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!

Fitness

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  
   
Flags  
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
Suncream  
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
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