.
Abbotsbury, at 260km, was another pit stop before a brute of a climb up Portesham Hill towards the Monument to Vice Admiral Hardy. Sir Thomas Hardy was the Flag Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson died in his arms saying the immortal words, “Kiss me Hardy”. The Monument stands proud over Martinstown and Dorchester in the distance and the road is a fabulous descent.
My sister Angela lives a few yards off the parcours in Dorchester and I called in for a quick hello and hug.
Onwards with 30km to the evening ‘hot food’ stop at Blanford Forum, I rode through the delightfully named Puddletown and Winterbourne Whitechurch as the sun started to dip down towards the horizon – still a warm evening.
A great spaghetti bolognese was served at Blanford by a lovely relative of Jim and her two delightful children. By now I was pretty close to the back of the field and heard of several riders scratching with fatigue and problems with the heat. My target time for Blanford was 1945hrs but I arrived about one hour down on that and although I planned some quick stops found I needed a little more given my own fatigue coping with the warm conditions.
The road from Branford Forum was a good climb North towards Shaftesbury before turning East at Compton Abbas Airfield and then due South and East to Sixpenny Handley and the road to Salisbury. By now the sky was turning blood red in the West as darkness fell.
After a welcome rest and food at Salisbury (355 km and 17hrs 30min) I got riding again about midnight as the TW team were breaking camp and heading for London. I was looking like being the last rider on the course – the Lantern Rouge!
The road from Salisbury followed the River Bourne valley north before heading East to Andover and then tracked the River Test valley to Overton and the penultimate pit stop for hot soup and coffee.
My lights were working well and I pressed on in the cooling night towards Basingstoke. The lower night temperature was a blessing after the scorching day.
All the big climbing was now behind me and I was soon pushing on through Hook and Camberley to the final pit stop at Bagshot where I was told all the riders behind me had scratched – so I inherited the Lantern Rouge!
The run into London from the West, into the rising sun, makes you appreciate the sheer size of the capital. Through Staines I rode south of Heathrow and under the early morning procession of approaching aircraft – how do people live under that flightpath?
On through Kensington and onto the Carriage Drive in Hyde Park and then Constitution Hill on the approach to Buckingham Palace. It was a bit special riding down the Mall and into a busy Trafalgar Square where they were preparing for the closed road London 10k Run. A quick right turn and in through the security gates of The Admiralty Building and the ride was done.
I finished just before 0730 with an elasped time of 25hrs 17mins for the 504km and 20hrs 55mins in the saddle. So a failure to make the 24 hour challenge but on reflection I was happy to be the Lantern Rouge and complete the Trafalgar Way route in what was one of my hardest days on a bike. There was a nice welcome from Jim, Jasmine and the team. They had all been on the go, up and down the course, for 24 hours and must have been as tired as the riders. Chapeau to the Trafalgar Way Team.
Kit, equipment and analysis
My bike was a Mason Definition 2 with Hunt 4 Season SuperDura Disc wheels. Bike and wheels had already carried me over 3,000km in June around Ireland and Scotland and performed perfectly. I ran a SON deluxe dynamo working with Exposure Revo front light and Igaro D1 power converter for charging electronic equipment coupled with an Anker 10,000m/amp power bank. Probably a bit overkill on the power side but it works well for me. The bike bags were Apidura.
Analysis of my performance data for the 20 hours in the saddle was interesting. Bearing in mind the first 10 hours contained the bulk of the climbing my average speed was 24kph for both the first and second half of the ride. Cadence was also similar but Normalised Power was down from 218watts (IF .76) for the first half to 180watts (IF .62) for the second. As is usual on ultra distance rides my Heart slows down as I go deep into the ride – Average HR for the first half was 123 while it fell to 105 for the last 10 hours. I can remember pushing hard towards the end into London and hardly managing to get my HR above 100. For the last two hours of riding my average HR was 98. I guess the body is simply telling me not to be so stupid!
Riders are gathering in Dublin. The historic Trinity College is our base. A beautiful set of fine old University buildings surrounding numerous grass squares is a calm setting in the heart of the city before the start.
Like many riders I am nervously packing and unpacking the bike bags. Can I ditch this? Do I really need that? What happens if I don’t have that and this happens? It will be endless until the start and I guess a greater challenge for the inexperienced like myself.
I’ve got three nights pre race in Dublin and spent last evening with Enrico from Italy. He has ridden Trans America – the unsupported race – and shared useful experience.
I have taken my car to Kinsale, the race finish line, which if nothing else creates a motivation to get there!
Right now I am on the train back to Dublin with registration and briefing tomorrow before the start on Thursday morning.
This was going to be my biggest bike challenge to date. An unsupported race of 2250 km (1400miles) with 22,500 meters of climbing in Ireland. There were 145 starters on June 7th in Dublin. Riders were required to plan and ride their own route North to a control point on the Peace Bridge in Derry and then join the 2000 km Wild Atlantic Way in a southerly direction all the way to the finish in Kinsale. There was a control point at the halfway mark in Connemara.
Race rules emphasised self sufficiency with an emphasis on safety following tragedies in recent years during ultra endurance races.
1. Riders must complete the full course from start to finish. 2. Riders must be fully self-supported and not receive any private outside assistance. 3. Drafting is prohibited. Exception – registered pairs. 4. All forward travel must be by bicycle. 5. Ferries allowed if stated 6. All riders are required to carry provided GPS tracker. 7. Riders must follow the designated Wild Atlantic Way route between control points. 8. No insurance, no helmet, no ride. 9. It is expected of all riders to know, respect and observe local laws. 10. Riders must act in the spirit of adventure, speed and above all fun. two new rules for 2018 11. All riders must take a mandatory continuous 3 hour stop in every 24 hour period. Excluding two 24hr periods not back to back. Meaning not one after the other. 12. All riders need to light up like Christmas trees during darkness hours. and display some form of hi-vi during the day and reflective gear at night (helmets, tape, bags, jerseys, bands, vests, flags, anything at all that improves your chances of being seen. Make an effort)
All riders carried GPS Trackers which gave the organisers a good view of progress, confirmed compliance with the designated route and important for rider safety. They also provided friends, family and keen ‘dotwatchers’ with live updates of rider location every few minutes.
Race registration, briefing and pre race accommodation was at Trinity College, Dublin. A spectacular historic location in the heart of the City. I arrived a few days early and shared a flat with Enrico from Italy, a great flat mate with bags of experience having ridden some big rides. Hours were spent organising the packing of the bike bags, unpacking and repacking. I was going to carry about 10 kilos of kit on the bike – far too much compared to the most – but I have always been ‘kitchen sink’ kind of person. Something for every problem that might arise! I need to be more clinical in ditching stuff. Enrico and I did an easy ride together to check the route to the start the day before race day.
The Race route
I was riding a Mason Definition 2 Ultegra Di2 with 48/32 Absolute Black Chainrings and 11/34 cassette. My bags were all Apidura. Aero bars were stacked high for comfort. I ran a SON Delux dynamo on a Hunt 4 season Super Dura Disc wheelset. This ran my Exposure Revo lights and charged electronics with an Igaro power converter.
The bike and equipment were perfect for the task and ran without fault throughout the ride. Such a balanced feel even with the heavy load I was carrying.
The Start – Thursday 7th June 1050hrs
We all made our way to the start at the National Sports Centre 12km north of the city centre. With the volume of riders there was a staggered start with groups of 25 leaving every 5 minutes from 1030hrs. A beautiful morning with a light northerly breeze saw an impressive range of bikes and riders anxiously keen to get going. Months of training and preparation were about to be put to the test and each departing wave was led out by the Race Organiser, Adrian, donned with a straw had and wild man beard – quite a sight! A drone was flying overhead to catch the moment and I managed to get a photo of Enrico as he got away on what was to be an impressive ride much faster than I could manage.
Ahead lay a self planned 240km ride to Control Point 1 in Northern Ireland on the Peace Bridge at Derry. In the event I think most riders opted for a suggested route given to us by Adrian.
The pace at the start was a bit quick but soon settled down. There was a long way to go and pacing was going to be critical if I was going to make the distance. Drafting other riders was against the rules so in some ways it was easier to work on ones own rhythm to conserve energy. My power meter was a constant companion keeping me in check. I passed through Omagh that town so well known for one of the worst bombing atrocities during the troubles all those years ago. It felt quite strange riding into Northern Ireland, back in the UK, when road signs and cars all became familiar.
I hoped to get to the Peace Bridge at Derry before dusk and then ride on into the first night. Maybe go long or stop for a sleep depending on how I felt. I arrived on the Peace Bridge at about 2000 hrs and checked in as the sun was low in the sky. I felt very hungry and found Dominoes Pizza nearby and parked the bike inside with another rider. It was a good rest with a great pizza and I felt refreshed ready for the night ride out towards the northerly point of the course at Malin Head.
Peace Bridge Control Point
Sundown on Peace Bridge
Day 2 – Friday 8th June
I kept riding till 0100 hrs and decided to find a spot to Bivi for a few hours sleep. I was riding along the coast on the Inishowen Peninsula close to Dunmore Head and could hear the waves in the bay on my right. It was a remote road and I found a good spot just off the road. Nice grass, albeit wet with dew, and I got the Bivi bag, matt and sleeping bag set in 10 minutes. Next thing a knew it was 0400 and a misty dawn was breaking. It was a little cold at times and I should have worn my lightweight fleece – a lesson learnt.
Before I set off the mist rolled away and the morning sunrise made a spectacular path across the sea. One of those magic moments when you get confirmation of just why you do these adventures.
First target was to make Malin Head the most northerly landmark of Ireland, and one of the Shipping Forecast Coastal Stations, which involved a loop off the main road and a short climb to the headland. I spent a few minutes taking some photos and chatting to a fellow rider.
It was then back to business and a ride through fairly remote landscape looking for some breakfast. To my delight the first service station was open – about 0900 hrs – and like most in this island had a hot deli section. I ordered a full Irish breakfast, including black pudding, which really set me up for the rest of the morning. Food is fuel in the tank and as time went by not only was essential for energy but had an increasing psychological impact on my feeling of wellbeing.
Climbing the Gap of Mamore was a beautiful remote landscape and then the Glenveagh National Park lay ahead with the famous gravel section down to Loch Beagh. At the top of the gravel section I got chatting to a couple of hikers who were waiting for a lift. One lived at Lymington, Hampshire, just a few miles from where I live – a small world. The descent was fun but rough at times and then there was a beautiful ride in the woods along the lakeshore towards Glenveagh Castle. By now it was mid afternoon and I dived into the Castle cafe and ordered a large slice of quiche with a great salad. I few of us left together and found the cycle track back to the road, heading north for a while towards the coast.
Gap of Manmore
Heading south meandering along the Wild Atlantic Way with a nice northerly breeze on my back for the rest of the afternoon made for good distance but by early evening I was feeling pretty tired and decided to look for some accommodation rather than a Bivi camp. I could do with a shower! I was in luck and saw a signpost off the route for the Lake View Country Hotel. I had completed 530km with 5775m of climbing and 23 hours in the saddle from the start.
The friendly owner could not have been more helpful. Last orders for dinner were being taken and I had a big turkey roast followed by a great cheesecake. I had my bike in the room and breakfast on a tray with ice bucket for milk and yoghurt. The other diners were a bit taken aback by my lycra but I did wear my waterproof shorts and smiled a lot – even with all the kit I carried there was no room for normal clothes.
Day 3 Saturday 9th June
Up at 0300 to catch the first light of the day. I let myself out of the hotel and headed for the first good climb over the Glengesh Pass and on towards Malin More. The route then turned east along the north coast of Donegal Bay. Killybegs, a fishing port with some big commercial boats, was the target for breakfast number two and quite a few of us arrived in the sleepy town at about the same time. I rode around town and picked up a bacon and sausage baguette and then joined Matt and Brad, riding as a pair from the USA, in a good coffee shop that opened at 0900. Next was Donegal Town which was a good landmark for me. When first I asked Race Organiser Adrian if we needed a medical certificate to ride – as you do in all events in France – he said no – ‘but if you get to Donegal you will be fit enough’!
I might have been fit enough but in the late morning I had one of those inevitable bad patches when turning the pedals got tough and I felt really tired. I started looking for a spot to get an hours sleep and in the rutted entrance to one field I managed to drop the bike with me going over too – I really did need to stop. I found a secluded spot and got into the Bivi bag for a good hours sleep.
Refreshed and on towards Sligo the Horseshoe Road under Truskmore and Benbulben mountains was a worthwhile diversion with dark towering rock faces and once climbed became a fun descent.
Once through Sligo the road headed due west along the coast of Sligo Bay. Late afternoon I was feeling hungry and came across a roadside wood burning pizza van. It was a half hour to get the pizza but worth the wait!
I had planned a Bivi stop for the night and riding through Easky saw a campsite and liked the idea of a washroom. Pulling in I found Ross and Jesko, a Scot and a German rider tucked up in their Bivi bags and they had already got the code for the washroom. The site owner collected his fees but found it difficult to understand why we were sleeping out in “sleeping bags”.
Day 4 Sunday 10th June
We crawled out of our Bivi bags in dawns early light and I was on the road at 0430 hrs. Ahead lay a day with limited elevation to climb and a northerly breeze so I hoped to beat my 250km a day target and get to Westport for the night. Soon after I started my Di2 (electronic gears) battery packed up so I faffed about connecting the charger to the SON dynamo charger and got going again.
The route circled Killara Bay via Ballina and on towards Bangor where I found the Sizzlers Cafe open and serving enormous Irish Breakfasts. I ate mine in company with well built local lads where from their size such breakfasts were probably a daily affair! Amazing how good food not only lifts the physical ability but also the spirits.
I headed south towards Achill Island where the race routed around a couple of loops on the island. Riding Achill was just about a afternoon’s work. The first few kilometres were also the return road from the island. This section proved to be sour and sweet – on the way out riders who had completed the loup waved and smiled being a couple of hours or so ahead but then it was my turn a while later to wave to those going out as I returned! In the grand scheme of things it meant nothing but small things can have a disproportionate effect on ones mood and well being when physical and mental reserves are being tested.
Achill Island was spectacular and demanded numerous stops for photographs. On leaving the Island near the bridge I stopped at a restaurant and wolfed down a late late Sunday roast and swapped notes with Victoria and George who were riding as a pair.
Then it was back along the road we came out on. At the point of joining the main route again I came across a rider sat and looking miserable. I stopped to chat – he said his bike had had some serious mechanicals and his backside was red raw and he was calling it a day – luckily his wife was on holiday somewhere close. He looked pretty devastated and knackered and it dulled my mood for some time as I left him at the roadside.
The short run down to Westport was quick and I arrived late evening. Friends Tim and Ciara and family hail from these parts and gave me some hotel recommendations. A busy beautiful town and I made my way to the Quay Road and booked into the Westport Coast Hotel – lucky to get a good last minute room rate. There is nothing quite like a good shower after two days in the saddle. I grabbed a dessert pudding in the restaurant and got to bed quickly. 282km for the day.
Day 5 Monday 11th June
Breakfast was delivered to the room at 0330 hrs and I was on my way at 0400. The ride was due west along the coast with Clew Bay on the right. Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain, towered over me on the left in the early morning gloom. The history of Croagh Patrick is something to behold – dating back 1000’s of years and where St Patrick fasted for 40 days in 441AD.
The route turned south with the midway control point at Connemara Youth Hostel not far away. But before that lay the Doolough Valley another joy to ride.
The control point was down a lane to the Youth hostel and I was greeted with a friendly welcome and break with tea/coffee and toast . Bunk beds were available so a number of riders were stirring when I arrived just after 0700 hrs. One had to be quick getting into the building to stop a midge mass attack in the still damp morning.
The road then followed the coast as we circled the Connemara National Park. I was starting to feel a bit rough at this point and progress was slow. I was back on the pace after a couple of hours, not least due to the magnificent coastal scenery. The Wild Atlantic Way followed small roads up two peninsulars with the famous Sky Road taking the breath away at times. I then headed south east towards Galway through the peat bog workings and more coastline. Leaving Galway behind, the afternoon was a ride along the coast south towards the Cliffs of Moher.
It was early evening when I found a small clifftop group of houses with an unlikely looking bar but food was advertised so I went in. Several families were eating and the staff and customers very friendly. I think they thought I was balmy! Fish and chips were recommended and the fish was an enormous tasty slab. Just the job. Refreshed I rode on to dusk and arrived in the small holiday village of Doolin. I was now about 80km from the Shannon Ferry which stopped operating between 2100 and 0700hrs. The was a hostel and camping and I checked in to be offered the bunkhouse or the campground. I decided on the latter as it was going to be another 0400 get away and pitched the bivy bag and got my head down for a few hours. Blissful sleep after 290km.
Day 6 Tuesday 12th June
Up at 0315 and a cup of tea and some breakfast in the hostel before heading out at 0410 with the target of making the 0800 Shannon Ferry. The climb out of Doolin up to the Cliffs of Moher made me wonder if I would make it but then the ground levelled out and it became a bit of a time trial to reach Killimer and the ferry to Tarbert. I got there with time to spare and was joined by three other riders. Alas their names escape me. We had time for a coffee and a snack waiting for the ferry.
A short crossing saw us heading west towards Tralee and the famous Dingle Peninsula. Just before Tralee we passed through the small coastal village of Fenit. I diverted off the course to visit the harbour and marina. A few years ago I was stormbound in Fenit Harbour having abandoned a double handed yacht race with my pal Tim around Ireland, clockwise from Wicklow, in very heavy weather. Jenny, my wife, then joined me there for a few days and we cruised back to Kinsale over the next couple of weeks. In my head Fenit was an important milestone because it felt like a circle had been squared. I was desperate not to have two failures trying to circle the island of Ireland! I had some lunch in the cafe and chatted with the local Garda Siochana officer and a member of the local bike club who were training about 30 youngsters on their bikes – all with bright yellow tabards and helmets!
Lunch with local policeman and cycle club
Carrying on toward Dingle after an hour I started feeling very tired, probably due to the hard ride to the ferry in the early morning, and just had to stop for a rest. I found an access road to some forestry land and set out the bivy bag in the warm sun and slept for an hour. Waking and getting going again is always a challenge but I was refreshed and back on it feeling good.
The Connor Pass was the high hurdle on the way to the Dingle – a good climb for 5km to 410m at 7% and then followed a great descent into Dingle town. A bustling town we would visit twice as the gateway to the peninsula ride.
The Dingle peninsula in the evening sunlight and light breeze was very special. Stunning vistas around every turn. Returning to Dingle late evening I joined Torbjorn from Sweden and a friendly Irish rider for fish and chips sitting on a carpark wall. They had both booked a B&B and I was really lucky because the first one I tried the owner turned up at the same time. He was a cyclist and really helpful and friendly. I had a good room and free run of their kitchen to make breakfast with eggs, toast, fruit etc in the early hours. 266km for the day made it a good day.
Day 7 Wednesday 13th June
I had a bit of a lie in and got on the road just after 0500. This was forecast to be a tough day on the bike. The tail end of Storm Hector was rapidly approaching and the days ride was clockwise round the Ring of Kerry. The first 60km were fairly flat and I made good progress. I had a tail wind and the rain held off for a few hours.
The first challenge was climbing the Gap of Dunloe a scenic route but pretty vicious as the rain came in with a SW gale building. Some gusts near the top of the climb were probably 50/60 miles an hour and almost stopped me in my tracks and things became a little sketchy for a while. Cresting the top one is met with a granite stone engraved “Welcome to the Black Valley” pretty much a sign of things to come.
Down into the Black Valley
A long descent over fairly rough roads to the Kenmare River through misty mountains and driving rain followed until the route joined the Ring of Kerry. I stopped at Sneem for a bowl of soup and met Torbjorn from Sweden who had sadly taken a fall and damaged his shoulder badly enough to scratch from the race. He was busy sorting a bus trip to Kinsale and it was difficult to leave him but not much I could do.
The rest of the afternoon was a bit of a battle. The wind and rain were unremitting and although the Ring of Kerry is no doubt beautiful my own view was that of mist and low cloud. Having said that such conditions sometimes have a beauty and reward in themselves especially if you are out in it living the dream! Arriving at Waterville I saw bikes parked outside a cafe and joined Ross and Simon for hot tea, cakes and some food while we attempted to warm up and debated how far we were going before calling it a day. Nobody was proposing a bivi option for the night. We left puddles on the cafe floor – fortunately a stone floor!
I carried on and missed a turn which meant riding back about a kilometre up a climb and then headed out onto another peninsula, adjacent to Valentia Island – a Shipping Forecast Coastal Station one hears often if sailing, with some big climbs in the mist on the approach to Portmagee.
I rolled into Cahersiveen and decided to call it a day. I found a great little hotel and got my bike up into the room and stripped off all the wet kit and heated up the bathroom with a hairdryer to dry stuff out. Again, very friendly staff who were happy to put me up a breakfast in the early hours. Showered and warm with a good dinner – the day with 192km seemed ok.
Day 8 Thursday 14th June
The night porter could not have been more friendly and helpful sorting out everything I wanted for breakfast at 0400 and I set off with a following wind riding NE. There was a little drizzle as I climbed a couple of hills and then a lovely sunrise over the clouds lifted the spirits. Next was a turn south and climb to the Ballaghbeama Gap with some more spectacular mountain landscapes. Hopefully this was going to be the penultimate day riding.
It was on the descent towards Moll’s Gap and Kenmare that I came very close to ending my TransAtlanticWay adventure. The narrow single track mountain road was in good condition but wet and rounding a bend I was confronted by a van in the middle of the road. I managed to squeeze between the van and fence but clipped the wing mirror and went down hard on my right side.
The van stopped and after a few seconds lying on the road I felt hopeful that my body was not too badly banged up. I was more worried about the bike and the Mason seemed ok but on closer inspection the gear mech was bent into the rear wheel. Luckily I had a spare mech hanger and after chatting with my mate and bike guru Adrian back home the only challenge in replacing the damaged part was coping with a cloud of midges! I had some knee and elbow road rash and a nasty bruise to my back with a rib aching a bit but thankfully not affecting me on the bike. Luckily I was wearing arm and leg warmers which reduced the road rash considerably and I had just taken off my expensive waterproof jacket which would no doubt have been ripped.
OK – the van was in the middle of the road and left me no room but I should have been more cautious and going slower with a wet road – lesson learnt.
I got back on the bike but felt a bit shaken up. The climb to Moll Gap found a newly built tourist shop and cafe at the top and with some relief I pulled in and ordered a breakfast of scrambled egg, avocado on some exceptional Irish soda bread.
A couple of coffees later I set off for Kenmare where I called into a service station for supplies and found Breifne and Rich and crew who were doing the media work for the race. I think they were probably more tired than the riders – driving many more kms than we were cycling. Good to see them and chat – they were laughing and joking giving great support.
The rest of the day was spent on the Beara Peninsula with the Kenmare River to the north and Bantry Bay to the south. At the sea end of the peninsula there is a road down to a cable car that connects to Dursey Island and this was our turnaround point and all of 65km from Kenmare into a stiff SW headwind. That said the kilometres went by easily due to the breathtaking scenery at every turn. I pulled in at Allihies and got a late lunch at O’Neills Bar and Restaurant.
Then it was on and down to the cable car station and turnaround for a delightful run east with the wind on my back all the way to Glengarriff where I decided to call it a day and find somewhere to stay. The first hotel I tried banned bikes, a bit too posh for a smelly lycra clad old man of 68 I guess, but it was probably a blessing because the next – the Perrin Inn – was perfect. Motel type accommodation at the back of the bar was good and the friendly barman/receptionist gave me a great deal with dinner and a bottle of beer thrown in! Pan fried Chicken with extra veg and salad went down well. I was craving normal food.
I now had about 280km to the finish in Kinsale – it really started to feel it was a possibility! The days run was 206km.
Day 9 Friday 15th June
I had a tray of breakfast and fuelled up as best I could for a big day ahead and got on the road just after 0400. First off was around the bay to Bantry and then out along the narrow peninsula to Sheeps Head against the SW breeze. Then a run back before turning SW again to beat down to Mizen Head, a notable landmark being the most SW point of Ireland. Both were spectacular – I’m running out of superlatives – and then I turned and headed east towards Kinsale.
Having completed Sheeps Head and Mizen I started to have a bit of a bad patch at this point. I needed to stop often for food and short rests – one minute looking for a Yorkie bar and the next a 99 ice cream! The Wild Atlantic Way took us out to the peninsulas leading to Toe Head and Galley Head.
Riding through Glandore was a poignant moment – Jenny and I had spent two days moored there in our sailing boat some years before and enjoyed walks and good food in the village. Fond memories keep you going!
Along this last stretch there were a few riders close by and we regularly passed each other at food stops. With about 50km to go I decided to get my head down and ride hard to the finish. I needed this psychological kick up the backside and it worked. I pushed hard to the Old Head of Kinsale and then the run into Kinsale town and along the quayside.
There was a little sting in the tail with a horrible steep climb up to the finish just outside town. Adrian’s last little joke! It was a real tester but I was pleased to make it up which meant I had managed all the climbs without putting a foot down – those little achievements take on a disproportionate importance!
I was greeted by Brad and Matt, the pair from America, and Enrico, my Dublin flat mate from Italy who had finished the day before. Adrian, Mr TransAtlanticWay, was there too and many of the volunteers who made it such a great event. I finished at 1900hrs and was placed about 63rd from 145 starters.
A few photos later, a shower and normal clothes for the first time in 9 days and I was a new man. After a few cans of Guinness and slices of pizza we all went into town and found a busy restaurant for some great food and great company basking in the satisfaction of riding 2250km in eight and a half days.
The next morning I ran Enrico to Cork for the train to Dublin and his flight back to Italy while I set off for Rosslare and the ferry to Fishguard. A second bike adventure was waiting a week away – I was joining some mates to ride the North Coast 500 around the top of Scotland over four days. Perhaps a bit crazy but face your fears and live your dreams and live in the moment!
Corsica Bikingman is an Ultra Marathon Cycling Race which had its first edition in late April 2018. The ride is 700km with 13000m of climbing and termed a ‘sprint’ in the world of ultra distance cycling!
Eighty five riders started the race in Bastia at 0630 on 29th April. Riders are unsupported, no drafting and self sufficient. We all had GPS trackers on the bikes which uploaded positions to the internet for safety and potential fun for friends and family and dot watchers
Having entered the TransAtlanticWay Race (2500km unsupported) in Ireland for June it seemed a golden opportunity to test my mind, body and equipment in a spectacular island environment with plenty of climbing.
THE BIKINGMAN RULES
No support cars
Self-supported race Fueling, resting, repairing
Race progress validated at mandatory checkpoints
Drafting and riding in packs are forbidden
GPS tracking system of every athlete
The Bikingman organisation was founded by Axel Carion in 2015 and was born out of his adventure biking in South America. In 2017 Axel and his team broke the Guinness World Record for cycling across South America. There is now a four race series with the first of the year in Oman followed by Corsica before Peru and Taiwan later in 2018. The organisation, logistics and calm friendly environment created by Axel and his team was exceptional from first contact to race finish.
Tough just getting to Corsica
Getting to the start proved to be quite a challenge. Just as I was driving onto the ferry from the Isle of Wight, headed to Gatwick, I got a message from EasyJet to say my 0600 flight the following morning was cancelled. I rebooked for 24 hours later and the following day a 0400 wake up got me on the plane to Nice only to get to the Corsica Ferry terminal to be told the ferry was 5 hrs delayed. I was in good company with Fabian from Germany, Simon from France and Nora from Dubai. Getting to the start line was getting very tight so I built my bike on the quayside.
In the end we arrived in Bastia after midnight on the day of the race. We were met by the organisers and driven to the campsite base 12 km south for registration and bike checks and tracker attachment. Eventually we got to bed at 0300 and got a couple of hours before getting up to be at the start for 0600hrs. At least we were into ultra marathon no sleep mode from the start!
The Bike and Kit
I was riding my Mason Definition 2, carrying a bivi bag, mat and sleeping bag with all the other kit I thought I might need to test – kitchen sink included! The Mason Definition 2 comes in just under 9kg but my total load was close to 20kg. I ran a SON Deluxe Dynamo hub on Hunt Wheels for lights (Exposure Revo) and equipment charging (Garmin and phone and Anker battery pack) via an Igaro USB power converter. Tyres were WTB Exposure 30mm and the Di2 ran a 11/34 cassette with climb friendly 48/32 Absolute Black Oval chainrings. My bike bags were Apidura which worked well.
The Mason Definition 2 is dream bike for me. I have been riding it since the start of 2018 for over 5000km and it just rides so well. Always secure on the fast downhill runs and picks up nicely on the climbs. In simple terms I just feel so comfortable on the Mason.
Leg One – Bastia to Ghisoni – late for supper.
Eighty five riders gathered at the start where the local beach cafe man was up early with croissants and coffee. Everyone looked anxious to get going and we passed under the Red Bull arch at 0630 with a drone buzzing overhead to catch the moment. We are neutralised for the first few kilometres into sleepy Bastia and then headed south toward the first check point and straight into a good climb up to the Col de Teghime.
My plan for the ‘Race’ was to take it steady and use the experience to test myself, the bike and equipment over a number of days. Most important was to gain experience of unsupported riding which required ad hoc feeding, drinking and sleeping arrangements. I was undoubtably carrying more kit than needed for a ‘sprint’ 2/3 day race but I wanted to replicate what I estimated I needed for Ireland.
Checkpoint 1 at Ghisoni was at 180km with 4645m of climbing. There were limited food stops along the way and three Cols over 800m. The weather was beautiful and I settled into a steady pace with the fully loaded bike. The Corsican roads and scenery were simply breathtaking. I stopped for photos many times but had to discipline myself to keep peddling as continuous photo friendly vistas came into view!
Coffee at a Castello di Rostino cafe and I took the opportunity to stock up with a large baguette of ham and cheese. A baguette fits nicely across the top of the handlebar bag under the bungees. Good lesson! Along the way I was leapfrogging similar paced riders but with the no drafting rule it was a solo ride for the most part.
I checked in at CP1 at 1752hrs lying in 52nd position and planned to get a few hours sleep in the bunkhouse at the checkpoint. I went into the village to get some food only to find the restaurant had stopped serving in preparation for later diners. The owner took pity on me – I probably looked a bit old and knackered – and got the kitchen to serve up a double helping of lasagne. Great result and it lifted the spirits – made me realise the importance of fuelling the engine with normal food.
I got my head down and managed a couple of hours sleep. I am lucky that short sleeps seem to revive me quite quickly. My previous experience of ultra endurance is double handed and single handed long distance sailing races which have similar sleep requirements if not the physical exertion of cycling.
Leg 2 Ghisoni to Tiuccia – sleeping in dog poo!
I got out of the bunk at 2200hrs and after the usual faffing about got on the road at 2303hrs just as a light drizzle started. Ahead lay three big climbs – the Col de Verde (1289m), Col de la Vaccia (1193m) and Col de Tega (1030M) over the next 90km.
It was a tough night riding the climbs through cold damp forests. At the Cols the temperature dropped to 4deg and I had every stitch of clothing on but the bike was shaking with the cold on the descents. (A few years ago riding down the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees in freezing rain I remember being told to press my knee on the crossbar to control a shaking bike – it works!) I rode for five and a half hours and not a single vehicle was seen in either direction.
During the third descent I was so cold, an hour before dawn, that I found a derelict garage building with no roof and jumped into the bivi bag and crashed out for an hour to warm up and recover. I was woken an hour later by a rough looking dog who jumped a mile when I poked my head out of the bivi. It was now daylight and packing up the kit I found I had been sleeping in the dogs toilet – luckily it was all dry dog’s poo!
I jumped into the first cafe I found, a Tabac, no food so a good coffee and a couple of Mars Bars had to make do for breakfast. I was soon getting views of the sea on the SW of the Island and arrived at CP2 after 9hrs 41min in the saddle. By now it was early afternoon and I was shattered and needed some sleep. There were tents available at the Checkpoint which was a seaside campsite and I took a welcome shower and change of kit before getting my head down.
Legs 3 and 4 – Tiuccia to Bastia via d’Ostriconi – Rain is on the way
I got under way just after 1600hrs with the intention of getting to CP3 and getting another short rest before the final leg to the finish in Bastia. We had now left the mountains and were headed up the beautiful west coast of the island. The climbs had less elevation than inland but as is often the case with coastal riding there were numerous short sharp climbs. I managed a good pace and there were more opportunities to re fuel.
I rode into the night with the mountains silhouetted by a bright moon. A while after midnight I got pretty tired with the road ahead ‘wandering around’ and realised I needed to stop. I found a village square with a three sided shelter and a bench inside. I lay on the bench but realised I needed to keep warm and got the bivi out for an hours good kip. Refreshed, I pressed on to CP3 arriving at first light. I felt guilty waking the team member to get my checkpoint stamp. The Bikingman team were on hand 24/7 and some were probably more tired than the riders. Chapeau to them.
I had planned to grab a few hours in a tent at CP3 and took a tent to pitch but soon changed my mind thinking about the predicted heavy rain due to arrive from 1000hrs that morning. So I handed back the tent and got going.
The forecast was spot on with dark clouds full of rain sweeping in from the north. It was soon raining hard and was set in for the rest of the day. It was also the 1st May, a public holiday, yes the French also get rain on their Public Holidays too, and not many places were open.
Early afternoon found me at a beautiful village perched on the cliffs over the sea and found a cafe open with locals enjoying some serious amounts of wine and spirits. I ordered a ham and cheese salad and an enormous salad arrived – perfect.
Pressing on through the rain there was a cheeky loop at the top of the island down to the small fishing village of Barcaggio. Full of motor bikers and others sheltering from the rain the cafe was busy. I ordered a coffee only to wait 20 minutes with no sign and so pressed on for the climb back to the main road and the final push to the finish moaning to myself about the inherent grumpy nature of French waiters!
When I hit the east coast at Macinaggio I dived into a cafe and ordered a large chocolate crepe with coffee. Very friendly here and no worries about the pool of water I left under the table – from the rain! The road hugging the coast to Bastia was now pretty quick and a bit sketchy at times with lots of holiday traffic in the soaking conditions.
I arrived at the finish at Place Saint Nicolas at 1755hrs. My race time was 59hrs 15 mins and I came 33rd out of the 85 starters. There were quite a few riders who got their navigation wrong and were unclassified. This included the two riders placed second and third who completely missed the loop to Barcaggio at the top of the island. A painful lesson for them.
End thoughts and thanks
I took a while to recover from Corsica. Between 0400hrs on the Saturday before the race to its conclusion at 1755hrs on Tuesday I only had five short sleeps totalling eight hours. Sustainable perhaps for a couple of days but no way to abuse the body for longer rides. Lesson learnt I hope.
The bike and kit worked well in the changing conditions. I am thrilled just how good the Mason Definition 2 is to ride and work with.
The Race winner was Mikael Flockhart who finished in 27hrs 35min – so impressive and makes you realise where you sit in the grand order of things! As Robert McCrum, the writer, suggests when considering old age and ones mortality – Keep fit, Realise your Insignificance and Live in the Moment. A personal mantra to live with? – chapeau to that!
Axel, Andreas, David and the whole Bikingman team were pretty special. Always calm and helpful they organised a very professional and enjoyable event. Chatting to other riders in the couple of days after the finish it is clear that the Bikingman Races have a broad spectrum of followers from the out and out racers to those who are enjoying a more relaxed long distance ride – not hard racing but perhaps best described as ‘riding with a positive attitude’? Whatever it is, it looks like a family of ultra distance riders is growing thanks to Axel and the Bikingman Team.
I have been a regular visitor to Morocco, being lucky to spend a couple of months each winter in the country for the last eight years. Driving to Morocco in a camper van is a challenge of distance and time but always worth the effort to enjoy a safe, friendly country with stunning landscapes and undiscovered biking opportunities. Mountain biking in the Atlas Mountains is well known but less so are the increasing road bike opportunities now that many of the smaller back roads have been surfaced. With the emergence of “Adventure Sport” bikes such as the Mason Bokeh a combination of road, piste and off road exploring presents great opportunities.
My favourite biking locations are the coastal mountains and valleys at the Western end of the High Atlas between Agadir and Essaouria and the Anti Atlas Mountains lying south of the High Atlas and north of the Sahara Desert.
This blog describes a short backpacking trip in March 2018 used as a test of bike, kit and equipment in preparation for longer unsupported events later in the year. I hope it gives a flavour of Morocco and its beauty and opportunities for road biking.
The Anti-Atlas is a desolate world of rocky outcrops and lunar landscapes. Dry and barren. It lies to the East of the Atlantic Ocean and runs 500km inland. Home of the Berber people it is thinly populated and one of the least visited parts of Morocco’s mountain scape. Tafraoute is the main town set in the beautiful Ameln Valley. Elsewhere the barren mountains are interrupted by lush oasis valleys with some of Morocco’s most beautiful Palmeries.
After a few weeks on the coast with my sons at the small fishing village of Imsouane I headed inland to a campsite on an organic farm a few kilometres West of Taroudant – a spectacular walled city. I arranged to leave the camper with Michele the friendly French owner of “Le Jardin de la Koudya” at Lakhnafif.
My plan for day one was to ride about 200km over the Anti Atlas via Igherm to Tata which lies on the desert plain of the Sahara close to the Algerian border and sits at the foot of the Bani Mountain range. Camping there overnight I would then head north and west to Tafraoute for the next stop before heading back towards Lakhnafif via Ait-Baha on day three.
The planned ride was about 500km with 7000m of climbing. I was on my Mason Definition 2, carrying a tent and sleeping bag with all the other kit I thought I might need to test – kitchen sink included! The Mason Definition 2 comes in just under 9kg but my total load was close to 20kg. I ran a SON Deluxe Dynamo hub on Hunt Wheels for lights and equipment charging (Garmin and phone etc) via an Igaro USB power converter. Tyres were Swalbe G1 30mm and the Di2 ran a 11/34 cassette with climb friendly 48/32 Absolute Black Oval chainrings.
Day 1 Lakhnafif to Tata
A bit of a false start at 0630 finding the camp gates locked and no sign of the guardian. I forgot the sun cream too so a restart via a gap in the prickly boundary hedge! I took the old road towards Taroudant and stopped at 30km for omelette and cafe au lait at the Afriquia garage.
The road to Tata starts with a long gentle climb, enjoyable in the warming sunlight, and then up some good climbs onto the high plateau towards Igherm, a busy mountain town sitting at 1780m elevation and 100km into the ride. Time for lunch so I scouted around and found a good place for a welcome tagine of meat and veg with Moroccan bread and a coffee.
From Igherm there were two route options. The main road, R109, was quite a few km longer than the P1805 which had more climbing and an unknown road surface. The cafe owner said the shorter route was a ‘bon route’ and it turned out to be an amazing descent towards Tata with spectacular mountain scenery and Palmeries. The mountain road exited onto the plain and then, with a northerly wind following, I flew along all the way to Tata arriving early evening.
Tata is the gateway to the Desert and a bustling town. I found a small hotel with adjacent camp ground just outside the built up area and booked some supper and pitched camp, a one man Nordisk Tent with mat and sleeping bag. Also camping was Kareem, a Canadian cycling from Norway to New Zealand! Interesting guy and we enjoyed a good supper together.
194km, 2330m climbed, 8hrs 53min riding.
Day 2 Tata to Tafraoute
After a good first night I was up at 0615, ready for 0730 breakfast and away just after 0800. Reducing the time faffing about and getting organised is a skill I need to develop. The early morning was calm with a light breeze for the first 25km.
I was heading north west and a strong, brutal northerly headwind picked up. A small whirlwind near one village and needing to pedal hard just to keep going on a slight downhill made me anxious about reaching Tafraoute with its big climb to 1850m before descending into the Ameln Valley. The route was turning to the West so a headwind became a side wind with some nasty gusts but then came the magnificent ride down into the Ameln Valley and short climb to Tafraoute.
Almond Blossom in full bloom
I planned to stay at the Salama Hotel and was lucky that the famous Almond Blossom festival had finished the previous day so a room was free. Supper of soup, omlette, tagine and fruit salad was good and much needed.
157km, 2484m climbed, 8hrs 52min riding.
Day 3 Tafraoute to Lakhnafif
Breakfast at 0730 and away by 0800 the last day was going to be a big descent once I had climbed the 700m out of the Ameln Valley. It turned out to be spectacular with the first segment descending for 20km and after a bit more climbing there followed another 40km of fast descending.
Ait Baha was a good lunch stop where another Tagine was the order of the day.
The remainder of the return ride was pretty flat along the Sous Massa valley with a following wind making for quick kilometres.
Arriving back at the camper I was met by good friends Dave and Marie-Helen and another superb Tagine cooked by Dave!
166km, 1506m climbed, 6hrs 56min riding.
This was my first unsupported bike packing trip. The Mason Definition2 with Hunt Wheels delivered everything I had hoped for. It was a good kit test and I learnt some useful lessons. The spectacular landscape and friendly Moroccans and fellow travellers were exceptional. A country and adventure to fall in love with!
The challenge was to ride the 1430km (890 miles) in under 100 hours. (You could opt for 116hrs but 100 hours gave you an early start – I didn’t fancy a late afternoon kick off). Organised by Audax UK, nearly 1500 riders from 52 countries had gathered in Loughton, North London, for a staggered start between 0500 and 1600 on Sunday 30th July. Ahead lay self navigation between the 20 Controls where each rider’s brevet card is scanned and stamped. Each control is staffed by an army of friendly volunteers looking after feeding, security and sleeping arrangements – usually a school gym with a couple of hundred inflatable beds and a blanket.
After a nervous nights sleep in a local hotel I had an 0715 start – rider number G24. The weather forecast was looking pretty rough with low pressure dominant in the north. Constant showers with wind from a south westerly direction meant a following breeze to Edinburgh but then tough headwinds predicted for the return to London. In the event we had rain every day. I wore my overshoes throughout the four days of riding and never got wet feet. Lucky boy!
Start time arrived and the G men and women headed off towards the M25 and out into the countryside towards St Ives control. I got into a group of about 8 and we hammered along – far too fast – everyone looking a bit serious and not much being said. My rough plan was to divide the ride into four parts and make it to Pocklington Control (211 miles) for Part 1 where I had a bag drop with fresh kit and supplies if needed. I think I was the only bike with aero bars in the group and found myself on the front too often.
First stop at 60miles was St Ives where a mega breakfast was devoured and then on towards Spalding and Lough Controls, crossing the Humber Bridge finally arriving at Pocklington at dusk. Part 1 completed in 12.04 hrs and av speed of 17.5mph, average heart rate of 119bpm. Burning over 7000 calories each day meant some serious eating was required. The quality and variety of food offered was exceptional throughout the four days. I used very few energy gels and bars. At Pocklington the faffing ritual began. Bag off the bike, collect drop bag, grab food and drink, fill water bottles, book a bed and wake up call, wash and settle down for a few hours restless sleep with constant noise from snoring, riders getting up or arriving to sleep and other human noises! My faffing was quite a time wasting problem until I became a little more experienced as the ride progressed.
I set off for Thirsk feeling pretty refreshed at 0200hrs. The SONdelux dynamo on a Hunt wheelset with Exposure Revo light were working well and made for safe night riding. By now I was riding quite a bit of the time with Antonia from Devon – we had similar speed but she was stronger on the climbs whilst I caught up on the descents. Pit stops at Thirsk (0519hrs), Barnard Castle (0923hrs) kept me going well and we arrived at Brampton (1346hrs) ready for lunch having climbed the famous 600m Yad Moss in perfect conditions. I missed Lockerbie out opting for the more scenic route over the mountains which was a bit special and worth the extra climbing. Antonia decided to push on at Brampton while I decided to have a couple of hours sleep which was my second bag drop so took a refreshing shower and changed my damp kit for a fresh set. I am able to recover well with a short nap and headed out towards the Scottish border with renewed energy.
Arriving at Moffat at 1940 hrs I had food and a break before heading out for Edinburgh climbing the side of the Devil’s Beef Tub as the sun went down. A great night ride to Edinburgh followed arriving at 2330hrs ready for more food and a few hours sleep. Part 2 was completed with 7 hours in hand but headwinds beckoned for the return to London. I averaged 15.2mph, av heart rate 100 for the 219 miles with 14.25hrs riding.
Next was a couple of short legs to Controls at Innerleithen (0658hrs) and Eskdalemuir (0955hrs). Spectacular scenery and some good climbs was the order of the day in the beautiful early morning light but some sharp rain showers were thrown in along the way. Near Carlisle I was amazed to meet many riders on the road still headed north – they mostly waved and smiled but must have been well behind the clock. Brampton was next for a good lunch stop at 1255hrs. We were back in England and although getting pretty tired and slowing up a bit were safely ahead of the 100 hour schedule. I took a short 45 minute sleep here which put me right and I escaped from that deep eye tiredness.
My plan was to get to Thirsk for a good sleep and refuelled at Brampton (1255hrs) and Barnard Castle (1907hrs) along the way. A dusk and night ride got me to Thirsk at 2235hrs and completed Part 3. This took 12.42hrs of riding, 182 miles at an average of 14.6mph. Av heart rate 100.
Arriving at Thirsk I was now in need of a decent sleep. I booked a wake up call in four hours and settled down only to wake after three hours and check the time in hand with a tired brain which looked quite tight. So in a bit of panic I got up right away and headed out for Pocklington.
Along the way I fell in with Robin and Elfyn and we shared the work as the headwind developed in strength. Elfyn opted for a slower pace and I went on to share many miles with Robin – a Falmouth Wheeler – who was a strong rider and gave me a good lift.
There is something very special riding into the dawns early light – even when raining – probably because one rarely chooses to be out at that time. We arrived at 0608hrs and fell onto the breakfast offerings with some determination. My Di2 battery for the electronic gears was showing red at Pocklington so I grabbed the charger from my bag drop and fitted the spare. Not good news to lose the gears.
Pocklington was an important psychological waypoint in the adventure. It had been the first stop travelling north so the whole distance started to feel doable. Everyone was suffering from aches and pains – in my case especially my backside – and in the end it simply came down to mind over matter! Another landmark was the Humber Bridge and this was crossed on the way to Louth Control arriving at 1124hrs for another break and food. Once over the Lincolnshire Wolds we descended to the flat Fenlands and were battered by a brutal headwind and occasional shower. Still working with Robin, who was planning a beer with friends in London that evening, we picked up a few more riders and started a good train towards Spalding. The landscape was relentlessly flat and barren with dead straight roads and I was thankful for the aero bars riding into the 20mph wind.
Refuelled at Spalding we headed out to cover the flat 40 miles to St Ives which only climbed 210m. By now we had been joined by a big rider from Ireland who was in a hurry – he was booked on a 0730 flight from Stanstead the following morning! Riding in the express group I was beginning to burn too many matches and after a few miles let them go. Always a sad moment when the train heads off into the distance and you are left to battle the head wind on your own. There were some dark moments during the next few miles but I eventually teamed up with Paul who is a main man with Audax Ireland. We arrived at St Ives at 2008hrs and after some food decided to get our heads down for a short sleep before the final push for home.
The night ride to Great Easton with Paul was nice and easy. We both had plenty of time in hand and rode along putting the world to rights. It was just like a slow Sunday club run and before we knew it we had covered the 45 miles to the Control. Food and a quick nap followed before setting off for the last time towards London. Another easy ride covered the distance without thinking and we came across a German rider who was pushing his bike 3 miles from the finish having used up all his inner tubes. We stopped to sort him out and the three of us rode to the final control at Loughton arriving at 0720hrs on the Thursday morning. I confess to a small tear as I crossed the finish line. I was lucky to ride with Paul for the last two legs. He had so much Audax experience including several Paris Brest Paris runs. A top man and great company. Thank you Paul. So Part 4 was complete. 264 miles, 18.58hrs riding, av speed 13.9 and av heart rate 100.
Brevet card handed in (it is sent to France to be certified), nice medal presented and then a big breakfast followed by short run to the hotel and and big sleep.
The organisation of LEL 2017 was exceptional. The Audax UK team at the helm were always on the ball, great communicators and brilliant organisers. Supporting them were the hundreds of local volunteers who greeted us with a smile and friendship. They were working long shifts and probably as tired as the riders. Chapeau to all of them.
LEL was the hardest challenge and would not have been achieved without the supporting cast including some great riding companions along the way.
The final figures:- 876 miles recorded in just over 96 hours. (I forgot to start the Garmin one of the nights!!). 57 hours in the saddle for 876 miles and 11,500m of climbing averaging 15.3mph.