I’ve been fascinated by the Transcontinental Race since seeing a video of the first iteration in 2013. Since seeing those videos I’ve followed the race each year via Twitter and Instagram, dot watched, read blogs, and listened to podcasts. For a few weeks every summer the refresh button gets hit regularly in multiple browsers. It has been something I’ve wanted to attempt but fear outweighed the desire. Then some stuff happened and perspectives altered, desire started to overcome the fear. It turned out my friend Jo was feeling something similar and over one too many beers we agreed to enter as a pair for the 2017 race. This afternoon we found out we have been offered places for this year’s race.
Prior to this I’ve never really wanted to race. Even when I was young and almost fast racing didn’t appeal. Riding in circles is boring to me. I did a cyclocross race last season, hated every second of it, and felt sick throughout. I’ve done some mountainbike racing but I’ve aimed for longer races including a couple of 24 hour solo races, less to do with speed and more to do with endurance and stubborness. What I have liked, as a child and an adult, is riding my bike all day. Riding A to B to C to D is far more satisfying to me than A to A to A to A, ad nauseam. A few years ago I discovered audaxing and I very quickly got sucked into its unique little world. I enjoy the mix of distance, self-sufficiency, and community that comes with audaxing. I see the same things in the Transcontinental Race. In name and intention it’s a race but it’s so much more than that, it’s an adventure, about people and stories, and that’s why it has appealed.
However it is big, far bigger than anything I’ve attempted before, exponentially longer and harder. The best part of 4000 kilometres across nine countries and multiple mountain ranges in two weeks. This year things have to become more ordered to ensure I am in the best position to make it through. There has been a lot of riding in the last few years but little structure to it, just things I wanted to do, long audaxes, 24 hour mountain bike races, riding up Alps and ancient extinct volcanoes in the Massif-Central, and three times up Mont-Ventoux for a plastic momento, a six day tour of the Picos de Europe in Spain, dawdling around Normandy to watch the Tour de France. The only times I really rested have been when I’ve been ill or too tired to ride. Since submitting the application a couple of months ago there’s been some semblance of structure, even periods of rest factored in, but the months in the first half of my 2017 diary have actual training blocks scribbled in them. Easy weeks building to harder weeks, and other weeks blocked out with the work “REST”. Commuting over the next few months will have a purpose other than simply to get to work. Except April. April is going to be a bit silly.
I’m looking at the gaps on maps where I’ve not ridden before, calculating distances between towns and youth hostels, plotting DIY audaxes. France is also tempting as it is effectively only really 10 miles and a short sleep away. There have been French day trips and small tours several days long in recent years but now I think about end to end rides, one border to another, from the ferry terminal to the Pyrenees in as few days as possible. Emails and messages bounce back and forth with proposals for silly rides. Any excuse to ride somewhere far away has become the norm.
I’ve done long rides and things where I have had to rely on myself, I choose how far, when to stop, what to eat, how long to rest. This will be different. I will have a team mate, a friend. In some ways it will be easier as a pair, in other ways it will be possibly be much harder. There will inevitably be compromises, pushing each other, support but also potentially stretching our friendship. Our temperaments are similar in many ways but our skills and abilities differ, strengths and weaknesses that will hopefully slot neatly together. We’re similar in age and both ridden since we were kids, but Jo has an unbroken personal history with bikes whereas I had some wilderness years in my late 20s and thirties when I didn’t look after myself so well. When we ride together those missing years sometimes make themselves known, however we both have the attitude that if you’re going to start a ride then you make every effort to finish it. In good socks. Socks that match your cap and/or bar tape, preferably both.
Vague plans have been made. Maps purchased and possible routes plotted. A spreadsheet has even been started. It kind of seems feasible on paper to me but I really have no way of knowing. As mentioned I ride a lot, long distances solo, many hours in the saddle at a time. I used to have a 40km each way commute to work, ridden all year round no matter the weather. I’ve learned to ignore the voice in the back of the mind that says “this is stupid” and “you could just stop now you know?” I know I can ride when I’m tired and when I don’t want to ride. I can extrapolate out from those things but I’m not sure what will happen when I attempt even more. The TCR will be a daily average of 275km and around 3000m of climbing. I know I can do that for one day but day after day after day after day after day…? As the kilometres and metres accumulate so will tiredness and tiredness does weird things to the mind. I’ve read reports from, watched videos of, and listened to podcasts from enough riders from previous years to know it’s going to be tougher than I can imagine right now. So much tougher.
I think I have what it takes but I really won’t know until I’m in the middle of it. I know there will be times when I won’t enjoy it, parts when I’ll be bored, and times when I’ll absolutely despise it. However I also understand those feeling are temporary and know I (usually) have the patience and mental strength to let them pass. If those feelings hit Jo and I at the same time then it could be tricky. There are a lot of unknowns.
Fucking hell it’s going to be exciting.