There’s a build-up of nervous excitement over the final days and hours towards before the start of a big event. Anticipation steadily grows as the list of final preparations gradually gets ticked off. For me, and I think many riders, it’s an essential part of the experience – but if you’d rather just skip the preamble, then feel free to dive in and go straight to Day 1.
BRUSSELS – 27 Jul, 8am (RACE clock -1D // 12H // 0M)
Thanks to Qatar Airways and a ridiculously good-value Business Class flight, I landed in Brussels feeling fresh and rested. After a short wait by the baggage carousel the nagging doubts were at last silenced. A porter arrived with my bike box looking exactly as it had in Cape Town a few hours before – no signs of any form of distress. What a relief! My taxi was a little delayed reaching Arrivals, but eventually we were underway. The beginning of my TCR adventure was now just down the road towards Geraardsbergen. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – T minus 1”
GERAARDSBERGEN – 28 Jul 10PM (RACE clock 0D // 0H // 0M)
The market square is packed with 280 odd riders. My room-mate from the B&B, Kurt, and I stand somewhere towards the back of the group. Conversation has now faded to a few words of nervous banter, and the obligatory good lucks with the other riders directly around us. Up front is a small gazebo where the organizers are gathered, and beyond that a orange glow of torches line either side of the first short cobbled ramp out of the square. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – Day 1”
Kaltenengers, 320km – 30 Jul 1am (race clock 01D // 03H // 00M)
A thundering herd of buffalo would have been quieter than my attempts at sneaking out of my room and retrieving my bike from the broom cupboard. It’s somewhere after 1am, and the hotel is closed up and asleep. I do my best to prop the door out to the garage open with a large rock – I’m more than a little paranoid it will lock shut behind me whilst half my gear is still inside. It’s a relief after a couple of trips to have everything safely outside so I can reverse the process of the night before, and get everything back onto the bike. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – Day 2”
Honau, 640km – 6:25am (race clock 02D // 08H // 25M)
Much to my surprise the coffee was there, and it was darned good – properly strong, dark espresso in a cup just large enough to take a small shot of milk. It was the perfect accompaniment as I sat outside on a concrete step rigging all the gear back onto my bike. Before setting off., some extra cable ties are needed for my front mudguard fix – it’s still rubbing occasionally on rough ground.
The air was cool and skies clear as I rolled out onto the fast run back down the hill, just the odd patch of damp still from the night before. Continue reading “TCR No. 5 – Day 3”
3am sees me padding around another sleeping hotel – breakfast has been left out at reception as promised, although it takes me a few moments to figure out the latch on the low wooden door to get behind the desk,. The bag is wet in one corner – the culprit, a large dill pickle, slips out of the hole as I pick it up. Bizarre as it sounds, pickles are a well known aid for cramp, although I’m fairly sure it’s inclusion is just a coincidence of regional cuisine. I rescue the pickle, and stuff it in my mouth, putting the rest of the food bag in my musette.
As the basement door opens to the garage I’m greeted by the tracker lights, still flashing away exactly where I had last seen them. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – Day 4”
COSTE, 1024km – 3:19AM (race clock 04d // 05H // 19M)
The last two pizza slices disappeared so fast they could hardly be described as breakfast, but they filled a hole at least. 3am seems to becoming my regular starting hour – I’m sat on the chairs outside in the quiet of the morning. There’s just the briefest stretch of road, before I’m back on the cycle path alongside the noisy, rushing torrent of the river again. Deprived of views beyond the limits of my front light, it’s hard to recall specific details. Long dark stretches of path, often through trees, occasionally popping out alongside a few buildings or a road. It’s enjoyable – fast and flowing, with superbly smooth tarmac, but in my mind the night before and the early morning have all merged into one, except for the few stretches where something memorable happened. The first of these events is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – Day 5”
The laundry I retrieve from the railings outside is bone dry – the afternoon sun has done it’s work, even in the late evening it’s still extremely hot. My bike is all packed up and ready as I head to the restaurant to fuel up. After a couple of laps around the busy tables, it’s clear Tom and Jen haven’t dropped by yet, so I grab a table and get an order in for pizza, salad, and a coke. By the time I’m half way through the first slice the guys arrive. It’s been superb to have friends around for a few hours, and it’s hard to tear myself away back to the solitude of the road again. Sliding silently through the town streets to the foot of the mountain is quite an adjustment, disappearing slowly back into my own thoughts. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – Day 6”
Ajdovščina, 1439km – 05:45AM (race clock 06d // 07H // 45M)
The receptionist wants me to wait for 6am when the restaurant opens for breakfast, but I’m keen to get moving and eventually talk her into a cup of coffee and some change for the vending machine. The little torpedo shaped croissant packets it dispenses are not the infamous 7Days brand – I still haven’t spotted those in shops. But my guess is they’re pretty much the same thing. They’re considerably better than I’m expecting, and of the three or four I buy, two disappear immediately, washed down by the first of the coffees – the receptionist is already on her way with the second! The remaining packets take some cramming into my bags, puffed up as their air filled wrappers are. Only later on do I realise the obvious – piercing the packaging allows them to squash down much more easily. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – Day 7”
MARIBOR, 1638km – 3:30Am (race clock 07d // 05H // 30M)
Everywhere is damp as I wheel back out of the yard, puddles in the street evidence of the storm the night before. The air is wonderfully fresh and cool, a near perfect morning for riding. The first dark couple of hours continue to roll up and down – it’s not really visible, but the countryside feels like parkland or nature reserve. Perched atop one of the last steep ramps an impressive stately home looking building is lit up brightly against the deep inky blue of the pre-dawn sky. I stop to take a picture and send it to Yoli with words along the lines that I found her a palace. The run along and then down from that ridge brings with it daylight. My passage startles a pair of small, red, deer who are grazing in a meadow beside the road. They are the first two signs of life I’ve noticed so far today. The next two are also quite memorable. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – Day 8”
As I come down the stairs into the empty restaurant, an elderly caretaker is waiting for me exactly as promised. He helps me retrieve my bike and then watches with an expression somewhere between amusement and disbelief as I stash my bags and gear. I’m dying for a coffee, but our communication is limited to a few nods and smiles, and him handing me the packed breakfast. I’m not entirely sure he’d know how to operate the espresso machine anyway, and my limited German is met with a blank stare. I settle for downing the carton of orange juice included with the breakfast, and a thank you (which does seem to be understood) before rolling out into the now deserted city streets. Continue reading “TCR No.5 – Day 9”