THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

Less than two weeks to go.

Less than two weeks.

It’s getting very real. Every moment is consumed by the TCR, planning, worrying, daydreaming.

Of course, I can plan and panic all I want, but the world’s proving excellent at throwing curve balls and really the whole point of this journey is embracing the adventure and going with the cards you’re dealt (although I don’t think any of us expected those cards to include an attempted coup in Turkey).

This weekend saw my final chance to test my full TCR setup (which now contains almost none of my original kit) over a long distance and iron out any wrinkles. In now traditional style, this meant the weekend started with discovering my rear wheel was dead. One of the nipples had pulled through the rim, knocking it out of true and compromising the wheel. Bugger. I was a real fan of my Aero Light Hunt wheels, but I don’t think I’ll be using them for anything strenuous in future – they’re on Sunday best duty from now on! Fortunately I was able to pick up some nice robust Mavics at short notice… I’ve never been blown away by Mavic wheels, but you generally know what you’re getting and they feel like a safe bet at this point (even if they do concede quite a bit of weight to the Hunts…).

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So – new wheels, new bags (Blackburn seat pack replaces the Revelate frame bag), new sleeping kit (Yeti Fever Zero sleeping bag replaces MSR E Bivi) and a whole bunch of re-jigging. I’m pretty happy with the result – what feels like a fairly light set up that’s quick and easy to access, has spare space and provides a bit more protection for foul weather (the seat pack uses a removable dry bag). I’m pretty certain I’ve got my final kit list nailed (and there’ll probably be an in-depth post nearer the time.

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On to the test ride…

Each year in July when the moon is at its fullest, thousands of cyclists meet at London Fields and ride out to the Suffolk coast in a ride known as the Dunwich Dynamo, or DunRun. It’s not an organised event, there’s no brevet card, no finisher list or even a specific start time. People gather from around 7 and slowly start leaving over the next few hours, arriving in Dunwich any time from midnight through to the early afternoon of the following day.

It’s a ride I did last year on a whim after winning my club’s open sporting time trial and absolutely loved, so obviously had to go back this year. It’s also traditionally been the final test ride for TCR riders from the region, so I knew there was a good chance of bumping into some kindred spirits and a club mate had arranged to come along and keep me company.

Last year we left London around 8.30 and it took hours of filtering slow moving cars and bikes to get to Epping, so we decided to make an earlier start this year, heading off while most people were still enjoying the pubs and party atmosphere at London Fields. What took us nearly 2 hours last year, took around 30 minutes!

By the time we’d hit the lanes I was slightly falling in love with the Schwalbe S-Ones I’d fitted. I’ve been training on a mix of Hutchinson Sector 28s and Schwalbe Pro One Evos, but the S-Ones have been impossible to get hold of in the UK, so this was the first time I’d used them in anger (having finally gotten hold of a second pair this week, which I’ll keep pristine ready for TCR).

The Pro Ones were genuinely some of the best tyres I’ve ever ridden, but I just don’t believe they’ll last the distance (although I do wonder about the 28s). The Sector 28s are also brilliant, but feel like a winter tyre and don’t give as smooth a ride as I’d been expecting (they will, however, take any abuse you throw at them). The S-Ones combine the best of both – the ride quality is sublime, yet fast and after 300km of chip and seal roads, pot holes, gravel and mud there’s not a single mark on them. Tyre nirvana.

As we passed through Epping and out of the suburbs, I’d left my Wahoo Elemnt charging off the dynamo while there was still sunlight, keen to ensure it had a full battery before it got dark and I needed to turn the screen back-light on. I’ve not used the dynamo much in the dark yet, so wanted to make sure I was covered if there wasn’t enough power to keep me lit AND charged. I was pleasantly surprised to find I needn’t have worried – as darkness fell, my lights came on and the Elemnt stayed fully charged. The front light was maybe a few percent dimmer than if the Elemnt was unplugged, but it was fine running even on high power mode while still providing charge. Sure, the ride was very flat and fast, but it’s reassuring to know that all but the hilliest stages should be fine. I’m using this as an excuse to scale down to a slightly smaller battery pack for the TCR, to save a bit of space and weight.

Being so far ahead of the majority of the ride, Matt and I made pretty good time and had few real incidents of note – just a fast, enjoyable ride out into the countryside. It was only in the final third (having taken a leisurely stop at one of the pop-up catering points) that we encountered many cyclists and started playing leap frog with some of the faster groups. In the really dark, narrow lanes, I realised I’ve got my dynamo light angled a little too low – it’s more than enough to see by, but having a view of a few feet further up the road would be reassuring and the light is clearly strong enough to cope.

About 15 miles from Dunwich (at another rest stop), Matt got a case of the dozies and we ended up having an extended stop. I was keen to push on and have a proper sleep on the beach, but I also know how quickly the dozies can come on and would rather Matt felt safe covering the final very dark and twisty section of the route. We lost about an hour in total, but still made it to the beach for around 3-4am, ahead of the vast majority of the ride.

I found a nice flat section of beach, laid out the sleeping bag and put my head down for a couple of hours of truly blissful sleep. Such a difference from sleeping in the bivi – no condensation, proper warmth and even some added comfort from the minimal padding. The bag has a 30 gram penalty over my bivi (which was already one of the lightest bivis available), so it’s a compromise I’m more than happy to make. It claims to be ‘weather resistant’, but I think I’m limited to finding sheltered spots to sleep in on the TCR – no setting up in puddles or anywhere rain might get blown into.

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Matt and I had intended to ride back home from Dunwich, but by the time we set off my stomach was doing somersaults and I was really struggling to hold food down. I think the burger I’d had the night before was under-cooked and had upset my stomach. I could ride, but not particularly fast (although we still averaged 29kph) and I had to stop a couple of times when the waves of nausea got too much. Not good. We decided to bomb down the A12 to Ipswich and see if we could blag our way onto a train.

Fortunately we were early enough that they agreed to squeeze us on the next train and we had a nice straight forward run back to London, before cycling back up to Epsom. Job done. I feel bad about bailing on the return leg, but this close to TCR, there’s just no point running the risk of injury or long term damage.

So there we have it. Kit finalised. Training complete. Two weeks to go. Two weeks. Two.

I’ll try to get a kit post out before the start, but work’s pretty hectic while I clear the decks before disappearing for a couple of weeks and much of my free time is being eaten by panicking about the TCR… more so if I have to create a second route to the possible ’emergency’ end point…