Part 3 of Lee Grieve’s epic assault on the Transcontinental Race, and the event gets started in earnest. Look out for jelly bellies and ‘National Swiss Day or something…‘ If you’ve not read parts 1 or 2, you can catch up here.
Lessons were learnt very quickly. It was very obvious early on that my route took too many back roads. I was alone most of the first stint into the night. I checked the tracker app and could see my error straight away. I followed my route and just tried to pace myself. My focus was to spend as much time moving as possible. I found myself back on the main road in the early hours of the morning. I was getting low on water and it was apparent so were others.
Passing other riders looking in gardens for taps made me laugh until I realised I was about to have to do the same. I struck gold when I found a vending machine in a small town. A fellow rider was asleep beside it. I didn’t want to wake him so I thought I’d get some sleep and then get my water when I woke up… that way it would be cold. A few hours sleep later and I woke to find my companion gone… oh and the vending machine was now empty.
Up the road I found a chap watering his garden at around 6am… Getting him to fill a water bladder and bottle when he didn’t speak English was a challenge but one I’d become familiar with. I made it onto the race podcast after bumping into the crew at a petrol station… the first of many fuel stations. I spent the day passing riders and bumping into people I’d befriended in the days leading up to the race. The heat was unbearable already and it was only the first day. Finding water was near impossible on my route. The shops in France seem to open when they please. I was struggling to eat real food, something I’ve always been cursed with. After 250 miles or so, it was time for a proper sleep. It may have only been 8pm but I knew it would sort my jelly belly out. I had already worked out that I was riding much faster then the people around me so I could afford to sleep for longer.
Into the black forest. Today saw the first proper climbing of the trip. Stopping in the town at the base of the climb, I met two riders I would become good friends with. Adam introduced me to the beauty of watermelon ice lollies and I filmed him and Chris helping a local push his broken car into a garage. I purchased sparkling water for the first time on the trip by mistake. Not only is it the foulest substance on earth, it caused my water bladder to expand in my frame bag. Luckily there was plenty of space for it to grow! I loved having the nozzle wrapped around my TT bars making it easy to drink on the go. The frame bag helped keep the water cool in the 40-degree heat too.
The climb was a killer. I had to stop 2-3 times on the way up. A first for me! The heat was unrelenting and the weight of the bike made the gradients seem even more extreme. I crested the climb eventually and got back into the rhythm. My target was Checkpoint 1 (CP1) and I was feeling ok. The lack of real food was getting to me again but a McDonalds stop as I crossed into Switzerland helped sort that. Riding past Lake Constance was incredible as there was a firework show that rivalled any I’d ever seen. National Swiss Day or something… I couldn’t stop to admire though as my mind was still fully committed to race mode. My night ended 20 miles from CP1… The appeal of a wedding gazebo by the side of the road was too much. A 5* bivvy experience.
The road to CP1 was littered with riders aiming to ride up the Silvretta before the heat hit. I reached CP1 and got myself stamped in straight away. I was around 80th place… The plan was to treat it like a time trial, building pace and passing riders as they faded through the race. I had a wash in the hotel receptions toilets and I started to feel like a new man. I was out the door and onto the climb pretty quickly. Less time faffing means more time riding. The climb was long… peaking at around 7000ft with a touristy café on the top. I grabbed a bratwurst and started to try counter the weight loss that had already started to occur. I was pleased that I had 60-70 miles of descending ahead of me now… but I was in for a shock.
The descent that day was brutal. A headwind so strong I was forced to pedal the entire way down. A real mental blow when you’re expecting a nice long descent. I later learnt that the valleys heat up in the day and by early afternoon the hot air rises up the climbs. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I arrived in Innsbruck to find a local guy waiting for me. He’d been tracking me and came out to ride a few miles. He was quizzing me about my bike and bags and I tried to praise them while battling the urge to stop and find a hotel. I caved. An early night in a bed was going to do me a world of good. The mileage for the day wasn’t great but the tracker suggested I wasn’t alone.
If you want to read part 4 of Lee’s TCR adventure, you can do so here.