11 days since the Transcontinental Race started in Geraardsbergen, and at the time of writing 8 riders have made it to the finish line, 62 have scratched, and 148 brave men and women riders are still battling on through to reach the finish line in Canakkale. It's been such a dramatic couple of days that we're going to give you a soundtrack to play as you read through today's race overview, giving you a full sensory experience.
So let's cast our minds back two days, and read along to "In the Hall of the Mountain King"... (This doesn't seem to play simultaneously on a mobile so get the 2:33 version on Spotify to play along)
Kristof had just crossed the Dardanelles on ferry, winning TCRNo.4 in an incredible 8 days, 15 hours and 2 minutes, But 1500kms behind, a substantial amount of riders were still struggling with the rain and the unrelenting climbs in the Alps, trying desperately to reach CP3. Others were experiencing navigational issues that had unwittingly taken them on paths away from paved surfaces and onto gravel and muddy mountain tracks. Many were finding the climbs extremely tiring, taking them much longer than anticipated to make it to the control. Plenty were suffering from injuries, achilles in particular were troubling a lot of riders - taking them out, one by one. The mileage was demanding, exhausted riders were flaking, scratching and all were getting a good soaking.
Further into eastern Europe, riders were battling against winds strong enough to take them clean off the road. Some weren't managing more than 15kms per hour, others had given up riding that day entirely. There was frustration as those who felt strong and revived couldn't get in the mileage in they wanted, and they watched with wretched hearts as the lead pack moved further and further away from them. There had been more scratches that day than any previously, showing how tough this race had really become.
Further West, a sprinkling of racers were dripping in to CP4, trudging up the 50kms stretch into the Black Mountains, through tunnels and over bridges as the Sedlo Pass, and the thought of a good meal and warm bed tantalisingly dangled ahead of them. Some were struggling to even get in to Montenegro, others struggling to get out. A number of lead pack had dropped out, giving those that remained real motivation to keep pushing hard.
Into the lead pack, Neil Phillips was just out in front and Carlos Mazon a catchable distance behind. Neither had much sleep but Carlos cracked first, leaving Neil to take the lead. With Canakkale in his sights he would not stop, and pushed his way South into Turkey until he reached the ferry, and then Canakkale in 9 Days, 17 hours and 43 minutes. Carlos had an issue with his GPS and had to rely on paper maps and his phone, creating another unneeded hurdle in his journey to the finish. Despite this, he could smell the Cornetto waiting for him at the finish line and followed his nose South, taking 3rd position in 9 Days, 22 hours, 51 minutes. In his attempt to overtake Carlos, James Hayden had a mechanical forcing him to stop and get a lift to find a bike shop, finished his chances of catching up with Carlos. His extended stop gave Geoffroy Dussault an opportunity to catch James up, possibly taking the 4th position. James, with a fixed bike realised what was going on, quickly made his way back to the point at which he got the lift, and then was back on the right road, and almost parallel with Geoffroy. These two cyclists were suddenly then battling in a dramatic head to head, overtaking each other again and again for miles, with Geoffroy eventually sitting ahead and looking good for 4th place. But then just over the Turkish border a catastrophe for Geoffroy: his tire exploded.
This gave James the opportunity he needed to take the lead, and 4th position in 10 Days, 5 hours, 31 Minutes. From bad to worse for Geoffroy as following closely behind had been Peter Sandholt, and he over took Geoffroy too. Not resting for a moment Peter sped through Western turkey, along the coastal route to Kilitbahir, taking 5th overall as he screeched into Canakkale in 10 days, 9 hours and 32 Minutes. Would Geoffroy also be overtaken by Ultan Coyle and Nelson Trees who were thrashing their way through Eastern Macedonia and Thrace? Yes he would - Nelson and Ultan raced at break-neck speeds through Western Turkey, Ultan just slightly ahead but Nelson only Kilometres behind. . Nail-biting moments for Geoffroy's dot-watchers as finally, he had his new tire fitted, paid the man and frantically began pedalling in an attempt to catch up with these two racers. Screaming in to the port of Kilitbahir he bought his ticket to Canakkale, but Ultan and Nelson were on the ferry and making their way across the strait, leaving Geoffroy in their wake, brandishing a fist in the air as the ferry sailed into the distance. As Ultan arrived at the ferry only minutes ahead of Nelson he got 6th place, Nelson got 7th overall, both achieving 10 days, 18hrs, 32minutes. Geoffroy had to settle for an honourable 8th position. An incredible 10 days, 19hours 30mins.
For this next section we're recommending a calmer, Claire De Lune
And again, with less creative license (Geoffroy did not brandish a fist at the ferry, Nelson and Ultan didn't even realise they were so close to each other until they got to the ferry!), race finishers in order so far are Krisfof Allegaert (003), Neil Phillips (172), Carlos Mazon (060), James Hayden (075), Peter Sandholt (077), (Ultan Coyle (004), Nelson Trees (080) and Geoffroy Dussault (093). A race within a race is between Vincent Muehlethaler (168) and Michael Wacker (072) who are currently about 200 metres apart so they have each other in their sights and will be riding as hard as they can to the ferry for another intense 80kms. Will they get to the finish line before we complete this blog post? We suspect they will; they don't have delicious biscuits in the cupboard to investigate frequently.
Only 6kms behind Michael Wacker is Daniel Fisher (133), so there's not much in it and anything can still happen, given what we saw with the first 8 riders in. In Alexandroupoli, Matthew Falconer (154) Sylvain Blairon (223) and Stephane Ouaja (012) are very close to each other, so keep an eye on these three in the next 12 hours - they're only 90kms away from the finish now.
Riders have begun dripping in to Canakkale like water from a leaky tap, but soon the floodgates will open and they'll be swamping the Canakkale ferry - so the race may be to a queue position in the ferry ticket line. The finishers party is this Saturday 13th August, so there's still plenty of time. And of course, riders will continue to arrive after Sunday, getting ferry receipts to validate their finish positions.
Scratchers - the itch is getting worse
We didn't have time to list all of the scratchers to date, so we'll do that this evening. 21 since the last scratchers announcement. They are: Stuart James (006) - an achilles issue in one, and then both heels. Lars Joergen Landsem (009) with an ankle injury, Matthijs Ligt (025) who felt that his performance was not as it should be and sheer exhaustion led him to scratch. Socrates Solomides (034) experienced compounding problems: Navigational + comms issues after electronics breakdown, and neck pain stopped him from riding with aerobars. Demian Barlaro (081) with knee and achilles pain, Christian Ekdahl (088) another achillies victim. Gergely Taar (097) with reoccuring achilles tendons injuries, Alexandra Wright (098), Matija Ilic (025) who we meant to mention last night as a shocker lead rider scratcher with suspected Shermer's Neck, Stuart McCormick (107), Darren Richards (112), Robbrecht Desmet (129), David Coulon (130), Jurriaan Oudhoff (143), Matthew Swain (156) had severe stomach cramps and sickness and ulnar palsy in his left hand, pairs team Gawaine Clark & Richard Hunt (201), Alberto Vaghi (218) leaving Gualtiero Rossano (218) to continue, pairs team Louise Nalton and Peter Worsfold (222) again from achilles issues, Bruno González Vives (018), and finally Zuzanna Madaj (214) who was part of a pairs team and went solo for a while. She had what looked like an absolute nightmare navigating through the Alps from CP2 to CP3:
Other weird and wonderful routes we've seen over the past few days:
Never one to follow the crowd, Emily Chappell (007) is comfortable with her lead over the next female rider and has chosen a completely different path from all other riders. She's having a little holiday within the race:
Jack Thompson (014) has had quite enough of Montenegro mountains and has escaped north to Serbia. It's definitely a longer route, but perhaps he read our description of the E-80 and fancied the challenge?
We wanted to understand a bit more about racers mid pack, so we've had our investigators out finding out a bit more about their journeys:
Andrew Brogan (104) experienced three punctures and a split tyre sidewall on his ascent of the CP4 parcours in Durmitor National Park, Montenegro. He started walking and was offered a lift by passers-by, but turned it down as he felt that it would be faster to walk to the fourth control point than get a lift to some place that could help, and return back to his original position to restart his race. Andrew ended up walking 12km — but fortunately it was a beautifully sunny day and he had mountain bike shoes on. Andrew managed to find himself some tubes at least and will live to ride another day."
Oliver Wolf (050) - our smoking, drinking bike messenger, had a terrible time with the winds in Croatia and sustained a leg injury when he was blown off his bike. We're so sorry that in our last blog we reported him as scratched, (we were very tired) it was not the motivation he probably needed, but luckily he's received loads of support from the dot-watcher nation and after a good sleep has bounced back to become a force of nature:
Shortly after arriving in Croatia, Frank van der Sman (066) discovered he had had a bit of play in his steering. When he pulled over to take a look he realised he had cracked his fork crown all the way around. At this point he was seriously thinking about scratching.
He didn’t know what to do, but suddenly a guy from across the road came over, took a look, and said, “mechanic?!?”. Frank says yes! The man proceeds to call his friend who happens to be a welder. Frank calls his frame builder to check how to make sure the weld is safe and as accurate as possible, and the passes this on to the welder.
Frank made it to CP4 with the weld holding up. Let’s hope it holds up until the end.
Pierluigi Talamona (126) is the oldest rider in this year’s TCR, at 68. He descended CP3 Passo Giau earlier today and met with another rider Louise Soplanit (149) and his son who lives locally for a quick photo opportunity:
In Other News...
The hounds have been released on James Stannard (212):
Booking seats on the bus to loony town tonight are Darren Franks (114) and all his opinionated appendage, Cheng Liu (37), and Stuart Birnie (142):
Play this one along to the music:
Simon Rounding (087) runs to catch the loony bus:
There's been an outbreak of scurvy reported, everyone has started stockpiling bananas:
Unfortunately Rory didn't get the banana memo:
Kitten therapy has been helping these ladies through:
"It's hard to beat a person who never gives up" - Babe Ruth