These riders are absolutely incredible. We just don't know how they're doing it - we took a little walk up to the corner shop this evening and had to take a nap afterwards. Our riders meanwhile are busy riding through entire countries, ticking them off like they're different ice-cream flavours to try.
Kristof Allegaert (003) has entered his eighth country this evening, checking in to control 4 at 9:09pm. His mileage overall is definitely longer, but his route through central Croatia and over the boarder crossing at Brod into Bosnia and Herzegovina has at least afforded him a route around the Bjelašnica mountain range. In fact, his Free Route stats suggest that his path since the alps has been relatively flat. Despite this all other riders have chosen the Southern path to CP4, which is shorter in distance by about 250km. The only rider so far who looks to be considering it is Jurgen Knupe, and we so want him to go for it. Perhaps one of the Volvo team cars could lay a path of M&M's in that general direction and see who takes the bait.
In the following pack, at the time of writing this Mathias Dalgas (150) is in the lead with Neil Phillips (172) only 2kms behind. Mathias and Neil are tucked up in bed, leaving Peter Sandholt (077) to tiptoe past being careful not to wake them, and streak off into the distance. We're sure Mathias won't be having any of that for long, he's been asleep for 4 hours now so it's likely he'll soon wake from his slumber and dominate the pack again.
30kms behind these three is Carlos Mazon (060) but he's not had much sleep in the past 24 hours either, so is due a kip soon. Hans-Rudolf Nyfeler (56) is next. His sleep pattern looks as if he's only taking about 10 minutes at a time, but very frequently. Perhaps he has Narcolepsy. It's a strategy that's paying off though as he maintains his position in the pack.
Alexandre Bourgeonnier (002) has really had a tough time this evening. His post that we attempted to translate poorly, explains that he hasn't yet slept in a hotel, roughing it every night to try to keep on the road, but it's taking its toll on him. Alexandre is an incredibly strong rider, both physically and mentally, and it's dealing with lows like this that separate those that ride long distances, from ultra-endurance champions. We hope that a good night's rest will see him right for a better day tomorrow.
Further back we have three riders all close to each other but taking different routes through Croatia's Dalmatian region. Geoffroy Dussault (093) has been quietly working hard to gain on our previous lead pack members, and has opted for the coastal route. Ultan Coyle has taken the middle road, and looks to be staying at Albatros B&B, whether in a comfy bed, or out in their back garden looking longingly through a window, we just don't know. And to the North is, incredibly, James Hayden (075) now officially in a top 10 position. This man is a total inspiration. He sets a goal, and sticks to it. He's just crossed into Bosnia and Herzegovina via the Bihać border crossing which means he's probably on his way to Sarajevo and will descend on CP4 from the North.
Behind these three we have Matija Ilic (105), Nelson Trees (080), Andy Sallnow (144), Michael Wacker (072) and Vincent Muhlethaler (168), and what's this? Stuart Birnie (142) back in the game! To be honest we thought his southerly diversion had finished his chances, but that's the beauty of this race, it's all about the long game, and Stuart might have tactically saved leg energy by avoiding all those mountains. We'll see.
These riders are all so close together, this might be the first year that we need a photo finish. However, there's still Albania to come for some, a terrain that takes no prisoners.
For a more detailed account of Kristof's ride over the past few days, dot-watcher-en-route Christopher Jobmann has written this blog about his time waiting at CP3.
A quick note on scratchers for today: Stephen McCarron (033) - ongoing knee trouble. Dominik Möller (036), Rafael Hernández (051), Abhishek Dahiya (069), Tim Beicht (085) made it to CP2 but felt that he couldn't continue. Christopher Litt (123), Miroslav Važík (127), Robbrecht Desmet (129), Thomas Rounding (174), and Thomas Quinn (221) who was part of a pairs team with Richard Egan (221), who is continuing solo.
Is two company, or a crowd?
30 pairs started TCRNo4 in Geraardsbergen. These couples are riding a very different race to solo riders, experiencing both advantages and disadvantages over solo riders. The overwhelming positives are that they have company, support and another brain to help with decision-making. Small things help - someone to look after your bike if you need to go into a shop, someone to talk you out of slumps. Pairs can also draft. But for every one of those positives, there is a negative. Someone to disagree with, someone you have to wait for when you want to get going, two different paces - especially during climbs. Petty arguments when the going gets tough, and just a general need to synchronise body movements and sleep patterns. There's been a number of scratchers from the pairs category, but there are still 23 pairs together, and so we thought we'd take a moment to see how they're getting on.
Adam Krabbe (211) and Max Lindberg (211) are closing in on CP2. These Swedish friends seem to be getting along well, we know they slept in a garage last night with another rider pair Burkay Günay (206) and Muammer Yildiz (206), but seem to have found a very inviting bar to sleep in tonight.
Andrew Boyd (212) and James Stannard (212) are friends and recreational racers from London. They are currently the leading pair and are likely to be the first pair into the finish. They seem to be very fast, but still managing lots of sleep, regularly using a hashtag #sleepmoreridefaster. Both strong riders and climbers, their strategy is to ride hard and fast all day and to book a hotel each night for a proper night’s sleep.
Thomas Chavrier (204) and Charlotte Dequevauviller (204) are a couple in real life too. Thomas is a courier in Paris and wanted to do TCR after watching last year's race. Charlotte wasn't an experienced cyclist but loved the idea of TCR, so she took to the saddle only a year ago, even changing her job to also become a courier in order to train for the race. They are currently 59th tonight despite a broken derailleur on Charlottes's bike just before the alps.
In other news...
This pic of the team made me choke on my tea this morning:
The riders are still finding unique and inventive places to sleep:
Andy Sallnow (144) - not satisfied with completing the 4 mandatory checkpoints, decided to visit 2014's Checkpoint 2, Stelvio Pass - the second highest pass in the Alps. It doesn't seem to have even phased him or affected his position that much - currently in 13th!
Just to make it clear how huge (literally) an error this was, here's a picture of Stelvio:
Mechanicals & Weather
It's currently hoofing it down between CP2 & CP3, so many riders are understandably taking the night to shelter from the thunder and lightening storms. A good excuse for everyone in the region to pause and gain some sleep but it puts a bigger distance between them and the leaders...
We've also seen and heard about lots of mechanicals and equipment failures today,
Stanislav Piorkowski (134) reportedly had issues with his back wheel, and Chris Dennis (146) had a snapped spoke. Rudy Rollenberg (162) had a flat:
But thank goodness, we can report that there have been no more cock-related injuries today.
And finally, here's Rory Kemper (116)'s pair of apricots:
"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race." H.G. Wells