On the 24th of July the 3rd Transcontinental (TCR) race started from Flanders, with 200 riders heading (as close to none-stop as possible) all the way to Istanbul. The race is unsupported, which basically means that the riders are on their own, so no team cars, no mechanics and no soigneur taking care of their every need. The TCR really harks back to the origins of bike racing, where riders would set out alone, with a thirst for adventure, discovery and the challenges of speed and distance set only by themselves.
This is a bike we have had on the drawing board for a while and are now very excited to see it take to the roads. The Audax is perfectly suited to this kind of endurance event, with a more relaxed touring geometry, 28c tires, rack mounts and of course a compliant steel frame.
The few weeks before the race Clement came to our office in Cologne to pick up the bike and ride it back to his home in France (via Brussels), it's all training at the end of the day. Whilst he was here we managed to grab a few words from him before he set off back.
TCR - Prologue
post TCR interview
and video below
What did your preparation for the TCR involve?
My preparation started with my registration to compete in the race, i.e. about eight months before the start. It can be divided into three parts: 1. Equipment, 2. Routing, and 3. Physical training. As for the first, I did a great deal of research online and gathered information from different forums and blogs. My equipment choices were largely inspired by tips and stories of other riders and travellers. The choice of bicycle was the easiest. To get prepared for the race route I studied the maps and used online route planning software. As to the physical training, I tried to ride to the limit on top of my usual rides and to do long distances (upwards of 300 kilometres) without getting nauseous. In addition to cycling I also did some running, cardio workouts and muscle training, plus a good dental and medical check-up before I set off.
Was it your first long distance endurance race ever?
Yes, the TCR was the first kind of endurance race event I’ve tried, and its not put me off doing more like this. Maybe something off road next time could be fun.
How many starters were taking part? Can you describe the situation and relationship between the riders—was it rather competitive, friendly or both?
There were about 160 solo participants and about fifty duos. People were generally really friendly. Although the language barrier was a challenge at times, there has always been a word of encouragement when we crossed paths. Some situations we experienced brought us closer together like the difference in altitude or the weather conditions.
Please let us know more about the numbers: how many kilometres, how many meters of elevation, days of racing, average speed and such did you do?
I don’t usually keep a record of these things, but according to what I was told, I cycled about 4,250 kilometres, climbed 49,000 metres of elevation, and had an average speed of something like 24 km/h over a period of 13 days, which makes 326 km per day. But I prefer bicycles to maths.
How many hours did you sleep on average per night, and how many hours did you sit on your bike per day?
I organized my days around sunrise and sunset. I went to sleep at around 10 to 11 p.m. and got up between 4.30 to 6 a.m. I slept about 6 hours per night on average, which left me around 18 hours for cycling. But the cycling efficiency varies with the weather and the physical condition. In order to reach the number of daily kilometres I had set myself, the length of the breaks I took varied too.
You have crossed so many countries, reached so many different heights and the weather changed a lot too – how did you cope with these challenges as your bike did not really look fully packed.
During my whole journey, I’ve spent about 12 hours cycling in the rain. But in the end, that’s not much. Rain is the hardest thing to handle when it comes to the equipment. Because once your equipment is wet, that’s when the trouble starts. For example, I had to ditch my battery charger, my batteries and my mobile phone charger because they got wet. Although the saddlebag, in which I kept these things, was waterproof, it still couldn’t withstand six hours of constant downpour in Croatia. So I had to come up with another solution as I went along. Luckily, my other bags delivered on their water-proofing promise, so I was able to keep at least my clothes and sleeping equipment dry.
On this race, however, the sun and the extreme temperatures (max. 45° C) were kind of the main issues. I was lucky to be able to tolerate the heat relatively well, and good hydration helped me cope with the temperatures. Generally, when you don’t have much equipment, you need to figure out how to make do with the little you have. Thanks to the tent I was able to sleep through nights of wind and rain, while in dry nights I only used my sleeping bag
What equipment did you actually take along?
For the trip, I packed a tent (weighing just under a kilo), a sleeping bag (10° C), a sleeping mat, a survival bag, a rain jacket, a high-visibility vest, a pair of knee warmers and arm warmers, a Merino wool hat, a pair of long Merino wool gloves, a high-quality functional undershirt with long sleeves, a jersey, two bib shorts, a first-aid bag, an emergency tool kit, four batteries, a GPS, maps and a roadbook.
Does it differ from the equipment of other riders – or did you have any special item with you for a certain reason?
I packed lightly, as did the average rider, while keeping the comfort of a tent. My packing list has been inspired by stories of the Trans Am and the Tour Divide. The only special item was a dynamo powered USB charger, which I had made myself. No unusual lucky charm or some such thing like that though.
Where did you sleep?
I slept in the fields, in pastures, under a motorway interchange, next to an abandoned building in the middle of the city, by the roadside, and twice in a hotel. I’ve always tried to find myself a place that was safe and, well, “comfortable”. The two nights spent in a hotel allowed me to take a shower and dry my stuff.
How many times did you eat a day, and what?
I ate all the time, primarily chocolate or cereal bars. Petrol stations were my main source of food supplies. I had quite a few Viennese pastries in the first few countries (France, Italy, and Slovenia), picked fruit from the roadside and when I took some time to sit down to eat I had the occasional pizza or a burger—food that is easy to find, can be eaten quickly and has lots of calories. To stay hydrated I drank lots of lemonade and energy drinks, and in the hot countries up to 8 litres of water a day. I refilled my bidon at cemeteries, at mountain springs, wells, and on food supply points. I haven’t had a single balanced meal during the entire journey.
Did you encounter any dangerous situations during the race?
The whole route is actually dangerous and there have been lots of accidents this year. For my part, I got hit by a lorry’s wing mirror at night on the D100 (a two lane road without cycle track or road shoulder) near Silivri about 100 kilometres before the finish. The most dangerous situations, however, have been the dog attacks. I had quite a few, one of them in Greece, where seven dogs attacked me.
Do you know how other riders went? Did you hear of any crashes, injuries and such things?
As I didn’t have a smartphone on me and no access to social media, I only learned about these things at the checkpoints and after the finish. One Czech rider, now a friend, crashed and had to change a wheel. Another one crashed twice within the final kilometre before the finish. Others were so weary of the constant dog attacks that they even tried to kill some of them— more or less successfully. There are plenty of such stories. I have great respect for those riders who managed to overcome a bad situation, then got on their bike again and finished the race, and I have a thought for those who had to quit prematurely.
When we asked you if you’d be willing to ride our new AUDAX, what convinced you to ride it for this exhausting 12 days race?
I really like steel frame bikes, they are comfortable and reliable. I loved how the geometry of the AUDAX looked on the paper, and it turned out to be just as expected. I liked its neoclassical look and its shape as a whole. The bike fully met my requirements for this sort of adventure and it’s been an honour for me to be the first to try out a new bike model and to take it on a trip across Europe.
Did you make any changes or adjustments to the standard bike?
I attached a Berthoud leather saddle, and installed a set of wheels with a hub dynamo so as to have an autonomous energy source. I attached lighting and extensions (aerobar). Finally, I replaced the Shimano STIs with some Genevalle shifters, as I found them more reliable and easier to fix and adjust in case of failure.
What will be your next target to be ridden, what are your near future plans?
My next target is going to be the 3 Peaks in England, which I have participated in for the past four years. Apart from that, I’ve been thinking about doing some other long distance races—there are so many projects that I get excited about, like the Trans Am road race, but also off-road events such as the Tuscany Trail, the Highland Trail 550, the HLC in Israel as well as the Tour Divide. The most important thing for me, however, is to enjoy what I’m doing and to keep on having fun.
(Translation by Stephanie Krage)