- One stage, the clock never stops, racers choose where and when to rest.
- No support allowed. The racer uses only when they take with them,
or what they can buy along the way from ordinary shops.
- The participant chooses their own route and along the way there are 4 mandatory control points.
The atmosphere at the start was amazing thanks to the large number of participants and supporters. The first kilometres were chaotic but later, when I was alone, I was able to concentrate and focus on riding. During the first hours the territory was familiar allowing me to make strong progress, keeping the stops to eat or whatever to a minimum.
In the evening, about 20km from Control Point 1: Clermont-Ferrand, I found it suspicious that I could not see the Puy de Dôme. Very soon I found the explanation, a huge downpour that one wishes to avoid at all costs. After two minutes the road was 5cm under water and there seemed no sign of any improvement. I waited patiently for 15 minutes under a bridge but as it was almost as bad there so to continue cycling seemed to be the simplest solution. Once the clouds had opened up I could see CP1, just before 10pm I passed the inspection at Clermont-Ferrand and at 11:23pm I got my stamp on the Col de Ceyssat, one of the mandatory cols.
I had been on the road for 26 hours and covered 670km, almost non-stop. We’ll have to be determined because there is a long road to cover. Time for a break! There are lots of hotels to choose from in Clermont-Ferrand, I could not resist the temptation to pick one and to sleep for 3 hours.
The second day: towards the Alps. The shortest route is through some beautiful mountain passes but I wished to limit the altitude, I opted to avoid them as much as possible. Of course, central France is not exactly flat and the Jura can be classified as a medium high mountains so the altitude piled up. The plan was to reach CP2 on Monday morning, allowing me to sleep in the valley where the temperature is better than in the high mountains. This way I could be fresh for the hard climbing. I was hardly in the saddle when it started to rain, not heavy rain but rain of ‘good quality’. Not so bad for climbing but downhill would be a problem. Shortly after 5am on Monday I arrived at Grindelwald where the (sleeping) Transcontinental Race staff would stamp my brevet card for CP2. My intention was to immediately continue climbing. Unfortunately it was also raining on the other side of the mountain with a temperature of 4-5o – hardly pleasant! Before starting the Grimselpass, would be breakfast, a meal greatly desired. I thought I would find something in Innertkirchen, I went to the only hotel that was already open and had breakfast there. Outside the weather was bad so maybe I stayed a little longer.
Suddenly, and in real Rambo style, the media crew of the Transcontinental arrived and wanted to take pictures. The owner of the hotel wanted to protect the privacy of their customers but I pointed out that I was the only customer at that time and it was ok by me.
Waiting around for the weather to change is not a solution so I started on the Grimselpass hoping to find better weather on the other side. Cycling in fog or cloud gives a special feeling of riding into nothingness, there is nothing to look at or on which you can concentrate, you just have to cycle. Fortunately visibility improved and on the other side the weather was even pretty nice. To get close to Bolzano (Italy, South Tyrol) I still had to cross some passes. Today I should still make the Ofen Pass, from there is a long decent. The night hours in Switzerland were stunning; it was a national holiday and there were an incredible amount of fireworks and large fires in many places.
Near a picnic table in the vicinity of Merano I took my daily dose of sleep. During the early hours of the fourth day I followed the river Adige. There is a nice bike path next to it which offers the advantage of needing less concentration and allowing everything to run smoothly. Then I had to leave the valley and again had a long climb. On passing a small shop I could not resist a break for a snack and a drink. Suddenly someone spoke to me, “Hello Kristof, I’m a very big fan of yours, please can I take a picture?” Great, such a small stop of a few minutes! It motivates you to get on with it.
Just before the top of the San Pellegrino Pass I took time to have a hot meal, the first since leaving Geraardsbergen. Some extra strength was welcome because after the pass there was an immediate climb to reach the summit of the Passo di Giau, the third Control Point. The Passo di Fiau is a beautiful long ascent that can be described as ‘demanding’.
The fourth Control Point was about 700km away; Zablijak, the highest village in Montenegro at the heart of the huge mountainous Durmitor National Park. I chose a pretty big detour through Austria because according to the calculations I made beforehand that was the fastest way because it was flatter. Once in the big valley I recognised parts from my first Transcontinental Race in 2013, the world may be small… To reach the border of Slovenia I expected a small pass. It surprised me when I suddenly saw a sign indicating ‘18% – 8km’. Could this be true? After a few kilometres I knew: that 18% was average, as well as some flatter strips it was sometimes very much steeper, feeling like 45%, it would be better to get off the bike and walk. Fortunately it was a straight road which allowed me to see what was happening; with few cars I could use the whole road. After each climb there is, of course, descent and because it was so brutally steel I got a long descent!
After a few hours of rest I had to make good progress on my fifth day because I knew was doing a serious detour compared to other competitors. I continued to push on the pedals for hours. I came to the border of Croatia and was greeted by the police and one supporter, Matija. It was a warm welcome and special feeling. Near Zagreb traffic was very dense and the temperature climbed toward 40oC, I stopped briefly to drink something cold. That night I would continue to cycle a little longer. During a break I saw another cyclist looking for me. It was Kornel who was honoured that I rode through his city and when I got back on the bike I was soon met by another two cyclists who accompanied me for a while. Just beautiful! They found the contact so fantastic that they kept with me longer and longer. I started to see houses with bullet and shell holes: Bosnia is close. The locals make little effort to cover the scars of war, reminding you that this happened not so long ago. I was actually glad to do this road in the dark.
The sixth day began with a long stretch of road next to the highway. The route I had planned worked perfectly; I just had to stop several times to take pictures to prove that I had not cycled on the highway. The last few kilometres before Montenegro the road wasn’t very good and the border crossing didn’t amount to much either. Once over the border there was the Tara River Canyon, the largest canyon in Europe over 80km long and 1,300m deep. It is super spectacular and it’s not surprising that this part of the Durmitor National Park is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. In Pluzine, at the beginning of the mandatory strip to Zabljak, I ordered two sandwiches and four drinks, then had a chat with the organisers. After three quarters of an hour I asked where my order was I was told, “Relax, enjoy you time, service begins at sunset.” What had I been doing there for 45 minutes? So, I rode on with an empty stomach. Fortunately I could focus on my surroundings because I crossed a very beautiful area and the sunset made it even more spectacular.
Back to cycling during the night time. I knew approximately where Control Point 4 should be but this did not stop me from looking a little crazy, I rode round and round without finding it. Eventually I saw the Volvo control car in a side street. It seemed the organisers wanted to make a game of it and we had to find them using the coordinates that were on the control card. Sorry, I could not appreciate this kind of game. So I just went in and got my card stamped then immediately cycled away. I heard someone shout some lovely phrases after me! Zabljak is at a high altitude so it was back to a long downhill, quickly boosting my mileage. This time I stayed overnight in Berane: I slept a few hours in a service station’s rented rooms.
There was still more than 1,000 km to go but from here I found familiar roads through Serbia and so was able to make the most of the cycling hours. First I had to climb a small pass then down to Sofia in Bulgaria. No beautiful roads, downright bad and dangerous but the main thing was it was efficient. Because I could not take the highway I had to take the old road to Sofia. Overall it was OK but sometimes there were just the ruts of the cars to follow. The highway was never far away so the outcome was assured. Just before the border with Turkey I had to face another problem. The last few hundred meters was in darkness and in the dark no prying eyes were welcome. This was very clearly explained to me by a few people travelling in a car without lights. They did not speak English and of course I could not understand their language but they showed me clearly what they wanted. I tried another way…. with the same effect. I returned to the village and the locals advised me to avoid these places because the border crossings were controlled by “them”. I made a detour and cycled the whole night because I wanted to finish in one go. More than 600km remained.
The last 200km started, I could begin to count but first I had to deal with a fight against the wind. An endless battle, even despairing, but he had to go, km after km, slope after slope. My desired end time changing from hour to hour and gradually the fun was disappearing. Luckily the last 80 km gave me a tailwind and things looked rosy again. It seemed possible to finish in a time of 8 days and 15 hours and I finished with a sprint to the ferry which took me over the Dardanelles towards Cannakale, a boat ride of about 20 minutes. Eventually I reached the finish line on Sunday at 13:02, 2 minutes after the hour. Final time: 8 days, 15 hours and 2 minutes.
My bike and everything else behaved fantastically. During the week I oiled my chain twice; that was really the only thing required. No punctures or other technical problems, and this was on some ‘barbaric’ roads.
Being spotted on the road was new for me …
For those who like numbers:
Belgium: 60 KM
France: 960 KM
Switzerland: 490 KM
Italy: 265 KM
Total = 3875 KM
With the support of the following brands, the race was enjoyable and without worry about equipment.
Jaegher for the impeccable steel. Campagnolo for the reliable group. Apidura for the handy bags. Supernova lights for the shining light in dark times. Sportful for the covering hightech clothing. Lazer for the protection of my eyes and brains. SWS wheels for the uncountable going arounds. Continental for the grip with earth. Gaerne for the shoe that fits like a glove. Selle Italia for the best seat to watch the race. Special thanks to our lovely neighbour Christiaene who is always home for the package deliveries 🙂 and Happydesign for covering my social media while i am working!
Thanx to the mediacrew of transcontinental race 2016 for the great pics