Part 4 – Ham Sandwiches
This episode has taken a wee bit longer to write about than the others and here’s why; it deals with failure. The ability to be able to look back at the event when it all went wrong is still upsetting for me and not something I enjoy, so it makes perfect sense that actually turning these feelings back into words would prove difficult. In truth I felt I was going well, even with the electrical problems that had slowed down my progress to CP1 (which I had reached in 1 day 12 hours 1 minute) I still arrived at CP2 in 3 days 18 hours 51 minutes. My feeling was if I could keep up a similar pace then I would easily make it to the finishers party, but alas, it would be another full week before I arrived at CP3 and I knew my race was over.
Coming off the top of Monte Grappa I was in desperate need of some decent food, as the ice cream and cake I’d eaten at the summit cafe hadn’t even filled a small part of the huge hole in my stomach. Time for a shopping trip and stock up on supplies, courtesy of the first Lidl store I encountered back in the valley. I bought pastries (which were consumed immediately) and bread, then ham and cheese to make sandwiches later. The heatwave ‘lucifer’ was still making things tough as the temperatures during the daytime soared and the actual cycling was as hard as anything I’ve encountered before, which on reflection maybe I should have taken more rest during the daytime and cycled more at night.
I actually enjoyed the ride through Austria and it wasn’t until I crossed into Slovakia that things started to go amiss again. I was still having problems with my electronics, which the ‘lucifer’ heatwave had damaged, but I was getting pretty frustrated with my routing and Komoot. Because I was now following a new route (and not one I’d previously checked) I was made all too painfully aware that Komoot had ‘real’ issues with Slovakia and insisted on routing me onto a motorway and other silly route choices. It didn’t even recognise a new road running alongside which was more than adequate and more importantly, legal. On a more positive note, I met my second ‘dot watcher’ just outside Bratislava, a cyclist called Ondrej Pok. Ondrej had been following and meeting up with many of the cyclists passing through and really lifted my spirits as we rode together into Bratislava. Here’s a short video he shot:
My big mistake was leaving the ham and cheese in my pack until late in the afternoon and then making the sandwiches, which I heartily consumed in one foul swoop. Surprisingly it would be another 24 hours before the sickness started, firstly diarrhoea and then full on projectile vomiting which made anything else I tried to eat come back up pretty quickly. In the end the inability to keep any solid foods down meant I was surviving on ice cream and yoghurt, which were the only things that remained in my stomach for longer periods, but even these were vomited or evacuated rather unpleasantly and even many days after returning home I was still plagued with the sickness.
Bad luck often doesn’t just happen once and sure enough, before the food poisoning took hold fully I was knocked back by another issue, a broken rear mech. My bike had fallen over while propped up outside a store and I had never noticed the low impact fall had bent the rear mech hanger. It was not until I was climbing a steep hill and changed into my biggest rear cog that the mech entangled itself in my spokes and it’s testament to the strength of the wheels built by HUNT that they sustained no damage whatsoever, but my Di2 rear mech was bent beyond repair. I was able to convert the bike into a single speed which would see me get back down into the valley (by way of a broken dirt track that Komoot suggested was a road) and I can’t praise the Specialized Roubaix bike or HUNT Wheels enough, because I was effectively riding a trail even a full suspension mountain bike would have found challenging. Scary, but the adrenaline was flowing and I managed to stay upright.
Once in the valley I rolled into the nearest town, which was Zarnovica. Unfortunately it was Saturday afternoon, the bike shop was shut and talking with the locals, it seemed my best chance of finding someone to fix my (Di2) rear mech would be in Bratislava on Monday. I had two choices, neither of which felt right and of course I’ll never know if I chose correctly. I could attempt to find a bike shop by going on ahead, or return to Bratislava. What I failed to realise in my tired and weakened state was that I would have to cycle back to where I left the route – I had just assumed I could start again from the same point and this was to mean I had to cycle an additional 150 km just to return to my previous forward position.
I took the train from Zarnovica back to Bratislava. Hotels were never going to be a part of my TCR, mainly due to the costs which I had calculated up to and including my travel home from Greece. However I was not feeling well enough to consider staying in my bivy for the next two nights and booked into a cheap hotel, hoping the proper rest would help me recover from the food poisoning. Annoyingly I would have to wait until noon on the Monday for the bike shops and ended up waiting outside the Specialized concept store for them to open. What a difference from the store in Geraardsbergen, where the guys couldn’t do enough to help me. Here once they realised I had Di2, they said I would have to wait two or three days for the mech and didn’t even look to see if it could be fixed, before giving me directions to another bike store a few kilometres away.
There are times when you know you have struck it lucky and arriving at the Scott Sport store in Bratislava, once I saw the look on the mechanics face I knew they would help. Here was a guy who took one look at the rear mech and you could see his mind working overtime “here is a problem, how can I solve it?” and proceeded to take it apart, bend it, add other bits and put it all back together. Di2 is not easy to fix, but I was amazed to find it not only worked, but I had full selection of gears. The mechanic had used parts from a standard derailleur and managed to get it all indexed correctly – pretty amazing. I was back on the road, albeit a little late in the afternoon and had only to ride the 150 km’s back to where I took the train to continue my TCR. There were no thoughts of abandoning even though I was having trouble keeping food in, I was just ecstatic to be on my way again and heading for the High Tatras and CP3.