If this is the first page you have landed on then you are stepping into my TCR No.5 journey somewhere in the middle, check out what has come before:
This post covers my first day of riding in the TCR No.5 (2017) from the start line in Geraardsbergen to the city of Koblenz in Germany where the Moselle and Rhine rivers come to together. The build up to the start in Geraardsbergen I will cover in more detail in another post, I am writing here from the moment we were given the signal to move out of the marketplace.
Immediately prior to the start of the paced lap of Geraardsbergen I just wanted to get going. I was ready, prepared and had sunk into a little space in my mind fairly oblivious to much of the atmosphere in the marketplace. There were a lot lights, flashing and steady, reflecting off a choppy sea of reflective gear. We were a mass of people with bikes carrying many different forms of luggage. The move out of the marketplace itself was slow with all 278 riders funnelled through a small gap in the surrounding fences. As we headed into the gap I said my goodbyes and good lucks to rider #8 who I had spent a great deal of time with in Geraardsbergen in the lead up to the race.
Out of the funnel, followed by a short, steady climb out of the marketplace in a large body of riders, flanked by the townspeople and travelling supporters making their way up to the Muur with their flaming torches. At the top of the hill we took the right turn whilst they took the left, we went on to loop 3km round the town to come back up through the marketplace and follow their original path to the Muur. During this loop I had inadvertently moved through other riders further towards the front than I had wanted. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this but I was riding at a comfortable pace and had also heard chatter of it being safer up front when climbing the Muur. Rounding the last corner before the Muur, the climb was acting as another funnel for us to squeeze through, made even narrower by the supporters lighting and lining the way with torches.
Whilst I had wondered what all the fuss of the Muur was about when I first arrived in Geraardsbergen I could now see where the problems lay. It wasn’t the gradient of the climb itself but the mass of riders trying to get through its throat compounded by the varying levels of experience of each rider, on cobbles or otherwise. I successfully avoided much contact at least halfway up and avoided a fair few riders who were having to stop in the already narrow space for various reasons. I thought I was getting away with it when a rider whose identity I will never know went over the handlebars right in front me, it stopped me dead in my tracks. I walked the next 15 meters or so before finding enough space to get my leg over as the climb rounded the last corner, I was pushed off by one of the supporters lining the way which whilst well intentioned was not expected and nearly took me off the bike again. And then, as the road widened out, I was off into the darkness.
The TCR had begun and somehow I was riding in it. I felt good, I felt strong.
Even as I navigated the first crossroads riders were heading back towards me having come off of their route already, it is so easily done with the adrenaline of the start flooding the veins. I stopped 3 times in the first 20 minutes riding to tweak my saddle height, it had overstretched my right achilles on Day -1 and having previously torn my right achilles I was taking no chances. It annoyed me that I hadn’t managed to dial it in before the start of the race but riding a new bike (I will talk about that in another post) with only one significant ride on it it wasn’t a too unreasonable state of affairs. I didn’t want to stop, I really didn’t and a big part of me wanted to just keep riding but I knew that a cumulative 5 minutes invested at this early stage would pay off later on and not investing it would likely punish me severely further down the line.
Over the next hour or so I passed some riders bedding down for some sleep and saw the lights of approximately 10 riders on the same roads or crossing my path, otherwise I was very much alone and that is how it would stay for much of the next 24 hours. During this hour I joined the N8 which I had planned to ride straight down until I reached the ouskirts of Brussels before cutting South through the suburbs. However, not long after joining the N8 I felt pretty unsafe, it was a clearly a fast and busy road which in itself I don’t mind but it also had a lot of roadworks on restricting the space in which myself and other vehicles could work to coexist in. I consulted my maps and began my first re-route of the trip just after Ninove to navigate through the smaller villages towards Brussels. This added some elevation but it was far more pleasant than the N8 and no amount of elevation avoidance is worth riding a road I don’t feel safe on.
With no real bother I made my way towards the Southern suburbs of Brussels and rejoined my route. Brussels was relatively straight forward to find my way through with little traffic of any kind on the road (it was past midnight) and I was glad I had chosen to go through it instead of around it as I could replenish water when I arrived and before I left at late night shops. I had had some anxiety about riding through the city when route planning because as a rule I would never ride through a city without a specific reason, especially of that size, because it is nearly always slower than riding around it. I had routed through Brussels because I was taking a punt on it not being busy at this time and in an effort to keep my route to CP1 as short as possible given that I was already taking the long way.
There is little of note to report of the next 80km or so except the slow drop and then rise in temperature and my munching on pistachios, bananas and muesli bars I had packed from Geraadrsbergen. I was in Genk by this point and I faced another, albeit minor, reroute. I had been successfully travelling down the N75 for a fair amount of time when my route brought me to a roundabout with two exits that both lead to large multi-lane roads. One exit was definitely banned to cyclists and I’m pretty sure the other one was too. As you would see in my trace on Strava I backtracked down the approach to the roundabout and took a road that slowly deviated from where I wanted to be going that I had found on the map. In hindsight it would have made more sense to join the N75 going the opposite direction to achieve the same goal, far safer than backtracking down the wrong side of the road. I guess we make odd decisions sometimes! It took two reroute attempts to get back to my route which I remember being frustrated about at the time. But, like with my saddle adjustments, I reminded myself that doing it properly might feel slower in the moment but would be faster overall.
Shortly after I hit my first border crossing of the TCR into the Netherlands, and ,oddly, a border crossing I didn’t know was coming. In all the planning of this section of my route I never clocked that I was spending a slight 12km traversing the Netherlands to get into Germany. And so my second border crossing of the TCR came in quick succession bringing me into Germany and the same country as CP1. It was not far into Germany (in Gilrath), another 12 km incidentally, I took my first real break since leaving Geraardsbergen. I stopped at a coffee shop/patisserie place and had coffee and pastries whilst plugging in to charge some things. It was early and they couldn’t have been open long. My bike sitting outside was an object of interest to the few patrons who passed through whilst I was there. The had been up for an hour so sun at this point, it was definitely dark when I had had to reroute round the motorway roundabout but light when I crossed the border into the Netherlands.
After being stopped for half an hour so I made an exit and pushed on for about another 20km to the end of my first route file. I had broken my whole route down into 20 roughly 200km segments and reaching the end of the first one was an awesome feeling. I celebrated with a big, very early lunch from a Lidl or an Aldi in Duren. I don’t really remember what I ate but there was bread, crisps and cherries involved for sure.
After loading up a new route file, I pressed on and came across Rider #8 outside the village of Niederelvenich just rousing from some sleep under a tree. I thought that they had planned on a different route to CP1 so this was a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one. We swapped a few words about our experience so far, bid each other good luck and parted ways. A little further on my route, the road I was on (heading towards Euskirchen) was being resurfaced so another reroute was in order. I found a cycle path that would join me back up with my route fairly quickly. My ride through the night and absence of any sleep since late the previous morning was starting to be felt in my body. I stopped to eat some chocolate by the cycle path and was discovered by a red haired Russian rider on a red bike who it turned out was on a very long route to CP1. They had approached me from the South but had also come through the Netherlands, I still haven’t figured out the route they had taken.
Tiredness finally got the better of me and I had a sleep for 20-30 minutes just after Palmersheim, just off of the road on some grass. Vaguely refreshed I set off to meet the Rhine via a climb up to Unkelbach, passing a large strawberry farm on the way, and then down to the river. The Rhine was a route that I have covered in the past, one of the reasons for choosing this route was that I would be in familiar territory at least part of the way. I wasted a good 15 minutes looking for warm food in Remagen but there was nothing suitable and I ended up eating out of another Lidl or Aldi and chatting to an enthusiastic local man on a bike for a good 20 minutes. Another reroute followed to get off the busy main road. This detour took in a fair bit of gravel, I was going to learn that would be at least one bit of gravel to each day. I pushed on a bit further to Koblenz and started to see a fair few fellow TCR riders on the road. I decided to book ahead for a hotel in Koblenz as though I still felt good to keep riding I hadn’t really slept since about midday the day before and thought I might pay a price later in the week for riding further. I hit up another Aldi before I got to the hotel, checked in, showered, washed my kit and started charging electronics. This all took longer than I really wanted and at about 2230 I set an alarm to give me about 4 hours sleep and tucked myself up in bed.
Carry on the adventure with me on Day 2.