Monday 15 December 2014

The Transcontinental Race 2015

For those who rely on luck alone,
Transcontinental N0.3 will raise the stakes.
Many will fail

The Transcontinental Race is the longest unsupported cycling race in Europe. The third edition will see a field of approx 200 riders cover a minimum of 3,800km’s between the start in Flanders, through mandatory checkpoints at the peak of Mont Ventoux in the French alps, the gravel slopes of Italy’s Col D’Assettia, Vukovar in Croatia, Mount Lovocen in Montenegro to the arrivee in Istanbul, Turkey.

The race starts at the strike of midnight on the 24th July and the virtual broom wagon will arrive in Istanbul on the 9th August. This timeframe leaves an average of 275km per day, for 15 days simply to finish in time. The winner is likely to arrive in Istanbul around the 9th day of racing…

The concept of the Transcontinental Race is influenced by the initial editions of the Tour de France, a multiple day race with stages of up to 400km long, designed to be so difficult that the winner would likely be the last man standing.

The rules are simple: One stage (The clock never stops.  Racers chose where, when and if at all to rest). No Outside Support (Racers can only use what they take with them, or what they can find en-route at commercially available services). No Set Route (Only mandatory controls, The rest is up to them). Live Tracking (to check on riders progress).

My entry is confirmed, and I know need to prepare myself for what will ultimately be the longest, hardest period of cycle related suffering that I will ever complete…

My race, and I use the term race in a quite a loose sense, will be based around the interwoven concepts of Audaxing, where the focus is what happens at the back of the field, instead of whose up front, and Bikepacking, in the sense that I will be required to be completely self sufficient for 15 days, carrying everything I need to face the road, the elements and fatigue.

I aim only to finish, and I want the lanterne rouge…

Training will combine a mixture of long miles, speed work, core training and mental preparation. Arriving in good physical health will be one thing, arriving with the mental strength to complete the ride will be an entirely different skill altogether.

I have always ridden with a lack of regard for expensive cycling equipment, favouring instead the reliability and comfort of whatever works to get my moving, so will likely simply ride The Iron Buterfly.

It’s difficult to translate how relevant my experiences of long distance cycling would be for this, sure I’ve seen the inside of my skull, I’ve thrown up on my own handlebars, I’ve cried on the bike and I’ve slept in ditches, but the ability to maintain that for 15 days… I hope I get a medal…

Alright, this is it, I’ve signed up now and I’ll soon be on the start list, so the eyes of the world will be once again upon me, there’s no turning back. It‘s the middle of winter in Berlin, there is nothing but freezing cold lanes and snow between me and the spring, what could possibly go wrong. Let's ride...

Wednesday 26 June 2013

The Pendle 600km June 22nd 2013

The Pendle 600:
AA10 1’150ms climbing.

The Pendle, as an Audax, sits in the centre of a Ven diagram linking three distinct challenges -  1) 619km of riding, 2) 10,000+ of climbing along the route and 3) a weather forecast for 40hrs of wind and rain. This was never going to be an easy ride. Starting from Pendleton, Lancashire it passes through Ripon, Robin Hood's Bay, Stokesley, Eggleston, Hexham, Langwathby, Seascale and Carnforth before returning to Pendleton. The amount of climbing and distance is equal to riding three mountain stages of the Tour De France back to back… (albeit a lot slower and with more sleeping in bus stops) and as it is a cylindrical route we are effectively riding the Coast to Coast twice in one go.

The route heads out of Lancashire in a north-easterly direction following a mixture of A + B roads before climbing over the North Yorkshire Moors to the east coast. The next 100km or so are rolling before the route turns north into the northern Pennines, where a food/sleep station has been arranged at about 390km. The final 220km visit the west coast before climbing over the southern Lakeland passes and the Trough of Bowland before the final run into the finish.

I was riding this Audax, as with 90% of all other Audax’s I have done, with Audax Club Hackney: ACH is a long distance cycling club based in East London, formed late 2012 in the darkened corner of an east London pub and now fielding 10 of East London’s most hardened Grimpeurs, Roulers and Randonneurs.  We were fielding 5 riders into The Pendle - Myself, Joel ‘Yossarian’ Bromley, Justin ‘The Deer Hunter’ Jones, Chris ‘Gadge’ Breed, Adam ‘Sharpy’ Sharp and Jordan ‘The Kid’ Carroll.

Prior to the start this Audax was being discussed at great length on the forums, the sheer scale of the task appeared to be putting the fear of god into a number of people and there was a lot of talk of how many space blankets we would require to survive, let alone finish, the ride… ACH on the other hand were sat in the pub, discussing the quality of the beers at the pub local to the start and finish of the event, and it was apparent that if we were going to get anywhere near trying all the local ales we would need to be making good time, and that would inevitably require us to do away with the sleep stop altogether.

Anyway, it was 5am, I was freezing cold, it was raining, I was tired, and that could only mean one thing. I was about to ride The Pendle, let’s ride…

Stage 1: Pendle to Ripon.
During the first section of the ride I completed the now traditional risk evaluation of not finishing the ride; I felt comfortable on the bike having returned to riding The Iron Butterfly, my trusty Audax Machine and it was all working well, this was worrying, I usually distraction of having a mechanical issue really distracts from thinking about whether my legs are up to the ride.

There were a number of conspiring factors that also threatened the ride, in the week up to the event life just seemed to be getting in the way, a stressful week at work, illness, lack of sleep were all waiting to catch up with me, I was worried that it was going to be a long 40hrs…

 (Chris 'Gadge' Breed in yellow closest to the camera)

(Billy 'Hillbilly' Weir on the left and Justin Jones on the right)

 (Gadge falls off...)

Stage 2: Ripon to Robin Hoods Bay.
Stage two took us into the wild desolation of moor land around Rosedale Chimney, this section was littered with climbs bearing the warnings “unsuitable for vehicles… cyclists dismount” and a series of numerical threats  - 20%… "oh dear"… 25%… "dear god"… 30%… "DOCTOR"! And 33%… "Call me an ambulance"!!… needless to say, arriving at the control I was fucked. I felt like I had ridden a difficult 400km, not 160km… This section was the hardest of the entire ride, still, nice to get the first of two views of the sea. Whilst at the Control, which, for context was on a massive hill I overheard a young child point out that Justin ‘The Deer Hunter’ was riding a fixed gear bike… “of course not” said his father, “it will have an internal hub…no one in their right mind would possibly ride a fixed gear bike around here”… I had to admit, he probably had a point.

 (Justin Jones)

 (Justin Jones)

Stage 3: Robin Hoods Bay to Stokesley.
Turning from the sea we headed back inland, to face the full horror of the remainder of this ride. We were a long way from Hackney…

 (Jordan 'The Kid' Carroll takes shelter from the rain)

 (Jordan and Justin)

Stage 4: Stokesley to Eggleston.
Stage four was pretty much a slog down the A67, necessary to get us to the next section of desolate moor land and endless climbing, but a little dull none the less. Yawn.

Stage 5: Eggleston to Hexham.
The evening was upon us, and night was setting in. Riding over the moorland in the slowly setting sun and rising dark was a pretty amazing experience. Audax will take you to roads that you could ride anytime, which does not set it apart form any other distance of cycling, though what it does set it apart is that it gives you the opportunity to ride these desolate places at all times of day, from the rising sun in the morning to the setting sun of the evening, and riding over moonlit moorland was an experience that makes the suffering worthwhile.

Anyway, enough of that rubbish, we were heading to Hexham, the last stop before the dead of night sets in and the route sheet indicated that our control was at a Pizza place. Coming from London I imagined a quaint Italian Pizzeria where we would drink carafes of wine whilst our waitress,the attractive Mariariaria Trappappatoni, who for the sake of the illusion has a ‘thing’ about cyclists, serves us homemade pizza and pasta to get us back on the road.

However… we are heading to Hexham, and it’s kicking out time, so it turns out to be another story. The control is actually a kebab shop, and we arrive at 1am, having spent an hour or so in the rain, we are soaking wet. The kebab shop, and it’s surrounding area is full of drunk locals - girls sobbing into mobile phones whilst waiting for taxi’s and the male glitterati of Hexham are inside flaunting their attainable wealth to whichever drunk ‘bang tidy lass’ will listen. A group of locals youths whom I assume probably have behavioural problems look suspiciously like they fancy a ride on the Iron Butterfly.

Still, it was warm and dry, and despite feeling physically sick at the thought of consuming a ’Meat Bastard’ they did sell reasonable pizza’s to lubricate the stomach. 

Stage 6: Hexham to Langwathby.
Its was night time, I was fucked. Myslef, Justin and Jordan ‘The Kid’ sought respite from a particularly heavy rain shower under a small tree. It was sat huddled between the roots when I first realised that things were getting depraved… staring at Justins GPS I noticed that the screen was breathing… then looking at me. I was wondering when this would happen - I was never going to get away with starting a ride sleep deprived then turning my body inside out all day.

We pressed on, knowing we would not make the ‘sleep stop’ at 400km before first light, and knowing that we had a moor to cross we took shelter in a bus stop and lay down in hope of sleeping.

30 minutes later I woke up, dazed, confused.

Where was I…
Why was there a man dressed head to toe in lycra lying next to me…
Why does my head hurt so much…
Why does my arse hurt so much…
Why am I all wet…

I came around… It wasn’t a flashback to my partying days, I’m riding The Pendle and I still have 250km to go. Let’s ride…

We pressed on into the early morning, passing over misty and foggy moor land. We picked up Adam and Gadge a few miles down the road also sleeping in a bus stop. 

 (Gadge in the mist)

Stage 7: Langwathby to Seascale.
The night was done and I just had to contend with the usual Sunday morning slump that seems to be another feature of 600’s (based on my extensive research of having done three 600’s in my life…), my motivation declined rapidly on this section, fatigue was really getting to me and I felt physically sick.

Still, Whinlatter Pass was rather nice.

Reaching Seascale the Coast to Coast was complete, and so was I.

Stage 8: Seascale to Carnforth.
I hallucinated into a plate of full English Breakfast and carried on, ignoring the fact that my mind was slowly imploding.

Immediately into this stage we entered the wilds around the Hardknott Pass and Wynrose Pass, this was amazing, the scenery was incredible, more desolation and wilderness, passing through valleys along the valley floor and climbing up over these incredible passes.

Climbing Hardknott Pass with 500 odd kilometres in the legs was not easy, though no harder than riding up a set of stairs. I felt my mood lift, I felt great, standing at the top of Hardknott and staring into the abyss that was the countryside for miles around felt like a significant milestone of the ride.

Descending down towards Wynrose on the other hand I felt like my head had been hollowed out, I felt sick, exhausted. Further downwards I noticed that It had started raining, until I realised that in fact the rain was just tears being blown across my face. This was the closest I got to abandoning the ride, though trying to abandon a ride in the middle of nowhere would be like saying you were sick of driving and throwing yourself out the moving vehicle. 

 (Adam Sharp on the left)

 (The top of Hardknot Pass)

 (Wynrose Pass)

Stage 9: Carnforth to Pendle. Arrivee.
This stage was essentially the sprint finish, the slowest sprint finish imaginable. The Trough of Bowland was some of the nicest countryside I have ever cycled through, and with the end in sight I was able to take my mind off the difficulties and suffering and focus purely on the enjoyment of cycling, the enjoyment of the challenge of Audax riding and allow myself to realise that I had finished the Pendle 600...

5 Audax Club Hackney Riders started the Pendle together, 5 finished together.

The Pendle was some serious suffering, not only did we encounter some of the most amazing countryside and scenery that I have eve ridden we also faced very difficult climbing and difficult weather. The ride is reported to be the hardest Audax in the calendar and I’d certainly agree.

I’m not going to riding any Audax’s for a month or so, in favour of a bit of very lightweight touring around Europe - I'm aiming for the Swiss and Austrian Alps.

I’ll then return to normal service with the Old 240 400km on the 17th August, which, will finally complete my AAA SR for this year.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Kernow & Southwest 600km June 1st 2013

Kernow & Southwest 600km June 1st 2013
AA8.25, 8'200 meters climbing

The Kernow & Southwest is a 600km Audax starting in Exeter and riding across towards Bude, down to Penzance via Looe, back up to Bude and looping around Exeter via Taunton Deane, Yeovil, Seaton then back to Exeter. 8,200meters climbing in total and the option of some sleep at the 370km mark for those quick enough to secure the time…

I’ve been a bit quiet in terms of Audax recently, having lost all motivation to do any long rides early year when a series of cold and miserable 200km perms seemed to only evoke a desire to cycle in warmer climes and change styles of riding from long slow Audax miles to faster shorter rides. But still, like the typical battered wife, I returned to the abuser and signed up to a couple of 600km’s that I rationalised to myself would allow me to experience all the best bits of Audax but would significantly cut down on the amount of time away riding.

I started the ride with none of the aspirations of last year, it had been a good 6 months since the last significant Audax event I had ridden, the dreaded Porkers 400km. I hadn’t even considered completing a Super Randonneur series this year, so this was a bit of a step into the unknown for me. What could possibly go wrong…

Anyway, it was 6am, I was half asleep, I was in Exeter and this could only mean one thing… I was about to ride the Kernow & Southwest 600km Audax, lets ride!

**I have realised since uploading the photos of the ride to my computer that I had managed to set the camera to it’s lowest resolution… so the photos are pretty terrible in quality… I’m pretty annoyed about that.

Stage 1: Exeter to Bude. 0 - 81km.
24 riders stared the event, which left from a church hall in the middle of Exeter. We were off, there was no turning back now...

As always I spent the first 80km with some kind of hypochondrial illness ricocheting around my body, this ’will I make it’ paranoia seems pretty common with long rides. First the knee threatened to seize up, then  a searing (ish) pain in my back moved slowly up and down, into my neck, shoulders, back down my back and then up again.

Myself and Justin ‘The Deer Hunter’ Jones exchanged plans of attack. Justin, on his 12th 600km had a reasonable idea of pace, scheduling and estimated finishing times. Justin was also keen on extending his palmares of animal victims on the road. I, on the other hand, was simply praying for survival…

The first section was fastish, we arrived at the Control on the seafront in Bude with plenty of time left and with a healthy buffer of weight watcher points in hand proceeded to eat as much as I could get my hands on…

Stage 2: Bude to Looe. 81 - 148km.
We encountered a number of ‘agricultural’ hindrances on this section, some bastard was out riding a horse and cart really slowly round the lanes...

and later two farmers were trying drive a herd of cattle and a car into a hedgerow. After being shouted at by the farmers (“honestly, we’re not from London…“) we managed to make it past them. At this point Justin had to be physically restrained from claiming another animal victim...

I found myself considering the lengths of these rides, typically when riding on my own or ‘training’ (whatever that is) I work in miles, and distances such as 30, 50, 100 miles take on a distinct significance in terms of distance. When riding Audax events, in KM’s I find myself throwing numbers around like they mean nothing “we’ve done 160km, just another 200km before the sleep stop”…

 Stage 3: Looe - Penzance. 148 - 243km.
I was aware that there was a ferry crossing on this section of the route, and the advice I had been given was to pick up some food quickly at a bakery in Looe then eat the food on the ferry - we were, after all, against the clock, and stopping twice in a short section of time would only cause problems later. I slipped a few Cornish pasties into my bib shorts and carried on to the ferry. A clever plan until I realised that actually the ferry was ten miles away, and over a massive hill which required me to adopt the classic standing climbing pose, which, it turns out, will send even the largest of pasties sliding dangerously towards your groin area. Still, at least it kept it warm.

 (Justin Jones: Last years Fixed Wheel Challenge champion on the right, and Henry Orna, also riding fixed to his left. )

 (Henry Orna)

Stage 4: Penzance to Bude. 243 - 368km.
Penzance to Bude was the night section, a few sections out of Penzance then a straightforward 35miles stretch of A road into Bude.

As I’d imagined, fatigue was beginning to make itself known…Every time I stopped and allowed the light on the front of my bike cast its beam onto the side of the road I found the circle of light started to contain at first a mildly pulsating scene, much like the opening stage of a trip on magic mushrooms, then later I found myself staring at a cylindrical magic eye which seemed to start revealing hidden messages that all indicated one thing… go to sleep.

We made it to Bude at some ungodly hour arriving to an empty village hall, a quick plate of beans on toast and I was prepared to sleep anywhere.

Stage 5: Bude to Taunton Deane. 368 - 484km.
We set off at 7am, freshly rested from a decent nights sleep. Hang on, no I didn’t, I’d had about 30mins sleep on a slowly deflating airbed and had been kicked awake at 6am by The Deer Hunter who, having been made aware it was now legal to kill badgers, was after another days hunting.

Having made it through the night, and now becoming increasingly laissez faire with distances I’d left in the frame of mind that 240km was essentially ‘nothing’, and that it would literally fly by. The prospect of a 116km morning leg didn’t phase my in the slightest.

That feeling lasted for about 20 minutes, as the sun became increasingly hot, and temperatures rose I realised that exhaustion was likely to be a killer, and simply drinking through it would likely not be enough. I sought respite from the sun using whatever resources I had on me…

Despite being now known at Rapha Araffat this outfit seemed to just about paper over the cracks enough for me to carry on.

By the time I reached Taunton Deane services though I was done, exhausted, I felt like my face was melting and to make it worse, the two people servicing the food looked like extras from a David Lynch film - one guy appeared to have been closely related to mr potato head, which was most disconcerting seeing as I was ordering a jacket potato and his younger colleague, left irresponsibly in charge of the till seemed to need to punctuate every keystroke with an awkward silence, then inform me that he, in fact, could not find jacket potato on the keyboard. I CAN FUCKING SEE IT... IT IS THERE YOU BASTARD… RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU… I ONLY HAVE TEN FUCKING MINUTES… jesus.

Anyway, I pulled it together using only peer pressure “you’re not going soft are you…” and we carried on. Nearly over. I was nearly over…

Stage 6: Taunton Deane to Yeovil. 484 - 530km.
I literally counted down the KM’s on this section, which is really not a good way to ride.

Stage 7: Yeovil to Seaton. 530 - 576km.
Things started to pick up significantly on this section, the temperature dropped, the scenery changed, we were climbing steadily towards Seaton knowing that as the section was short we would likely be rewarded with a lengthy decent to the sea.

It was on this section I really started to loose my mind… “what’s it called when you do a Super Randonneur series using only 600’s I asked”… “I think I’ll try that this year”. I’d clearly gone insane.

Stage 8: Seaton to Exeter.576 - 608km.
The last stage was excellent, the stage was short and the sense of achievement began to sink in, the sun began to set and it was apparent that were going to make it... alive... thank god.

9pm, Arivee! Naturally we made a quick stop at the local off license for some post ride recovery drinks prior to crossing the line...

I don’t understand Audaxing, I seem to find that I always fluctuate between really enjoying myself, to absolute despair, to enjoying myself again. I imagine that the state I finish In would be the state I would take away from the ride, so presumably DNF’ing would be especially negative, though finishing, which is always done on a high, leaves you with a strong desire to get back out there and ride another ball breaking event.

Next up in the Pendle 600km...