Lupo's Transcontinental Race No4 - #46


before the race: Geraardsbergen
Day 1: Geraardsbergen – Nevers (Belgium – France, countries #1&2)
Day 2: Nevers – Charolles (France)
Day 3: Charolles – Grindelwald (CP2) (France – Switzerland, country #3)
Day 4: Grindelwald – Lugano (Switzerland – Italy, country #4)
Day 5: Lugano – Predazzo (Italy)
Day 6: Predazzo – Spittal a.d. Drau with CP3 (Italy – Austria, country #5)
Day 7: Spittal a.d. Drau – Karlovac (Austria – Slovenia – Croatia, country #7)
Day 8: Karlovac – Banja Luka (Croatia - Bosnia, country #8)
Day 9: Banja Luka – Kiseljak (Bosnia)
Day 10: Kiseljak – Berane with CP4 (Bosnia – Montenegro, country #9)
Day 11: Berane – Veles (Montenegro – Kosovo - Macedonia, country #10&11)
Day 12: Veles – Kavala (Macedonia - Greece, country #12)
Day 13: Kavala – Canakkale => Finish (Greece - Turkey, country #13)

Fri. 29.07.2016, Geraardsbergen:

After 9 months of intensive bike training I found myself at the startline of the 4th edition of the Transcontinental Race (TCR), a unsupported race from Geraardsbergen (Belgium) to Canakkale (Turkey), with 4 control points (which I’ll describe later). The entire route between start and finish and the control points has to be planned by each participant themselves. My route ought to have 4000 km length and about 42000 metres of climb. My plan was to finish between 12 and 14 days. I had never done a long distance race before, only one-day Gran Fondos, some 300+km training rides and an Everesting this year as preparation for the TCR. From my physical condition I was sure I could ride 300km avg. per day, but you never know, what your body will tell you after 5 days and more with such a long distance , when you have never ridden such a race before!

I had followed Mike Hall’s “World Cycle Race” as a dot watcher in 2012, and since then the desire, to ride a long distance race myself, grew constantly. After I had volunteered for the 2015 edition as a dot watcher, I was sure I had to apply for the 2016 edition!

I had driven by car the evening before together with my girlfriend Elke 600 km from Munich to Düsseldorf to spend the night there in the flat of Elke’s sister Silke. On the morning of the 29th we all drove together the remaining 250 km to Geraardsbergen, where I had booked a hotel room, so that I could have a bit of rest before the start at 10pm. The long journey before the start was not ideal, and I would have liked to have been more rested before the start of the 2 week journey.

Only a few days previously, we had received our cap (start) numbers. Mine was 46! As a former motorcycle racer, who still loves to watch MotoGP races on TV, the 46 was a big honour for me, because this is the race number of the famous Valentino Rossi – so I immediately had to order a T-Shirt with '' VR46'', it arrived on the day of my departure!

Geraardsbergen, after TCR registration

TCR#4 participants waiting for registration

At the top of the Muur of Geraardsbergen a few hours before the Start
After race registration, we had a good lunch and then I rode to the Muur of Geraardsbergen and the first 5km of my planned route. I wanted to avoid, that I would have to stop after the first few hundred meters after the start, in the dark, inside the TCR peloton, to check on my route via my Garmin Edge 1000 !

Back in the hotel I had a 1,5 hours nap (much too short), then it was time for dinner, where I recharged myself with a big pizza for the night ahead.

Day 1, Sat. 30.07.2016, Geraardsbergen – Nevers (Belgium – France, countries #1&2)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
524 4009 19:50 24:34 04:44 26.4 172

click on image to get the Strava data
All participants met at the Marketplace in Geraardsbergen, nervosity was noticeable. Prompt at 10pm the starting signal was given and we started one neutralized loop through the city before we climbed the Muur of Geraardsbergen. Hundreds of visitors stood on the roadside with their torches, which made the start very special. On the descent we submerged into the dark and after a few hundred meters, the participants disappeared off in different directions.

I had chosen mainly small roads in Belgium and France, to avoid traffic and drunk drivers on the first night. I even experienced some cobbled sections in Belgium and felt like being on the Tour of Flanders. It was a strange feeling being on the route now, that I had planned virtually some months ago. For the most part of this first night I felt very lonely,it was only when I crossed or followed bigger roads for a few kilometers that I met some other TCR riders.

After about 150 km and 5,5 hours I felt hungry and stopped for 15min to have a snack. Charlotte, the wife of my good friend Howard, had baked 2 power fruit cakes for my first weekend. Some sources had indicated that it is not easy to find food at weekends in France, so I was very happy to carry the 1,5 kg of additional food with me during the first 2 flat days.

After another 25km I felt a bit tired and thought I’d better have a one hour nap on a park bench rather than falling asleep on my bike on the first night! Shortly after I rode into the first sunrise of my long journey. Around 7am I felt hungry again but then discovered, that French bakeries don’t open before 8am! Thankfully I found an open tobacco shop though, where I could at least get some coffee to go with my fruit cake! It was only on the way out of town that I found a bakery where I got 3 croissants for the next few kilometers.

I was flying with my aero wheels and passed some other riders. After 316 km my stomach signaled again, that it was time for the next food supply. It was 11:30am and although I was in a bigger town, Provins, I couldn’t find an open restaurant to get a proper lunch! So I sat again in front of a tobacco shop with a coffee and Charlotte’s fruit cake … I had already started to dislike this country … I planned to stop in the next bigger town to have a real lunch there!

“Lunch” in Provins after 316 km; Charlotte’s power fruit cake
I arrived in Sens at 2:30pm with 366 km in my pocket and had to accept again, that I was too late to find an open restaurant! All the restaurants had closed their kitchens and nobody was willing to offer me some food – WTF! But finally, on the way out of the town, I saw the sign to the McDonalds! I have to admit that I was really happy to find this fast food restaurant, although I never visit them at home! 2 double cheeseburger for immediate consumption and one for my back pocket, plus a coke and water for my bottles was enough to recharge me for the next 5-6 hours.

Finally some energy after 366 km in Sens
Originally I had hoped to ride in one go to the first check point (CP) in Clermont-Ferrand. But due to my time losses with food searches and longer rests than planned, I decided to look for a hotel in Nevers at 10:30pm. The procedure after entering my room would be the same for the next 12 days and was time-optimized from day to day: out of the clothes, wash them in the sink, get a shower, put on my shorts and T-Shirt, go to eat, then sleep 4 to 4,5 hours.

Day 2, Sun. 31.07.2016, Nevers – Charolles (France)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
354 2372 13:01 16:33 03:32 27.2 166

click on image to get the Strava data
I started at 4:45am with 3 slices of fruit cake in my stomach and a coffee that I could make in my room! Anyway after almost 100 km and 3,5h I was happy to find an open coffee shop. Unfortunately they only offered croissants, but together with coffee, coke and water I was prepared to ride the final 65km to CP1. I met more and more TCR riders and on the final kilometers some riders coming in the opposite direction from CP1. I was flying again, as the route was pretty flat until CP1. I reached the control point at 10:56am on P26 – not too bad taking into account that I had had a long and good sleep in a hotel! I only stopped for 10 min to get my brevet card stamped and have another coffee and coke, then I started the climb up to Col de Ceyssat, the first real climb of the race with 700 meters of climb. The road was wet and it was still drizzling on the top, but I had fortunately just missed the big rain shower!

CP1: P26 after 1d 12h 56min

CP1: Mike and Anna very busy on their notebook
Back in the city I took my lunch in a restaurant next to the road that I had spotted on my way up. A good steak and French fries together with 2 cokes, enough energy for the next 4 hours. I had chosen a route with as little climbing as possible to get as much aero advantage back from my deep wheels as possible. So I rode almost 70km back in the direction of Nevers before I headed in a easterly direction towards Switzerland. I rode partially very small roads with very little traffic – but also with only a few towns to refill my bottles. After 290 km I found a small restaurant that was open even now at 5:30pm ! They only had some croissants left for eating, but at least I could get something to drink and refill my bottles. So the stop was short, but I would need something more to eat soon. 1,5 hours later in Digoin I finally found a restaurant to have a proper diner. I used the time to google a hotel in the next 20-50 km and found one in Charolles, which I booked immediately. 9:15pm I arrived at the hotel and my daily procedure started immediately accompanied by 2 beers. Shortly afterwards I was asleep – I had done 877 km and 6380 meters of climb in 2 days …

Col de Ceyssat

Lunch in Clermont-Ferrand

Day 3, Mon. 01.08.2016, Charolles – Grindelwald (CP2) (France – Switzerland, country #3)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
373 3846 14:58 18:03 03:05 24.9 166

click on image to get the Strava data
I started at 4am and my goal was to finish the day at CP2, in Grindelwald. I knew I had to ride more than 360 km and climb almost 4000m – so there was not a lot of time to be lost during the day! As Grindelwald lies at 1000m above sea level, I also wanted to book a hotel there on my way – especially as Mike had mentioned during the briefing, that in Grindelwald hotels would all be booked because of a national holiday that day!

6:30am in Tournus

La Saone
My early breakfast was again Charlotte’s fruit cake, but nevertheless I was happy to find an open coffee shop in Louhans already 20 mins before 8am, where I stopped for 35 mins. Croissants don’t return a lot of energy for their volume, unfortunately, so I needed another short stop in Crancot 90 mins later, after I had climbed a very steep 300 metres on a small road. There was little traffic, fantastic scenery, blue skies and tailwind most of the time, so that I enjoyed a lot the ride to Pontarlier on the elevated plain 800m above sea level . Even the Italian TCR film crew passed me and interviewed me on the road while riding my bike!

20 km before Pontarlier a McDonalds was advertised. I thought that was a good lunch solution today to save some time and would have a high density of energy. Unfortunately I had chosen a smaller road into Pontarlier, and when I arrived in the town, no signs of McDonalds were visible – at least not to me … possibly due to my low blood sugar level !! – I had ridden 195 km already! I rode back and forth in the city for about 20mins (!) but couldn’t find this McD! Only after I had decided to ask Google, I found the restaurant on the outskirts of town – next to the big road! The disaster was completed when I entered the restaurant and found endless queues of people waiting at the tills! Instead of saving time & fast food refuelling , the selection of McD had cost me at least one hour!

A few kilometers and a short climb later I entered my third country, Switzerland, where I met #114 Darren Franks. Our route led north of the Neuenburgersee and on the climb to the tunnel Darren was slightly faster and pulled away. The ride through this tunnel was one of the scariest moments during my journey, because it was quite dark, a lot of traffic and insanely loud. At the top the Italian TCR film crew took some photographs and I had to stop for a few minutes to bring my adrenalin level down …

The fast descent was a good and well deserved compensation and a lot of fun. I met Darren again in a bus shelter working on his chain. So I decided to stop too and thought my chain also had deserved some drops of oil after more than 1000 km – it already sounded a bit dry! As I still had ~130 km ahead of me until Grindelwald so I didn’t waste too much time and set off.

Typical French breakfast: coffee & croissants (in Louhans)

Typical French lunch: Mc Donalds in Pontarlier

#114 Darren Franks after descent to Neuenburgersee
I found another McD later, which worked really fast and I hoped I could now ride through to Grindelwald without more stops. The sun set around 8:30pm when I passed the Thunersee and I still had 30 km to ride with a climb of more than 500m – and I was hungry again! I had to find a hotel too – something I had forgotten completely! So I stopped for a few minutes at the lake, ate a power gel and googled some hotels in Grindelwald. Finally I found a room in one of the most expensive hotels there and booked it. Despite the price I was happy, because I already felt very tired and I expected the night to be very cold and uncomfortable without a bed.

The last climb to Grindelwald was hard for me; it was dark, cold and I felt tired. I reached CP2 in 2 days 23 hours and 45 min in P17! I found my hotel, emptied the Minibar (which was included in the price!), and after I had washed my clothes and myself I had a good dinner in the hotel restaurant. I planned to have a longer sleep this night and enjoy the breakfast at 7am, so that I could start the Day of the 4 Passes in daylight and with enough energy – although I was sure I would lose some positions while sleeping so long!

Short snack stop at Thunersee

CP2, Grindelwald, just 15min under 3 days, P17

see my sequence after 40sec

Day 4, Tue. 02.08.2016, Grindelwald – Lugano (Switzerland – Italy, country #4)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
220 4359 11:23 13:37 02:14 19.4 159

click on image to get the Strava data
The alarm rang at 6:45am, at 7am I was sitting at the breakfast table, already in my biking clothes. I enjoyed a very good ,big breakfast and set off to climb my 1st Pass of the day, Große Scheidegg, at 7:50am. After a few kilometres I followed the sign “Große Scheidegg”, which turned off left from the main road. I was a bit surprised, because this path was very small and quite steep. After 100m of climbing, partially with 20% gradient, the path continued as a gravel path – now I was sure I had chosen the wrong route. So down I rode again and followed the main road. Once I had to stop because of a Post bus, which wanted to overtake me on the narrow road. Later Daniel Fisher overtook me, but I met him later at the top of the climb again. It was cloudy but the view was great and rain was not forecasted before late afternoon.

Big breakfast in Grindelwald

Start of my ride to Große Scheidegg (1962m)

#133 Daniel Fisher at the top of Große Scheidegg

Post buses, Große Scheidegg
The next climb to Grimselpass was a 1500 metres climb from 650m up to 2165m and I was happy, that it was not a hot but cloudy day. But it took me about 2,5 hours to climb this pass! On the descent you have a beautiful view to the Furka Pass, which would be the next 700 metres of climbing. But before I started this climb I recharged myself with the best Pasta Carbonara I had eaten for a long time!

Grimsel Pass, 2165m

View from Grimsel Pass to Furka Pass (2436m)

Lunch before Furka Pass

Glacier in the background

Hotel Belvedere, Furka Pass (007 Goldfinger!)

St. Gotthard Pass, 2106m
I arrived at the top of the Furka Pass around 3:30pm on P20 – so I had lost only 3 positions since my arrival in Grindelwald, despite my long sleep in the Hotel! The film crew took some photographs, and as it started to drizzle, I lost no time, put on my rain jacket and went down immediately. I could escape the rain and after a descent of 900m I started to climb the last Pass of the day immediately, the St. Gotthard – another 600 metres of climb. I was only the second person behind Stuart Birnie, who also chose the route to the south via Lago di Como and Lago di Garda, which promised a much flatter (~3000 metres less climbing) but about 100 km longer route to CP2, than the direct route across several more passes.

It was already 5pm and I had done only 108 km so far! I wanted to ride at least to the Lake Lugano – another 110 km; luckily with 1800m descent and only a few short climbs! The main road down the St. Gotthard has parts where bikes are not permitted this meant , that I had to take the old road with cobbles. I had only one short snack stop and arrived shortly after 9pm in Lugano, where I took the first hotel directly on the Lake.

It was a warm summer night and I enjoyed a good and meaty dinner in the restaurant next to the hotel.

Lake Lugano

Day 5, Wed. 03.08.2016, Lugano – Predazzo (Italy)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
389 2933 14:34 19:41 05:07 26.7 160

click on image to get the Strava data
I started a bit late, at 4:50am without breakfast. My goal was to reach CP3 that night. My plan was to fly across the Northern Italy Plain with more than 28 kph avg (which I actually achieved!), but many things went wrong on this day, so that I couldn’t get the full advantage out of my route choice …

After 6am, just before the Italian border I found a big gas station that had just opened. They didn’t offer warm food, but 2 coffees, juice and water for my bottles, and 2 packs of chocolate cookies did their job for the next 3 hours till Bergamo, where I had a 40min breakfast stop. The temperatures had raised , it was already up to 23°C. Everything was fine so far.

2nd breakfast in Bergamo ~9am

Lago di Garda, Sirmione
Shortly before Brescia, around noon, the sun was already burning at >30°C, the display of my Garmin Edge 1000 completely froze – there was no response from the device on no matter what I press! The city of Brescia was only a few kilometers ahead. I thought I could navigate to Brescia with the sun and try to reboot the Garmin during my lunch in a nice Pizzeria! But there were either big roads, where cycling was not permitted, or the roads lead to the south – which was not my preferred direction! Finally I followed a sign “Lago di Garda” – exactly where I wanted to go. But only a few minutes later I found myself on an Italian Highway with cars signaling, that this was not a road I should ride on! I was probably on the days local radio news. Luckily there was an exit only a couple of kilometers later. Shortly afterwards I finally found a road out of the city in easterly direction. I stopped at the next Pizzeria on the outskirts to have lunch. I had done 200km so far, it was now 33°C and only 12:30pm. I had already suffered a lot in the heat, so I stopped for more than 1 hour. Unfortunately the Pizza was one of the worst of my life, so bad that I couldn’t eat it all . At least I could reset my Garmin and it seemed that it had even recorded my data.

Only 40kms later I arrived at Lake Garda, in Sirmione. It was still incredibly hot, up to 37°C! I had doused my jersey in cold water, whenever I found a fountain or a water-tap next to the road, to cool my body down ! Saddle sore started to emerge due to the moisture. I needed additional internal cooling and stopped for an ice cream in the shade. Another 40 km later I felt so bad and overheated, that I stopped in a coffee shop for 1.5 hours, where I drank a lot and even had a short nap on the bench. But I didn’t have the appetite to eat something.

It was now 6pm and I had only done 260km, due to my many breaks. At least the temperatures dropped now a bit below 30°C and the sun wasn’t burning my skin anymore. Outside Rovereto my appetite returned and I stopped for 2 portions of Spaghetti Carbonara. When I left the restaurant it was already 8pm and I had at least 300km in my pocket – but not enough for what I had expected to be a big day for me! I wanted to do at least a bit of the climb from Trento to the Passo Pellegrino! At 0:30am I had done another 1000 metres of climb and 88 km since my dinner, and decided to bivvi behind the gasoline station in Predazzo. Despite being at 1000 m above sea level it was comfortable and warm inside my down sleeping bag and I fell asleep very quickly. Were it not for all my problems with the Garmin and the heat, I could have been now in Alleghe at CP3 and sleeping in a bed!

Bivvy behind the gas station in Predazzo

Day 6, Thu. 04.08.2016, Predazzo – Spittal a.d. Drau with CP3 (Italy – Austria, country #5)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
240 3174 10:24 14:32 04:08 23.1 157

click on image to get the Strava data
I had set my alarm for 5:45am. Although I had slept well in my 1st bivvy and felt really warm and comfortable inside my sleeping bag, I absolutely didn’t feel as recovered as the days before in a hotel room. I hated the idea that I had to leave my warm sleeping bag now and pack up everything in the cold, and without access to a bathroom to freshen up.

After a minimal breakfast (one bar) I started at 6:20am with the immediate climb of the Passo Pelegrino (1918m). The 900m climb on 21km was not steep, but my stomach already demanded some food. I had not much food left, so I stopped for only 10 mins at the top to eat another bar and to take the obligatory photograph.

Passo Pelegrino (1918m)

Breakfast at CP3
I had done this part of my route already in May with my mate Howard, so I knew very well, that the last 30 kms to CP3, in Alleghe, were not very hard. After the descent there was only another easy 200m climb, so that I arrived around 9am at the Hotel Europa. The famous long distance cyclist Juliana Buhring was one of the volunteers to welcome the TCR riders and stamp our brevet cards. Fortunately she did not refuse to take a photo with me, although I thought I wouldn’t smell very nice ! after one and a half days without a shower and clothing wash …

I was happy to get a very large breakfast at the hotel and hoped, I could continue my ride very quickly. But something was wrong with me – I felt dizzy and weak, my circulation was playing up. Was it yesterday’s heat and dehydration, or was there something wrong with the breakfast – I still don’t know, but I really struggled and thought I couldn’t continue my ride, and I would have to scratch! But before doing that I decided to take a nap in the shade outside the hotel at the lake. I think I slept more than one hour as it was already 11:20am when I decided to continue. I did not have a clue how far I could ride – but at least I felt much better now.

I needed 2:10h to climb the 1200m to the top of the Passo Giau, the end of the CP3 circuit – which was very slow! It was a hot day again , and even at above 2200m the temperature reached 27°C! I only stopped for a few photos and descended the 1000m down to Cortina very quickly. Finally my appetite had come back so I intended to have a good big meal in the last Italian city of my route. I enjoyed very good spaghetti and a big scoop of ice cream, before I continued on my way to Austria. Most riders had gone south from here, to the Croatian coast, but I had intended to ride a more direct inland route through the Balkans to CP4 in Montenegro. My goal now was to reach Spittal in Austria today, another 150km from Cortina; and I had done only 87km so far in almost 9 hours!

Juliana Buhring and me at CP3

Passo Giau, 2236m
My energy had come back after my late lunch in Cortina, so that after an easy 300m climb out of the city I flew down to Lienz on the big SS51 despite lots of traffic: 80km with 800m descent in 2:35h. My destination was now another 75km away so I decided to stop for a last quick refuel in a McDonalds. Whilst eating 2 double cheeseburgers I googled and booked a hotel in Spittal, which I reached 2:30h later at 8:50pm. And you won’t believe, but after showering and washing my clothes I was hungry again! Luckily, the hotel had a good restaurant downstairs and it was a very nice and warm summer evening so I could sit outside.

Passo Giau

Passo Giau to Cortina

see my sequence after 1:36min

Day 7, Fri. 05.08.2016, Spittal a.d. Drau – Karlovac (Austria – Slovenia – Croatia, country #7)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
293 2584 11:55 15:23 03:28 24.6 150

click on image to get the Strava data
Unfortunately the hotel didn’t offer me a packed lunch for my early start, so this meant I had to leave at 5:15am without breakfast. I hoped I would find an open bakery or coffee shop very soon – Austria is very similar to Bavaria in this respect, where most bakeries open at 6am. The next city on my route was Villach, only ~30km away. A big Agip petrol station directly on my route with a coffee shop looked very inviting, and I was more than happy to find a typical Bavarian speciality there: Leberkässemmel (Meatloaf served in crusty white roll with either sweet or hot mustard !) I ordered 2 of them together with 2 big coffees and 1 liter of orange juice – this quantity was obviously not expected by the waitress so early in the morning, as she asked me twice to confirm the number of coffees and rolls. After 6 days with mainly croissants for breakfast, I felt very satisfied and happy and ready for the upcoming climb, the Wurzenpass, which leads into Slovenia.

This Pass is a climb of only 540m, but someone told me just 2 days before the start, that there are gradients up to 20%! Well I thought, with my 34/32 gears that shouldn’t be a problem. The display on my Garmin showed gradients >10% very soon, reaching values of 16%. After a hairpin bend a traffic sign with the 18% gradient appeared, and in front of me a straight ramp. After only a few meters I decided I would be faster walking this steep section rather than trying not to fall off my bike. Only a few minutes later a young girl on a TT bike, dancing on her pedals, overtook me, which demoralized me for a few seconds, but then I said to myself: she is probably half of my age, weighs 20kg less than me and her bike is 12kg lighter than mine – everything is fine ☺ (At the finisher party Kristof, the winner, told me, even he had to walk this section! ☺ ). The last part of the pass was rideable , and I was a bit surprised to see the old tank, which was positioned on the top of the pass.

Bavarian/Austrian breakfast: Leberkässemmel

Tank on top of the Wurzenpass (1070m)
The route profile on my Garmin told me, that I would have about 100km with ~700m descent ahead of me. The wind was also on my side, which meant that I could ride this part with an avg of 28km/h. The saddle sore, that had started on Day 5 in Italy, had not decreased a lot. The worst part was, when I started riding after a break. I don’t know, whether the pain became less, or I just adapted to the pain ,the longer I sat on my saddle. Anyway, the rougher the road surface was, the less comfortable I felt on my saddle. And I had the impression, that the road surfaces became worse and worse, the farther I rode in an easterly direction.

On the dot of 12 !, after 142km, I came past a big petrol station again. In Slovenia they very often include a mini restaurant or coffee shop, which was the case here – so that was the optimal lunch stop for me. 20km later I reached an easy small climb of 230m with 2,3% avg gradient, before I had only flat or descending roads ahead of me again for the next 60km. The road and traffic was ok and I never felt unsafe in Slovenia. The temperatures had risen again up to 30°C, but the sun didn’t burn as much as in Italy, as there were some clouds in the sky. Anyway, I didn’t want to risk another dehydration and stopped again after 206km in a beer garden, to refuel my bottles and myself and have some cake and coffee. A short check of my route indicated, that I had to ride another ~100km to Karlovac, in Croatia, which could be a good overnight stop in a hotel. The sky in front of me already showed some dark clouds and my weather app forecasted storms for Karlovac this evening. Therefore I didn’t spend too much time in the shaded beer garden and forced myself to hurry up a bit. There was another gentle climb of 400m with ~4% gradient, but the last 40km were almost flat, so that I reached Karlovac at 8:20pm – still in the dry but with dark clouds all around. I hadn’t booked a hotel during the day, so I just googled some options.

The 1st, a B&B was closed, so I just checked the next hotel, which looked like a small castle and was situated at and named after the river Korana. Although it is a 4-star hotel, it was no problem to take my bike into the spacious room. After my quick washing procedure I went downstairs to the hotel restaurant, where I enjoyed a delicious 3-course menu together with 2 bottles of the local beer (Karlovacko) on the roof terrace, watching spectacular lightning all around, before the storm started. I was very happy to be sitting in the dry and knowing I would sleep in a warm and dry bed tonight.

Hotel Korana in Karlovac

Hotel Korana in Karlovac – one of the best hotels of my journey

Desert: Chocolate Palatschinken

Day 8, Sat. 06.08.2016, Karlovac – Banja Luka (Croatia - Bosnia, country #8)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
201 1152 07:25 09:09 01:44 27.2 153

click on image to get the Strava data
I was now 7 days into the race and had done ~2400km – more than half of the distance and still within a possible 12 days finish. I set my alarm for an early start around 4am. But when I got up, it was raining cats and dogs! No way I would leave my room and start into a wet dark day! Instead I thought it would be better to rest another 3 hours and take breakfast at 7am. I was the only person at the buffet so early and enjoyed another delicious and big meal in this hotel, which would sate me at least for 5 hours.

When I had packed my bike and left the hotel, it was already 8:45am and it was now only drizzling, though the roads were still wet. My route through Croatia led through some very lonesome areas on small roads with little traffic. The houses were in a very bad state and I hardly met younger people. It looked like this part of Croatia was evacuated and the elderly people had been forgotten ... My route was also not very hilly – there were rather false flats (~1% gradient), than real climbs. Anyway, my saddle sore was quite painful today, and the bad road surface with cracked tarmac didn’t help, as each of those bumps caused immediate pain. Riding in aero position helped against the pain, but on bad surface it was not possible to ride in this position. I tried to change my position as often as possible, and even stopped 2 or 3 times to grease the sore areas with chamois cream, which prevented it becoming worse.

The roads dried very quickly and I rode the 120km to the Bosnian border at Novi Grad without a food stop. I exchanged some money – Bosnia is one of the few countries on my route without the €uro. It was Saturday, the streets were very busy and there was a small market. My breakfast was already burned so that I stopped at the next small restaurant to have a late lunch. To my surprise the owners spoke German and it turned out, that they were refugees in Germany in the 90s, when there was the civil war in this region. They were quite thankful for the help, which they got during this time, and they wished me good luck for the rest of my journey.

The temperature was not high today – around 17°C with grey skies, but at least it didn’t rain. During my stop I had a deeper look at my route data and noticed, that after Banja Luka, which was ~80km ahead, there were 2 climbs and no civilization for many kilometers! So I decided to ride to Banja Luka and stop there in a hotel, and continue the next morning very early rather than ending somewhere in no man’s land in the middle of the night without options for food and bed! The remaining 80km were done quite quickly with an avg of > 28km/h, as the roads were better now than in Croatia. I googled the hotels in the city and rode to one, which was situated directly on my route in the city center. It was only 5:55pm and there were plenty of rooms available. After my washing procedure I walked to the supermarket across the street to get water, juice and some food for the next morning. Later I had an early dinner in the hotel restaurant and found out, that the Italian pair #218 Gualtiero Rossano & Alberto Vaghi had stopped in the same city, only a few hundred meters from my hotel! The next day I read on their FB page, that Alberto had to scratch from the race and Gualtiero had to continue solo.

Day 9, Sun. 07.08.2016, Banja Luka – Kiseljak (Bosnia)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
159 1920 07:07 09:40 02:33 22.4 157

click on image to get the Strava data
I had a good long sleep . I had prepared some sandwiches the evening before, for breakfast as well as for my back pocket. The bike was also already packed and ready to go, so I didn’t lose a lot of time between getting up and leaving the hotel at 4:40am. It was cool but dry and my Castelli Gabba jersey together with the nanoflex arm and leg warmers worked very well , as long as I was riding and producing some heat.

Already after 16km outside the town the first climb started together with some drizzling rain, which soon became real rain, so that I stopped to put on my rain shoe covers and my rain jacket. The climb seemed never ending and stretched over 40km, with some small descents in between. There was almost no traffic, no houses – no life … I felt very lonely and my mood started to drop …

After 54km I reached the top and didn’t hang around before the descent, because I was freezing. Later on Strava I noticed, that I set the 6th fastest time in this downhill segment, even in the wet (!), 23sec behind Ben May. Ben , Gualtiero and I were obviously the only TCR riders who took this route.

The next climb from 450m up to 1070m followed immediately and those 20km felt again never ending. It was now 9°C and raining heavily, despite the conditions I was able to set the 5th fastest Strava segment time on the last 5,7km uphill – not many riders seem to choose this road ;-) After the descent more and more roads joined my road and the first cities appeared, which meant that the traffic also increased. After almost 5,5 hours and 104km around 10am I arrived in Traunik, the 1st bigger town since Banja Luka. It was a bit early for lunch and I still had a sandwich in my back pocket, but I was so wet and cold to the bone that I searched for about 10min for a restaurant that could offer some hot food! Finally I found one where they served a Bosnian mixed grill together with French fries – unfortunately I forget the name of this meal( Sač ?.)

At least it tasted quite good and I was happy that the restaurant was warm, because I was shivering badly in my wet clothes. After 1:20h although it was still raining heavily outside I decided to continue. I was reasonably warm and I knew I couldn’t afford another early break like yesterday! I hoped it would stop raining soon.

Back on the flat road, the traffic increased constantly. It was now noon on a rainy Sunday, but Bosnian people seemed to enjoy their Sunday run out despite the bad weather. The road, was full of deep grooves, which were filled with water from the heavy rain. Whenever I was overtaken by a car or one of the many buses, I got a hefty wash from the road, as if someone dumped a bucket over me! It was no fun at all and I felt anything but safe under these conditions, due to very poor visibility – I had to ride with my lights on during the day! About 40km after my lunch break I stopped again at a betting shop to warm up again with 2 coffees – but that didn’t help a lot; My entire body was shivering . My mood was at its lowest ebb . Thoughts like “What the hell am I doing here?”, “I will scratch from the race now and ride to Thessaloniki in the next days to get my flight, without time pressure and enjoy the countries and landscapes!”whirled through my mind. But the most important thing now was, to find a hotel to warm up and put my dry clothes on – otherwise I was sure I would be ill tomorrow … I still had 40km to Sarajevo ahead of me, which meant about another 1,5 hours in that rain! One of the customers expressed concern and asked me in good Austrian/German where I was going. He recommended a motel in the next town, only about 10km away – my new goal for the day was set! Unfortunately the motel was not easy for me to find, because it was situated some hundred meters outside the town on the way to Sarajevo, but finally I found it and got a room on the ground floor for me and my bike. I jumped into the hot shower with all my riding clothes on and took them off only after a few minutes when I felt warm again. It was incredible how filthy I and my clothes had become from the dirty roads, the black water streamed down my legs for ages.

With my dry clothes and a down jacket on I felt like a human being again. I washed all my clothes and hung them up in the bathroom. I had no second pair of shoes, so I decided to put my cold wet cycle shoes on without socks and to go upstairs to do all the check-in formalities . The guy on the reception was so nice - he offered me a lift to the nearest restaurant. When I told him, I would probably leave way before breakfast time, he even offered to prepare a lunch package for me and leave it in the fridge at the reception! I gladly accepted both offers, and a few minutes later I found myself in a warm nice restaurant, where I enjoyed again a 3-course menu with 2 beers. Eventually I also found some time to post some news on my FB page and on my WhatsApp groups about my bad state … I immediately got many encouraging messages back, and together with the good meal and the beers my mood was raised. The weather forecast showed improved conditions for the late afternoon – tomorrow I would be back in the game!

By the time I had paid for my meal, the rain had stopped and even the sun had come out, so I decided to walk back the 1- 2km to the motel, when Gualtiero passed by. I shouted his name and waved my arm, but he obviously didn’t recognize me and disappeared in direction of Sarajevo. Back in my room I serviced my chain and stuffed some old newspapers inside my still wet shoes and went to bed.

Day 10, Mon. 08.08.2016, Kiseljak – Berane with CP4 (Bosnia – Montenegro, country #9)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
315 4108 13:26 17:23 03:57 23.4 165

click on image to get the Strava data
My alarm rang at 2:45am after a good long sleep. I picked up my packed lunch from the fridge upstairs and ate up this for breakfast, whilst I was packing my bike. My clothes had almost dried overnight. At 3:33am I started my Garmin and rode into the dark. The roads were also almost dry.

After only 7min, my legs were anything but warm and then I experienced my first dog attack: about 7 big wild dogs appeared out of the dark and chased me and I had to do my first dog sprint – now I was warm and completely awake! That was a really scary moment and from now on I carefully observed the roadside. I spotted more dogs, but obviously I was already out of their reach, when they spotted me, or I was not an interesting prey for them.

Bosnian breakfast: soup, omelet and coffee

My nice Bosnian waitress
My legs felt quite good – the longer rest was definitely good for the recovery of my body. I was also happy, that I had started so early, because there was almost no traffic on the big road to Sarajevo. Near Sarajevo I missed an exit and had to continue on the highway-like road another 4km, until I could ride in a southerly direction . There was a false flat for ~20km until the first climb of the day started: 660m of climbing on 20km, up to 1160m. My mood was much better than yesterday, although my Garmin only showed 10°C. After another 25km of descending, it was just 7am, my stomach was already grumbling – well, I had already done 85km and my breakfast was 4 hours ago! Unfortunately I was in a very remote area without cities, only a few houses from time to time, but no signs of life as it was so early in the morning. I was not very optimistic to find something to eat, and I still had 30km until the border to Montenegro ahead of me. Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I noticed a person sitting outside a lonely small pub, with a coffee and a cigarette. I stopped immediately and rode back to ask, if they could offer me some food. The nice lady didn’t understand neither English nor German, but she obviously understood, that I was hungry and showed me the menu card. I ordered a warm soup and a large omelette together with a big coffee and water for my bottles. Unlike in France, these people don’t care about the opening hours of their kitchen; when you need something to eat they just go and cook for you, whatever you want!

“Wild” house pigs next to the road

Road to the Montenegro border – rough surface

Bridge over the river Piva after border crossing

View south
After my second breakfast enroute to the Montenegro border I had to ride ~30km on rough roads, which had been washed away partially. There must have been heavy floodings recently. Thankfully the soil had been removed from the road mostly, and the road was open! Otherwise I would have had to ride a large detour.

The border crossing was no problem – I entered an EU country, where I could pay with €uro again. The next ~30km through the valley of the river Piva offered fantastic views and I had to stop several times to take some photographs. I had tears of joy in my eyes a couple of times –at how beautiful this country – and life is ! And of course knowing that I would reach CP4 in a few minutes and what had I achieved so far! Another maybe 3 days and I could possibly be in Canakkale! And I would meet some TCR guys again; I hadn’t met any of them since CP3! Actually Stefan Slegl was already sitting in the restaurant in Pluzine, which was the starting point of the CP4 parcours to the Durmitor massif. A bit later Karl Speed and David Winton joined us. It was a good feeling to meet familiar people after so many days, and we exchanged our latest experiences and stories, whilst I ordered a delicious meal. The other guys decided to continue their ride up to Durmitor after a short stop – they obviously had a different time table regarding their food supply. But I was already more than 7 hours on the bike and I knew I had to climb for at least 2,5 hours now without a chance to get something to eat on my way to Zabljak.

Road along the valley on the left side

CP4 in Pluzine, I met Stefan Slegl and later David Winton and Karl Speed

View back to Pluzine on the way up to Durmitor

One of the many small tunnels
I continued my ride 30min behind the 3 guys. Before I could start the climb, I had to ride back my previous route for about 3km, with a fantastic view over the Pivsko jezero, which is the biggest dammed lake in Montenegro. On the way up you have to cross several small tunnels on a small road with almost no traffic. It was an absolutely fantastic day for climbing: the gradient was gentle, the temperature between 16°C and 19°C and brilliant views, only the peaks of the highest mountains of the Durmitor massif were covered in clouds. I again had tears of joy in my eyes several times – that was the most emotional day of my tour so far.

On the high plateau of the Durmitor

Only a few meters before the top I overtook Karl and I descended without putting on a jacket. After 195km I reached Zabljak, CP4, at 5:10pm on P36 – I had lost 8 positions since CP3 due to my last 2 short days! Karl arrived a few minutes behind me, and the 3 guys decided to go for lunch in a restaurant in the town. I didn’t want to waste too much time, as I already had a good lunch in Pluzine. I decided to eat only some sandwiches and coffee in the hostel and google an overnight option. My goal was another 120km away in Berane, with only a few more small climbs, but more descents and flat segments. I reached Berane a few minutes before 9pm, it was already dusk. The first hotel in the town offered free rooms and a restaurant – everything was perfect. After about 30min I sat washed, refreshed and happy in the restaurant with a big fillet steak and a beer, reflecting on the day. I had learned an important lesson: after the worst day of your life, the next day can still be your best day! Never give up!

Durmitor peaks in the clouds

On the way to Berane

Day 11, Tue. 09.08.2016, Berane – Veles (Montenegro – Kosovo - Macedonia, country #10&11)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
275 2966 11:33 14:05 02:32 23.8 154

click on image to get the Strava data
The day before was a very intense and long day with lots of climbing too, so I allowed my body half an hour more rest than normally and set the alarm for 4:30am. I still had to pack my bike, and unfortunately I didn’t get a lunch box in lieu of missed breakfast. I still had a dry sandwich in my pocket which had to come into the game – what I would have I given for a piece of Charlotte’s cake now! I started 5:15am directly with a climb after the town, from 680m up to 1330m over 16km. The subsequent ascent ended in the city of Rozaje at 1000m height, where there was already signs of life before 7am. The people looked Muslim and I entered the next best bakery, where already a handful of men took their morning coffee. The elderly woman serving could only offer different sweet looking pastries. I ordered twice, because I was already hungry, and tried to warm up with 2 cups of Turkish coffee. I was shivering at 11°C outside, and inside the bakery it was not much warmer, because the door was open. The lady pitied me and filled a big plastic bottle with hot water, that I could put under my jersey – this helped immediately and I warmed up very quickly. Again had I met so helpful and nice people in a foreign country who cared about me, what a good experience!

Immediately out of the town I had to climb another 760m up to 1780m at 10°C. But as long as I was riding, I produced enough heat to stay warm. In front of me, only a few hundred meters away, I saw another cyclist with luggage, apparently another TCR rider. In some segments I could catch up a bit, then he enlarged the distance again – we seemed to have a very similar speed. At the top of the climb, we both had to stop for the passport control at the border to Kosovo,and I caught up with him. He was #91, Deneka Ryszard from Poland. We met again a couple of times during the day. At the end he finished 8,5 hours and 8 positions ahead of me.

It was a very twisty downhill into Kosovo, but the road was good with only little traffic. But as soon as I rode on the big M-9, the traffic was increasing and the car and lorry drivers did not show any respect for cyclists. I had the impression, that there were no rules of the roads. I experienced 3 near-accidents this day.

• One car overtook me, just to brake directly in front of me to turn right, when I was on my aero bars.
• The next car, which came in the opposite direction, made an U-turn just in front of me, so that I had to lock my rear wheel.
• Another one ignored my right of way and pulled out of a back road in front of my, which caused a locked rear wheel for the third time within a couple of hours

Overtaking vehicles with 20cm distance, and cars in the opposite direction, overtaking without respecting me, was a normal condition in this country. I had to stop several times just to breathe deeply and to bring my adrenaline level back to normal. It was the most horrible ride of my life through this country, and I would never recommend someone to ride a bike there. I don’t know, if this was a common experience, or if I just had chosen the wrong roads – at the end of the day I was definitely happy to still be alive!

After 110km at 11:10am I stopped at a restaurant directly at the road to have lunch. To my surprise the young waiter spoke perfect German and it turned out, that he was German and helped his friend, the owner of the restaurant, during the summer time. I ordered the meal, that he recommended me, and I had to tell him my story. He couldn’t believe, like nobody that I had met, that someone could ride with a bicycle from Belgium to Turkey in such short time.

I checked the route and learned that I still have to ride another 95km to the border of Macedonia and hoped, that the traffic would then be safer again. After the border I would have to cross Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia. Cities after Skopje were rare, so I set my goal to reach at least Veles, which was situated about 70km into the country.

I needed just under 4 hours to reach the border and met #91 again. We continued together to cross Skopje. Unfortunately we arrived in the city during the rush hour, and it was a absolute chaos to ride between the cars. Sometimes I tried to ride on the cycle path, but the surface was so bad with broken glass, that I preferred the road again. Deneka was more hit-or-miss and disappeared very soon. I would meet him again at the finish line 2 days later. The city had been subjected to big rain storms and flooding with several deaths only a few days before. The district, that I crossed, was obviously not struck so badly, as there were only little signs of that flooding.

It took 15km or 45min to cross Skopje and I hoped I could ride the remaining 40km in well under 2 hours. But I soon learned, that main roads in Macedonia can be worse than German forest tracks. The road surface was broken with wide cracks and each bump hurt immensely my still sore buttocks. The further I rode, the worse the road became, until it continued as a dirt gravel road with deep potholes. I couldn’t believe, that I was on the correct route, so much so that I stopped several times to check my route on my Garmin and on Google maps – but the only alternative to this path was the highway, which was certainly not allowed for cyclists. It seemed in Macedonia the evolution of roads had missed out some steps and they went directly from dirt roads to highways … Until now I did still not had a puncture, but was very certain, that it would happen very soon! To my surprise I reached the tarmac shortly before the lake Mladost without a flat! The hotel Romantik at the lake looked very busy and like a holiday resort for the Skopje citizens. So I continued to ride to Veles, the next bigger city. The reception of the first hotel was not manned, so that I rode another kilometer to the next hotel, a very nice looking 4-stars wellness spa hotel. I entered the spacious entrance hall together with my bike, and the receptionist gave me a room for me and my bike just around the corner without turning his nose up at me ! :-). Also a lunch box for my early morning departure was not a problem.

Not a crash! Just to show the bad road surface!

Gravel dirt road before Veles
After my daily cleaning procedure I didn’t waste time in going to dinner . I was sure I would attract attention with my shorts and T-shirt any way in this hotel restaurant and thought the white hotel bathroom slippers would look better than my mountainbike shoes … Well, when I entered the roofed restaurant terrace I felt like all eyes were directed to me …

I was already busy with eating my rump steak, when Stefan Slegl arrived on my table, still in his cycling clothes. I was happy to have some company on , the first time after the start in Geraardsbergen! We exchanged our experiences about the day and we both agreed, that we would never come back to Kosovo. When it started to rain, we checked the Trackleaders page and detected, that Karl was still on the gravel road, in the dark and rain … poor guy!

Day 12, Wed. 10.08.2016, Veles – Kavala (Macedonia - Greece, country #12)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
308 2048 11:51 15:51 04:00 26.0 151

click on image to get the Strava data
I picked up my breakfast box at the reception at 4:30am and ate it up quickly . I was ready to go soon and started what was meant to be my last but one day, at 5:15am. I had about 650 km to ride to Canakkale and my plan was, to split this distance into 2 equally long rides of ~325km. The more I could ride today, the better. I was unsure about the upcoming road conditions in Macedonia after yesterday’s bad experience. All the more was I surprised to find an almost perfect road after I had left Veles behind me. I only stopped once to take a photograph of the beautiful sunrise, and managed the 64 km to the next town, Demir Kapija, in time trial style in 2:15 hours.

Macedonian sunrise

Time for breakfast, I thought, as there were already many people sitting in front of the next best restaurant. The waiter understood that I was already hungry and offered to make a pizza for me – that sounded very good to me, as I expected a long day. Unfortunately it took longer than I had expected, but the pizza was delicious and big, and I continued my ride in a good mood after a one hour break.

Just outside the town, the tarmac road turned into a gravel road again. I stopped and checked my Garmin, but there was no alternative road, except the highway on the other side of the river. I hoped the gravel would end very soon, but it became worse and worse. After about 5km I stopped again to check my route. My Garmin indicated a left turn in 15km – on the map this was a junction with a bigger road and I hoped, to find tarmac again . I now counted down every single km to this junction and hoped, that I would not get a puncture! The gravel was coarse and sharp edged, but I tried to ride not too slowly a nd chose a g ood path between the bigger stones. Later at home I found out, that I had set the 4 th fastest time on this 19,8 km Strava gravel segment with my 25mm Conti GP4000S II with 17,6 km/h avg.

Luckily, this was the last dirt road on my route to Canakkale! The remaining 40km to the Greek border at the Lake of Dojran was unspectacular with little traffic but constantly rising temperature. I arrived at the border at 11am with 123km in my pocket at already 31°C! This was going to be a very hot day! The customs officer welcomed me with the words: “I guess you are riding to Canakkale, right?” I was obviously not the first TCR rider crossing this border. My stomach already demanded some food, but it was still too early for the restaurants to offer any . At least I had got some sweets and my 3 bottles filled with cool water and juice – which would be essential today; I didn’t want to experience the same heat problems as in Italy! I hoped to find an open restaurant enroute in one of the small towns within the next hour or so, but it turned out, that those towns were so small, that most of them didn’t have a tavern, and there was no life on the streets around noon.

Lunch with Greek salad and “Radler” (beer with lemonade)
Only at 1pm, after 168 km, I found an open tavern and the lady offered to cook something for me. They did not have a menu, but her daughter spoke good English and explained, what they could offer. So I started with a big Greek salad, followed by a mixed grill together with French fries and enjoyed a “Radler” (German: cyclist => beer with lemonade / Shandy ). I didn’t want to hurry. The thermometer already indicated 34°C and I didn’t want to end like in Italy, overheated and dehydrated. My colleagues at home, who followed my journey online at work, sent me a photo of this tavern from Google street view via WhatsApp and asked, how the lunch was! How funny was this? I replied with a selfie.

The Trackleaders page showed, that #175, David Winton, whom I had met at CP4, was approaching. I went out on the road and waved to him, and he seemed to be happy to meet someone familiar and joined me for lunch. After an extensive rest of 1:20 hour I continued my journey and wished him the best for the remaining ride.

Meanwhile my saddle sore was not my biggest problem, but the soles of my feed: they were burning like hell in the heat and they were swollen, so that I had to loosen my shoes. I stopped about every hour or so at a petrol station to cool my body down with ice cream and cold drinks, and to take off my shoes, which helped for the next hour.

After 290 km, the sun was already setting, my heart rate started to play up with spikes up to 180bpm! So I decided I had better stop in Kavala after another 15 km and have a longer last day tomorrow. Kavala turned out to be a busy touristic city, and it took me more than 30mins to find a hotel with a free room – it was already 9pm (new Greek time). After dinner I was in my bed around 11:30pm.

Day 13, Thu. 11.08.2016, Kavala – Canakkale => Finish (Greece - Turkey, country #13)

Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
357 2071 13:51 18:31 04:40 25.8 144

click on image to get the Strava data
I got up at 4am and picked up my breakfast box at the reception. The contents wer e very disappointing with 2 very dry sandwiches, each one with only a thin slice of ham. I needed the contents of the small orange juice bottle to get those sandwiches down. I packed my bike for the last time of my journey and left the hotel at 5am.

My route out of the city was a zigzag track with many ups and downs on small roads – I should have taken a closer look at those roads during my route planning! It was already comfortable warm with 20°C and I calculated to reach the next bigger town, Xanthi, around 7am for a real breakfast. It was a windy morning with mainly headwind on a steadily ascending road, but the beautiful sunrise compensated for the effort. Shortly after 7am I reached Xanthi, a nice small town, which seemed to be just waking up . There was little life on the roads, and the coffee shops in the center had just started to open. I would have to wait 20-30min before I could get something to eat. So I decided to enter a bakery, where I met one of the friendliest people during my trip. I ordered a plate of mixed pastries each with a different filling and asked, if I could eat them with my Cappuccino (the best since Italy! ☺ ) in her shop. That wasn’t a problem for her, and she was very interested to hear my story. The more I told her about my journey, the more surprised she was, and she couldn’t believe, that I wanted to ride another 300km today to Canakkale. But she understood then, why I was hungry and ordered a second plate of the same pastries plus a Cappuccino again. She helped me to fill my bottles with juice and water, and finally she presented me with a lunch package with 2 sandwiches and 3 self-made honey-nut bars – I was so overwhelmed, that I hardly could hold my tears back.

Lunch view in Alexandroupoli with a „Radler“
My next bigger goal was to reach Alexandroupoli, another 110 km ahead on the ocean. The easterly wind was stronger now and the heat had quickly reached the 30°C mark. From time to time I could see the ocean, but before reaching my lunch destination I had to climb a 250m high hill . The landscape looked quite dry and brown and I was happy to finally reach the ocean after 7,5 hours in the saddle. I had done approximately half of today’s distance to Canakkale and wanted to relish the last day of my journey. I found a restaurant on the shore with a good view and shade. In the end I had spent almost 2 hours there including a short nap and a visit from a TCR fan, who had followed me on the Trackleaders page.

The following 40km to the Turkey border gave me a preview of what I had to expect in Turkey: long straight roads with rolling hills and temperatures up to 38°C – and no shade! The soles of my feed started again to burn badly – it was painful to push the pedals hard , especially on the short climbs. At the border I cooled down myself with some cold drinks and an ice cream and I used the stop to exchange some money for my ride through Turkey. The border controls took quite some time, possibly as much time as all other controls together!

Now I had to ride only 140km to the finish – the most boring kilometers of the whole journey regarding the landscape: I had to ride on a straight highway with rolling hills. The easterly strong headwind continued until Kesan, where I had to change my direction to the south. I entered the next petrol station to cool down again, refill my bottles, and take off my shoes for some minutes. I had to drink a lot today, to avoid the same suffering as in Italy! From Kesan I eventually benefited from a crosswind, which more and more turned into a strong tailwind, so that I hoped I could ride the remaining 110 km in under 4 hours. It was already 06:15pm but I hadn’t really expected the 2 climbs ahead. With my painful feet I couldn’t really push those climbs and awaited the next petrol s tation for another stop. The highway use was anyway quite interesting and I had to be alert all the time: the tail-/cross-wind was meanwhile very strong and with my deep section rims I had to be very careful when trucks overtook me. A tractor just crossed the highway – which wouldn’t be imaginable in western Europe.

The sun set very quickly and I continued in the dark. A motorcycle without any lights with two passengers without helmets overtook me – how crazy are those people! In the nearby towns the evening p rayer sounded through loudspeakers. I stopped a last time at a petrol station to rest my feet and to have a small snack – 60km to go! I was now counting almost every kilometer.

With only 20km to go, the road had become a smaller road now, a pack wild barking dogs attacked me – I was not prepared for that at all on my last few kilometers! I sprinted a last time and could l eave them behind me after a few seconds. I was much more alert now. There were lots of barking dogs around now, but fortunately no more tried to chase me.

At 10:30pm I reached the ferry in Eceabat, bought a ticket, boarded the ferry and went to the opposite end, so that I would be one of the first to leave the ferry in Canakkale. My emotions could not wait anymore until the finish line and I started crying. The waiting and crossing took almost one hour, enough time to reflect on my entire journey with all the impressive memories flying through my mind. To tell the truth, I was proud of what I had achieved, that was the biggest adventure of my life! Many congratulations and messages from my family, friends and colleagues already arrived on my phone via WhatsApp and Facebook. It was a nice feeling to have them all at least virtually around me.

The arrival at the finish line, the Saat Kulesi, (I almost crashed on the last 10m on the curb to the square) after 13 days and 30min was then a bit of an anti climax, because I had experienced all my emotions already on the ferry. Anyway it was a warm welcome with some familiar faces, Chris White (who had arrived about 4 hours ahead of me) and Mike Hall amongst them.

As it was already 11:30pm, everybody disappeared very soon and I found a hotel room just around the corner. The touristic city was still busy and it was no problem to get something to eat so late.

Finish in Canakkale

Next morning: Saat Kulesi in Canakkale, the finish line
I slept long the next morning and woke up with a start up and with sunshine on my face . I couldn’t remember where I was and I thought I had overslept and I had to continue my ride quickly. It took a minute to realise, that I didn't have to pedal today. At the breakfast table a Turkish family, who arrived on the same ferry as me , asked me some questions in Turkish – it turned out that they live in Germany and spent their holidays in Turkey. They thought I was a fellow-countryman – now I knew it was time to visit a barber !!!!:

In the barber shop: before shave

After shave and face massage; looking some years younger again

Emily Chappell, 1st woman, arrived 9:37h behind me

I and Urs Arnold Kutschera

Exchanging stories with a beer

Lunch with Joe Todd, Benedikt Hartmann and James Hayden; myself looking a bit skinny though

Finisher party with winner Kristof Allegaert

The Trojan horse in Canakkale


Day Distance [km] Meters of climb [m] Moving time [hh:mm] Time on road [hh:mm] Break [hh:mm] Avg. speed [km/h] Normalized power [W]
1 524 4009 19:50 24:34 04:44 26.4 172
2 354 2372 13:01 16:33 03:32 27.2 166
3 373 3846 14:58 18:03 03:05 24.9 166
4 220 4359 11:23 13:37 02:14 19.4 159
5 389 2933 14:34 19:41 05:07 26.7 160
6 240 3174 10:24 14:32 04:08 23.1 157
7 293 2584 11:55 15:23 03:28 24.6 150
8 201 1152 07:25 09:09 01:44 27.2 153
9 159 1920 07:07 09:40 02:33 22.4 157
10 315 4108 13:26 17:23 03:57 23.4 165
11 275 2966 11:33 14:05 02:32 23.8 154
12 308 2048 11:51 15:51 04:00 26.0 151
13 357 2071 13:51 18:31 04:40 25.8 144
Sum/avg 4008 (308km per day) 37542 (2888m per day) 161:18 (12:24 per day) 207:02 (15:55 per day) 45:44 24.8 159

An averaged normalized power of 159W over 161:18 hours results in an overall pedaled energy of 25,65kWh. This is equivalent with the caloric value of only 3,05 liters of gasoline – very efficient!

The whole journey in one picture



Frame: Kocmo Titan Roadmaster Ltd. with Ritchey carbon fork
Aero bars: Zipp
Groupset: Campagnolo Chorus 11speed
Gears: front: 34/50, rear: 11/32 (Potenza)
Cranks: SRM powermeter, aluminum, BSA68mm ISO-square
Wheels: front: Citec 6000CX clincher 47mm with SON-hub
Rear: Citec 8000CX clincher 80mm
Tires: Continental GP4000S II 25mm, 6-7bar
Lights: front: Supernova E3 triple 2, rear: Supernova E3 tail light 2
Battery charger: Supernova the plug III, USB from dynamo
GPS device: Garmin Edge 1000 (Edge 800 spare)
Pump: Lezyne Micro Floor Drive HPG (with pressure gauge) (used 2 times to check pressure)
Pedals: Shimano XTR-MTB
Weight: ~8kg
Tools/Spare parts:
2 inner tubes (never used)
Lezyne tube repair kit (never used)
1 Gear shift cable (never used)
1 spoke each length (never used)
Chain oil (3 times chain service)
Chain repair tool (never used)
Parktool minitool (never used)
2 tire mounting levers (never used)
Would take all of them next time anyway!
Clothes cycling:
1 pair Castelli volo bib shorts
1 Castelli marathon jersey
1 Castelli Gabba jersey (for mountains and cooler conditions)
1 singlet
2 pairs of socks
1 pair Castelli Nanoflex arm warmers
1 pair Castelli Nanoflex leg warmers
1 Skinfit rain jacket
1 Skinfit rain shorts
Rain shoe covers
1 pair Chiba summer gloves
1 pair Gore Tex winter gloves
1 Castelli headband
Giro Synthe helmet
Northwave MTB shoes
Clothes Off bike:
1 pair Skinfit shorts
1 T-Shirt
1 pants
1 Mammut down jacket
Sleeping outside:
1 down sleeping bag (used 1x; wouldn’t take it next time)
1 bivvy bag (never used; wouldn’t take it next time)
1 sea2summit air mattress (used 1x; would probably not take next time)
1 air pillow (used 1x; would probably not take next time)
Revelate seat bag (clothes, fruit cake)
Revelate tangle frame bag (rain clothes, spare tubes, mini lock)
Revelate gas tank (top tube front: all electronic parts incl. power pack)
Revelate jerrycan (top tube rear: food)
Revelate mountain feed bag (handle bar: sun screen, glasses, 3rd bottle)
Apidura handlebar pack compact (sleeping bag)

Overall equipment weight including 3 filled bottles ~19,5kg

My personal country ranking, school grade from 1 (very good) to 6 (very bad):

Country Road condition (surface) Traffic/Drivers Food Availability Costs Scenery enroute
Belgium 2-3 3 - (no stop) - (no stop) - (night)
France 2 2 5 2 2
Switzerland 2 2 2 5 1
Italy 2 2-3 2 2 1 (Dolomites), 3 (Po plain)
Austria 2 3 2 2 3
Slovenia 3 2-3 2 2 2
Croatia 4 2-3 3 1 2
Bosnia 4 2 2 1 2
Montenegro 2-3 1-2 2 1 1
Kosovo 3-4 6 3 1 3
Macedonia 6 2 2 1 2
Greece 3 2 3 2 2
Turkey 2 2 2 2 4
This ranking is based on my own experience during my TCR#4 ride and depends of course very much on the route that I chose! The ranking of the scenery enroute also depends on the weather that I experienced that day and on my mood. Different people might have made completely different experiences!

You can download this report also in 5 parts as pdf documents here: