Every pedal stroke gets me closer…….I have cycled across the continent of Europe to Istanbul as fast as I possibly could. 3680km(2300mims) in 15days and 15 hours. That’s an average of 235.5km(147miles) per day, no days off, no masseurs and no support team. The Tour de France 2015 was 3360km(2100miles) over 21 days with 2 rest days averaging 177km(110miles) per day, fully supported, hotels every night on super light bikes with no load to carry, sounds easy 😉.
Matthieu(TCR)whom I met at MacDonalds in Nis and we continued to bump into each other at different points on the way through Serbia and Bulgaria to Istanbul first put the idea in my head of getting to Istanbul before the last checkpoint closed on Monday evening. I could have stuck to my original plan of a relatively leisurely 150km ride per day it’s just not in my nature, call it a defective gene, lack of oxygen at birth or a form of insanity but while resting in Plovdiv Bulgaria I decided that riding 450km over the next day and a half was a good idea.
I left Plovdiv just after 8 heading for the Turkish border with a goal of 300km(180miles) that day. The next section of road was one I wasn’t looking forward to it was mentioned in the race manual as one of the worst sections of road reported by previous TCR riders. There is only one road for all the German cars racing to the sun and the Artic lorries racing to meet their deliveries. An artic thundering past you is a frightening experience you can only hear them just before they pass you and the shock wave of noise and buffeting wind shakes you to the core, all the while your hoping they will leave enough room as they pass and if it’s one of those double carriage attics that they won’t cut in before the last carriage is last you. There were posts on FB of other riders retiring due to such traffic. You can imagine my trepidation.
Luckily on a Sunday trucks are not allowed on the roads between 14:00hrs and 20:00hrs. There were trucks but overall the amount and concentration was much less than expected and a lot better than the last section of road in Serbia.
I made great progress in the first 2.5hrs averaging my highest speed to date. I felt buoyed by this but like the Scittish weather the TCR does not remain constant but is an ever changing beast. It become hotter and with that a headwind significantly slowing my progress.
Closer to the Turkish border I followed some more minor roads. What isn’t obvious from this picture is the two foot drop off on the right from one level to the next. At least there wasn’t much traffic I had gone where trucks fear to tread.
Crossing into Turkey was a major milestone however I still had 140km to comets that day. I met Mattieau and another rider at a restaurant just over the border exchanged my Euros for Turkish lira and we ate a dinner of kebabs together before setting off soerately on our journeys to Istanbul. The self supported aspect of this race often presented this situation where you would sit, eat and chat with other riders until it was time to leave when we must go separately on our own.
At this point I had discovered a feature on my Garmin which I was going to seriously regret. This feature was the elevation profile its a little graph that shows you how the road ahead goes up and down. Loading the route to Istanbul I flicked to the elevation profile and my heart sank. Imagine a hard point panel saw looking closely at the teeth they go up and down sharply all the way along the length of the saw😰. My elevation profile was much like this except some points were much higher than others. Not only that but on the map its shows little points for high and low points. I could very clearly see that ALL the way to Istanbul I would be going up then down repeatedly, continuously seemingly never endingly.
I set off repeating in my head “every pedal stroke gets me closer”. I’ve blanked it out in my head now but this section was very unpleasant, I rode into the night which made it a little easier as I couldn’t see that bloody garmin screen which reminded me the top of the hill that I had sweated up gritting my teeth with my legs screaming at me was about to be repeated again in 5mins. Every pedal stroke gets me closer…….
The road I had been on had a big hard shoulder but when I turned off it was onto a standard two lane road and there was no hard shoulder and there was lots of traffic. It was midnight I spotted a bivvy spot within 200metres and set up my bed. It was 28c, humid my body was soaked in sweat, I didn’t care I almost went to sleep lieing on the ground in my kit.
I rose at first light and soon realised I had made a mistake
I had to be in Istanbul by 5pm before the checkpoint closed. With not enough food and those bloody hills i was severly struggling. I calculated in my head that I had 164km(102miles) even if I cycled at 16km/h(10mph) for 10hours I could get there. At that point I thought that this may actually be my speed my legs were dead and I hadn’t realised yet that depleting my reserves the night before was a major factor. It also takes time to refill these reserves it’s not something that happens instantly.
My journey into Istanbul was on the D20 which used to be a quiet country road, which it was until it turned into a 3lane highway. The Turkish development of a third Bridge over the Bosphorous and a new airport meant a bigger road was required and the highest concentration of trucks I have ever seen in my life. Its not something I ever want repeat.
An impromptu sleep in a layby, I sat down for a drink and a bar then woke up some time later, plus a steady intake of food meant I cycled the last 50km in one go. It was such s relief to see the Bosporous and cycle the last 11km along the water front to the final checkpoint.
Every rider recieves a big cheer, photos are taken, stories exchanged and hands shaken. There’s a big comaderie for everyone who has attempted the TCR it’s only after you’ve tried it do you truely realise the range and depths of emotions you will go through.
Stuart arrived looking clean and well we had a big hug, a beer reliving the good memories we have. Completing the TCR remains unfinished business for us both its too early to say when the next time will be.