The end is inching closer with every peddle stroke. But there’s more than just steep gradients and rough terrain to overcome this time. If you haven’t read from there, you can do so here.
The tour of Austria seemed to continue. I think this was my 4-5th time back here. By now the days were starting to become routine. The process of getting back on the bike and spinning the legs out was natural. I met with Richard again and we shared our mechanical woes. He’s a machine when he gets on the TT bars so I had to say goodbye once he decided to fly off into the distance.
Austria was familiar, Hungary most certainly wasn’t. Notoriously bad for cyclists and suddenly the culture seemed very distant from our own. The pasty I bought from one shop could only be described as sand flavoured. It took me a few hours to work out where I could ride my bike without incurring time penalties from the race organisers. Once I got my head around it, the night drew in and I passed through endless towns with not very much about them.
Hungary was easily one of my least favourite countries. The roads were rough enough to shake my bike to bits, I had to stop to tighten my Wahoo mount at least twice. I made it to a large city and decided to find a hotel. 190 miles in some pretty intense heat meant I was left drained and in need of a shower.
Mission: Get out of Hungary. In the hotel I treat myself to a continental breakfast… one box of cereal with no bowls and one plate of dubious looking meat. I had already spotted my escape route while in bed the night before. 20 miles including some farm track and I’d be over into Croatia where the roads seemed fast, flat and direct. The Colina handled the farm track with ease. I was flying over the gravel without the slightest concern. My cleats however needed 5 minutes of stick prodding before they would work again once finished.
Crossing into Croatia was a relief. I was back to normal(ish) foods in petrol stations and roads that weren’t full of rumble strips or confusing bike signs. I made good progress towards Bosnia and found myself stopping for another miracle beer and meal before putting in a good shift through the night. Although great for soaking up the feel of a country, it does start to stress you out when your food hasn’t arrived after 40 minutes and you’re watching other riders catching you up on the tracker.
When crossing the border into Bosnia, I really did start to feel far from home. Actually amazed that I’d got here using nothing but my legs and the kit I was carrying. I was mentally prepared to put in a good shift and make up for some lost time. The dogs of Bosnia had other plans.
My first real experience with wild street dogs came in a town. I spotted two dogs on a roundabout and gave them a wide birth knowing I could outsprint them easily. As predicted they gave chase, noisily barking and snarling as they did. It was only when the rest of their pack came out of the shadows around me did I understand how much I had underestimated the wild dog problem. 8-10 dogs gave chase immediately… I frantically dropped through the gears, silently praising the smooth Di2 while also fearing for my life. My heart rate climbed as I picked up speed but one plucky dog just wouldn’t give up… snapping inches from my heels I eventually broke away and left them all for their next TCR victim.
This happened twice again within 15 miles. I wasn’t prepared for the intervals at 2am. I decided to call it a night and wait for sunrise so I could at least see them coming for me. Once again, the bright lights of a petrol station became my oasis for the night. I’m also sure Bosnia has more fuel stations then people.
The day started well, overtaking Yoann early on then joining him for breakfast at a supermarket. But from this point on it went downhill… The heat seemed much more intense then previous days and the climbs were literally sapping my energy. Me and Yoann spent the day leap-frogging each other before rolling into Sarajevo together. He stopped for food and water and I insisted I could wait for the CP. My poor planning meant I wasn’t prepared for the next hour of climbing… I had presumed the CP was at the bottom of the mountain… not half way up! When we eventually rolled in together, I was ravenous and very thirsty. My primary thought was food whereas Yoann tackled the gravel parcours up to the Olympic ski site. By the time I’d eaten the daylight was fading and I opted to sleep, charge my Di2 and tackle the parcours first thing. I shared a room with a fellow TCR rider and can only apologise for my snoring.
We’re coming into the home straight (only 2 more countries to navigate!) Will Lee make it to the finish line in Greece? Find out here.