Italy Divide : Veni, vedi, bici

After 4 days and 7 hours of riding, pushing my bike in the scorching heat of Campania, the cold rain of Emilia-Romagna and the snow of the Pre-Alps, I made it to the finish, tied for first finisher with two time TCR winner James Hayden.

I’m sure to dot-watchers it seems like all went smoothly and that there was never a doubt in my mind I would reach Torbole. What no one knows is that I spent most of the first 24 hours of the race trying not to quit. The fast start in the heat of Naples had left me in bad shape both physically and mentally. Pleasure, which is the number one thing that drives me to push forward, had been nowhere to be seen. Only pain was around. Getting from Naples to Rome had been nothing but an ordeal and just like Roberto Duran, I was ready to say « no mas ». But for good or bad, my mind is made a certain way that makes it almost impossible to give up. I don’t think it’s toughness, or resolve or even pride. I think it’s just plain and simple stubbornness. So I kept going. Slowly and painfully. But I kept going. The scenery, the towns, the weather, the traffic , everything gradually got a bit better and finally, I started having fun.

Coming to Naples, my ambition was modest : don’t get hurt, don’t get injured, reach the finish line. I spent most of last year worried about a wrist that would not heal. Then in January I had troubles with my lower back. And finally my left elbow started acting out. Needless to say I was not very confident on the starting line. I’m happy I co-won the race but what makes me happier is that I was able to stay healthy all the way, and that my body will be able to endure the abuse of the races to come.
I’m glad I came to Italy and completed the event. The sheer brutality of this race is something to behold. Every time I overcome such difficulties I become stronger. And several times, as I was patiently pushing my bike on a steep incline or carrying it to fo over some fallen tree, I thought about how much it would have taken out of me a few years back, and how now I was able to stay focused and just calmly wait for it to be over.

Silk road stage 6 – Munich to Linz

After my big ride to Munich, I needed to catch up on some sleep. I knew I had a big ride ahead of me to visit TCR no4 veteran and TCR no5 crew member Oliver Wolf in Linz, Austria. But when the alarm went off, getting up was just too hard and I went back to sleep. So I was off to a pretty late start and knew I had no time to waste on my way to Linz.

For some reason my Lezyne GPS (which is the one I use for routing because it does a better job than garmin) refused to calculate a route. So I was pretty much on my own for directions. I started riding East, following a big street out of Munich. I learned that the Germans don’t like it when cyclist ride on the road instead of the bike path. Even if the road has three empty lanes and said path is way rougher.

So  there I was, riding east following my compass on a bright sunny day. After some time I got to the countryside. There came a junction. I looked at my phone to see exactly where I was. That is when I realized this whole time I had been riding East but also slightly south, when mine is actually a tiny bit  North of Munich. For someone who wasn’t supposed to waste anytime, I was doing a pretty bad job. I changed my cape to north east and kept going.

From then I was treated to a really nice way out of Germany. Nice hills, quiet roads, an alternance of pastures and forests. Due to the terrain, I was not making good progress but at least I was enjoying myself. My routing was pretty good, perhaps better than these of Lezyne or Garmin. Midday, I was about to reach the border town of Burghausen when I got to a road that was closed due to works. After a couple of minutes I found a kid, maybe 17 years old, lying in the ditch next to his bike and crying. He did not seem heavily injured but it looked like he was in a lot of pain. The problem was he couldn’t speak English and my German is very limited. I told him to wait (which is silly cause he clearly wasn’t going anywhere) and went to get help. I brought a woman who was living in a house nearby. When we got back to him, two men were taking care of him as well. A doctor was on his way so I got back on my bike and headed to Burghausen.

After a nice stroll in the forest, I got to town, crossed the river Inn and there I was, in Austria. I got on a bike path along the river believing it would lead me all the way to Braunau, because that is what the sighed said. Pretty soon it turned to gravel then it became a single track through the forest and finally it ended abruptly. I had to go back, having lost time again.

 A steep climb brought me to the main road. It was not busy and went through and dark and dense forest, following the Inn am the way to Braunau. There the road got busier. It was quite boring all the way to Ried, just big fields and nothing to look at. A little later night fell. It was still more than an hour to Linz and I got surprised big a couple of big hills. But the nice thing is that from the top of the last own to Oliver’s place it was just a long descent. The most gracious host you could wish for, he welcomed me in his flat and cooked me a nice pasta dish.

Silk road stages 4 and 5 – from Switzerland to Germany

After spending a full day resting and enjoying the company of Rolf, it was time to keep moving. Being already being schedule, I couldn’t afford to spend too much time stalling.

Rolf was kind enough to join me for the first 30km of my rather short ride to Zurich. He guided me through the rolling hills of his country saying that is what Kentucky would look like if it’s inhabitants cared about where they live. Farmland, pastures, neat and spotless little villages : it sure was different from Kentucky.

As soon as Rolf left me, I got lost. Despite the fact that I use two GPS (a Garmin edge touring and a Lezyne macro). My goal was to get to Zurich before 5pm to beat a storm that was supposed to hit in the evening. This is why I had picked a route with the least amount of climbing possible. The other reason was that after the three first stages, my legs felt horrible. I felt like a beginner cyclist who had pushed too hard, ignorant of his own limits. Off course, since I got lost, I ended up climbing a lot more than I was supposed too. I won’t complain though, because the biggest hill on my way was a really nice one. Hard and steep but very quiet, through a forest. The descent was even steeper and pretty scary, but somehow I survived.

Around 5pm, a strong tailwind started pushing me towards Zurich. The storm that the forecast announced was on its way. I took advantage of the wind and pedaled fast to my friend’s Sandro’s house. As he welcomed me in, the first raindrop fell from the sky.

The next stage was a big one, all the way to Munich. I was a bit nervous the night before and went to bed at 1am. A couple hours later a mosquito woke me up. I managed to kill him but it took me forever to get back to sleep. When the alarm went off, I had only slept for three hours. But when it’s time, well it’s time.

I left Zürich at 6:30am. It was very quiet and pretty cold despite the absence of clouds. I had a hard time finding my way out of the suburb where Sandro lives. Too many dead-end streets and my GPS were not helping. Still I managed. Onward there was a lot of climbing. Not long or steep climbs, but just relentless. Again farmland, pastures and small villages, all the way to the lake of Constance of, as the Germans call it, Bodensee. I followed a nice cycle path along the shore all the way to the picturesque town of Constance. I crossed the border without noticing it and then hopped on the ferry to the other side. There, a steep climb awaited and on top of it, was a pretty busy road which thankfully had a cycle path right next to it.

I spent about a hundred kilometers riding through fields, apple orchards and bits of forest, crossing mostly small towns. Again the terrain was quite hilly. Small gentle climbs but if you add them up it make for a fair amount of ascent. Being Sunday, pretty everything was closed and I found my only chance at resupply in a McDonald’s around 2pm. Needless to say, I was starving.

The last part of the ride was not the nicest. The road was following the Autobahn so noise was an issue. Not to mention the fact that said road kept crossing the motorway in an intricate system of over and under passes. I got to Munich around 8pm after a 290km journey fueled only by a Big  Mac meal and running on just a couple of hours of sleep. So yeah I was pretty tired. My friend François Xavier and his girlfriend Valeria welcomed me in their nice flat and we shared a few good Bavarian beers. They were at a wedding the day before so I was even treated to some nice cake after dinner.

Silk road stages 1 to 3 – from Paris to Switzerland

On August 14th at 7pm I finally gathered the needed courage to embark on the crazy journey that is supposed to take me all the way to China. Even though I’m an experienced tourer, when the time came to finally take off I felt very intimidated. When I woke up that day, it took me about an hour to get out of bed. Because I knew the day had come. I was ready and had no excuse to delay some more.

I still took my sweet time for final preparation and as hours went by, I felt more and more frightened. I’ve accomplished a lot as a cyclist but, for some reason, riding from Paris to China seemed impossible. That’s just too damn far, there’s just too many countries to cross, too many things that can go wrong. But I had to do it. So I got on my bike and started pedaling in the streets of the suburb where I grew. From there, the furthest I’ve ever ridden is Firenze. It’s quite far, but it’s definitely not China.

So there I was, passing by my old high school trying to realize I was on a ride that would take me across two continents. I felt uneasy and nervous. I crossed Paris from North to South, got to a suburb called Créteil and thought it was absurd that such an extraordinary trip would start in such a mundane way.

I was out in the countryside when night fell, surrounded by fields. I had no idea how far I would go. Riding all night seemed like the right thing to do. I had very little food in my stomach and even less in my jersey pockets. And I knew it could be a problem. Around 2:30 am, I entered Troyes which I knew was my only chance to resupply. I was 170km away from home already and I was starving. Against all odds, I found a small convenience store that was still open. I was more than relieved.

After eating a bit, I hit the road, aiming for Besançon, some 250km away. Now it is worth noting that since finishing Trans Am 7 weeks prior, I hadn’t been on a proper bike ride. So after 170km my body was starting to show signs of weakness. My ass was killing me and my feet and knees hurt too. I knew that reaching Besançon without stopping was unrealistic. I ride for another 50km and decided to take a break to rest a bit.

I was back on the bike at 8am, a bit fresher but still aching. That whole day turned out to be shitty. I was exhausted and kept stopping to nap, once on a chair, one on a bench, a couple times on the floor. The scenery was dull, power had left my legs, a light rain kept the road wet and the sky gray. All the villages were deserted and the shops were closed. I didn’t find a bakery open till 5pm and they were out of everything except croissants. Somewhere around 7pm I ate a disappointing kebab in a small town. All in all, it took me 13 hours to cover the 200km to Besançon where I crashed into a cheap motel.

The next day was better. The sun was shining and just a few kilometers in I was rewarded nice short steep climb to a small village. The 12% grade lasted for 2km, just enough for me to notice that some of the power was back in my legs. Then I was on my way to Switzerland. I reached the border mid-day. I think I’ll never get tired of that very special feeling you get when you cross a border on your bike. I’ve done it countless times but it’s still something I really enjoy.

The road to Neuchâtel was great : narrow, winding, following a river through a forest and banned to cars. Neuchâtel to Bern was not as nice but still ok. Then I met up with my friend Rolf Moser who, like me, is a veteran of Tour Divide, Route 66 and Trans Am bike race. He escorted me to his house some 20km away where a nice dinner was waiting. 

Silk Road : a dream come true

For many years I’ve dreamt of riding from my home all the way to China along the mythical Silk Road, following the footsteps of Marco Polo and many great explorers of ancient times. I’m not the type of guy that is just content to dream. I have to act.

Now is the time for the dream to come true.

Now is the time to live what will most likely be my greatest adventure to date.

Leaving from Paris, my plan is to ride to Switzerland, from there to Austria, then onward to Hungary, across Romania to the port of Constanta. A ferry will then take me to Azerbaijan. A few hundreds kilometers further to Baku where I will hop on another ferry to Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are next on the list before crossing the border to China. The last leg of my trip will be dedicated to riding across this fascinating country.

Just like I did on my 2016 Oceania/Asia tour, I plan to ride long distances everyday and take very few rest days Because there’s nothing I like more than being on my bike and because rest days are boring. My goal is to get to Taiwan in 3 or 4 months depending on how many detours I make. This way I won’t have to deal with the cold in Northern and Central China.

Last week I applied for my Uzbekistani visa.  Next step is to apply for my chinese visa. I the mean time, I will finish building my Omnium CXC and do some route planning. Hopefully I’ll be ready to leave in a couple of weeks. Can’t wait for the long days on the saddle in places I’ve never been. I’m gonna try and post updates here every two or three days.

If you want to help, you can donate here :

Trans Am recap

There is a lot to say about a 7000km race. It’s a very long journey but surprisingly the first half went by very quickly. Having learned a lot from my first racing experience on the Tour Divide, I managed to make the necessary adjustments and didn’t have to much trouble riding in the top 5. I was having a ton of fun most of the time. The weather was great and, compared to the tour divide, I found the Trans Am was a rather easy race.

Wyoming was windy, but that’s nothing new, so I was prepared. Colorado was windy as well, which surprised me, since it usually is not. Then came Kansas. After 3500km, I was in third place and ahead of Mike’s record pace. My goal of finishing in 18 days was still within reach. Or so I thought. After 100km or so in Kansas, the wind kicked up. It was a 40km/h southerly wind. As we we’re headed east, most of the time, it was a crosswind. But there were also times where we had to ride straight into it. Evan Deutsch proved to be much stronger than me in such conditions and made a huge gap. The wind kept blowing day and night for three days and I dropped from 3rd place to 5th. Long, straight, flat stretches are not my strong suit and the wind really messed with me. The fun was gone and I was not as mentally strong as the other top riders in such conditions.

Kansas proved to be a swing state, if I may say. I stopped to spend the night at Newton Bike shop and asked James, the owner and mechanic, to rotate my tires and get me back to tubeless (I had an inner tube in my rear wheel due to a flat in Colorado). The next morning, I forgot to get my tube back and left the bike shop. Unfortunately, after a hundred miles, my tire exploded in a downhill. There was no way to fix it without a tube. I hitched a ride to the closest town but couldn’t find a tube. I tried to get a ride to the next town but was unsuccessful. Only the next day was I able to get tubes and a news tire delivered from Independence, KS. When I got back on course, I had lost 24 hours.

Following this infortunate incident, I had a hard time getting my focus back. The podium was out of reach and so was my initial goal of finishing in 18 days. Focus is key in these events. Without it, the second half of the race seemed like it would never end. I was able to ride for 600km straight to bet back in the top 10. But when I realized how hard it would be to get back in the top 5, I was a bit discouraged. I kept lowering my goals and finally finished in 8th place in 20d 5h.

So all in all, I’m very disappointed with my race. Still I’m very happy with what I was able to achieve for the first half. For me, it’s almost like two different races. One that was good, where I was able to perform, with great landscapes and a ton of fun. And a painful, long monotonous race where my only goal was to finish.

Overcoming such a disappointment is hard. I know it will take time. Now I can’t wait for my next race. I want to erase the memory of what I consider a failure by performing to the full extent of my abilities on an another event.