My most inglorious day in the Transcontinental race.
Why “The naked truth about sobriety”? Well, read it till the end and you’ll know!
For those who don’t know me, I’ve always been into road cycling; you can actually read all about my obsession for bikes at onefortheroad.bike.
My addiction took me as far as entering the sixth edition of the Transcontinental race, an ultra endurance, unsupported event which departed in Belgium and finished in Greece. Altogether, more than 4000 kilometres at race pace, with a whopping 40.000 meters of elevation gain in between.
2018 had been a great year for me. I’d applied for a new job and got offered two instead (pick the one you prefer they said!), while on my road bike, I was absolutely on fire; fit, fast and inspired.
Ultimately, I ended my journey in Greece and celebrated properly, but what you’re about to read is my account of the most remarkable day I had; a day, which reserved for me few surprises and a sore ass, to say the least.
A very long morning and only three mountains to show for it.
I arrived in Bovec (Slovenia) the evening of August 3rd. I could have tackled the highest peak of the whole race the same night, but decided to have an early start the morning after and rest properly before what was to become the hardest day on my bike. The weather over 2000 meters wasn’t that great, so, wisely, I went and had a large dinner instead.
At 3am, I decided to get going, wore all my clothes and ditched my sleeping bag. That’s right, the Transcontinental is a sleep-in-a-ditch kind of competition but I had enough of that, so, I took a conscious decision and installed on my phone bookings.com instead.
With a lighter bike, I ascended to the top of the Mangart saddle, just in time to see the sun rising.
It certainly wasn’t a piece of cake and, that climb alone, would be enough for most amateurs in a day, but I was just at the beginning.
Descending the valley was freezing, but fast and I had a royal second breakfast!
Second climb of the day, and way steeper than the Mangart, was the Versic pass. Some 30 plus switchbacks at a gradient which rarely went below 10% and the descent wasn’t easy either, as most bends were cobbled, so the bike was really hard to control.
I was finally in Kraniska Gora at noon, in time for some more eating and a frugal beer, before taking on the Wurzen pass, the gateway to Austria. The Wurzen is not a monster, but it adds up a fair amount of fatigue.
Time for another fine dining experience.
Once I finally left Klagenfurt behind me, I started to feel a bit tired (what a surprise!), but also discovered that the day on the bike left me not one, but three bleeding, nasty saddle sores. My right foot was numb and my legs were feeling rather painful.
To complete the picture, I was stinky like a dog in the rain and my white jersey had become brown.
Hmm…what to do? Better check how bookings.com works and find a bed where to rest for the night, but not before having a Schnitzel, a large beer and some fries. After all, it’s Austria!
I took my time, as the sun was setting and found an awesome place to stay…of course on a hilltop! Yes, because I needed one more hill to be happy.
The day in the saddle ended after a little less than 12 hrs, 180 Km and 3700 meters of climb, with almost 5000 calories to replenish. Yes, probably I should have had a piggy second Schnitzel… However, all together I did loose almost two kilos of fat and water in a day.
I took off and reached this hilltop village, to find this fantastic house all for myself!
It had a bathtub, a washing machine and a fantastic queen sized bed.
To make it more glorious, the fridge had a complimentary bottle of Champagne!!
EL DORADO, I thought. I know it’s not good for muscle recovery, but come on; I don’t need to have all of it, do I?
In a second all my riding gear (also my only gear) was happily spinning in the washing machine, while I was completely naked, sipping Champagne straight from the bottle.
After a bath, I thought another sip of bubbles wasn’t a big sin, and another one, and another one… But, something seemed not as I remembered it. The buzz was really not coming and the bottle was nearly empty.
I was conned.
Once the bottle was finished, I used my phone to translate the label and…mmm it was bloody non-alcohol Champagne, damn it! I was certainly very well hydrated after a litre of that sugary stuff.
OK, no time for disappointments, let’s dream about fresh laundry instead.
I approached the machine only to realise that the front hatch didn’t unlock, despite the wash being finished and then, and I started to panic more than a little bit.
Naked, in someone else’s home, and all my gear is wet and locked away from me. And… the worse thing of all: I wasn’t even a little tipsy!
I started checking my phone and translated from German the machine settings, then downloaded the user manual in English, but still no joy.
After a number of resets and plug on/off, miraculously the door unlocked, just to return me my cycling kit soaking wet.
Sober, resourceful, tired.
No problems, there was a drying rack and enough time to dry my gear, before 3am strikes.
Still in my birthday suit, I put the kit to dry and went to look for a few towels (to squeeze it), got sidetracked by my phone on the couch and…passed out on the couch…without ever looking for a towel.
That’s right, the fancy Queen size bed remained untouched, but that couch was heavenly, trust me.
At 3am the alarm went off, inexorable and merciless. I woke up and thought; “time to go buddy, the race is on!”
Hoping for the best, but convinced it wouldn’t be the case, I squeezed my bib short and a fair bit of water squirted from it, what to do now?
I thought to myself: “I will not whinge like David Roberts would!” 😉
Oh well, there’s only one way out of this, it’s called Velominati rule number 5 and it dictates: “Harden the fuck up”. It takes a bit of guts, but it works.
I put on all my stuff, and ventured outdoors, in the Alps at 3.30am.
After all, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for rock’n roll and, shivering in my wet kit, I descended to the main road.
It was really cold and my kit was squishy, still dripping water down my legs and into my shoes. An awful sensation, so far from the pleasure of riding a bike. I sincerely wish no other cyclist (or human in general) to experience.
For the record, the kit was dry a few hours after the sun came up, finally smelling like Savon de Marseille.