As winner of the 1st edition, the expectations were quite high so I came out to meet the expectations.
Fairly early in the year I started reeling off my mileage so as to have a good foundation. Once the list of participants was available I took a good look at what names were on it, of course, there was Richard D. and he wanted to take revenge. Also keep in mind that there were some strangers who wanted to set a very good time.
Because there is no route set I got to make one, this was work that was quite meticulously done. What is the “right” way, this road is faster …? I created a rough schedule of the day distances.
August 9: London > Persan: 357 km
At the start I had a quick chat with Richard who told me that it was possible to catch the 12 noon ferry from Dover. My first thought was this is impossible but because we rode with a neat bunch, with a bicycle speed of 40km / h between London and Dover, we arrived in Dover at 11:35. Because the queue at the counter for the company we’d booked with was taking a long time we bought another ticket with competitor, the check-in had already ended but issuing 3 tickets wasn’t too much work and we took a ferry at 12:15. In short, I was ahead of my schedule. Once in Calais we each chose our own best path. My plan was to sleep before the first control.
August 10: Persan > Belfort: 450 km
Crossing the centre of Paris is always a bit of adventure, even on a Sunday morning but finally sometime before 6am I arrived at the first control in 6th place. To receive the stamp from Mike Hall was fantastic but I was more than 3 hours behind the first racer. My question was actually who is Josh, as an experienced 24 hour rider, I had to take account of him. In the afternoon, near Troyes I see him standing with his bike at a bakery, we wave and I was very happy to know that we were “together” again.
The weather went from bad to worse, first normal rain then changing to pouring rain and in the evening even to a small tornado. The trees in the forest gave some shelter but I had to hold my handlebars with both hands to avoid being blown away. In retrospect, I should have just waited half an hour at the side of the road, but yes, it’s a race and you don’t want to lose too much time so you continue. Because there was no better weather in sight I decided to sleep near Belfort.
August 11: Belfort > Stelvio: 439 km
Mostly rain. After a short night of sleep much rain had already fallen but apparently there was still enough in the air to make it keep raining. All day. Because everything you have is wet it can’t get even wetter! Continuing is the only solution, keep cycling. The advantage of this trick is of course that the miles accumulate. Switzerland is familiar ground to me, and Flüelapass Ofenpass was reached around 5pm. The latter, of course, opened the perspective of still cycling the Stelvio Pass the same day.
August 12: Stelvio > Bakar: 487 km
The advantage today is that it will be downhill for a long time now and I can leave the clouds behind me. Today it will be just a day to do kilometers.
Around Trieste it was clear that we are back in a very touristic place, the advantage is that there are many shops and restaurants. I’ve actually never seen the border with Slovenia, but the drive out of it was just a little show of your passport. Slovenia was still good for 30 kilometers. On to the third country for today “Long Live Europe”, Croatia, where the border was a serious matter. Once over the border it was back downhill to Rijeka where there are too many police were around. OK, no police is also something but this was too much.
August 13: Bakar > Capljina: 438 km
Soon I was cycling on a nice stretch of road along the coastline in Croatia. But because I feared large crowds along this was I chose a parallel way inland. This road ran through an incredibly beautiful piece of nature that certainly amazed me.
Although it was a very empty area there was quite a lot of traffic. Begining around noon I started looking for somewhere to have a meal but there was not much choice, the only solution to continue cycling until I found something. Around 1pm I see advertising for a restaurant 5km further, hoping I’m not too late because I was really starting to get hungry and thirsty too. Once there, all tables are perfectly laid out but it turns out I cannot get a meal! They are expecting three full buses with tourists and need to operate very smoothly.
15km from here, there is another restaurant where they certainly could serve as I explained that I had really big appetite and half an hour is worth 15 km of cycling. She wanted to give me a sandwich “on the go”. Simply fantastic. This turned out to be a kind of religious region, hence the “many tourist” traffic.
The rest of the afternoon a little up and down with a nice head wind, it would be too easy to be sure. Once darkness fell I came from many small groups of people who were walking along the road. My first idea was that this was something like a night walk, but there were just too many. Then once again stopped to ask for an explanation and I got a response that they were from a kind of pilgrimage / penance.
August 14: Capljina > Podgorica: 344km
Today I planned to arrive at CP3 around noon but first I had to do my last kilometers in Bosnia, the border to Monte Negro and then the famous climb to Lovcen.
Once I get to the top of the checkpoint Mike told me that I had taken an illegal ferry. UHHH it felt like a slap in the face, ferry / illegal / ..? Of course I could not say anything when Mike showed it on paper, partly because I did this unintentionally. To correct this error there was nothing else to do but to redo the whole piece around the lake, which is actually an inlet of the sea, cycling back. 5 hrs later I came back up to the checkpoint where I heard that everything is in order.
I had by this error / detour / loss of time found a new motivation to go!
August 15: Podgorica > Sofia: 704 km
My first job today was to go over an unknown col, I knew neither the length nor height, I just knew I had to go.
Because I was in Kosovo, near the border, I saw quite a lot of soldiers, this was a result of the war, there is still a fire smouldering? The people there have a fantastic piece of nature but all their waste was dumped along one piece of road. If you should happen to be cycling against wind it is a dreadful smell. That night I tried to send a message via my mobile phone to my wife but it seemed to not work. Phone off and back on might be a solution but no. What is going on here? Again I try and I actually started to get scared when there really was nothing very wrong. In fact, the only solution was to just keep cycling for as long as possible, to give those watching at home a reassuring feeling. As long as my “dot” moved on the map I was alive. When I stopped around midnight at a restaurant there I asked if I could send a message to say that everything was OK via their mobile phone. I’ve heard that the service of the national telephone company is very bad. Because the border with Bulgaria came into view I then once again rode well. Back to three countries in one day.
August 16: Sofia > Istanbul: 608 km
Now the finish line was in sight and I had passed the largest mountains so I could start the countdown. But boredom began to strike after a short time, monotony, concentration faded, actually a very dangerous combination.
Then I got the bright idea to finish before 8am English time! This felt agreeable, 400km and 16 hours before Big Ben struck, very risky given the circumstances, but I accepted the challenge within the challenge! This also meant that I had to keep cycling, no time to sleep or even have a slightly longer rest break. Only then did I begin to realize what I had said, hopefully I would not lose too much time at the border with Turkey, no flat tyre(s) …. Because of the late hour, there was not much traffic on the road so I could keep cycling at a nice pace which made it good and the challenge went ahead. So good that I was able to build a small margin, so why not refine my goal, build on this a little more? I eventually arrived at 7am exactly English time, the sprint to arrive at 6:59 failed, a total time between the start in London and finish in Istanbul 7 days 23h 00min.
A few numbers for those interested:
Total distance: 3827KM
Total cycle time: 144H 12min
Average distance per day: 478KM