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Europe by bike - Rory McCarron's Transcontinental Cycle Race

In his first blog Rory described his preparation for the event and the start of his monumental ride, he now describes day one of his ride across Europe.

I am on the road and off on my journey - staring over 4000km in the face. My plan for day 1 was to ride for 24 hours covering around 330miles, just short of the first checkpoint (CP1).

The distances and times I had completed in training made me think this was a very conservative target. I would then sleep for seven hours, recover and then get up early in the morning on day two to complete the short route to CP1.

It's 10:00pm and I am on the main road, after the Muur out of Gerrardsbergen and all I can see in the dark Belgian night is a snake of red lights ahead of me, for as far as I can see into the distance.

Riding in the dark is always a very different experience to riding in daylight and it is made even more surreal for the red glow worms hanging in the blackness.

I remember the Dulwich Dynamo being a bit like this but whereas that is a social night ride, this is a race and there’s no time for beer and selfie stops.

After passing several riders I am suddenly alone and I realise that not a single rider has ridden past me and ahead of me there are fewer and fewer rear red lights.

These guys are riding fast and it becomes a game of closing the gap and moving to the next one. Sometimes people will suddenly turn left or right and that will mark the end of the same route I am taking (all riders can choose their own route but they must make the checkpoints and finish at the final checkpoint in Greece.).

After about two hours, there are no red lights left. I’m now incredibly nervous about the adventure ahead; the other-worldliness of my surroundings and the unknown miles ahead create doubts which seep into my mind.

My route to CP1 is very direct but there’s a lot of climbing involved. I opted for the N40, a route which takes me direct all the way to Luxemburg for about 140 miles.

click on the map above to see Rory's day one ride on Strava

The noisy Aussie [see Part 1 of my TCR blog] had told me to avoid this route due to the elevation, but the foolish Brit was not having any of that and so climb after climb after climb I begin to hear his voice in my head: “ya bloody fool – told ya”.

I start to realise my time estimates are going to be way out…what have I done?! Suddenly at about 1am James Hayden - the favourite for the overall race - pops up in front of me from a different road entering into a town.

He is riding fast, like really fast. He soon distances himself from me but I know if James is taking this route then I am doing OK. I manage to keep his red dot in sight for about an hour.

It disappears around corners or over the crest of hills but it is reassuring when I catch a glimpse way in the distance, like a beacon of hope that I am on the right road.

I roll into a town around 2:30am called Beauraing in Belgium when I see a bar called ‘Au Biran’ still open, Google describes it as “Quiet, Great Cocktails”, not exactly what I need. However, James is there.

I pull up and say hello. He tells me that they are filling water bottles for free. This is a relief as my bottles are now empty. It is a really humid and warm night.

James leaves and I chat to a rather large gentleman who resembles Gérard Depardieu, he is particularly drunk and I end up sitting with him and his female acquaintance, who puts on a very strange British accent for me and starts being very flirty.

The gentleman becomes very pushy to fill my bottles and I am obviously very pleased that he was being so kind. However, the 300 miles ahead of me are weighing on my mind.

I chat to the lady for a bit, who presumably has a thing for men with large beards in lycra, and then Gérard returns with my bottles filled to the brim.

I politely excuse myself from this ‘ménage a trois’ to continue the race. As I leave he laughs a little too heartily for my liking and my newest fan gives me a cheeky wink.

I shrug it off and continue again into the night. After a further 10 kilometres on the N40 I take a swig from the bottle. Instantly I know something is wrong - the drunken oaf has filled my bottles full of Pernod!

I hate Pernod with a passion, the aniseed taste takes me straight back to the time I raided my parent’s alcohol cupboard at 14 making myself pig sick on the stuff, the only drink which tastes better on the way out than on the way in.

I spit it out and contemplate turning around and going back to the bar. What am I doing! That’s a 20km round trip to have a row with Cyrano de Bergerac over Pernod.

I pour my bottles out on the road and I am livid.

I make a mental memory of the town, and say to myself, “I’m coming back after this race to find that guy!”.

I carry on for about two more hours dehydrated until eventually I come across a 24hr garage. All the drama is quickly forgotten with a cold bottle of water and a coca cola which has never tasted so sweet.

Dawn comes and the day is pretty much a blur from there. Clocking miles and ticking off towns that I had marked up flys by and I am quickly working towards that 330miles.

The evening is coming in when I make it to Germany. I end up on numerous cycle paths through a huge town by the river, suddenly I bump into James again.

We ride side-by-side for a bit and chat. He then apologises for being the bearer of bad news and he breaks the tragic news about Frank Simons.

I am totally shocked. I haven’t checked my phone all day so I hadn’t seen the email from the race organisers which was sent about four hours earlier.

After a while our routes veer off in different directions. I carry on for an hour or so until about 8pm and by this point and I know I am only about 35 miles from CP1.

Should I stop and find a hotel? I pull over to the side of the road and break down in tears. I think about Lucy and the stress she must be going through knowing I am out on the road and all the risks involved with this race.

I also think of Frank and the pain that his loved ones must be going through. I text Lucy to let her know that I am alright but also about the news of Frank.

Stupidly I ask her what she thinks I should do, carry on or ‘scratch’. I am starting to be a little irrational in my thought processes after being on the bike for 22hrs in the heat and without any rest.

She simply says: “You can’t ask me that question” and tells me she loves me. I pull myself together and decide to book a room in the hotel at CP1 and to ride there that night as I really want to speak to the organisers about Frank and see what they think is best to do for the race.

It is only a couple of hours away and I feel like I can make that.

However, I get to about 15 miles away when it all goes wrong. I suddenly start to feel really weak and shaky. I can barely turn the pedals.

I have a cheese and meat pastry in my bag that I picked up from a service station so I pull over and try to eat it. I instantly throw it up and that’s when I know something is wrong.

I sit at a bus stop for about twenty minutes throwing up. I finally manage to pick myself up and get back on the bike.

It takes about an hour to ride ten miles but I eventually make it to CP1 at 10:45pm in 5th place.

I am greeted by all the fantastic volunteers, James and also Juliana Buhring a veteran TCR/long-distance endurance cyclist. She is helping organise the race this year and she sits down with me.

Juliana wrote her book 'This road I ride" as the first woman to circumnavigate the world by bicycle. The book was a total inspiration to me and here I am speaking to her about Frank and I start to cry again.

She puts her arms around me and tells me to sleep on any decision I make ('Mike always said, never scratch at night'.


The talk with Juliana is exactly what I needed and justifies my decision to get to CP1 and speak to the organisers and volunteers, which probably saved my race.

If I hadn’t made it to CP1 that night and spoken with Juliana and others, I probably would have scratched there and then.

Juliana shows me to my room and there greeting me is a fresh bed, shower and a small packet of Haribo that someone has kindly left. I slump on the bed and then wake to my alarm, still in my lycra, at 5am.

It feels like I’ve been asleep for 5 minutes! I ask myself - was that really only one day?

To be continued...

Thanks to James Robertson for the main photograph of Rory and photos where credited within the blog. www.jamesrobertsonphotography.co.uk

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