A steed fit for TCR

I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to bikes (there’s a slim chance I own a few too many), but there is only one in my stable that I would actually choose for this year’s route. The Transcontinental is effectively a very long time trial, so the bike has to be built for racing – race geometry for speed and handling, range of positions available (drops, hoods, tops, extensions) and capable of stopping 80kg of me and 10kg of luggage on an alpine descent at short notice.

I deeply admire Ultan Coyle for utilising a Trek Speed Concept in last year’s race – he’s either found the magic saddle I’m still looking for or has a steel-lined undercarriage. If I had the constitution (and the contacts to be able to make aero luggage), this is definitely the route I would go down. Over a race this long, the benefits of being aero simply add up to scarily large numbers. Sadly, my Boardman AiR TT 9.8 is just too aggressively set up for a race of this nature – I could manage 12 hours on it, but not over multiple days.CIIabvpWEAEpYzd

Making this bike comfy for such a challenge would require magically re-growing some steerer, investing in some custom aero luggage and a great deal more faff than simply looking to a slightly more suitable bike (and let’s not forget, the bike is a small percentage of overall aerodynamics, with position and other factors weighing heavily, particularly when you involve luggage).

The next best thing to the Boardman would be my Felt AR1 – an aero bike with plenty of scope to find a really comfortable multi-day position. I seriously considered the Felt for a long time, but eventually it had to be discounted for two major failings – firstly, the luggage options would be limited by the deep aero tubes and I would almost certainly have to go with a large saddle pack, which would upset the handling and be less aero than my preferred style of luggage. Secondly, the rim brakes, while excellent, aren’t as powerful as discs or as reliable in the wet (and an out-of-true rim could derail my race).IMG_20150611_213327720

The Planet X RTD-90 solves these problems. The geometry is similar to the AR1, the tubes are boxier, so can accommodate my preferred luggage and it runs on disc brakes. With clip ons attached, I can get good and low, while not putting too much pressure on the wrong places. The pads can be set wide to relieve fatigue and Di2 means I can shift gear without shifting position. In an ideal world, I’d have hydraulic brakes set up, but budget considerations put Shimano’s Di2 hydraulic brifters out of reach and I found TRP’s Hy/Rd hybrid design too fiddly and unreliable. Mechanical disc brakes have less stopping power, but the benefits of reliable performance and less issues with a wheel coming out of true remain. It will also be easier to carry spares.2015-12-19 12.43.16

All in, the bike weighs around 8kg. Rather more than the Boardman or Felt! However, while the route is very mountainous, an extra kilogram of bike pales in comparison to the 5-10kg of luggage most of us will be hauling around. Even with around 50,000m of climbing planned, I believe aerodynamics will be a bigger consideration than weight. Keeping luggage in-line with the frame, keeping the centre of gravity low and riding in a low, but not too aggressive, position on the extensions should easily make up for the slightly heavier bike.

At some point further down the line I’ll share a detailed overview of the bike set up and the final kit I’ll be using, but for now, much is still undecided and needs to be chosen carefully over the next six months of testing and experimentation.

Respecting the race

This style of event has really taken off in recent years and TCRn04 saw hundreds of entries for a strictly limited number of places. I don’t think I’m in any way particularly more qualified than any other cyclist, so being accepted brings a certain responsibility to respect the race and ensure I make the most of the opportunity that other riders weren’t given.

I know I’m fit enough, but I also know this is a challenge like no other I’ve faced. I’ve ridden 400km in a day, but I’ve never ridden 300-400km day after day for over a week. I’ve never had to sleep at the side of the road for longer than 30 minutes. I’ve never had to carry enough supplies to last longer than a couple of days. I’ve never had to plan a route that crosses multiple countries and terrains. There’s a lot to learn and I’m determined not to be complacent.

I’ve tried to break the race down into its key components and am steadily working my way through them in a way Dave Brailsford would be proud of – exploring all angles and looking to cover all possible eventualities and gains.

The bike

It’s not about the bike. Mike has been kind to us this year – no gravel or obstacles that require a particular bike or trade-off between speed and utility. I’ve still chosen my bike carefully and planned out the build that I believe will be fastest over the parcours, but it’s nice not to be limited in your choices or feel the need to second guess.

The route

The pragmatist in me knows that relying too heavily on a pre-determined route will almost guarantee Garmin failure and lost time. That said, I’ve whiled away many hours creating a best case scenario route that, assuming no Garmin troubles, will get me to Canakkale quickly and in relative comfort. The hours spent on this route have hopefully cemented a feel for the route in my brain, which should make it easier if I need to re-route on the fly.

The kit

Just how little can I get away with? I’ve made some key choices on the big stuff that I reckon will be major factors in how well I do. I’ve chosen my main bag, my lighting, my power supply… I figure the rest needs to be determined during the training…

The training

I can plan all I want and buy the best kit available, but it won’t mean a thing if I’m not up to the challenge. Years of long rides and time trialling have me at a point where I reckon my fitness isn’t going to be an issue – I can polish my FTP and keep training away, but the gains are going to be smaller than from elsewhere. My main focus in training will be the other elements of the race – overnight rides, sleeping in bushes and generally trying to condition myself for what lies ahead.

Why TCR, why a blog?

For me, cycling has always been about escapism, about the ride and breaking myself as a sort of therapy. It turns out that long hours in the saddle, tearing your legs off, makes you pretty quick and I’ve dabbled in racing and time trials as a result. I never really found the satisfaction I expected through competition, though. Too many egos in racing, too many crashes and not enough good, honest, hard work (of course, the bigger issue is I’m not tactically astute, I just want to ride my bicycle… hard). Time trialling fits me better – you against the clock, willing your body to work harder and blocking out the outside world.

The Transcontinental represents everything that I love about cycling. It recaptures the romance of early bike racing, the stories I loved about heroes and villains duelling in the mountains. There’s no drafting, so my tactical ineptitude and need to ride my heart out is no longer a weakness. This is the kind of race I was born to ride.

This year’s route holds a special meaning for me. My mother died in December – my staunchest supporter, always proud of my mediocre time trial results. She spent childhood holidays touring and climbing the Alps with her family in a campervan and cherished those memories with her father, who also died young. This is a chance to feel closer to her and hopefully spend some time processing my thoughts and emotions. There will be demons chasing me to Canakkale.

In the past, I’ve never really felt the need for a blog – I work in PR, so it feels like bringing work home and I don’t have much time for self-promotion (quite honestly, I also don’t find much of what I do on the bike remarkable or noteworthy). I intend to focus on thoughts related to the race, long distance cycling and information that I think might be helpful to other riders. If nothing else, I can look back on this afterwards and learn how to improve for the next TCR – after all, time triallists love data!