New training blog – www.decaironman-training.com

Apologies for no recent updates – I will seek to amend this in the coming week. I have been working on a separate training blog – http://www.decaironman-training.com, in order to keep this site quite focused on the ‘how to meet a million people’ challenge.

Interestingly the new blog has featured in the Telegraph online yesterday in an article by the Olympic rower, James Cracknell. I have posted details of this article below.

Thank you for your patience!

Original article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10472742/James-Cracknell-my-recommended-brain-injury-charities.html

James Cracknell: my recommended brain injury charities

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@JamesCracknell Had bike crash 2yrs ago & helmet saved me, fundraisin in DecaIronman decaironman-training.com/2013/11/18/1strecommended charities? @NWlongworth

I think I should be recommending you a therapist rather than a charity! I’m not one to instantly dismiss an endurance challenge, but the thought of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a 26.2 mile marathon – in other words an Ironman – never struck me as the most pleasurable way to spend all the hours of the day.

That being said, it must subconsciously be on my radar, simply because I already know what a DecaIronman is. For the sane out there who have never heard of the term before, a DecaIronman is ten Ironmans back to back!

Once you’ve finished the marathon in the first Ironman, you get straight back into the water to start Ironman 2 and another 2.4 mile swim. A process that you repeat, repeat, and repeat, either for a lifetime or until you reach 10, whichever comes first.

While we don’t share a DecaIronman as an ambition, what we do have in common is that we’ve both been saved by a bike helmet and now want to raise money and help others by taking on challenges.

Headway (The Brain Injury Association) is who I raise money for. They help victims and the families of Acquired and Traumatic Brain Injury (ABI & TBI) sufferers. Headway were the charity that helped my family and I understand the impacts and effects of T/ABI on my life and how to cope with them.

Through Headway I was able to build strategies to cope with my injuries, gaining an understanding/insight into an illness that I’d never been exposed to previously. Today I fully appreciate how lucky I was to survive, and feel privileged to be able to raise money for a charity that helps so many people.

At this stage I should point out a potential conflict of interest: I’m the Vice President of Headway – but don’t let that dissuade you from raising money for a charity that does phenomenal work for sufferers and their families.

Other charities dedicated to helping brain injury sufferers are the Child Brain Injury Trust (CBIT) and The United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF).

Like so many victims of TBI or ABI I now have epilepsy, which shamefully still has a stigma associated with it that prevents people feeling able to talk about their condition. The Epilepsy Society does amazing work in this area.

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Why we need to stop talking & make London cycling safe

Anyone else sees this as a potential  side collision coming right up?

Anyone else sees this as a potential side collision coming right up?

As we build up to Adelaide Velo-City Global 2014, the world’s foremost conference on cycling planning; including discussions on the benefits of cycling for city infrastructure – including urban design, traffic planning, economic prosperity & population health – and the role of cycling in better social development, I thought I would comment on the need for safe cycling infrastructure in London, one of the world’s great cities. After all I have seen first hand the enthusiasm for cycling in the city – a considerable influence no doubt coming from the popularity of British Cycling from the Olympics and even the Mayor of London’s initiatives – both as a past time and to commute to work. But I have also witness the real fear that many people have to get on the road with their bikes because of the numerous cyclist deaths which plague the city and it’s morning headlines. I myself smashed all my teeth out of my front jaw (surgeons were pretty sure my obliterated helmet saved me from serious head trauma I must add) from a poorly maintained road surface in South London 2 years ago, so if that adds any weight to these arguments below, please use them to stop the talking and get things done.

London could be one of the great cycling cities and it’s presence at the heart of the world economy, cultural exchanges (it is after all the world’s most diverse city) and global transport connections (we will leave the future of Heathrow airport for another day!) means that it could have a profound influence across the planet – NYC you could even be next! However with these ongoing protests, petitions and preventable cycling deaths in London, a profound sense of reality must fall on *cough* Boris and Mr Cameron, take the same amount of money you spend doing up Buckingham place (no dig at royalty there, promise, just an example), what like 67p per person in the UK and make proper changes to the cycling infrastructure in the capital and a firm inclusion here – the rest of the UK!

imageOne day after the RideLondon event (3-4 August 2013), where tens of thousands of participants rode through the city in traffic free space, a 67 year old retired GP Clive Richard became the fourth victim on the capital roads in as many weeks to be killed in a fatal collision. A collision which took place, like all the others, on a street where cyclists have to share space with fast-moving heavy motor traffic. This has to stop now. Enough with the debate-MPs will be talking over the Get Britain Cycling report that proposes a host of measures to make cycling safer-it is time to construct Dutch style segregated   tracks (Cycling Embassy of Great Britain does a nice job on summarizing the ‘Dutch Cycling Infrastructure‘) alongside cycling specific traffic lights & frankly whatever the London Cycling Campaign proposes!

The mayor is facing tough questions from several political inquests because simply when you are spending £10million on cycle superhighways while does it normally just consist of blue paint&often to dangerous traffic junctions?

As many cyclists know, the current infrastructure in place is often summarizes as follows (a video entitled ‘A short journey’ by Chris Broadman for British Cycling and put together for the ‘Get Britain Cycling” Parliamentary inquiry in Feb 2013, note another inquiry, talk, chance for our leaders to have yet another meeting)

Being a cycling enthusiast I am drawn to the quotes of activists like Fred Armisen;

“Cars. They’re noisy and ugly. They smell terrible and cause disease on an epidemic proportion. They move way too fast, take up an extraordinary amount of space, are a leech on the economy, and have a propensity to run people over, especially kids. What’s to love?”

But let’s be a bit more diplomatic and put a simple summary list together for the politicians who have that well-complied report in their desk drawer:

[1] No other mode of transport is better value you money.

7.4% of EU citizens use bicycle as their primary mode of transportation although overall investment for the EU-27 on cycling infrastructure and promotion amounts to a measly 3 billion euro annually. The mayor of Portland (Oregon, US and a city considered one of the most cycling friendly urban areas in the country) Sam Adams is on record saying that the entire biking network cost $60million, about the cost of 1 MILE of highway. Further examples were raised in a recent blog from David Suzuki, a Japanese Canadian broadcaster, science broadcaster & environmental activist, including a study by Stantec Consulting Ltd on traffic delays in Vancouver area which showed that travelling by a new bike lane in the city was actually faster than by car. To quote Mr Suzuki ‘As oil becomes scarce and pollution and climate change increase, people are finally realizing that transporting a 90-kilogram person in two tonnes of metal just isn’t sustainable, especially in urban areas’ – that just about sums it up, doesn’t it?

[2] Bicycling’s healthcare savings are huge.

With millions of office workers having no or little exercise week in week out, that commute into work can have huge health benefits (in fact the British Medical Journal found no significant statistical difference between exercise & drug intervention for the treatment of heart failure and stroke – see here – and there is growing evidence that it clinically fights depression. In the US (which is health benefit crazy let’s face it) companies are starting to pay employees cash to bike commute to work including QBP in Minnesota which paid out $45,000 each year, saving $200,000 a year on healthcare claims. Looking globally the WHO even developed a Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) for cycling and estimated that the health benefits of cycling just from reduced mortality was 114-121billion euro annually.

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[3] The case for local economic prosperity from increased cycling;

Starting with a visual reference this was a great post by @carltonreid. Executive editor for BikeBiz.com, which demonstrated the economic prosperity for local business because of Cambridge’s love of cycling – and it’s not just the cycling shops but cafés, markets, we have think like a Danish cyclist I suppose.

On an academic scale, even the conservative fiscally arguments for bicycle infrastructure are numerous. A 2009 British study found that just a small number of additional regular riders is needed to repay the cost of new cycling infrastructure. In this research it was determined that an infrastructure investment equivalent to 10,000 pounds would be recouped over the life of the facility by enticing just one additional cyclist to ride 3 times a week. Furthermore a 2006 analysis by Sustrans, a major non-profit organization working for sustainable transportation in partnership with the U.K. government, demonstrated that the benefit-cost ratio of cycling infrastructure averaged 20 to 1 including estimated health savings. Across the pond, an Ottawa Cycling Plan, called for $26 million over 5 years, recognizing that it would entirely pay for itself with about 2,200 new regular cyclists. References for these and numerous other studies can be found at this great blog

To give even more weight to this argument; building bike lanes creates jobs  and other economic spin-offs, with many researchers arguing that more of the money on road-building efforts goes towards equipment and materials rather than a greater percentage on wages as with bicycle lanes. According to a study from the Political Economy Research Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts, titled “Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: A National Study of Employment Impacts”. Researchers found that “bicycling infrastructure creates the most jobs for a given level of spending.” For every $1 million spent, cycling projects created an average of 11.4 jobs in the state where the project was located, pedestrian-only projects created about 10 jobs, and multi-use trails created about 9.6 jobs. Infrastructure combining road construction with pedestrian and bicycle facilities created slightly fewer jobs for the same amount of spending, and road-only projects created the least, with a total of 7.8 jobs per $1 million.

And of course the list of benefits for cycling extend even further, including: reduced air and noise pollution, low demand on scarce (urban) space, a small carbon footprint, reduced fuel dependency etc etc. Because of this blindness to behaviour change, we in the UK are missing out on the vast societal beneifts of sustainable transport . And so the question is while do our inner city transport planners insist on giving space to car traffic – even with all the negative consequences of our car-centric culture – when it has been proven that cycling has dramatic health and social benefits, and in many cases gets you at your office desk faster & stop your boss shouting at you for being late? Cycling must be prioritized  in city planning, with serious targets on reducing serious injuries or death, as well as targets for safety, comfort, and speed. Future planning needs to call for rebuilding streets and intersections throughout the city and identify especially dangerous intersections. This all in tandem with safety and behavioural campaigns and resetting the mindset of motor traffic leaders in TfL.

To get a bit inspiration about it all, I always enjoy the quote:

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle. ” – Elizabeth West

Or to get a bit more ‘scientific’ about it all this is a quote from a systemic review in the British Medical Journal Clinical Research Edition on ‘Inventions to promote cycling’

Considering cycle lanes are waste of money and cycle tracks are inherently dangerous you should have no problem pointing out another report of comparable research that shows leaving out cycle lanes and cycle tracks would have resulted much more significant results.
Yang, L. et al., 2010. Interventions to promote cycling: systematic review. Bmj Clinical Research Ed., 341(c5293). 

So what should we do?

Ok the Olympic stadium may have gone up well but lets not get ahead of ourselves, or should we?

Ok the Olympic stadium may have gone up well but lets not get ahead of ourselves, or should we?

Well first of all let’s stop all this talking. Sign the checks and get going. $60 million was the price quoted for Portlands cycling infrastructure (granted not a world leading city for cycling but that price tag goes a long way to build dedicated cycling routes) let’s put together a list of 3 white elephant projects or other resultless pursuits that resemble that figure or totally eclipse it – aka lets show that money is there, or shall we say should be and is being wasted. These are some notable ‘red’ projects (which are at serious risk of failure) as drawn up by the Government’s own Major Project Authority:

1.  £34 billion on HS2 rail link from London to Manchester. Granted I think railways are an excellent way to get people off the roads (although I think the money would be better spent of higher capacity, eg double decker trains, Mr Prime Minister ever been standing for 5 hours all the way to Edinburgh in the corridor next to the toilet on your rail network?). Surely it is not too much to ask for segregated cycle lanes in probably the world’s greatest city – as already mentioned before this cuts down depression, is the most efficient way for mass transport of commuters, improves air quality etc etc.

NB and with this focus on rail transport can we also note the importance of the ability to bring bikes on a train. Not much point getting the UK active if you can only book 3 bikes on the train to the Lake District and so have to drive up – that’s a reference to you Virgin a Trains and the governments west coast franchise people (you get your own grilling in a sec)

2. West Coast Main Line franchise fiasco set to cost 50million mainly because the contract procedure wasn’t drawn up correctly – or at least that’s what I recall on the stupid fiasco, won’t waste my time looking it up more.

3. And of course this marble elephant – The failure of the FiReControl project469 million wasted according to the National Audit Office

Safe, segmented cycle lanes in London should be absolutely priority for any regional Government and before we laugh at some of the SkyRides proposed by the Boris and his office (some great thinking coming from that office really, just need to put the hard cash down & get going), just do a little research on those networks already in existance. Copenhagen for one has elevated bikeways and multilane highways. You can even used disused railway lanes as Boris has mentioned in interviews. Of course it is not all bad news, there have been progress in developing one way street into cycle lanes. Only this August the Department of Transport allocated 3.7million (in addition to the 1.8million of local money) to upgrade cycling infrastructure across Norwich and additionally there is the Bristol to Bath railway path. Yet really for the financial investment in motor travel these steps are really tiny – indeed there has been criticism that by focusing on small cycle lanes and not on establishing main routes you are causing a  risk of further injuries (don’t groan road users, our income tax subsidies road infrastructure – yes that’s right your road tax doesn’t cover it all).

A feature of the Copenhagen cycling infrastructure

A feature of the Copenhagen cycling infrastructure

With TfL estimating that cycling journeys will treble by 2020 (certainly if the Tube price keeps going up!) we need to get going on putting this cycling infrastructure into place. However as clearly pointed out by the London Cycling Campaign (LCC)  there has been countless urban improvement schemes which have been vetoed by TfL, with the focus on maintaining motor traffic capacity. All this in the face of an increasing body of compelling evidence from London, UK, Netherlands, EU and the USA that shows that installing high-quality cycling facilities increase the capacity for traffic on our streets. On that note this is a great interview with Peter Murray, LCC’s chair of New London Architecture and organizer of the London Cycle Summit – link

As the LCC keeps commenting, it’s desperately sad that so many urban improvement projects – Aldgate, Blackfriars, Elephant & Castle and Vauxhall – are vetoed because it’s not accepted that people can switch from one mode of transport to another. To get functional, safe cycling lanes a reality in London, why doesn’t the Mayor and his cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan give Chris Broadman and the folks at British Cycling (namely    the new officer for cycling infrastructure and development) 60million and a strong mandate to force transport for London to implement the proposals with immediate effect. This cycling institution knows exactly what it talking about – leave the elected politicans get the money together and perhaps chair some of the meetings (thats my little compromise). Boris and Mr Cameron I am pretty sure you haven’t cycled across the UK, so I don’t think you have much of the know how to recognize what a nationwide cycling network needs. Leaders such as Boris need to stop focusing on getting the newspaper headlines – I saw this one on E-bikes been mentioned by Boris recently [ Great opinion article here – ‘Before we go electric let’s get back to basics’ ] and just sign the checks. Additionally we might also want to work on that little bit of cyclist-driver tension……a particular scheme article here

And if you question whether this is all possible the 2006-2016 cycling plan in Copenhagen has been estimated to cost DKK 400million or about 45 million pounds and will form over 70km of new cycle tracks and cycle lanes -there is only 560,000 people living in the city, why can’t London afford anything near this investment?

P.S. [If you want further reading on this topic check out:  Infrastructure that will power cycling revolution]

 

Top 10 Inspirational Videos for Cycling/Triathlon

Morning rides aren't always this inviting

Morning rides aren’t always this inviting

There is nothing like a short sharp video to remind you on why you set that alarm for 5am (after most likely coming in at 2am on a Friday night) to go out and torture yourself on the bike. You may also use them instead of staring at a wall in the gym while you beast it on the spin bike – there is definitely one or two videos that I can weirdly recall all the worlds off by heart like a robot!

So to save time on your little crack of dawn search on YouTube I have put together 10 of the best to help you out of bed. It’s a mix of cycling intensive videos with a healthy dose of just plain universally appealing motivational footage. Enjoy.

[Don’t seem to be linking at the moment]

Best Hawaii Ironman motivation and inspiration

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=o54GvGL7sv8-

Ironman – Till I Collapse

http://m.youtube.com/watch?p=PL32265CD981289E1A&feature=plpp&v=jnqpYKx8Fvk

10 Extreme Triathlons to do before you die – #Triathlonbucketlist

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‘The best inspiration is not to outdo others, but to outdo ourselves’

So got into this triathlon craze then? Got all the kit, been posting some decent times? You may even have moved up to the Ironman triathlon.

Well sorry to break it to you, but you aren’t ‘done’ once you have completed an Ironman, not matter how fast you are or how many times you have been on the start line at Kona (mind you fair play if you got there!). Here’s a list of 10 that you need to start planning for (in no particular order).

1. Double Brutal, Llanberis, Wales (@BrutalTriathlon)

Looks scenic, bet the swimmer is hurting though

Looks scenic, bet the swimmer is hurting though

On the 20/21st Sept (2014) competitors will set out on a 4.8 mile swim in the beautiful (cold though!) Lake Padarn, followed by a brutal 224mile cycle which will continue into the darkness. With aching legs and a sore ass – seriously just take a week off work and pedal all day everyday to toughen that backside up – you will set out on a ultra marathon of 52 miles up yet more hills, much like this:

When you are just about standing up,vomiting from 36hours of energy bars and your head swimming with nausea, you probably won't mind the rain

When you are just about standing up,vomiting from 36hours of energy bars and your head swimming with nausea, you probably won’t mind the rain

Think you can handle that? Oh yeah I forgot to tell you the ‘hill’ route, is really climbing up and down Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales……..You can see why they call it Brutal right?

You can check out the race details here: http://thebrutal.co.uk

2. Savageman Triathlon, Deep Creek Lake State Park, Maryland, USA (@savagemantri)

That devil looks familiar.....I wonder what other cycle race he featured in......

That devil looks familiar…..I wonder what other cycle race he featured in……

The SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon is the flagship event of the SavageMan Triathlon Festival and it has already established legendary status because of some gruelling features:

– The Westernport Wall is one of the unique experiences in any triathlon with a 31% grade lined with screaming, cowbell-ringing crazed spectators.

– As you struggle up the Wall (and as the video below shows, lots of falling off bikes by exhausted competitors) you can look down and see all the names of those athletes who successfully made it up the climb cleanly. That ‘Bill Smith’ is an ass, you don’t want him to beat you right?

-The crossing of the Eastern Continental Divide at Big Savage Mountain, a 7.1 mile, 1950′ elevation gain ascent with multiple, extended stretches approaching 20% is, without doubt, the most Savage climb in all of triathlon. So savage, in fact, that all athletes are timed in their ascent for the Big Savage Challenge.The record ascent of 31:30 has been set, makes you think how long it would take an average athlete – aka that is 40minutes of pain at least!

3. Newton 24 hours of Triathlon, Lake Mills, Wisconsin

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So what’s a good opening Ironman, 12hours? 11:30? Well how about doing that non-stop for 24 hours? The Newton Triathlon is a continuous loop short course with a 0.24 mile swim, 11.2 mile bike and 2.6 mile run. Athlete’s compete to cover the most number of laps in 24 hours in either the swim – bike – run or bike – run format. The winning relay team/solo in each category is the one that covers the greatest number of legs/laps in the allotted time, and if there are relay teams/solos completing the same number of laps, then the fastest team/solo on their final lap is the winner. Apparently there is no night swimming……so just you and the road, don’t think that will make it easy though!

4. Silverman Triathlon, 70.3 IRONMAN in the Nevada desert (@NVSilvermanTri)

At least it looks like a good road.....

At least it looks like a good road…..

If you are going to do a half Ironman distance – 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 12.1 mile run – this is the tough one (there is also a full mind you). During its six-year-run it has drew thousands of competitors and is recognized as one of the toughest courses in North America (including the toughest list by LIVESTRONG).

This recognition has lead to the 2013 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship (which recently announced that it would rotate between locations around the globe) being held in it’s third and final year in that location. Henderson, Nevada will still host a yearly IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon, so here’s your chance to take part in one of the toughest courses on the pro circuit.

5. Norseman Xtreme Triathon, Eidfjord, Norway (@nxtri)

Reminds you of that fishing program of discovery right? Although these racers are stupid enough to jump in the cold waters!

Reminds you of that fishing program of discovery right? Although these racers are stupid enough to jump in the cold waters!

The Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is a point-to-point race held in Norway’s Hardangerfjord to the local town, Eidfjord, where racers then make a transition on to bikes, cycling 180km (with the first 40km giving an ascent of 1200m above sea level) to Austbygda. In the final ‘run’ leg is a climb up the Gaustatoppen mountain (1880m). Because of racer fatigue and the dangers of weather changes runners have their own personal support crew (this race is unsupported, so you are convincing some of your mates – no doubt paying for them as well, it what must be the most expensive country in the world – to provide you with all your food and drink, massages might be handy too) up the mountain plus they must carry a backpack with emergency food and clothing, To reach the Norseman mountain finish competitors must be within a certain time at the foot of the climb or otherwise you get the lower course route & a different finishers T-shirt (one that I suspect you burn out of disappointment!). Just so you can get an idea of the weight of expectation now on you readers – the male record finishing time is 10:23:43 and the women’s is 12:17:04, so a tad harder than your traditional Ironman!

6. Enduroman Arch to Arc Triathlon (London to Paris, nonstop, including swimming the English Channel) (@EnduromanEvents)

I think this picture represents the race, lots of time to think by yourself!

I think this picture represents the race, lots of time to think by yourself!

The Enduroman Arch to Arc Triathlon is the longest point-to-point organized triathlon I have ever seen – mind you on the day you are either the lone solo or a solo relay team. The triathlon starts with a jog through London and the English countryside, aka 87 mile run (140km) from London’s Marble Arch to Dover on the Kent coast. This is followed by a cross-channel swim (shortest distance 21 miles/33,8km) to the French coast, but you don’t have to follow English Channel swimming rules – no speedos and duck fat necessary, swimsuits allowed. Of course you could try to be like Mark Bayliss (@bigBayliss) and set the solo record with no wetsuit! After that you finally finish with a 180 mile (289,7km) bike from Calais to the Arc de Triomphe in Paric. The clock starts at Marble Arch, London and stops at Arc de Triomphe, Paris. Only 13 athletes have ever completed the challenge, the current record being held at 73 hours and 39 minutes. Rachael Cadman is the first female finisher and has a time at 97h37 on 23 August 2011 (fourth fastest overall).

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tUFu9sNK_UQ

7. Deca Ironman, Global locations 

Get sick of doing length after length in the pool, well these racers do 2.4 miles every day for 10 days......oh and all the other biking & running

Get sick of doing length after length in the pool, well these racers do 2.4 miles every day for 10 days……oh and all the other biking & running

There are a lot of crazy ultra-events out there, but this one might take the cake, at least for the lack of mental stimulation! The Deca Ironman in Monterrey, Mexico is an annual race in which competitors complete 10 Ironman-distance triathlons in 10 days. The fastest cumulative time wins.

Here’s a description from the Competitor website:

Each day, all of the racers head over to the University of Nuevo Leon. Once athletes complete the 2.4 miles of swimming in the pool, they take to the bike and ride over to the local track about 1.2 miles away. The track is located in the Parque Ninos Heroes. Once at the park, athletes must complete 93 laps around the track to obtain the 180 km of riding. After the bike, athletes run the opposite direction around the same track. The 26.2 marathon is made up of 22 laps.

So basically pain and laps!

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qQDlDpfFnrU

If that isn’t enough there was also this year the Triple Deca Ironman attempt by 50 athletes in Brescia, Italy. This event which was designed to see what was possible! no doubt the sport science were queuing up! It was running until the 8th October, I am currently hunting for results! Keep tabs on the website; www.decaironman.com

8. Red Bull Caveman Triathlon, Belgium 

Next frontier for adventure racing?

Next frontier for adventure racing?

Ok before you get too excited (as I was) this race consists of only a 250 mountain bike, 350 run and a 250 kayak. It was pretty much an exhibition race in Belgium’s Grottes de Han with some of the country’s top runner & mountain bikers, as well as Olympic athletes.

I always enjoyed downhill segments on triathlons until I saw this!

I always enjoyed downhill segments on triathlons until I saw this!

However with races continuing to push the limits of crossing mountains, rivers, deserts my tip is to fully expect Red Bull to take this further and put a World Series on (like their Cliff Diving). I mean its a triathlon in a cave! And there is a huge catalogue of caves around the world which are the size of multiple football pitches………so Red Bull ummmmm *hint*……..

http://m.youtube./com/watch?v=e6IwEalNf2U

9. SwissMan Xtreme triathlon, Jungfrau, Switzerland (@suixtri)

A race list featuring hills wouldn't be complete without a Swiss entry!

A race list featuring hills wouldn’t be complete without a Swiss entry!

So the second triathlon from the Xtreme series to make the list is the SwissMan (there is also a final third called the Celtman and is suitably Scottish) a race which brings you right from the palm trees in Ascona, southern Switzerland (I swear that is what the website says!) biking over 3 Alpine passes and then a run up to the foot of the Jungfrau Glacier. The dramatic changes in scenery must make this one of the most incredible adventures in an Iron distance triathlon. 

10. Global Triathlon, The World!

Will this include the Pacific in 25 years?

Will this include the Pacific in 25 years?

Dan Martin (@DanMartinAdv) – Endurance cyclist, who has done both South Korea to Cape Town & London to Cape Town – set out on a project to do the Ultimate Triathlon – a global one. The project moved along pretty well – there was  interviews on BBC News for example – but never quite came together. I wish him well for this project in the future.

Lets face it this would be a triathlon career signed off wouldn’t it? No-one has ever done it……challenge laid down readers!

12 bike rides to do before you die – #Cyclingbucketlist

Is this what it is all about?

Is this what it is all about?

Bored in the office? Find yourself staring out of that window across from the desk? Well let’s put together a list of bike rides (which have all been achieved) which you can post on your computer screen and stare at for the next 3 years, until you get divorced and blow all your savings to have some good stories for when you are old.

office

When will you escape?

No1 – Riding across the World’s Largest Salt Lake – Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

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Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It is located in the Potosí and Oruro departments in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes and is at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above mean sea level.

It is not as flat as a pancake, in fact much like cycling across cobble stones due to the way the salt dries in hexagonal tiles, but as uncomfortable as it would be to ride up & down for a few days the reflective surface has been compared to heaven on earth. It is about as far from an office as you can possibly get – no road markings, masses of pink flamingos bathing in pools of water and the only reference point being the Volcan Thunupa island (an old coral reef) on the horizon.

In total, we pedalled across 80km of this prehistoric salt lake, via the rocky outcrop of Isla Incahuasi in the middle. As we set out onto the crusty surface, the only landmark we had was Volcan Thunupa at the far end to guide us, there being no road markings to follow.

A great blog on this ride can be found here: http://www.pedallingabout.com/2011/10/cycling-the-worlds-largest-salt-flat-salar-de-uyuni/

No2 – Keirin racing in Japan

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Keirin is a very popular gambling sport in Japan. Nine riders race on the track at the speed of 70km/h employing different tactics as their don’t compete against the clock but first over the line. Riders are grouped into two groups – ‘Senko’ riders who have more endurance and are positioned at the top of the LINE and leads the LINE. Then there is ‘Oikomi’ riders who have more instantaneous force (I suppose the ‘Chris Hoys’) who follow and block other ‘LINES” and protect the ‘SENKO” rider of their LINE as they head towards the goal. Only in Japan and Korea is this Olympic sport held as a gambling sport with about 3800 registered riders classified into ‘S-class’ and ‘A-class’ (S-class being superior to A-class). The Keirin Grand Prix is held every December.

No3 – Nyalam Tong La pass, Nepal-Tibet

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Nyalam Tong La or Yakrushong La is a Mountain pass in China on the Matsung Tsangpo-Phung Chhu watershed divide where the Friendship Highway connecting Kathmandu, Nepal and Lhasa, Tibet crosses at 5,150 metres elevation. One of the highest paved passed in the world this route gives unforgettable panoramic views with breathtaking scenery of Shishanpagma mountain (8012m) and countless other mountains!

No4 – Cycling through Death Valley, USA; the Furnace Creek 508 ultra cycling race being the optimal way!

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Furnace Creek 508 is an ultramarathon bicycle race that takes place annually each October since 1989 in Southern California. Its route starts in Santa Clarita, California (25 miles north of Los Angeles), goes northeast to Towne Pass and drops into Death Valley, traverses Death Valley in the southern direction, crosses Mojave Desert and ends at Twentynine Palms, California. The race is named after the total length of its course (508 miles) and the location of its midpoint (near Furnace Creek, California).The Furnace Creek 508 identifies riders and teams with “totems”; animal names said to signify or have a special meaning for a rider or team.

No5 – Death Road (Yungas Road really, who knew?), Bolivia

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Cycling the so-called world’s most dangerous road is much like an extreme sport like skydiving or come to think of it more like BASE jumping because let’s face it there is no expert guide controlling your propulsion! The 40mile route, lined with stone and wooden crosses, has over 25,000 backpackers a year hurtling at 30mph over a surface more like a dirt track than a paved road. If your thing is perilous hairpin bends, unobstructed 600m cliff drops while you hug vertical rock-faces on one side, and in its upper reaches clouds obscuring the deadly jungle abyss around you; then well you should book a flight asap!

A interesting BBC report on this rider’s badge of honour can be found here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8683075.stm


No6 – Riding in a team car in the Tour de France

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The Ride behind the Race.

Ok this is not actually an activity with a bicycle between your thighs but it is about the closest you will ever get to living the Tour de France (if you never make Pro of course). And yes you could dress up like this guy and chase cyclists up the mountain, but sitting behind Dave Brailsford in the car as Sky cross the finish line could top your Dad screaming at the car radio when England missed a World Cup penalty – we all need some stand out memories right? There is a great article from Bicycling.com on being buried in the backseat under cycling equipment: http://www.bicycling.com/news/featured-stories/ride-behind-race

I must google this guy's name.....

I must google this guy’s name…..

No 7 Part of a pair in a tandem TT at the Paralympics

Of course there is always Land's End to John O'Goats as well.......

Of course there is always Land’s End to John O’Goats as well…….

Visually impaired cyclists use a tandem bicycle with a sighted pilot  to compete in paralympic track and road competition. Disciplines include the time trial and individual pursuit.

Just have to find an extremely talented paralympic athlete now who can

Here is a quick video on when the tandem was featured in the Olympics also [Paris 1924, the same Games at the Chariots of Fire in fact!], should we start lobbying now?

No 8 – Pico de Veleta: cycling Europe’s highest road

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When a mountain climb hasn’t even featured with the pros in Vuelta a Espana (and really those Tour organisers are sadist, I mean they literally sent people out in the 60s to find these sick climbs!) you know it is going to be a long day. This 3,384m climb is the highest paved road in Europe and apparently ranks 15 in the world’s hardest climbs – number 15 coming from the Himalayas. The 40km+ ascent even has personal accounts warning of a lack of oxygen at the peak.

So next time your boss thinks he is the tough guy, challenge him to ride this. This is what happens when they sent a Telegraph reporter up there: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/activityandadventure/9488163/Pico-de-Veleta-cycling-Europes-highest-road.html

No 9 – Cycle the 1100mile Iditerod trail from Knik to Nome

Could turn in to a bit of a walk I must add

Could turn in to a bit of a walk I must add

This is the one with the dog sleds right? Right.

But cycling in the Iditerod has also featured for over 100 years; there is even books out there with original accounts and photographs of men who rode bicycles instead of dog teams during the gold rushes – ‘Wheels on Ice, Bicycling in Alaska 1898-1900’ by Terrence Cole (that’s a history thesis if ever I heard one!)

These extraordinary cycle rides fit into the present because of the determination of five Anchoragers who set up an original 170 mile ride which was conceived as a ‘shakedown training run’ to test equipment and stamina. Three years after the original race in 1985, 4 men completed the 1,049 miles up the Iditarod dog sled trial to Nome in 22 days – imagine that on your CV! This ultimate bike race now runs as the Iditasport Impossible (1100miles) or if you are a little strapped for time – The Iditasport Extreme (350miles) or Iditasport 130.

Interested? Check out more details on one of my favourite, mad websites – http://xtremesport4u.com/extreme-land-sports/the-most-extreme-cycle-race-in-the-world/

Before you click enter, you may want to ready this quote from the website by Patti Brehler (a participate in 1990 February race)

“Anybody can mountain bike on a wooded trail. For a real challenge, try pedaling through two feet of snow with a 20-lb pack in minus 40 degree temperatures.I rode the trail for only about two miles, and had to push my mountain bike the other 50 miles. It took me 37 3/4 hours to travel 52 miles, and sometimes it seemed more like a survival test than a mountain bike race.”

But please try to enjoy it.

No 10 – Great Divide bike race, Canada – Mexico

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The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is a continuous long distance race from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, USA. As of 2010 the route was 2745 miles but this length is adjusted as the organizers continue to refine the race. Typically the entire route takes 6-10 weeks and the list of complications include ( :p) 

– Reliable food and water sources on some portions of the route are over 100 miles (160 km) apart

– Unpredictable mountain and desert weather can bring snow, rain, high winds, and temperature extremes at any time of year

– Riders should be self-sufficient and carry camping equipment as commercial lodging is not available for long stretches of the route

– You may want to be a tad handy at bicycle maintenance and repair

– Much of the route is not signposted so reading a compass is a good place to start on your preparations.

–  It is also not uncommon to encounter large mammals including grizzly and black bears, moose and occasionally cougars – really puts that ‘tough’ sales meeting half an hour ago into perspective!

No 11 – Race across America

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The Race Across America, or RAAM, is an ultramarathon bicycle race across the United States that started in 1982 as the Great American Bike Race and is probably the best-known annual endurance events in the world. The race has no stages and runs from west coast to east coast in the United States – approximately 3,000miles (4,800km). In contrast the Tour de France is 2,300miles long with the distance divided into individual stages and spread over 3 weeks. As you can imagine sleep management is one of the biggest challenges of RAAM as the clock doesn’t top even for sleeping. Solos at the front of the race will typically sleep as little as 90minutes a day and in order to make the 12 day time limit, racers can’t afford more than 4 hours a day at the most.

In its traditional form, RAAM is a solo competitor event – a non-stop individual time trial – the race organizers often call this the Human Powered Vehicle Race Across America and is slated as a platform for technology advancement in cycling aerodynamics and human powered propulsion. The current solo record was set in 2013 as is 7days 22hours by Christoph Strasser – which works out at 15.58mph average over the distance (that includes any rest periods!). In addition to the solo effort, there are also team categories – 2,4,8 – and tandem bikes.

Personally I had a stab at a similar race – The Adventurist’s non-stop, solo Transcontinental Bike Race from London to Istanbul (about 2200 miles) in August 2013; which unlike the RAAM is completely unsupported i.e. no car with crew and food behind you – you can see my race report here: http://howtomeetamillionpeople.com/2013/08/22/how-i-almost-made-it-to-istanbul/

No 12 – World Cycle Race – ‘If you want a bigger race, find a bigger planet’

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One human, one bicycle, one lap of the Earth, one world record – the longest and toughest bicycle race on the globe.

It’s a lap around planet Earth against the clock and your fellow riders. The distance must be 18,000miles although the route is up to each rider (noting that you must cross at least 2 antipodal points); so this is really your chance to travel the world and do the ultimate endurance race. It starts on March 22nd in London/Singapore/Auckland – not to pitch it, but this is my goal, so why don’t you join me; more information here: http://www.theadventurists.com/the-adventures/world-cycle-race/the-what

How the Garmin Edge 800 allows you to focus on the cycling

My Garmin Edge 800 nicknamed 'beauty'.

My Garmin Edge 800 nicknamed ‘beauty’.

After the Transcontinental Bike Race at the start of this month, and my inevitable conclusion in a Greek hospital (see previous post for details), I went about taking a stock check on how I could improve and what equipment should stay in the kit list.

There is certainly a balance between comfort & weight, and any kit that allows you to just get on with just the cycling is at the very top. The Garmin Edge 800 is part of this kit that just allows your mind to wonder and get focused on just the cycling – or should I say just moving the pedals round! I had countless night rides where I had been going on 17-18hours and all I wanted to do was lay down, certainly have a warm shower anyway. But I had to keep going and the gleaming light of the device on my handbars was a very reassuring sight when I was in the middle of rural France or Italy. After 18 hours riding (and on top of that, we are looking at 5, 6, 7 days on the trot) your mind is putty and all you want is to be told which way to go – certainly I negiotated with my body that as long as it kept moving the Garmin Edge 800 would handle the rest. And so, the device which I nicknamed beauty – my SPOT tracker was named Ruby, it was a weird relationship in those early hours – was the ONLY thing that convinced me to keep moving when all I wanted to do was go to bed. The problem is when you get tired you start to doubt directions and the Garmin Edge 800 removes this.

What I must stress is the Garmin Edge 800 should form part of your route planning. It should be complimented with some background reading on the terrain, brief notes or flashcards on the major towns you will be passing, and perhaps some of the main roads to look out for. Unfortunately this is something I learnt the hard way in Albania. The Garmin will know every road you can possibly imagine, certainly the roads going east from the Albania capital Tirane are there, its just some authorities mark them as good roads, while perhaps they are not. This is not a drawback on the Garmin – after all it can point you (and very accurately, I mean it pinpointed me to metres in rural Albania) on the roads that exist, and in my case the shortest possible way to Greece, it is just very difficult to get a picture of the road conditions etc.

I think really what summed up my feelings for the Garmin Edge 800 was the time I entered Ancona on the Italian coast. All day I had just went south along the coast road, with the sea on my left and no need for a map, GPS or anything. Enter a big town and all you get is signs on to the major highways south, panic sets in and finding a way round becomes a daunting 2 hour task, with all your hard work of the last 9 hours being laid to waste. On that occasion I had let the battery run dry – stupidly I didn’t have a dynamo with the bike and the Garmin’s battery, whilst easily lasting a few days ride with lengthly directions, of course does need to recharge at some point – and I paid for it. Don’t relie on asking the 1 out of 6 strangers who know the road out other than the major motorway, get that Garmin Edge 800. Kepp it charged. And keep moving forward.

How I almost made it to Istanbul….Tackling Europe’s toughest, solo bike race

It was nice having some weight when I started!

It was nice having some weight when I started![More pictures coming up, no USB connection at terminal]

Well that was one crazy trip and now I am into my trip across Asia. So while I wait for my train to Lviv in Ukraine, I am going to pick my head and try to remember the details of those crazy two weeks.

As many of you may know, I was struck down by food poisoning tanstalisingly close to the finish (NE Greece) but certainly I will remember a lot more from the trip than the ‘result’. I also hope that the sheer experiences of cycling the distances involved everyday will bring me closer to pro cycling and the industry as a whole. i certainluy hope to engage with cycling clubs when I settle in my new job in Singapore. I also want to use this blog to express my thanks to all those that helped me along the way – including my father, girlfriend, family & friends and all those called upon at late notice to help out – for example my bike is currently being shipped back to Ireland by some very kind family friends. Thank you.

And finally, and very importantly, I wanted to express my thanks to those people who donated to my charities – the WWF and Injured Rugby Players Foundation –http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Longworth1 &  http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Longworth2 respectively. Two fantastic causes and I hope this account justifies your time and donations. Thank you.

There seems to be a few holes in this account – How keeping an accurate record was difficult

As I soon found out, keeping a record of the journey is quite frankly very hard. This was a race after all, 2200 or so miles that you are going flat out. You stop to take pictures, that speed average that you just spent the last 3 hours doing in the midday sun is down. That being said lets not be a Nazi about it. The ‘main’ reason for little camcorder footage (I think I have some from the first day or two) is that I didn’t have a dynamo (electricity generator on the bike) so every power point was for the GPS or the emergency battery – and when you are camping in the woods for 2-3 nights in a row, that 30minutes getting refuelled in a cafe to escape the sun or getting a free shower in a friendly hotel goes straight to the GPS!

Why the Garmin Edge 800 should be always be an important part of your kit and so is having a route plan

Going to put a follow up article on this but as you will see from the trip review, when you dont have the Garmin GPS as your buddy, assistant, these trips can be filled with panic and ultimately that uses up energy and distracts focus from covering the day’s distance. The Garmin is a wonderful back up to a planned route – i.e. you know the kind of terrain in an area, the main towns, cities. Like every tool in the adventure inbox ultimately every piece of kit compliments or aids another, the GPS is part of your map reading and route planning, a very vital part. It will keep you off very busy roads and will allow for progress even when in pitch black darkness – I had several occasions when 17hrs into a days ride all I wanted was that left or right on the GPS so I didn’t have to ‘THINK’ about directions. But get to know your GPS, I made mistakes because I didn’t use the device to its full advantage and regrettably I only got in the flow later in the race. In addition to the GPS, if you are using it for hours after hours (and the device can last all night) is get a dynamo to charge it. Like all devices it needs to be powered and it can give you the best short cut in the world – missing out big towns etc, just make sure you can keep up with its power demands – don’t worry about the GPS, it will know all the roads you can ever imagine. Very accurate, and got me out of very sticky situations.

Day one

Press commitments first on the bridge at Westminister, 31 or so riders eagerly anticipating the start of the toughest solo bike race in Europe. It was tremendously exciting and thanks to some dear friends I was not tired from last minute planning (I took myself off to bed while they put together final maps etc, thank you again!), I couldn’t wait.

Day one turned very much into team racing, ie. everyone was going to the same checkpoint in Geraardsburgen in Belgium (where all the cobbles are for the Tour of Flanders) and so we found ‘sharing’ resources, maps, drafting etc seemed to come into play. I certainly enjoyed setting a pace in northern France and Belgium – logistics is not my strong point but I love killing myself on the bike!

The route down to Folkstone was fairly straight forward, heading towards Ashford and on. In the heat of the moment, you do see different riders take different courses and ultimately a particularly route may shave 20 minutes off etc. Certainly I found myself on some great country roads coming down from the A2 towards Maidstone, which may have been a great ride but heading down towards Faversham may have been best. Still I was on an ok time and was heading for the 2pm ferry in good time (the ferry departure times that people reached were 12pm (they had definitely practiced the route and were fast(, 2pm, 4pm). Ok start. 4miles from Dover, I got 3 punctures – 1 of which had been my own fault with a rushed inner tube fix. A stop in Halfords meant it was the 4pm for me. Still I meet some great riders, a former pro called David I recall and a member of one of only 4 teams (of 2) that had finished the race across America in the time limit. So not too bad considering.

I had been advised to take the ferry over to Dunkirk rather than Calais, shaving 30miles off and about a dozen of us set out at different paces from the port. At this stage I was still getting to grips with the Garmin GPS and my original route had been from Calais (what I later discovered was the best way to utilise the device was to just find the best way to a particular location rather than set route). The roads were magnificant and we set a hard pace – 38kph average – which as my legs later got stronger was peanuts to the 42+kph I was setting with pros down the Italian coast.

With 3 other riders we tackled the maze of routes from Oudenaarde towards Geraardsbergen and landed at the checkpoint at about 1am…..tragically as I found out when we reached the arranged hostel, those few hours from the ferry and confusion through Belgium made a huge difference in this race, as riders were setting out for day 2 as we arrived.

Checkpoint one and exhausted

Checkpoint one and exhausted

Day two

Disaster. This was my first real test in doing big mileage day after day with little sleep so I just went into auto pilot as I set out at 6:30am or so the next morning. Got my route up on the GPS – after all it was set out from the first checkpoint – and off I went…..little did I realise that I had stupidly – and this bugs me to the day – brought it up in the wrong direction. It was only when I started focusing on my compass that I found that I had been going 2 hours NORTH!!! In a little bit of a panic at this stage I passed back past Geraardsburgen 4 hours later and heading east to Brussels, plenty of signs and well we had to go east, right? It was on the edge of Brussels though that the GPS really came back in its element. I stopped and calmed myself for a few minutes as I struggled to find a decent route south out of the city. I entered in south to Freiburg on the device and behold the route was there – A route which I must add I had past about 20minutes before, which consisted of quite a busy road (but only for 2 miles or so) and which I had dismissed because well frankly I didn’t want to be stuck on that busy road for 50-70 miles, not around a busy city anyway. But the GPS got me on the right track and I made my way down to Huy – wonderful town around a river. I was thinking of heading out through the night but my mind was fried and I was in no mood (or brave enough) to take on the dark country roads. Certainly that is an element of the race I struggled with throughout the two weeks – to make ‘real’ time and distance, you cant stop for 4-5 hours at night and you have to treat the night’s riding like the day. As the race went on, I made a semi rule of cycling til about midnight or around that time when I found a suitable bed, and then setting out at first light. About 18hours cycling – 300km or so (depending) – that became the goal – and certainly as the days came one after another, it was this short term goal that kept me focused.

Day three

So I had my first dose of camping out in my emergency foil tent and blanket that night, and well it isn’t too bad apart from the very quick movement in the morning to heat the body up! At this stage the memory gets a bit fuzzy, the rest of the pack were about 70-80-100miles in front of me and I had made a pitiful effort (in terms of distance) on day two. This was really when I decided to pick up the race at the scruff of the neck and stop worrying about cameras or notes or photos…..I had to go all out.

The GPS lead me down towards Luxemburg City – in passing Luxemburg and southern Belgium are not flat (of course nothing to what comes later) but after the easy going coast road on day one, this told me the real cycling was just getting started.

To be honest, trying to recall were I crashed that night is proving very difficult but I followed a German cycling group toward Metz in France….and then heading out towards Strasbourg……I really was going flat out…..

Day four

This was the first taste of hills and mountains. I wanted to cross over the hills around Munster – towards Strasbourg and Freiburg – as it was meant to be stunning. I wasn’t disappointed. Solid ride into the early afternoon and I meet the Rhein canal at Erstein I believe. This was where I could pick up some distance and the flat canal lead me down towards Basel in Switzerland – had to chat to quite a few German campers to get restocked with fresh water – I would have killed for a cafe to just collect my thoughts and get rehydrated – but nevertheless, even after the easy going canal cycle path seem to have stopped at about Marckolsheim, I stopped on the German side of the border at Neuenburg am Rhein to get some food at a garage and recharge the GPS. Tell you what it all seems so casual when you are reading from Google Maps – you really earn each mile when you are out there!!

My happy face after a tough morning ride

My happy face after a tough morning ride

Until about 1am-2am that night I made my way around Basel – through Weil am Rhein I believe – and got on the ‘3’ road towards Zurich. Thunderstorms lit up the nights sky and I dived for cover in a office complex courtyard. No point getting soaked right and got my head down for a few hours. In all this rush though and with the memory of the hot day I didn’t anticipate the drop in temperature. After a quick warm up in a lift! that next morning I set out for day 5 towards Zurich.

Day five

I must admit by this stage I felt absolutely disgusting, after camping out for 3 nights in a row with only one dry kit. Luckily that morning I had convinced a hotel to let me use a shower and get breakfast, and so after a few days camped out, I felt refreshed and ready to go down towards checkpoint two in the Alps.

On the road to Zurich I joined a Swiss triathlete for a hour or two and although the pace slowed it was nice to get some real company. I circled Zurich and made my way towards St Gallen. At this stage the GPS had died but I knew roughly the route and was quite confident with my compass reading! Without following the main roads, things get a little tricky in this area, with the changes in altitude of the road meaning that you often had to go back on yourselves to go the right way. Past Rapperswil I joined a cycle path down towards the Walensee – the scenery around here is absolutely spectular, you should look into it! Unfortunately for me but although Google maps make the route obvious, I followed the cycle path on the north side of Walensee and it ended. An annoying detour but for an afternoon cycle it was fantastic viewing. Back to the race…..it did occur to me the opportunity to ask for a lift on a yacht across to the south side but to avoid the lengthly negiotations involved, I decided to head back and crossed over at Weesen. Some very weird cycle routes this side, which has mind blogging gradient – some must have been 20-25%. I did meet a great Czech character with Bon Jovi playing loading on an electric assisted bike – I post a picture when I get a chance, I think he had a cowboy hat on in fact.

Got to love Bon Jovi

Got to love Bon Jovi

Avoiding the main roads and intimated by getting lost up some high mountain roads – lots of effort to come back down – I found myself stopped in a German bar/old hostel for the night. Can’t believe I lost the bar’s card, but this place was in about Saas im Prattigau along the main 28 road south. Two great Swiss guys – or should I say one, the owner, the other guy was pissed as a fart and kept joking with me in German – shared a beer with me in this quiet village alongside the now, mad, dangerous 28 night road.

Day six

So as much as I had hoped, I didn’t reach the Stelvio Pass the day before. A former Italian pro cyclist – who had been in the Tour of Britain in 1969 apparently – had told me I wouldn’t make it and he was right….regrettably. Being stuck up a mountain at night with limited kit was not my idea of fun but unfortunately in my lovely abandoned hostel accommodation in Saas im Prattigau I overslept my alarm – well I think I whacked it off the bunkbed, and was woking by the owner and his Russian yet English speaking wife for breakfast, along with a couple who were guests at the hotel. After a small breakfast – I found it had to eat very large amounts at this point, being use to snacking for almost a week now – I heading towards the toughest day I had ever had on the bike. The Stelvio Pass – which is the second highest paved road in the Alps, by like 13 metres, wasn’t the only challenge of the day, as the every increasingly bad weather made the 2 or 3 mountain 2000m passes a real challenge. With no real energy in the legs this far in and little chance to recharge the batteries, or even settle down to some food, the Ofenpass and most notably the previous Fluela Pass was beastly. Having the wind in your face didn’t help. I caught up with two other riders up the mountains and we shared a few stories over some warm food and tea in Zernez (I believe).

On the Stelvio Pass, we entered Santa Maria, me just a head of the other two with an early start from lunch. Regrettably I should have reloaded my fuel supply in the town because the 2000metre climb just keeps going. The gradient isn’t anything nasty but I bonked several times up there. Fortunately I had some generous car drivers – one group that even got food from the top and brought it back – that keep my head straight til about 1300metres from the top. I was spent and just as the clock turned 9pm I walked the last 1500metres or so, with several attempts to balance myself on the bike however the head was absolutely spinning, to the top. After a quick look for the checpoint crew – I should have come up another side of the mountain I am told, I ‘collasped’ into the mountain top hotel – mind you shared some stories with quite a few tourists at the top. Mission accomplished.

The mountain tops on Stelvio pass

The mountain tops on Stelvio pass

Day seven

I understand I had made some good time on the other riders who had just got down the mountain the night before. Unfortunately the quick descent meant that I waited until first light to go down the mountain towards Bormio. Absolutely freezing and certainly had to keep your wits about you but it was fantastic coming down right from the top of the Alps. It seems most riders went down via Meran and towards Trento…which in hindsight would have been best. At the time I was concentrating on getting down south asap. I needed to get down to Bari in Southern Italy as quickly as possible and I knew that this gamble down through the Adriatic Italian coast could make up time on the riders heading into Slovenia. Unfortunately the mountain ranges lay in such a way that you head down to Sondrio, along lake Como and as my GPS dictated up a small mountain climb around Lecco. The aim was just to get south and slowly head back Southeast as I got to the flat plains around the plain of Lombardy. As night flew, just as I had done in Southern France – it is coming back to me now – I just focused on the Garmin beeps – left, right, straight ahead. When my back bike light failed around Cremona I decided it would be stupid and dangerous to keep going on the fast roads. I arrived at a casino/whiskey tavern in the middle of nowhere and these 3 barmaids – the poor girls had no idea what to make of this figure that had just come out of the darkest – made me up a bed in the outside Gezbo. The whole trip was a collection of favours – which I am incredibly grateful for – early that night in fact I had had my back light replaced by a group of Italian guys in the pub, but unfortunately that two failed or in fact I think it got broken as I put my bike down exhausted at about midnight!!

Day eight

Phew this was a long trip. Day eight started with a bit of difficulty as I spent about 1 1/2 hours trying to wake the bar owners for what I thought was a charging GPS – the bar power socket must have been switched off as the GPS cut out a hour or two later – damn it! A mistake that at least I like to say can be easily done, well when you are manically trying to catch up to the 6-7 place guys. By this stage the winner had already gone through the finish line – machine – and it was all about a decent effort. With a unenergized GPS I headed toward the southeast city with the most road signs – Bologna. Even looking at the map, the details of the day are hazily, but after some epic lightening I hid out in a hotel about 20km outside of Bologna for 35euros – with breakfast! It was mega.

Day nine

So I admit the body was pretty beaten by this stage and I slept in til about 8am. I knew I had to stick my finger out and loaded up with a big breakfast, round after round of bread and salami, and set out for the coast road. I had aimed for Rimini the previous day and directions proved to be epically simple, with a course set via Ravenna, Cervia and Cesenatico.

Apart from a nasty hill side in Ancona, the ride down was fast and flat. I meet numerous Italian cyclists on the way down, one particular guy I called the Ferrari, with legs like tree trunks, basically like Chris Hoy. Certainly he didn’t look out of place next to the Olympic German cycling team that I had chased around Sondiro in northern Italy. I also meet a English couple near Senigallia while asking for directions at a petrol station. It was funny but I feasted on that couple of minutes of conversation after all the communication fustrastions of the last few days. Coming out of Ancona is a bit of hurdle and I am positive I went up one hill road twice – trust me as a cyclist you learn very quickly that most people know the way out of town through a highway but not something for our two wheeled hobby. As much as I was pushing for a 20+ hour cycle I knew the eyes were getting heavy now – the legs are your solid base, they aren’t the thing that fails on you! – and even with a massive pizza and double expressos in Civitanova I knew I needed just a few hours kip. By this stage I was on the busy coast road – busy with tourists mind you and a quiet spot to camp was just not an option. Plus I knew that to get to Bari in 24hours I would need to revive under a warm shower. At about Pedaso I found a campsite, who’s owner, a nice young guy who sat me down for a beer before bed in fact, let me camp inside the compound. No new blankets but at least no worry of passing traffic or drunken tourists!

Day ten

My internet access for the whole trip had been limited to some friendly bike shop owners, a few cycling teams in cafe’s with smartphones or as I hope was sent – the campsite the previous night sending emails on my behalf. Anyway, I recall at this stage I knew that the 3 riders going down Italy would be approaching Bari that day and I hoped that if I could make good time/great distance they would be caught up in the ferry terminal, and not only could I catch them if I was lucky but with the distance covered while I slept on the ferry, maybe catching up with some of the higher placed riders.

Going down to Termoli was easy, in fact I remembered cycling with a Italian Superbike Rider to Pescara. As the road bends in towards San Severo and ultimately Foggia thats when confidence gets a bit weak – after all hugging the coast for 36hours made you think this was easy. A recharged GPS that evening got me off the truck filled roads around Foggia but with no light and tackling D class roads progress was slow. These D class roads, although silent also twist and turn, taking hours to go the 50km I just pulled out in an hour & half from Lesina to Foggia – bike times and distances go out of the window a bit after this length of time on a non-stop trip with kit (at least if you are not with the leaders) but it is amazing how satisfied you get after doing a good 50km. Sad really.

I settled down for a night’s sleep under the stars, and bonus this time it was on a lovely grass blanket, its the little things.

Day Eleven

I was now aiming for a ferry whos departure time I didn’t know – after all the Italian job was an idea only a few days old – would have been nice to do SOME research before hand!

By Corato or was it Bitonto, I crawled into a small ball outside of a Lidl, trying to recharge the batteries on milkshake, flapjacks, coke, orange juice, etc etc. As good as the flexibility of ‘wild’ camping is, when you get up and do 2-3 hours of riding before breakfast, the crash is pretty awful. Finally though Bari. Job done……now a 12 hour wait damn it! I must admit, my options were zero now, I had to wait for the ferry and two pizzas and several beers & cokes into the ‘fuelling’ in the port I didn’t care. Also internet was a major priority, with a SPOT tracker that had failed in Switzerland – I am now told it was the batteries, even though I got them checked coming down the mountain in Italy – no-one knew where I was for 48hours. Some kind American tourists negiotated with probably the best hotel in Bari – Palace Hotel I recall – to let a smelly cyclist use the internet. Thank you.

Day Twelve

There was no favours on the ferry and the crew offered me only a full cabin – with 4 beds – for a full price of 110euros. I found a couch in the crowded lounge which was closely guarded by my new Albanian friend – who I thanked with beer.

We arrived into Durres at about 8am…..as I am finding out now with my trains across Eastern Europe this could be an end to my on time public transport! In the GPS it was 166miles to Thessaloniki. 3 days and I am in Istanbul I thought. The nerves were high setting out in Albania but I soon found that apart from some mad over taking coming towards me the drivers were pretty good in giving me room. I was quickly through Tirana (the capital) and into the Dajti Mountain National Park. The route on my GPS was southeast over the mountains and down into Greece. Now with a full stomach no problem. As I look at Google maps now, the roads stop at Bize…..I kept going……was a new route through Italy and Albania such a good idea I know thought? Then real trouble happened. Bike tyre got shredded 4hours up this mountain and my cleats got wrecked walking the 5hours down the other side – keep moving the right way I thought. Reaching a bar as the sky got dark I knew at least I had accommodation for the night but the bike was a problem. A hole has been ripped in the rudder and no matter how many times I changed the inner tube, it was puncture, puncture, puncture. Needed new tyre I thought. As much as I wanted to get down to Librazhd about 20km away, I was informed that to get my bike and now my cleats in order I would have to go back to Tirana. And with that it all happened in a flash I got a lift from a friendly driver in the bar and 5-6 hours later I was having dinner with his family in Tirana. Surreal.

Hill top roads in Albania, a taste of things to come

Hill top roads in Albania, a taste of things to come

Day thirteen

Through the newly studied english of their daughter I informed them I had to set off early in the morning in search of an internet cafe to locate a bike shop. Even with an internet cafe found a bike shop was looking bleak but some young lad joined me from the cafe and took me on a bus through the city to find this elusive cycling mecca. With a few visits here and there and some detours for working ATM machines I found myself in a bike shop owned by an Albanian who had lived in Islington, London – even had a London accent. Very helpful guy and even with two orders for the ‘specialized’ bike cleats as I set out from Tirana at lunchtime they just wouldn’t fit in normal riding – I was push power only now. As recommended I headed south the Elbasan and Korce, stopping in a hotel just shy of the Greek border at Krystallopigi. Hard ride, as shown by all the mountain shadows on Google maps, but at least I was at Greece, maybe I could make the cut off in 48hours or at least be in touching distance.

Day fourteen

In the hot Greek sun it felt like I went over every mountain in the north. Through Krystallopigi to Kastoria was a wonderful ride, absolutely flew down the mountain passes at 40+kph average – bear warnings everywhere so you can imagine the kind of untouched scenery. The one thing on my mind was food – I really was struggling after no proper food since the late afternoon before, and once again I recuperated outside of a Lidl on the Kastoria lake peninsula. With the chuckle of some helpful direction givers (I had got used to people thinking cycling across Europe at that speed was stupid), I headed towards Kozani, making every effort to stay close to the path of the main highway through side roads or service routes. Direct line I thought. At Polimilos (coming up to Veroia) there is a monster of a hill that just keeps going – I swore I wouldn’t do anymore hills! – but the 4 road was relentless, up and up. But like every hill there is a reward and for the next 20km I sat on my pedals and flex down towards Veroia, pedalling when only essential!

And then we had Veroia. And that sandwich. I resupplied in the town, ready to take on the route to Thessaloniki and a bit further down the Greek coast. Replenished I made my way through Alexandria and into the busy Thessaloniki city – I had after all not been in a busy environment since the Italian coast – well tourist environment anyway! The plan was to keep going through the city and after a missed turn on to the ‘2’ route, keep heading east on the ’16’ towards Galatista and then back on the 2.

Day fifteen

Game over. You know you are beat when you and your body doesn’t care what race you had been in for 14 days. Ultimately I found out that I had bad food poisoning in the hospital. That morning at 5-6am I had searched out a hotel to recoup for 24hours but failing that an airforce base called an ambulance. Apparently it was pretty nasty so probably for the best! Although the worst was gone after 7 hours, I had to resign to the fact that my race was done and 48hours later I shipped my bike back to Ireland – via a very kind friend of a friend.

I now set off to Singapore on an overland train journey. Soon after I left hospital I jumped on a bus to Sofia – still in some smelly cycling clothes – then from Sofia the following night to Belgrade and now I sit in front of computer in Budapest. Right time to get myself in order for the train towards Kiev. I’ll try to get the few photos I have up asap! I will also put together an article on top tips, where you can go wrong on a trip like this and I would like to put something together on the winners/leaders races.

Ultimately this trip is more than just cycling. All the riders could do 300-350km a day, granted the 400-450-500km is tricky to say the least. Getting lost and having problems not only uses up time but knocks your confidence and uses up valuable energy – even if it ‘just’ makes you feel tired. After this trip I know I had a 12, perhaps even 11 day cycle to Istanbul in me but, and I am not trying to make excuses because ALL riders had problems and that is a fact of life about the race – it is WHY it is so challenging – I messed up quite a lot. I hope to take this knowledge on how I felt on some big rides, the determination of staying focused for 18hours or so, forward and perhaps join some cycling teams in Singapore. For now I am trying to get my weight back on and I am not going to take future plans too seriously until I reach my Asia destination – after all I will be sitting on trains and buses for 6 more weeks.

There will be new adventures though. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!