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Phoenix Rising

My TCR Bike
I would obviously much rather not have had to replace all my kit for the TCR, as it’s been a very stressful time and for a period I’d just assumed it wouldn’t be possible. But like a phoenix rising up out of the ashes, with help and encouragement from friends (old and new) and strangers, I finally have my TCR rig just about complete. The positive about having to find replacements is you get the opportunity to change things around and I can say categorically that while TCR bike one was fantastic, TCR bike two is an improvement. This is because I knew what worked and what didn’t, or at least what could be improved upon. Now it’s all down to my own performance during the race.

So what are the changes, what worked and what didn’t (or doesn’t)? Here’s a run down of how it all came together:

SON Delux hub. Thank You Ollie!

First thing I needed was a replacement bike. I just assumed I would have to loan one from a friend or buy something off Ebay, because my own cheap Giant training bike would be impossible to ride that kind of distance, even with upgrades. I rode this bike last year for the Styrkeprøven, a 540km race from Trondheim to Oslo in Norway and suffered terrible nerve damage in my hands, which has never healed. So this was never even considered.

After chatting with Peter from Specialized BV Europe, I was not only offered a demo bike (another Roubaix) but also asked to be an adventure Ambassador for Specialized here in the Netherlands. Totally unbelievable and I actually started to think that maybe with a bit more help I could make the start line. I’ve already documented the fundraising and other kit offered in my previous post – Thank You and this was (almost) the  final stumbling block to having a working setup. My biggest worries were the dynamo wheel and Di2 electronic shifting. You might wonder why I needed the luxury of Di2 over manual shifting, well with the above comments about my nerve damage and listening to other TCR veterans, who when sat around a table together could not hold a knife or fork in their hands, I considered Di2 mandatory.

The wheels came together after Hunt Bike Wheels loaned me a SuperDura Dynamo wheelset and sent them out in time for this weekends final long training ride (more about this below) and my heartfelt thanks to Ollie, the Hunt service and despatch manager for getting these and a axle adapter to me in time. The Di2, well after initially been offered a deal by the guys down at the Specialized Concept Store in Assen (cannot thank you guys enough – brilliant service), I was given an even better deal as a gift for the TCR and next years TABR to assist with my own fundraising efforts. Totally unexpected, but absolutely amazing timing.

Car 1 – Derek 0. No humans were hurt.

My local coffee shop and bike cafe fitted the Di2 for me and it turned out my demo bike was not Di2 compatible, it must have been a pre-production model. After Martin (the mechanic) made me aware of this we decided to go ahead and drill the frame – what could possibly go wrong? Well nothing went wrong with the build, other than I needed to order some Sugru (mouldable glue) to plug the holes, but on my way home on the loan bike from the cafe I realised (too late) there were no handlebar brakes and how the kick brake worked, or in this case, didn’t. Moral of this story is don’t give an Englishman a traditional Dutch bike!

Pete Owen of Owen Wheels who built up my original dynamo wheel and sorted the electronics kindly got out another Igaro d1 power converter to me in a timely fashion, this time the upgraded Model 5 with the additional USB charging port. It would be another opportunity to test this important bit of kit on the final training ride.

The Training Ride
This was to be my last chance to test and finalise the kit I would be using for the TCR. I had originally planned on leaving in the early hours of Saturday morning, but a very late night with a poorly little girl spoilt those plans and I decided to wait until later in the evening and set off around the time of the race itself. My route would take me from my home in Groningen firstly north to Delfzijl, then a long stretch south (west) to Amsterdam. I would call in at the Rapha Clubhouse and shop and then cycle back home via the Afsluitdijk and the beautiful Lauwersmeer. Only it didn’t quite work out that way!

I said with my original Roubaix that this bike could not be bettered for this kind of riding and nothing has changed that view. In order to test both the suspension and the wheels I actively sought out some off-road sections on the ride. The Hunt Wheels are supreme, light, responsive and inspire such confidence when you do hit a pothole or rough surface. I will miss them when I have to give them back and I’m already striving to save for a pair. The dynamo is a SON delux and for those familiar with them I don’t have to tell you they are the finest in the world and matched up with the Igaro d1, the charging of my Wahoo Elemnt and iPhone was without issues. A totally reliable setup.

Apidura – a popular choice for bikepackers.

Specialized were unable to get me a set of their bags in time for the TCR due to stock issues, so I went with the full Apidura setup. These just work, but I’m going to need more storage space for next years TABR and look forward to testing out the unique Specialized system, in particular the seat pack which has a mounting bracket and the front bar bag which has it’s own carrier. While the Apidura set may be lighter, I think the Specialized kit would prove more stable – I look forward to testing this theory in the future.

It was a wet weekend, so I got the opportunity to test the clothing out – some old and some new items. The waterproof was part of my Specialized Ambassador kit, a Deflect H2O Expert Jacket with built in rain hood. I really like the fit and more importantly, the look of this jacket. As I was calling in on Rapha to exchange my shorts for a smaller size I wore the Brevet shirt. Wow, is this thing comfortable and you can tell a lot of thought has gone into it’s development, a perfect TCR jersey. I’ll be wearing this and/or the Specialized RBX jersey (another great product which is also designed for endurance riders) for the actual race. Shorts were my WBR team issue, super comfortable (unfortunately the shirt was stolen with my other kit and I’m unable to get a replacement in time) and stylish. Part of my Ambassador kit included the RBX Comp Bib Shorts, but as these are for medium rides (the foam density is not sufficient for ultra racing) I will get my hands on the Pro version then do a full review and comparison. Gloves were the excellent (and best I’ve ever worn) Specialized Grail Body Geometry version, which helped the hands stay fresh on this long ride. Another well thought out product.

The shoes and helmet were also part of my Ambassador kit and again I’m raving about them. I’ve tried various shoes in the past and apart from the excellent Lake cx-247’s which I wore through the winter, found nothing to stop the ‘hot foot’ issues associated with ultra endurance riding. The Specialized Audax shoes were a smaller fit (for summer) but still left lots of room for my feet to expand with the heat. Supremely stiff, yet staying comfortable, I had no issues on this ride and certainly no ‘hot foot’ which has always plagued me. Helmet was a top of the range S-Works Prevail which is light, but more importantly very well ventilated and again, a superb bit of kit for ultra racing.

While all the above is very positive, there was one product which really let me down and that was the leg warmers. I had replaced my original pair (that I never got to wear as part of the stolen kit) with the same model, Sportful No-Rain leg warmers. Within an hour of starting the ride the seam behind the knees was causing extreme irritation to the skin and eventually caused small cuts. I didn’t remove them because it was too cold and the same seam at the top of the legs also caused discomfort. I’m left wondering why include a seam? I have another threadbare pair that are more than 10 years old with no seams and are extremely comfortable, so it can be done. Anyway I’m currently looking for a replacement pair, recommendations welcomed!

Oh wait a minute… what happened to the ride?

Well after 250km of riding into a headwind, I arrived in Amsterdam with 293km on the clock. I was beyond tired – I’ve done 600km + rides that were easier and I decided there was no mileage (pun intended!) in continuing on, there would be no benefit from me pushing further. My other half, the very sensible Hilke, had insisted I took a spare train ticket and so I utilised this to get me home.

Am I ready for the TCR… bring it on! – And just a reminder, this race is (for me) all about raising awareness and fundraising for my charity, World Bicycle Relief (WBR). My next blog post will have details of not only how you can follow me in the race(s) by ‘dot watching’ but also how you can support my fundraising challenges. More soon…


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4 thoughts on “Phoenix Rising

  1. I got recovered from nerve damaged on my left hand. I realize was a mountain handle bar was the fact culprit prodicing it. Changed to proper set up upper body fit. Plus curved handle adapter. Like racing bike. 3 months later. Forced exercise of palm fingers stretches and use of paded gloves lead to a full recovery of my left hand from can not hold anything or straight my fingers on is own to full strength left hand car mechanics. I’m really happpy.

  2. sorry but a lot of talking, begging for money etc. before tcr 5…..and now you’re doing 200 km a day?! not meant angrily but a bit of modesty in advance would have been nice…..instead of talking of a top x finish….

    1. Well Michael please get your facts straight before having a go at me. I did the first 600 km to CP1 in one go and CP2 with Monte Grappa and the intense heat saw less mileage yes, but it also saw the most people scratching due to the heat.

      While I admit it’s been far harder than I imagined, I’m really proud of my performance and I’m not riding just 200 km a day, so check the stats. What is however more important is that I am doing what I believe is my very best – if you want more, have a go yourself first.

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