Transcontinental Part 3: the ups and the downs
It's an emotional rollercoaster as well as a physical one
road.cc contributor and racing cyclist Liam Glen wrote an awesome account recently of a stage race, in which some days were better than others, and despite the Transcontinental being just one long race I’m having a very similar experience.
After my last post I travelled across Switzerland. That day was a hoot. I encountered my first bike shop and upon popping in I found they only sold e-bikes and curiously only stocked 650c tyres. But they did have a snazzy Lezyne track pump, so after taking the rear wheel from 75psi up to 120 I was on my way.
It seemed to be the right choice, within minutes the sun was out and I was drying again, it seems odd to be hanging as many items of clothing off the bike as possible. Better yet, a tailwind, I felt like the luckiest boy on Christmas morning!
Cruising in the sunshine, tucked down on the PRO Missile aero bars, I sped along lake Zurich at about 35kph, just delighted to have the rays on my face, determined to make the most of every minute because it couldn't possibly last. And lo, right on cue, a flippin drawing board tack. Seriously? A tack?! No matter, I was simply grateful it happened after the pump and valve situation was resolved.
After lake Zurich comes the first intro to the Alps, a gentle ascent in the dark, right off the valley floor into the hills. After a few hours of darkness sleep was calling, so I found suitable shelter and made camp. My bedding is quite simple. A double layer of Bubble-wrap, with a silver space blanket in the middle, a super light Alpkit bivvi bag and another space blanket. All very light, and simple to pack and carry, and totally impractical in the cold.... The bivvi does its best, but it's designed for shelter. Not warmth.
A windy 2hrs later and my stiff legs are determined to head for Davos. This being Switzerland there is excellent infrastructure for cyclists and blanket bans on certain (direct) roads. Suffice to say 5km on MTB tracks, a snooze in a cow barn, and a ride along a train line made for an interesting, if not fast morning!
Davos came and went, with an ascent of the Fluelapass needed to get towards Bormio and the Stelvio. The climb seems to average around 8% along its length, carrying on for mile after leg burning mile. At some stage I heard the most horrible rasping noises coming from my chest, and thought of Chris Froome and his asthma, this was truly sucking hard! I nearly collapsed on a sign post towards the top, feeling totally drained - and yet I still had the Stelvio and another 2,000km ahead.
Towards the top came some tears, emotionally I felt like the schoolkid who has just lost his best Panini football card, just so empty. No joy in summiting, just glad to stop the pain.
The descent was out of this world, bombing along at 75kph with my fully-laden Rapide RC4 was a blast, just face achingly fun, and finger numbingly cold. This carried on for about 15 minutes I would say, overtaking cars, hitting the apex of corners at MAXIMUM SPEED wherever possible and just getting rid of all that frustration from the climb.
Next came the wall, and boy did I hit it. A gummi bear, coke and chocolate injection saw me through some more climbing until I found this Gasthaus, where shared toilets and bathrooms are the norm and I couldn't leave until after 7.30 because the doors are all locked.
Next up comes the Stelvio and Italy, I'm looking forward to it. For those who have followed the race will be aware I'm days behind the leaders, a postmortem will follow in time...
But I'm certainly scratching, there's very little chance of me making my home flight if I ride all the way. But until then, there's hundreds and hundreds of kilometres to ride, and thousands of metres of climbing to do, and that's what and why this race is so special. The winner is simply a phenomenal specimen, but the rest of us, we ride for the challenge and adventure, to experience the very rough with the buttery-smooth, to choose to carry on in the face of common-sense and logic. To share croissants with good natured Italians, and be ignored by impassive cows as we attempt to climb past them, imagining that they are disapproving of the watts/kilo they are witnessing.
I can't quit yet, I’m still in countries I recognise. Bring on Kosovo and Montenegro, then I'll think about the train in more detail. Until then, Vive the Tour! And to making plans for next year. I hope to see you there!