On Friday morning at 8.38am, Mick took to the roads of Germany for the Race Across Germany 2017. It was never going to be easy, with 1,100km of road and 7,600 metres of climbing. Here, he gives you an insight into the entire experience.
There’s so much to say about Race Across Germany and for fear you might not read down to the end, I’ve got a few people to thank first!
Peter Ciacca of Renner Bikes & Lanzarote Cycling and part of the support crew. This guy is the ultimate gentleman. He supplied bikes, parts, wheels, he even put his hand in his pocket (when he need not have done so) for all kinds of things. So much of what was achieved is down to this man.
Stevie Turvey, Marty McLoughlin and Chris Horschke – the support crew. “The whole is greater than the sum of their parts”, quote by Aristotle. Remember, these guys were doing this for the first time as well. They out performed some of the most experienced support crews in the race. This was a massive under taking and they rode the steep learning curve as though it were flat!
There are lots more people to thank, Jim Breen, Jim Rees, Luis Fleep, Lars & Charlotte and all of my close friends here in Lanzarote and of course all around the world for all your support throughout.
While we weren’t the only novices rocking up to the event, the level of experience and professionalism at the disposal of some of the teams was immediately apparent. Custom vehicles, big sponsors, all kinds of gadgets and state of the art bikes.
Weather conditions at the start were poor, heavy mist to light rain. Participants were starting at 2 minute intervals. I knew once I rolled off the ramp, a warm-up for the first few kilometres would be the last thing on my mind and that I would want to drive on, so I did a few very light laps of the start area. All the time I was keeping an eye out for my slot. I timed it perfectly, rolling up to the ramp with 15 seconds to my start time. Little did I know of the panic at the ramp with a minute to go to my start time.
You get counted down, photographed and waved off. There you go. The race has started. Immediately, my thighs felt like 2 dead cavity blocks and I’m thinking I need an energy gel already! The first 10 minutes were scary and frustrating. “How am I going to finish this race if my legs are suffering already”? The 1st two sets of traffic lights were red. I felt as though it would be just my luck if the next starter rocked up beside me…..and then I took a wrong turn, another minute in the bin!
30 minutes in and I started to settle. I was riding a Merida Warp TT bike, supplied by Renner Bikes. The rain was expected to continue for the next 12 hours, “just like Ireland” I smiled to myself…..positive mental energy!
After an hour, I overtook about 5 riders over a period of 10 minutes. I know I wouldn’t like to be over taken, so I tried to be genuinely friendly and offered encouragement to some to the riders. The support van for the rider who started 2 minutes behind me kept overtaking me, so I felt as though he wasn’t far behind. Every time they passed, it played with my head. Whether you know or feel that you are going well, it’s hard to say. Over taking riders kind of spoils you and you expect to continue overtaking riders.
Another 2 hours and I caught another number of riders. I eased up as I approached from behind, trying to assess who looked more comfortable. It didn’t take long to decide that the pace was too slow for me and I continued on past. It wasn’t long before our inexperience raised it’s short comings.
Over 100km into the race and our progress took a massive dent. We made a series of wrong turns. Each one cost almost a minute. We had to turn back to get on the correct route. 1 or 2 is not bad but I daren’t tell you how many. It’s particularly frustrating when you pass a rider, not once, not twice but 3 times because of school boy errors. It’s hard to read the GPS with the rain fall.
Things settled again with the occasional mistake but catching riders became more of a rarity. It was immediately apparent that the top guys in this race were in front of me on the road. None of the riders who started after me were making inroads on me. Psychologically, it helps that you know if you catch the guys out front on the road, you are ahead in the race.
After about 6 hours I made one of the catches I had been hoping for, Markus Brandl, winner of Race Across Germany (East to West 760km race) a few weeks previously. Markus was without doubt one of the favourites. Little did I know, he had his own issues, having slipped on the super wet splippery surface twice but lucky to escape unscathed. I sat behind him for 5km. I wanted to see how he was physically. You can never tell mentally. The pace felt a little slow but I was trusting that this guy knew what he was doing and getting his pace right, so I was happy to be in a relaxed state. Mentally and physically I was in a great place, but unfortunately I don’t have the patience. I rode by him effortlessly and into the horizon almost, BUT things went horribly wrong in the next hour.
My GPS froze at a crucial moment. I should have turned right coming into this little town. Confusion reigned. The support crew GPS froze. We elected for me to cycle slowly in a straight line, while the crew waited at the junction to see where Brandl would go. I had a bad feeling. The crew caught up to me. “Turn around, Brandl went right”. Things would go from bad to worse over the next half hour. We were without GPS. There was a series of lefts and rights. There was no point in continuing without knowing we were taking the correct route. We just sat there waiting for the next rider. I was starting to shake with the cold. All 3 GPS’ were being reset. The waiting was like watching paint dry. Eventually a rider passed and I tagged along. It would be 45km before I would see Brandl again.
We sorted out the GPS issues shortly afterwards and then I put the head down. I was still frustrated, but the quick progress was a massive mental lift. I eventually caught the coat tails of Brandl and we had another rider for company, Kosma Szafraniak, from Poland. We spread ourselves across the road, careful not to draft off each other. The atmosphere was very relaxed between the riders. It made you forget the effort you were making. Only Jochen Bohringer and Martin Temmen lay ahead.
We went through a period where there was very little communication between the riders and the vehicles, although one rider seemed resigned to the fact that Martin Temmen was already too far ahead to be caught. I now wish I never heard him say it! I panicked! I was so comfortable, cycling well below threshold.
The chasing group swelled to 4 when we caught Bohringer. He was so comfortable, we managed a chat for a few minutes. He was really enjoying himself. Like me, this was his first venture into ultra racing…top guy!
While I was very relaxed, it hadn’t been lost on me that Martin Temmen supposedly had this unassailable lead. Had I felt a bit lethargic, I’d have been happy to sit where I was. The internet was hard to connect to in some areas for the support crew and therefore it was difficult to see the time gaps, but we were starting to eat into his lead….slowly, only we didn’t realise it.
At over 10 hours, Brandl and I would break away from the other riders. Now the race was starting to become a bit more serious. Physically and mentally I was in a very good place. It was difficult to assess Brandl. We were happy in each others company but we didn’t converse much, conserving as much energy as possible. Occasionally, the support crew would pull up along side me for a chat and assess the situation for me. Nutrition was going well, stomach felt good. I had no neck pain and my legs felt fresher than they had felt at the start.
The race organisers had pulled up beside us to say Temmen was well ahead. Hind sight is a great thing, I wish I never heard that resigned tone. I was going well, but I was thinking, “I’m losing valuable time to Temmen”. Over the next 2 hours, the gap to Temmen closed to about 15km. The race was on! And then I made what may have been an error on my part.
At 8.30pm, I attacked Brandl effortlessly on a slight drag. It seemed so easy. The organisers passed information that the lead was getting very close. Temmen had started 22 minutes ahead of me, so I knew if I could be within less than 10km, we would be neck and neck.
Slowly, slowly, the gap closed. 15, 14, 13, back up to 14, down to 11. Brandl was only 3km back from me and for a brief moment I wondered if I should have just wheeled along with him instead of making a big effort that only yielded a few minutes in such a long race. This was the only moment in the race itself that I questioned my decision making. “It was done now, so let’s just get on with it”.
The first half of the race is fairly flat, but the 3rd quarter is really challenging. Climbs lasting over 10km. Hairpin after hairpin in the pitch dark for 5 kms, more climbs and into a head wind for good measure. I descended almost with reckless abandon. The support crew couldn’t keep up on the descents or through the silent villages. I hoped and trusted there wasn’t any gravel on the corners.
The race was still in the balance at daylight. The gap decreased further, 10, 9, 8, 7. Briefly, I was the virtual leader on the road. I was excited and feeling good. I almost expected to see Temmen in front of me anytime soon…….and then things took a turn. The gap increased. Temmen is a good rider and he wasn’t going to give up too easily. I got a little frustrated, maybe it was a lack of experience. When I found it difficult to click out my foot for a stop, I got angry with it and I strained the side of my knee slightly to get it out, I thought nothing of it.
I stopped briefly for a complete kit change. It was some sight. A bike rider with just bike shoes on, I hope you never see it 🙂
The gap went back up to 17km. It’s a bit disheartening when you get this kind of info, but when you’ve got a guy like Chris Horschke working on the mental side of your game, it wasn’t long before he had me sorted mentally and the gap started to drop again. The gap hovered between 13 & 15km for the next 3 hours. My knee started to ache, but I didn’t worry. “This is normal” I said, “After 700km, this is normal”. But the pain got progressively worse. I was having to stand on the pedals on the climbs. It was really hurting!
I needed to stop and assess the knee. The support crew were brilliant. They all had their own things to do. Check the bike. Fill my pockets with food. A drink bottle on the bike. Clothes changes. More food. The gap was about 15km and I was determined to close it and exert some pressure. There was no reason to think otherwise. Yes, the knee was worse, but I was holding the gap. This would be my last hurrah, but I didn’t know it.
I got back on the bike like a bat out of hell. The crew had given me the best pep talk you can imagine. The roads were smooth, and whilst into a head wind and slightly undulating, I had a good position on the bike. I was really moving. The gap started to drop, and drop quickly. I knew I was going hard. It felt like someone had a dagger in my leg but I had it in my head that if I could suffer for 2-3 hours, catching Temmen was a possibility. The gap was down to 13, “anything under 10 and I was there or there abouts as virtual leader”……and then I rode onto 2 short ramps of about 500 metres in length. I sat up from the aero bars. Then I had to stand up to alleviate some of the pain. I was pedalling squares. I spoke with the support crew about how I was feeling. When you need infectious encouragement, these guys are where it’s at!
The pain became unbearable. I decided to pull over, thinking a short break would alleviate the pain. That thought didn’t last long. I weighed up the situation, the future, my cycling career. “The future is more important, it’s not like I’m dropping out because I’m doing badly or looking for excuses”. After a lengthy discussion with the crew, I lay on the bed in the support van, teary eyed. It can’t be helped when you really want something, when you feel like you don’t want to let people down! They sent the text of my abandon to the organisers and waited for a reply. We were not long waiting for a reply……… “Oh.shit….U lead”!
Immediately, I got back up to ride the bike, “I’m not giving up”! Another text was sent to the organisers to say as much, but 10 seconds was all it took to realise I wasn’t going any further, the pain was too much. I considered cycling one legged! For 300km? I doubt it’s ever been done. It didn’t take long for common sense to prevail.
Spare a moment for the crew at this point. What do you say to a guy that’s close on heartbroken and feels like he has let everybody down? The crew managed the situation perfectly. Yes, I was teary eyed, even worse when I read all the messages of support on the Facebook page, but the crew were quick to point out all the positives that would come from this experience.
We made our way to the finish in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the support van to welcome Martin Temmen at the finish line. What a performance by Martin, finishing in the 2nd fastest time since the race began. Well done Martin, you thoroughly deserved your win!
So what did I take from the experience of Race Across Germany?
- You can stay awake for much longer than you think 🙂
- Your mentality is more important than your physicality for Ultra Cycle Racing.
- A good support crew are worth their weight in gold….and my crew are just that!
- Ultra Cycle Racing suits me as a cyclist, I can compete with the best and I will be back for more!
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