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There was a long train journey.

A tribute ride, from Schloss Lichtenstein to De Muur, Geraardsbergen. My routing software claimed it was 581km with 6,500m of climbing. Question was, could I tick it off on a 3 day weekend including all the travelling to get there and back? In an attempt to keep costs down I did additional cycling at both ends and I actually didn’t reach the start, Schloss Lichtenstein, until 01:30 am in the morning. I figured it could well be a similar time on the TCR ride?

I tried, I really tried, but once again came up short. In the end I managed just 408km, but it was without doubt the hardest weekend I’ve spent on a bike and although I could quite easily see it as a failure, in truth it has helped me enormously in my planning for the TCR. I’m not going to discuss the route in detail, but here’s something other TCR newbies might want to consider. Forget about average speed or daily mileage, because it’s not going to happen unless you are prepared to accept a much slower pace than you think you are capable of. I’m a lightweight 62kg and a decent climber (more so on the really long climbs), but that meant nothing as I watched my average speed falling dramatically. The climbs are brutal and they keep coming.

In a previous blog I discussed how maybe doing more climbing for less distance (or less climbing for more distance) could be worth it, but it’s not an easy task deciding which works best. I have a much better idea now and thinking ahead, the route to CP1 is supposedly the easy part – that’s a pretty scary thought. But what came across best was that those who do the proper groundwork with their route finding will have a better experience, because if you rely on route finding software to do the job for you, then you are in for a very painful and rude awakening. I have to wonder how you can be routed up a climb so steep you can’t even walk up it (I used the bike brakes to give me traction) but this happened on a few occasions. The picture doesn’t really show how steep this road actually was!

I had to walk up this!

The rain didn’t help, making the surfaces wet and with the mud often covering them in a film of slime (certainly on many of the rural farm roads) it was also pretty sketchy in places. I had one or two moments when descending at speed where I had to back off and lose all my momentum, which was pretty demoralising after spending all the effort on the climb and hoping to recover some time on the descents. I did almost see the sun as I crossed the Rhein early morning,

Crossing the Rhein

but as I moved further westwards I caught up with the rain, initially that fine mist that just seems to soak through everywhere and this is where the problems really began. After a few hours my shorts were soaked and chafing, so much so I developed a skin tear on my left buttock where it contacts the saddle – very painful. I was still a long way from Luxembourg where I figured I could find a pharmacy open (being Sunday, very little chance elsewhere) as one of my most stupid mistakes was not packing a first aid kit or my Re-skin patches.

By the time I made Luxembourg I was in agony and realised if I continued, I risked having to take a long period off the bike to recover and let the now open wound heal. Time to admit defeat and live to fight another day. I was disappointed and laughed out loud at myself – #BeMoreMike seemed like #BeMoreWimp. However now I have processed it all I know I made the right call and more importantly, learned another valuable lesson.

I’m not sure yet what my next big training ride will be, but I’m hoping for better conditions (a little warmer and less wet would be nice!) and maybe better luck. I’ll certainly be better prepared, but It’s all a learning curve – one that for me at least is proving pretty steep. Anyone who thinks bike touring is akin to bikepacking is kidding themselves, if you throw unsupported racing into the mix it’s a whole new experience and despite the issues I’m having, one that I’m really enjoying. But then we all know I love a challenge!


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