New. Never travelled. Perhaps your eyes traced a pixellated line on a screen the night before or perhaps you simply turned left instead of right. Ahead only virgin road unridden. The unknown.
Every turn a mystery. Eyes keen, alert for every next direction. A cartographer committing landmarks to memory, extending your mental map lest you travel this way again.
Gasp. The landscape surprises, amazes. Simple things. A twee village, a church perched on a hill, parallel trees in formation either side of the road, a big cow. Nothing of great note, not even worthy of a photograph, the scenery the sum of its parts, less a vision more a feeling.
A tunnel.Cold and dark, scary yet soothing, entry to another world. A rewarding moment of quiet and calm, the cool relief much welcome after climbing a mountain for mile upon mile, toasted beneath the mid-summer sun.
Darkness. The world turns black. A quick mental check to see if you’ve passed out, the effort finally taking its toll. Still moving, your eyes fail to adjust. Gravel crunches beneath your tyres at the road’s fringes, the small white dot at the end of the tunnel your only focus.
The Transcontinental Race (TCR) is a bike race across Europe or perhaps more accurately, a voyage into the unknown mental and physical capabilities of oneself.
The rules are simple. Ride unsupported across Europe following your own route via four checkpoints before reaching the finish line. There’s no official cut-off time for this c.2,500 mile (4,000km) race but many riders aim to finish within 14 days to be a part of the finish line celebrations.
Following an ultra-distance cycle race is fascinating (and tiring!). Forget about the theatre of the Tour de France and the other so called ‘Grand Tours’. TCR is the real thing, very real, a vivid drama on a human scale, an adventure both relatable to most cyclists whilst being equally unfathomable.
Let’s talk cobbles. Why oh why would anyone think riding over gap strewn paving would be fun? It’s pure evil I tell you!
I went cycling in Flanders recently, heading to Belgium to ride the famous climbs and routes from the Tour of Flanders, or Ronde van Vlaanderen, as it’s known to the cycling mad locals, or simply The Ronde. Here’s my routes, along with an insight into cycling in Belgium, riding the cobbles, bergs (hills), and wind, plus a certain type of cyclist.
Cobbles and cycling. Belgium right? The Classics of the early season calendar. Moules et frites. Passionate fans, grim weather, steep climbs. Not Halifax, England. Pie and chips, bleak post-industrial landscapes and well, cobbles, steep climbs and the desolate moorland.
This is the scene for the Ronde Van Calderdale route, a tribute to the Spring Classic races in Belgium but most definitely British. The route climbs a whopping 3,000 metres over 75 miles, many of which are up very, very steep cobbled climbs.
The clue is in the name. Peak District. The road is either up or down, rarely flat. Hard up, terrifying down. Short yet sharp climbs to test the legs followed by twisting, snaking descents to test your grip on the brake levers.
Yet the ever changing landscape is magnificent, one minute rolling moorland, the next craggy cliff faces, a twist and turn here, there, a glorious ravine, a wooded valley, a bustling twee village blurring on by.
Brutal. Coast to coast, sea to sea, and back again, in two days. 224 miles. Easy. 5,800 metres of climbing. Ouch. Heavy rain and riding into a 43 mph headwind hour after hour. Eugh. What the hell was I thinking?
Truth is, I have no idea why I attempted a double C2C ride in March, the tailend of the UK winter. The classic sea to sea route doubled as I figured it was logistically easier to drive to the centre of the route and ride each way and back. A lot of effort to avoid taking panniers or catching a train!
Yet once an idea forms, it becomes difficult to shake, even with the daunting prospect of howling headwinds and more rain than Noah’s nightmares.