How to win bike races the James Hayden way - part 2. The Transcontinental
Day 5: Slovakia
I’d just slept in Slovakia so was in the country of Checkpoint 3, High Tatras. I was also racing in 2nd place, not far behind Björn Lenhard. The story of the race is for another time, but I was happy with my progress so far and comfortable with my position. I’d routed over the Lower Tatras mountains, the gradient was steady and the descent very fast. I arrived at Checkpoint 3 in the early evening, then pushed on and passed Björn soon after. I rode until around 1:30am.
Due to starting early and finishing late, Day 5 was one of one of real progress.
Max Speed: 76kph, quite quick and my fastest in the race so far.
Temperature easing a little to 36 degrees C maximum. Lucifer was softening me up for Day 6.
Average speed: The slowest (and longest) racing day since the dash from Belgium into Checkpoint 1. However, there was some reasonable climbing including the highest point in the race so far at 1,708m.
Elevation: 5,072m the second biggest day of climbing; up and yet more up!
Day 6: Slovakia, Romania
Starting in Slovakia after another decent hotel rest, I ended a long, incredible and unforgettable day deep into Romania.
Today was the day that Lucifer really hit and the heat was beyond serious. It was a record breaking 51 degrees C. The hottest day in the region for over 10 years and certainly the most extreme temperature I had personally experienced. What could I do but simply keep pedalling? So, that’s what I did.
It was also the first day that I was in the lead. I was actually leading the Transcontinental for the first time since 2015 when my race came apart with the ultra-cyclist’s dread problem, Shermer’s neck.
I decided there was no time to mess about now, any luxuries of sitting down to eat food were gone, the race was on. Of course, ultra cycling doesn’t work out as you expect.
I rode down the E80 in Romania and it stressed me out so much I stopped at the first hotel I found after the road, I didn’t care about the race, I just needed a break mentally.
I’ve written a separate post about this frightening experience. It’s not for the faint-hearted and it can be found on my website.
Max temperature: 51 degrees Celsius! Lucifer was upon me.
Power: 113W, suffering from fatigue and heat, a tough day and it shows.
Average speed still very respectable.
Ride time: 17 hours, a good day in tough conditions.
Day 7: Romania
Today I started riding early and as the sun rose I was pushing east to the Transfăgărășan Highway. I arrived at the start of the climb by mid-morning and stopped to refuel, essential before a long climb, eating and drinking all I could. The climb itself was straightforward, if a little dull. It was a bit disappointing really as I’d built it up in my mind to be way better.
I was first to arrive at Checkpoint 4, the Transfăgărășan Highway, around midday. Food choice wasn’t good again, so several mouthfuls of Haribo, a litre of milk and some cola and I was again gone. The descent was long and brutal, rolling with nasty ascents included and into a headwind. I stopped at a hotel near Craiova that night, it was to be my last real stop.
Power: Down to an average of 119 Watts, definitely feeling the combination of fatigue and poor food choices. Looking at this figure over the seven days so far tells the story of the accumulated physical effect of such long days: 166, 159, 154, 123, 130, 113, 119. Looking forward, this dropped even further on the final two days which would both average 109.
Average speed is accordingly really plummeting, down to 22.7kmph. I couldn’t ride this slow normally if I tried to. By now it’s just about keeping pedalling.
Day 8: Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia
848km to the finish, so time to open the sprint up!
I awoke and felt decent, not too stiff, not too sore and I knew that my legs would begin working shortly. The morning involved three countries as I passed from Romania, into Bulgaria and then into Serbia. I was so lucky to cross the Danube as the sun rose. It was a beautiful experience. As the day wore on the heat of Serbia was sweltering.
I was leading, I had a good gap and it was my time. This was Mike’s race, and I was thinking a lot about him. I was here to win and I realised that I should do something to honour both his race and him. What better way than to do as he would. I decided to try and ride straight through to the finish.
Shortly before nightfall I began the climb into Macedonia. The gradient was steep, even a bit too steep. However, thankfully the climb was not so long.
Upon passing the little border crossing, the road turned to what can only be described as rocks glued onto more rocks. Take the worst Paris - Roubaix pave that you can imagine and you’ll be close. Then imagine 10km of this, absolutely tortuous. The only way to ride was as if it were pave, hands on the tops and just power a big gear at 60rpm, pressing hard.
My lowest average cadence of the race, 81.
Compare this average with 90rpm for the first day. This shows another effect of the growing fatigue and my average speed stays low at 23kph.
Day 9: Macedonia, Greece
I was pedalling up a small hill, at night, somewhere in Macedonia. I was feeling tired and pedalling very slowly, my brain was hazy. I needed some rest so I took an hour off the bike. I awoke feeling refreshed and pushed on again.
This day was hard. Hard like only some will ever know. My body was beginning to shut down, my energy stores were at minimal. My legs turned over the pedals and pushed me forward, only as a mere courtesy rather than a real effort. Today was to be a slow slog to the finish.
The day wore on and so did my patience. I just willed it to be over, I was knackered; physically and mentally from the onslaught of 8 days racing and nearly 48 hours straight out.
The last parcours was both hideous and beautiful, not only did you need to do a final climb but you had to do 3 other climbs to get there. Oh, Mike was trying to break us. Forgiveness was easy, as the roads and the views were incredible, and I passed through the region as dusk turned to night, the wispy haze across the rolling hills and the sun setting gave me compensation for the toil.
I’ve no shame to say it was emotional as I climbed these final hills; stress, joy and sheer sadness overcame me and I shed a few tears. It’s not a frequent occurrence for me and I think the last time was 10 years ago as my dad passed.
To finish, to win, and to do so this year to honour Mike, his race and the people that had come together to put it on meant everything to me.
Average power was down to 109 Watts, I was nailed. It was just a case of keeping the legs spinning at any effort manageable.
The statistics show yet another hot day but don’t show the wind. Greece was quite flat for most of the afternoon and I had to ride into a headwind.
Only 1h sleep in the past 48 hours, since leaving Craiova, Romania.
2017 vs 2016
Speed versus Time for all 9 days, this graph (Trackleaders.com) really demonstrates consistency; also portraying the tough last 48 hours.
Image 1. Track leaders speed vs time, Transcontinental 2017
I began this piece by stating that for me the race in 2017 was ‘easier’ than 2016. Clearly 2017 was not really easy by any means, however I was better prepared, fitter and stronger on the start line. A big part of this was having professional coaching.
I also raced smarter, I slept more, and consistently.
In 2016 I was on the back foot almost from the beginning, stopping during the first night then having to rest and recover from illness at CP1, where I lost 36 hours. Subsequently I felt forced to sleep less to make this up.
In 2017 I was on the front foot, racing my planned race, resting as my body needed and keeping step with the race lead, making my move when I was ready.
Image 2. Track leaders speed vs time, Transcontinental 2016
These two graphs show the complete difference in my races when comparing 2016 with 2017. Image 1 shows consistent sleep each night, with longer sleeps the first 2 nights. Image 2 shows the long 36-hour rest, with a short fast day across France and another long rest followed by almost 3 days straight riding (with just 1h 30 sleeping) to play catch up. This took its toll and was brutal physically.
Full analysis for 2016 can be found here. http://jamesmarkhayden.uk/transcontinental/the-power-of-fatigue-racing-transcontinental/