TCR No.5 report 6 – CP4, Romania

Today marks day 3 of checkpoint 4 being open and so far we've had 7 riders come through and 6 of them up the road expected to come through during the night. From tomorrow onwards the mid pack will start to come in and it will probably be a lot more crowded.

At the moment James Hayden has about a 4 hour time gap on Bjorn Lenhard, who came to the checkpoint late afternoon yesterday respectively. Both of them had a fairly quick stop with us of maybe 30 minutes, before they got back on the road. In third position is Jonas Goy, who arrived around 2am and had a 5 hour kip in the Wendy house (is what I think the British call it… a little house with a slide for children to play in). From then on it got a little more exciting. Geoffroy Dussault's dot had been stationary for quite some time in Sibiu 100km away from the checkpoint, and in the morning he was overtaken by Nelson Trees. Nelson broke his front wheel a couple of days ago, causing him a couple of places in the race. But he cut back on sleep and managed to work his way back to 4th again. Not very long after Nelson left, Geoffroy Dussault, Rory McCarron and Mathias Dalgas entered very shortly after one another, all in completely different states of mind. It's so interesting to see how riders respond differently to having just ridden 3000km with the knowledge they still have 1000km to go.

Mathias Dalgas packs really light

It's been difficult for us to closely follow the race as internet is really, really sparse, so all we could focus on was the riders in near proximity of the checkpoint. I do know that the heatwave (they call it Lucifer apparently?) has taken its toll on a lot of riders, causing a bunch of them to either scratch or seriously take it back a notch. The first women have passed checkpoint 3 though, and are likely to arrive late on Sunday or early Monday morning. Can't wait to see them!

Chris and Paul geeking over Bjorn's bike

Meanwhile at our hotel things have been slow (internet in particular), but fun. Volunteering obviously means a lot of waiting around, but there are definitely worse places to sit on your arse all day. The hotel has a creek running at the back and a little campground right next to it, which turns out to be a popular weekend destination for Romanian families. It's been very crowded around the hotel and there's a constant smell of barbecue or campfire coming from the campgrounds. The hotel is sort of hot on the whole bear theme, but apparently the media team really saw a mother bear with her cubs after sunset the other day, so I find it a bit surprising that everyone is so comfortable to be cooking food in the open air and then sleep in a tent next to it. When in the States, the campgrounds were really strict on leaving all your food and items with strong scents in the bear box and not in your tent or car. But maybe that's just American hysteria, because so far there have been no reports of bears hovering around the tents here (sadly). Hopefully better news tomorrow. 😉

Oh, and let's not forget: Marianne Vos won the European Championships today, HELL YES!


TCR No.5 report 5 – CP4, Romania

First mission is complete, I made it to the checkpoint! After a lovely night's sleep at the Old Mill, I forced the savory breakfast in. I usually can't really handle any solid food so shortly after waking up, but I knew that I needed it and I had no clue if I'd able to get any food on the climb. The morning had the kind of hotness in the air that predicted another scorching day, but at that moment it was still quite okay.

The climb itself was absolutely lovely. It was going to be the longest and highest climb I've ever done, so I just settled into a rhythm and worked my way up. The climb went really well, it's never excessively steep and the views will keep you distracted. I did make the classic mistake at some point to congratulate myself a bit too early, thinking I was nearly at the top, when I realized the 'fun' part still was to begin. The picture above shows the last 5km, fully exposed to the sun.

Then a not so fun tunnel (I hate tunnels…) and a 15km descent down the south side of the Transfagarasan took me to the checkpoint location, where I met Chris and part of the first shifts crew. Chris works for Apidura, one of the race sponsors and responsible for checkpoint 4. Paul was also there, who you might remember as the person I copied the route from that took me over the rough gravel track after Brad. He was feeling a bit guilty, which was of course completely unnecessary, but I might still accept that beer from him. 😉

The media car following the race leaders came in late last night, because we were expecting James and Bjorn to arrive during the night. In the end they decided to take a rest before they got here. I imagine at least James and maybe both of them must have had a very rough ride along the same road that stressed me out so much on Wednesday, because the race organisation communicated earlier this morning that they strongly discourage the riders to use this road. James is now on the parcours towards the checkpoint and should be here in probably two hours, with Bjorn likely to arrive somewhere in the afternoon. The fun is about to begin!

TCR No.5 report 4 – Carta, Romania

While I'm writing this, I'm staying at Pension The Old Mill right on the foot of the Transfagarasan, realizing once again that life is pretty damn good. My ride ended at 4pm, my clothes are in the washing machine (hallelujah!) and dinner is being cooked.

The plan was to see how I felt once I got here, whether or not I'd ride up the mountain. Well, I wasn't feeling it. It had been scorching hot again all day, and my ride was not an enjoyable one. So I opted for an early shower, a long self massage of the quads and, as said, laundry.

The road from Sebes to Sibiu was still more or less okay. It was a main road, but there was a highway right next to it, so the traffic was manageable. And a main road meant plenty of service stations, so I got to top up my water nice and often. After Sibiu the situation took a turn for the worse, when the road merged with the highway and I found myself among the traffic to Bukarest. The road changed into a dual carriage way and I quadruple checked if I was really allowed to ride here, when I finally saw some other local looking bike riders come past. Okay, so apparently it really was allowed, but still I rather felt like rerouting. Google Maps wasn't really helpful, so I tried to see if Garmin had any better options. He did have something that would be 30km longer, but he chose a path that changed into gravel within 300m right in the middle of no mans land. So the choice was riding a very busy road with speeding traffic, with the possibility of going fast, or riding a quieter road with the possibility that I get to push my bike for hours again. Both not ideal, so I just went with the main road, at least I knew when I'd get there.

Credit where credit's due, most drivers still gave me as much space as they could, but this time it just wasn't as much. And then there were those drivers who didn't give me much space. The shoulder was about 10 to 14 inches wide, so mostly I could stay on the right side of the line, but I couldn't move over that much. It's just never a lot of fun when a truck passes you at full speed within arms reach. So stress level was way high, and I stopped at every gas station just to get off the road a bit and calm down. Thankfully when the road split between the 1 and 7, I had to continue East on the 1. It became a single lane road again and it got slightly less bad. But only ever so slightly. I was making decent progress, but it felt like it took forever.

These pictures sum up my ride really well

Sometimes I get in a bit of a limbo between getting to the place where my head decided I should be at the end of day or making sure I take the most enjoyable road and not worrying too much about where I'll end up. Truth be told, if I had taken more time to carefully consider my route, I might have been able to better merge these two together, but there are also many occasions where these don't rhyme. It's not a big deal, but it something I need to work on a bit more. At least I've been quite good so far at making sure I'm ending up at a nice place, so whatever happened, it will have been worth the effort. And that's how I'm sitting here in a gorgeous little village, my room smelling of the freshly washed clothes that just came in, food being served in ten minutes and 100% content with life.

No dot watching update today. I haven't had the time to keep tabs of the riders today, nor to catch up on them just now. Tomorrow I'll be at the checkpoint, so from that time it will be full on rider status updates. Now time for dinner. 🙂

Also, I got a comment my bike is never in the picture. Here it is, freed from it's burden for a little bit. Just for you, Onno!

TCR No.5 report 3 – Sebes, Romania

I cheated today! 🙊 The plan this morning was to make it to Sebes, an 'easy' 120km away. Except that throughout the day I realized I did something wrong while studying the route, and Sebes was actually more about 180km away. I decided to see how it went, maybe I'd make it, maybe not. In that case I'd just end a little before Sebes. Well, my chosen route caused me to lose a fair bit of time, and I thought I'd most likely not make it. But when the time came to figure out where I'd sleep tonight, it turned out the closest place to sleep was in… Sebes! Thing was, Sebes was still 50km away, I was extremely hungry and food wasn't easy to get by on that part of the route, and I really couldn't be bothered with probably 2 hours more riding. Maybe more, if I'd encounter more of those surprise climbs I've been riding all day. So I went over to a little bar with a man and woman sitting outside (food is sometimes hard to find, alcohol is never an issue). Yesterday's process of a Google Translate aided conversation was repeated and it was just as hilarious. Their first reaction was something like 'just cycle there!'. Ouch, that was a painful burn from a beer drinking shirtless guy and chain smoking woman. But they sat me down, gave me coffee, and eventually Google Translate said "I will get you out of here". That sounded a bit radical, but the point was the woman was calling a taxi for me. She came back a little bemused, saying it would be 100 lei, which is about €20. She looked a bit weird at me when I eagerly said that wasn't an issue, so I went on the explain to her that's about the cost for a 10km ride in Amsterdam (yes, all through Google Translate). Minutes later I was in the taxi. Of course, while on the road we passed at least 4 guest houses, one of which probably would have had a room for me. But then I wouldn't have mingled with the locals like this, so I was fine with the decision.

Restaurant view here in Sebes isn't too bad either

Rolling through Romania

Today's ride was finally a real test for the legs. Now that I got to proper hilly terrain, it would be interesting to see how my day 3 would go. Apparently Day 3 niggles don't occur when you're in touring mode! The body is 100% fine, and morale was highest it's been so far. Sure, it feels like I'm sitting on a bruise (because, basically, I'm sitting on a bruise…), but delicately sitting down, changing position often and riding out of the saddle a bit more and it was very manageable, nothing like last year. However, I had forgotten what it was like to climb with a fully packed bike. But then I ran into Simon, a Dutch guy on a Santos Travelmaster who'd ridden from Nijmegen and was on his way to Constanta. When I asked him how heavy his setup was, he casually said the bike was 20kg and his luggage 25kg. And here I am, whining about going uphill with a 17kg setup. You really gotta give it to those cycle touring guys. I know TCR style riding is by no means easy, but the thought of hauling 45kg around! And apart from uphill, I don't think he's really that much slower than me. We were both on our way to Brad, so decided to stick together and find a lunch place in Brad to exchange experiences and compare notes. Apparently he's riding for an organization that supports Romanian orphanages. He was on his way to the Romanian office, where he would also get to visit one of the orphanages. Kudos to him!

After Brad our routes went separate ways. He was travelling further up north, and I was to take the back roads towards Sebes. The area got very rural and there was hardly any other traffic, I was having a great time (as I had been the entire day). But out of nothing, the road turned into this:

You can't really tell from the picture, but this was quite a steep uphill.

The joke was on me really, because I'd been stealing Paul Ferguson's routes. Paul is also a volunteer at CP4, and rode the route a week earlier. He even put on Strava that he encountered this rough road. But somehow I thought this wasn't where the rough roads were, or that they wouldn't be that long, or actually I'm not sure what I thought. Lesson learned though: it pays to do your homework! Anyway, I had to track back quite far if I wanted to re route over a main road, and it didn't seem that long. I figured I would still be faster if I hiked this part until I got to a better road. In mileage it probably really wasn't very long, but on cycling shoes, while pushing a bike over big rocks, it felt really really long. I was almost on the verge of losing my sense of humour over it a few times, but every time there was something that cheered me up, like a patch of shade, or a much needed water source.

Still I was hoping for a big 4WD to drive past who could take me to actual tarmac, but only two cars came by, and they both went in the wrong direction. Eventually my perseverance got rewarded when to road finally changed in the smoothest tarmac that took me downhill for 15km. But by this point I already lost too much time to make it to Sebes in good time, and after the 15km downhill, I got a lot of punchy hills to chew on. The early evening had started and this is where I got to the bar with the shirtless man, the chain smoking woman and my new best friend Google Translate.

Even played the tourist today

All in all, I had a wonderful day. Enjoyed the country, enjoyed the ride, enjoyed the company, and happy with how the body is holding up. Plan for tomorrow is to ride to the foot of the Transfagarasan. It's not that far (I think… I'll study it some more) so if I feel good enough, I will even ride it up to the checkpoint. Otherwise I'll keep it for Thursday morning. Thursday is also when we expect the first racers coming through.

Dotwatching update

Speaking of racers, they are killing it at the moment! First riders came through CP2 on Monte Grappa last night, and riders have been passing through ever since. At the back of the race, the red lantern has just passed CP1, so the front and back of the race are about 1,5 checkpoints apart, but that's very normal at this point in the race. Riders in Italy and beyond have reported extreme heat, so clearly that wasn't just in Romania. Many of them will cycle really early mornings or all through the night, so they can stay away from the midday heat. At the front of the race we have Bjorn Lenhard, an accomplished ultra endurance rider most known for his victory in Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015. Even now he's still averaging 30km/h. In the women's race, Melissa Pritchard (#233) now put in some distance between her and runner up Karen Tostee (#228). I don't know Melissa, but I've understood she meant to ride this race conservatively. Either she had a change of heart after she started, or she has a completely different idea of conservative than I do. Very impressive, she remains at the front of the pack overall. I'm hoping she will show the boys who's boss. Exciting!