After the blistering heat of Transcontinental No 5 in 2017, I had quickly decided that my next endurance race experience would be somewhere unlikely to see temperatures even remotely close to 40C and preferably not even above 30C. As I packed up my bike with a few other riders in Thessaloniki in August 2017, post TCR (Thanks to Phil Sixsmith for organising and tolerating us) my decision had already effectively been made, Ireland was the location, and the Transatlanticway race was the answer.
Fast forward to June 5th 2018 and I am standing on the platform at Birmingham New street waiting for a train to take me to Holyhead where I will travel onwards by ferry to Dublin for the star of TAW2018. A kind face walks up to me, ‘I know where you’re going’ he says, knowingly, we strike up a conversation about the upcoming race and rides previously ridden. ‘You may have read my blog..’ he says insinuating I really should have if I have prepared properly for the race. turned out I was in the presence of endurance veteran Jack Peterson, whose blog has a wealth of enjoyable recollections of his extensive cycling exploits, including a thorough report of his TAW ride in 2016. I had not read his blog, much to my embarrassment, (I consider myself to be pretty thorough in my preparation), so as the train rolled in and we parted to different carriages I decided to make the most of the slowish train through north wales and catch up on Jack’s top blog.
Pulling into Holyhead I felt all the wiser and more positive about the race in general, the weather had looked fantastic along the coast and the forecast promised more of the same in the coming days, and Jack’s blog had opened my eyes about some details and subtleties of the race to come. I was staying overnight in Holyhead before taking the first ferry the next day whereas Jack was heading over that night to meet up with organiser Adrian O’Sullivan to begin his volunteer duties. So we shared a few more words before he headed on his way and I hopped on the bike and headed to my accommodation.
After a night rubbing shoulders with burly truckers at the imaginatively named ‘TruckStop’ just outside Holyhead, I was glad to be at the ferry terminal in the morning and to run into a group of fellow TAW riders accumulating at check-in. I was reminded of one of the main reasons I put myself through the mill of ultra endurance, the people, friendly calm, sympathetic to fault, it is infectious, and after chatting and drinking coffee together on the ferry I was as feeling as serene as the Irish sea we were crossing.
On arrival in Dublin we were reunited with our bikes, which had been ushered away back in Holyhead into a dubious looking van, but nor harm had befallen our trusty rides and we assembled together to cycle out of the huge port complex and into Dublin towards Trinity College. Despite losing the group temporarily to replace a slipped chain, my spirits were high as we entered the city, was this really Dublin?, it felt more like Barcelona in the warm sunshine and modern waterfront. Crossing the Liffey we turned into the entrance and dismounted to make our way through the throng of tourists and enter the courtyard to be greeted by the sight of many more riders milling around.
Having booked accommodation at the start and finish through Adrian, the race organiser, it was simply a case of checking in to the room and then registering for the race itself, things were moving along nicely. After leaving the bike safely in the room I wandered over to registration and while waiting in the queue was lucky enough to run into my friend John Love with whom I had had the pleasure to volunteer on TCRNo4 in Switzerland and on the back of that we had launched our intrepid endurance cycling careers with starting places for TCRNo5. Now we were standing on the brink of an irish challenge, exchanging stories of our training, modification to our bike setups and hints about tactics and thoughts on the upcoming race. Although we are both relatively new to this game, it was striking how many familiar faces we saw around, a mish mash of passing memories from TCR or simply social media virtual friends that we had never seen in the flesh.
Next was the race briefing, after feeling elated being surrounded by racers and the prospect of the race to come Adrian’s race rundown was a breath of fresh air, friendly, calming and down to earth, not mixing his words he laid out the ethos of the race and the finer points where rules most certainly needed to be followed. No surprises or shocks, no last minute route changes to take care of, I left the lecture theatre feeling confident about the race, this might actually be fun and not a complete sufferfest after all.
Post briefing it was time to get a good feed and source any last things that may have escaped the checklist leaving home. John and I headed out of the college in search of a battery pack for me (mine had been playing up and now was as good a time as any to replace it) and toothpaste (for John, I tried to convince him to buy suncream as well but he ignored me) and then a last supper of hearty fish and chips washed down with coke and stories of rides past and hopes for the race. With spirits high and bellies full we called it an early night, as I imagine many other racers did and went back for final prep and sleep.
The next day was again sunny, as predicted and surprisingly warm, when I registered for the race many months before I was expecting to be lining up at the start with every piece of clothing I had brought, as it was most of the clothes stayed in their bags with little space for the food I had brought. So a bag of nuts and fruit had to go in my drop off rucksack which was duly handed over at the van which would take a few belongings and bike bags/boxes down to the finish, if only our own journey would be so simple.
Breakfast, was due to start at 7am, a reasonable time for normal people, but not ultra endurance cyclists with thoughts of the open road, we congregated outside the canteen in eager anticipation of probably last leisurely and decent feed we would all have until the finish. Most people were ready in their cycling, reigning TAW champion Bjorn Lenhard was not however, clearly the calm of knowing what awaits afforded him a more organised morning ritual with which he could change into his kit later. Once inside chatting in the inevitable queue as 100 odd hungry cyclists waited to get to the self service breakfast buffet, I could not help but take a good look at what the champion was eating, was I expecting to see some nutritional secret, rocket fuel or huge pile of obscure ‘super’ food? Sadly, he is human and his breakfast was nothing to write home about (so why are you writing about it here George?) yoghurt, muesli, croissants, couple of slices of toast and some fruit (as I recall), it would seem that the secret to being a top endurance racer is not to be simply found on a plate, darn! I had a large but not abnormally sized breakfast for me, I try to maintain as ‘normal’ a diet as I can manage during the race, and as far as fuelling was concerned my race had started and I wanted to set a precedent, this included my abstention from coffee until really needed (it also make my need to pee quite soon after, and I did not want to be stopping 20minutes after the start).
At the behest of the Garda (irish police) the race no longer starts in the centre of Dublin as in previous editions, but on the outskirts of town at the national aquatic centre, in order to avoid hundreds of cyclists winding through rush hour traffic ( the start is at 10am), however, group think dictated that we inevitably formed groups for the ride out from Trinity college to the start. It was pleasing to think that this was the last significant traffic I would see for a week, Adrian had summarised it nicely by telling us at the briefing we were unlikely to see even a stop light after the start, bike bliss beckoned!
Congregating at the start, the scene was awash with hi-viz and weird and wonderful bike setups, anticipation and nervousness was building for me, the familiar faces of fellow TCR sets and riders from other events, lie the @racingcollective ‘Trans’ series helped to distract me from the imminent departure, chatting with John again helped to calm me down, we were older and very much wiser than we had been lining up for TCR in Geraardsbergen a year ago, this time we would enjoy ourselves, wouldn’t we? Irish music and festival atmosphere meant it was easy to forget this was going to be a race, but reality soon bit back when race organiser Adrian started herding the first start wave to the impromptu start line (another requirement to reduce the impact on the local roads). The first wave departed to cheers and applause from fellow riders and onlookers, next up, my group! After a swift roll call and check that everyone’s tracker was online, we were off, a whole 60seconds earlier than planned, what a bonus, as if it would make any difference over week long adventure…..