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.
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.