Following the Race and Rider #48

All racers have a satellite tracker which bleep our position every 5 minutes or so.  The trails of these bleeps can be seen on a couple of dedicated sites which show the dots on a map, but with slightly different stats:

You can see the dots of all the riders or a selection.  My cap number is #48, although I am pretty sure you’ll be able to search my name too. You’ll be able to zoom in on wherever I am and use the google yellow jelly baby to check out the facilities in the bus shelter I’m sleeping in or the quality of that day’s kebab shop.  There is also the official website & FB page, but there will be much more action on the FB group page as the race organisers will be very busy!

I hope to be able to keep posting on Instagram and twitter (both are visible on my blog page), and for anyone on Strava I will try to upload my daily rides here.  I’m not totally sure how the hashtag thing operates but I know I have to try to remember to pin #TCRNo5 and TCRNo5cap048 to all my posts.

A quick reminder about what unsupported means

The race has a delightfully simple rule book, and one of the few rules is that I can’t get any outside help. For this reason if I tweet that I’ve shattered my wheel and you see there’s a bike shop just down the road, please don’t tell me! And don’t tell me that Fred is coming up behind me or I’m catching up with Joe. But feel free to offer encouragement and cheer, but best of all take a trip to and buy me some more kilometres.

Preparing for the Transcontinental

Warning: If you’re not into cycling you may not find this very interesting (but the video is worth a look!)

There is now only one day left until the off and I thought I’d write a little about how I got here

The beginning

As soon as I heard about the Transcontinental Race I knew I wanted to do it. I’d always fancied having a crack at the Race Across America, but the requirement for a support crew of about 9 for each rider, plus a menagerie of RVs and SUVs, plus air fares, food & drink for all means you either need sponsorship or a huge amount of cash and the desire to blow a big chunk of it on a bike race.   The TCR is different – Mike Hall designed the race to ensure that it a big budget wasn’t needed to either race or win.

The first thing you have to do of course is get a place.  The race is heavily oversubscribed and most places are allocated by a series of ballots for different categories of entrants, so you can push yourself up the pecking order with various ruses:

  • Winning a previous edition
  • Not being male
  • Not being British
  • Volunteering to help on a previous edition

There wasn’t much I could do about the first three so in 2015 I volunteered to help for the 2016 edition. I was an online commissaire, or in TCR speak a level 2 dot watcher.  I had about a dozen racers to monitor for the duration of the race, reporting any concern to race control. Each racer has a satellite bleeper that transmits their position every 5 minutes. We had to watch for anyone who stopped for a suspiciously long time, who went along banned roads or railway lines, or went unfeasibly fast, or appeared to be riding with another racer.  Following the dots and reading all the blogs tweets was completely addictive – I enjoyed it enormously and it made me absolutely determined to race the following year.  So when Mike Hall announced a competition for a guaranteed place with sponsorship, and priority entry for any short listed entries I went for it.  We had to do a 250km ride logged on Strava during the first 2 weeks of December and submit a 3 minute video in which we had to talk about the race.  Luckily my son Sam had been to film school so he put a video together for me – this is it edited to remove the boring bit (the actual talking).  With Sam’s help I made it onto on the short list and shortly afterwards Mike announced everybody shortlisted would get a place.  I was in!


This is the easy part.  It’s all under your control and essentially is just a lot of bike riding, which is not a problem for me! The race is 4,000km with around 40km of climbing and I wanted to be confident that I could push out 300km plus day after day.  I had a goal of riding 10,000km between 1 Jan 2017 and the start of the race – as of today, Strava is showing I’ve done 9,996km – I know I’ve been to the pub unstrava’d a few times so I think job done. Amongst this I did 4 days of between 300 and 400km and I’ve lost count of the £200km+ rides, there were a couple of 3 day fully kitted prep rides including a trip through the race start in Geraarsdbergen and then along the first 100km or so of my planned route.  I rode with clubmates at Eastbourne Rovers and Velopace, and of course the Saturday morning Tristore crew, Kim, Frosty & Kevin. But mostly on my own, commuting or getting going before 5 to get the miles in before joining club rides at the weekend. I also spent countless hours on the bikes at the Athlete Lab, under the instruction of coach Tom who kept me to a program with blocks of harder weeks and recovery weeks.

Planning the route

This was definitely the hardest part. There are only 5 short sections of road that are compulsory, the rest is up to you. I spent hours and hours looking for the shortest route with the least climbing, the smoothest roads, the fewest cars and the best scenery. The poor Street View yellow jelly baby got so fed up with me dragging him around the screen he reported me childline. I kept changing my mind – adding on 30km to save 1000m of climbing on one section, then adding 1000m of climbing to save 30km on another. If I’d paid a top London lawyer to do it for me the bill would be well into 7 figures.  It’s all done now, locked and loaded onto the Garmin.

The bike and the gear

My initial intention was to use my carbon race bike.  It’s super light-weight and I could probably get away with the geometry.  But it’s not built for carrying luggage over rough and unsealed roads.  A cracked carbon frame in the middle of Transylvania would be the end of your race, even if you were lucky enough not to be eaten by the wolves or bears.  So after delaying a new car for yet another year and a huge amount of research I decided to go to the bike factory round the corner – probably the closest business establishment to us that isn’t a pub or a farm. Luckily this turned out to be Enigma Bikes who were incredibly helpful and patient, and specced me up a hybrid between their Ecroix & Evoke (cross forks and rear triangle and road main triangle). The bars are set higher than my race bike, with Syntace aero bars added to give relief to my hands as well as lowering air resistance. All the advice I have seen is that for ultra distance cycling comfort is more important than aero which is more important than weight. Being able to sustain an extra hour in the saddle will far more than compensate for a handful of minutes saved on a very tough climb.

Having had several experiences of having to use my right hand to work the front shifter on long rides because the left had lost the strength to push the lever I decided on Di2 electronic shifting, and for similar reasons disc brakes. The wheels are also local – handbuilt by David at DCR just down the road at Lewes, based on his own 50mm carbon rims and a Son dynohub to power my lights, Garmin, Phone, Di2 & headphones.

The result is Erin, she not the lightest bike in the world, but she’s super smooth and a comfortable ride.

I read and re-read multiple TCR veteran Chris White’s gold mine of advice over past 2 years and have followed most of it in speccing the bike and deciding on what kit to bring.  He is very hot on comfort before weight-saving, but I couldn’t bring myself to go as far as mudguards and rear rack. I tried mudguards for a while and found that whilst your feet stayed dry for longer, in proper rain nothing is going to help much. And the seat pack will keep the muck off my arse. Anyway here is the final full kit list:

Full kit ensemble

Full kit list  
Rear bag Restrap holster & alpkit drybag
Fuel cell Alpkit medium
Stem cell Alpkit
Stem cell Alpkit
Frame bag Restrap medium
Bivvy bag Tit Goat Kestrel
Mat Thermarest Neolite
Micro electric pump Neo air
Battery pack 5000 mwh
charger & cables 4 lane USB
Dyno Lights B&M IQX & Secula
Sinewave A/C to USB converter to charge garmin, phone, Di2 & headphones
Battery lights Lezyne 400 lumen (doubles as head torch)
sd card and reader to hold back up copy of the route
Di2 charger  
Pump Lezyne mini track pump
Spare Tyre Schwalbe S1 Pro 28
Tube 2
Multitool Topeak
Sealant 120ml Stans
Lube 60ml Fenwicks
Leatherman Tiny
Spokes & nipples 2 of each
Levers 2
spare links KMC
Anchovies & patches Weldtite
Spare valve, core and tool  
Presta schrader converter  
Deraileur hanger Enigma
Charge pump top for Sigg bottle McGuyver
Insulating tape  
Dynaplug racer  
Cord, Zip ties,  clips  
Di2 connector tool  
Garmin 1000
Phone Iphone
Down jacket Mountain Hardwear
Spare bibs Castelli
Spare jersey Castelli
Arm warmers/sun cover Lusso
Leg warmers Endura
Gilet Velopace club
Long gloves Castelli
spare socks Defeet
Shorts/waterproof shorts Endura
Rain jacket Castelli
micro ruckasck for carrying food when needed
Wet wipes tesco
Plasters & savlon  
Bum saver stickers  
Shoes Fizik Louboutins
jersey Castelli
shorts Castelli
socks Defeet
base Endura
gloves Castelli
Hi Viz reflective vest  
Dog deterrant CS spray
Tabs 1 tube of Nuun
Bottles 2 x 750, tool  case, Sigg 1l
Gels 4 double espresso flavour
Toothpaste & brush  
Shampoo/Clothes wash  
Bum Butter Castelli
Passport; tickets, cash, insurance, Docs note
Trekx headphones Bluetooth and not covering my ear
Spare glasses so I can read the map!
Steve Lindley cable and padlock For the few moments I leave the bike
SPOT tracker  
8 Lithium AAA for SPOT

The Inspiring tale of Paul Farmer’s Zanmi Lasante

I am using my participation in the PEdAL ED Transcontinental Race No 5 to raise funds to develop and equip Zanmi Lasante’s incredible new teaching hospital in Haiti.  This is a little about Paul Farmer and Zanmi Lasante.

Fi read a huge pile of books while researching for her novel The Other Side of the Mountain, set in Haiti. One of the stand outs was the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Mountains Beyond Mountains (From Harvard to Haiti: the remarkable story of one man’s mission to cure the world) by Tracy Kidder. Haitian’s love their proverbs and Mountains Beyond Mountains is an abbreviation of Dye mon, gen mon  – beyond mountains there are more mountains. This can be interpreted in two ways: there are endless opportunities, or (this is Haiti remember) overcoming one obstacle gives you a clearer view of the next one.  Paul Farmer, the subject of Tracy Kidder’s book, is an American physician and anthropologist who overcame a great many obstacles to realise one of his dreams – a medical complex in Haiti that treats patients free of charge. The complex he set up at Cange whilst still a medical student in his early twenties provided one of the key settings for The Other Side of the Mountain. We visited Cange last year and were given a tour. We were incredibly moved and inspired by what we saw.

In the spring of 1983, when he was twenty-three, Farmer first went to Haiti, his trip funded by the money he’d won for an essay he’d written on Haitian artists, and headed to the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschappelles in the Artibonite Valley where he’d been promised a job. Instead of finding a hospital where Haitians treated Haitians, he found only white, expatriate doctors and no job. On his return to Port-au-Prince he came across the charity Eye Care Haiti in the town of Mirebalais, (the country home of Madam Max Adolphe, the head of the Tonton Macoutes and formerly the warden of the notorious prison, Fort Dimanche, where the Duvaliers tortured their enemies). Here he met Ophelia Dahl who, at the age of eighteen and in order to please her father, had travelled to Haiti to do ‘good works’.

When Ophelia returned home, and having travelled around Haiti experiencing the poverty at first hand, Farmer raised money for a blood bank for a hospital in Léogâne. When later he discovered that the poor could not afford to be treated there, he realised he had to build his own hospital. He returned to Mirebelais to work at a clinic run by Father Fritz Lafontant, a Haitian priest who, together with his wife, helped build schools, and organise women’s groups and adult literacy programmes in impoverished towns. In May 1983, Father Lafontant took Paul Farmer to Cange, a squatter settlement of tiny lean-tos with dirt floors and roofs made of banana thatch, patched with rags, where the priest was planning to build a clinic. Farmer began to envisage his dream. He, too, wanted to build a clinic, but he also wanted to build a hospital and a community health system, which he would provide to the destitute for free.  He enlisted five Haitians to visit the villages in the area. Their surveys revealed a high mortality rate, particularly amongst mothers, which consequently led to a string of family such as hunger, prostitution and further deaths.

Farmer entered Harvard Medical School in 1984 then returned to Cange, bouncing between the two for several years and earning himself the nickname of Paul Foreigner. While Father Lafontant began constructing a clinic in Cange, Farmer started planning for the creation of a health service. He preferred to refer to this service as a ‘first line of defences’ – people would be trained to administer medicines, give classes on health, treat minor illnesses and learn to recognise the symptoms of major ones, such as TB and AIDS.

In the summer of 1985 Ophelia returned to Haiti to help Farmer with his research. Later that year, Farmer began raising money – Tom White, the wealthy owner/philanthropist of J.F. White Contracting Co, was the first major donor – and in 1987 he hired a lawyer to draw up papers to create a public charity in Boston which he called Partners In Health, and a corresponding sister organisation in Haiti, called Zanmi Lasante.  He turned to his old classmate at Duke, Todd McCormack, who was working for his father Mark at IMG, who joined him and Tom White on the board of advisers, then added fellow Harvard anthropology and medical student Jim Yong Kim to the group, which also included Ophelia Dahl.

Haiti has turbulent and violent political history, not least in Zanmi Lasante’s early years, as the country moved on from the Duvalier era (Papa & Baby Doc). There were no less than 14 regimes in the 10 years after Baby Doc was removed from his position of “President for Life” in 1986. As an open and prominent supporter of Jean Bertrande Aristide, Farmer frequently found himself on the wrong side of the government of the day, particularly following the coups which removed President Aristide from office in 1991 and 2004. Perhaps because it was providing the only healthcare available to a large part of the country, including to the henchmen of whoever was in power, Zanmi Lasante was allowed to survive through this period.

By 2003 it was serving about one million impoverished Haitians, who travelled for miles to be treated; it was sending about 9000 children to school each year, employing nearly 3000 Haitians, feeding many thousands of people each day, had built hundreds of houses for the poorest patients, had cleaned up water supplies in dozens of areas, installed water filters in patients’ homes and had assisted various environmental and economic projects throughout Haiti, such as reforestation.

Right from the start, in order to create a sustainable local system, Zanmi Lasante employed and trained Haitians as far as possible, rather than flying in foreigners as do so many of the NGOs operating in Haiti.  In 2013, PIH opened University Hospital in Mirebalais, a 300-bed teaching hospital that offers a level of care never before available at a public facility in Haiti and provides high-quality education for the next generation of nurses, medical students and residents.

And that’s just in Haiti!! PIH has developed into a worldwide health organisation, with Farmer overseeing projects in Russia, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi and Peru.

As well as Tracy Kidder’s Mountains beyond Mountains, PIH is the subject of a recent award winning documentary “Bending the Arc”.

Please check out the website: You will be blown away.

Please help me support this the incredible Mirebalais project by sponsoring my Transcontinental Race.

One month to go

In aid of Zanmi Lasante’s Mirebalais Hospital in Haiti

Suddenly the start seems to be very close.  At 10pm on Friday 28th July the 400 racers in the 5th Transcontinental Race will set off in a peloton from the town square in Geraardsbergen and head up the Muur through a gully of spectators with flaming torches.

I’ve been preparing for this for over a year now, particularly since late December when my place was confirmed. I’ve ridden 9,000 km so far in 2017 and climbed over 90,000 metres in all weathers – nearly double what I’d done by this time last year. In Calories that’s about 20 barrels of Harvey’s.


After passing the chapel at the top of the Muur the peloton will slowly shatter as each racer picks his own route to the next checkpoint in southern Germany. From here on we are on our own until the finish in Greece. No drafting is allowed – we are all fitted with satellite trackers and a team of online commissaires will be watching our tracks and handing out time penalties for transgressions.

Darren's map
*TCR No 5 by Darren Franks – Cap #114 in 2016 (great blog of his race)

I am raising money for Zanmi Lasante to develop and equip their new teaching hospital in Mirebalais in Haiti.  If you think you are going to enjoy watching me suffer my way to Meteora please support this amazing project.

Simon’s Transcontinental Race – Raising funds for Zanmi Lasante’s Mirebalais hospital in Haiti

The PeDAL ED Transcontinental Race No.5

tcr map

Most of my friends know that I’m obsessed with all things cycling, and probably also know that I will be competing in the Transcontinental Race this summer. For those I haven’t yet bored on the subject, the TCR is an unsupported, single stage 4000 km bike race across Europe, and is one of the monuments of ultra-distance bike racing. I aim to ride around 300 km/day through eleven countries, climbing a total of 40 km (4 ½ x Everest) – over around two weeks starting on 28 July. I haven’t done any sponsored cycling for 20 years but this is the big one, which is why I’m seeking to raise money for Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante in Creole), with a goal of £1/km ridden. When Fiona and I visited Haiti last year we were fortunate enough to be shown around Zanmi Lasante’s medical complex in Cange (it features heavily in Fiona’s last book The Other Side of the Mountain), and we were incredibly impressed and moved by what was being done there. I can’t do it justice so why not check out Fi’s blog.

Raising funds for Zanmi Lasante’s Mirebalais hospital in Haiti


Core to Partners in Health’s philosophy is that they develop long term sustainable healthcare, employing and training local staff wherever possible. They have recently opened Haiti’s only teaching hospital in Mirebalais, not far from Cange, and I am raising funds for the equipment and development of this hospital. You can donate (with UK gift aid if applicable) here.

Partners in Health

Paul Farmer was 23, and studying medicine at Harvard, when he first visited Haiti and found that only the very wealthy had access to healthcare. Shortly afterwards, with the help of Ophelia Dahl (who was then 18), Todd McCormack (IMG), Jim White and fellow Harvard medic, Jim Yong Kim, Farmer founded Partners in Health and set up the clinic in Cange. The principal aim was to provide accessible healthcare for all; free for all those who couldn’t afford the 80 cents charge – which, of course, was almost everyone. PIH now operates out of 10 more sites in Haiti, including the incredible new University Hospital in Mirebalais, and is the principal healthcare provider for a large swathe of the country. Although around 40% of funds raised still go to Haiti, PIH also has rural healthcare operations in Peru, Mexico, Lesotho, Siberia and Malawi. Ophelia Dahl is the current chairman and Paul Farmer is a director.

Mike Hall


I was inspired to compete in this race by its founder, Mike Hall, undoubtedly the biggest name in ultra-distance bike racing having won and held records in the Tour Divide (Canada to Mexico through the Rockies), the Trans American Bike Race and the World Cycle Race. Sadly, and shockingly, Mike was killed in March when competing in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race. For a while it was uncertain whether this year’s race would go ahead but Mike’s family and the sponsors (Lezyne, Apidura, Kinesis and PEdAL ED) have just announced it will. Mike was a fervent supporter of Newborns Vietnam, which also provides rural healthcare in developing countries, focusing on neonatal care in Vietnam. Supporting PIH in the context of Mike’s race seems fitting.

More about the Race

The race starts on the Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium and finishes at the mountain top monasteries of Meteora, in central Greece (where Topol ate pistachio nuts while Roger Moore climbed in a fetching bodywarmer in For Your Eyes Only). There are 4 compulsory sections – climbs to Schloss Lichtenstein in the Jura and the Monte Grappa monument in Italy, a route through the High Tatras on the Slovak/Polish border and the Transfagarasan Highway in Transylvania (Jeremy Clarkson: “The best road..…In the world”) – the rest is up to me. Only about 40% complete the race, with nearly all scratches the result of stress injury or illness. The clock starts when we set off up the Muur and keeps ticking until you finish or scratch. The winner will probably take around 8 days, averaging nearly 500 km per day and riding over 20 hours per day. As I am firmly in the top tail of the age curve that’s not in my sights, but to be included in the General Classification I will need to finish in 16 days, and if I can do my targeted 300 km/day I will be inside that.

I’ll be posting updates on preparation for the race on here and I may even tweet stuff if I can work out how to do it.