My first ever ultra-cycling race – The TransAtlanticWay 2018

We are proud to have Erik Phalet as one if our riders. He recently completed his first ever ultra-cycling event, The TransAtlanticWay 2018 on his Vaaru MPA . A huge thank you to Erik for writing and sharing his comprehensive race report with us.

#TAW2018 – the preparation

After a life of cycling, in 2015 I bought my first real road bike. 2016 I did my first 200 km ride. 2017 my first overnighter and my first 1000 km audax. And later that year, the final trigger: I went to Geraardsbergen to see the start of TCR05. I decided to do the TransAtlanticWay Race 2018. A 2500 km one stage self-supported road bike race between Dublin and Cork via The Wild Atlantic Way. Finally!

Between that moment and the start of the race on june 7th 2018, I
● Got a beautiful, brand-new bike, a Vaaru MPA. A comfortable and fast long-distance bike. Titanium.
● Tried, broke, changed and retried lots of gear.
● Commuted over 5000 km. A good way to get used to riding no-matter-what, to test kit in all conditions.
● Did 19 +200 km rides, and 12 +300 km rides, and 2 +400 km rides. Solo. I tricked my mind and body into believing that a day with 350 km and 4500 vertical meters is just another day at the office.
● Did 4 overnighters, and a 2 day trip in the Ardennes, and a 4 day trip from home to the summit of Mont Ventoux. “Economy riding” for multiple day effort was optimized, and I experimented with (lots of) food and (very little) sleep.
● But above all, I had a good time!

 

I did not follow a structured training plan. My actual race preparation consisted of 3 small, plasticized print-outs:
1. Race planning: I prepared a schedule to finish in 8 days. During the race, I never even once looked at it. But making it proved very useful: it forced me to familiarize myself with the route, and to think about possible (and impossible) strategies.
2. A list with cities, villages, supply points. Not everything I would encounter on the route, just one for every 30 to 50 km. I used this all the time. It became my step-by-step guide through the race.
3. A list with all bicycle repair shops on or near the route. I was glad I had it when I needed it. A few weeks before the start of the race, I was happy with a 14.5 kg total weight for the bike and the luggage (without water). Everything tried, tested and approved. I was ready to go.

The final gearlist:

Bike

  • Vaaru MPA
  • Profile Designs Airstryke aerobars
  • Custom built front wheel: SON delux 12 centerlock hub & DT RR421 rim
  • Rear wheel: Edco Roche Disc
  • Fabric Line Race Shallow saddle
  • Bridge Street medium saddlebag
  • Top tube bag Acepac fuel L
  • Schmidt Edelux II frontlight
  • B&M Secula rearlights (2)
  • Cateye Omni 5 rearlight
  • 75 cl bottles (2)
  • Lezyne caddysack
  • Ottolock

Basic clothing

  • Gaerne Hurricane shoes (SPD)
  • Socks
  • Bib short Assos T.CENTO_S7
  • Baselayer Patagonia Capilene Lightweight
  • RH+ Shark Jacket
  • GripGrab pro gloves
  • Helmet

Extra clothing

  • Rain jacket Vaude
  • Rain cap
  • GripGrab Race
  • Aqua overshoes
  • Maloja Gore-tex short
  • Rivelo Merino long sleeve jersey
  • Merino long johns
  • Ninja Ice gloves
  • Buff
  • Legwarmers Pearl Izumi PI dry

Hygene

  • Chamois cream Assos
  • Skin repair gel Assos
  • Lip balm
  • Sun cream 30
  • Toothpaste & -brush
  • Wet wipes
  • Sudocrem
  • Ibuprophen, Motilium, Daphalgan

Electronics & documents

  • Wahoo Bolt
  • Etrex 20
  • Batterypack 10,000 mAh (2)
  • GSM
  • USB charger (UKplug)
  • USB cables (2)
  • Lezyne caddy sack
  • Maestro, Visa, ID, insurance
  • AA Lithium batteries (2)
  • AAA batteries (4)

Maintenance

  • Conti tube race 28 (2)
  • Conti GP 4 seasons 28
  • Ritchey CPR 12+ multitool
  • Topeak Micro rocket pump
  • CO2 cartouche (2)
  • patches & tire levers
  • KMC 11 sp missing link (2)
  • Breaker pin (2)
  • Schrader-to-Presta
  • Derailler hanger
  • Gear cable
  • Shimano brakepads Ice-Tec (2)
  • Muc Off ceramic wet lube
  • SPD cleats (2)
  • Spokes (2 front, 2 rear)
  • Electrical insulation tape

Food

  • Powerbar electrolytes tablets (20)
  • Osprey UL Stuff Pack (musette)

Bivouac

  • SOL escape pro bivvy bag
  • Klymit Inertia X-lite mat
  • Torchlight

 

#TAW2018 – the race

I found the great adventure I was looking for, both the experience and the result wildly surpassed all my hopes and expectations!

Racing
● 147 starters
● Björn Lenhard won in 5 days 3 hours
● I finished 19th (provisional result) in 6 days 15 hours

● The lantern rouge took 15 days 8 hours
● 31 riders scratched

Riding
● 2256 km with 23200 m climbing
● I cycled 122.5 hours, I slept 26 hours and I had 12 hours of other stops
● During the day, 85% was actually riding, 15% stops for eating, shopping …
● Averaged 325 km per day @ 19.8 km/h riding speed
● Zero flats
● One mechanical (rear hub)

Pedaling

● No powering, no speeding, just pedaling
● Switching back to the inner ring. And again. And again. And again …
● Normalized power diminishing by about 20% over the week
● No problems with knees, tendons, hands or neck
● No saddle sores (!)
● Annoyances: little wounds on my tongue from all the bottle drinking, bruises and sore elbows from my aerobar pads

Sleeping

● No overnighters, I stopped every night
● Averaged 4 hours of sleep per night
● 4 roadside bivouacs (a medieval watchtower in ruins, a bungalow in an abandoned holiday park, a church portal and a school’s playground)
● 1 Air B&B, 1 hostel
● No (power) napping

Eating
● 5 or 6 meals per day, continuously nibbling in between
● Cookies, bars, chocolate, ice cream, nuts, scones, donuts, cupcakes, bananas …
● 3 to 5 liters of water with electrolyte tablets per day, plus about the same amount of Coke and a few large coffees

But most of all… The first-day-at-school jitters at the start; the incredible sunrise at Malin Head; the neverending beauty of the road; the other riders; the full-speed descent of Mamore Gap; off-roading in Glenveagh National Park; the plains of Connemara, the beauty of Dingle, the mountains of Kerry, the wildness of Beara; the ever-present ocean; eating lots of pancakes in Sneem; being dotwatched; the bleak beauty at dawn of the Gap of Dunloe and the Black Valley; the pandemonium of 15 people not-having-a-clue but trying to help anyway; the climb to Conor Pass; sunset-cruising around Slea Head; visiting Tom Crean’s South Pole Inn in Anascaul; the sun, the rain, the headwinds and the tailwinds; Monk’s Bar in Ballyvaughan reopening its kitchen at midnight to serve me a seafood chowder; enjoying the highs and dealing with the lows; the same rider passing me 5 times in one day; climbing Ballaghbeama Gap; the guy in the Caherciveen bike shop who repaired my rear hub; being blown up a 10.4% hill without pedaling; riding Lambs Head, Sheep’s Head, Mizen Head and Old Head in the raging storm Hector; the adrenaline at the finish; the emptiness at the finish; organizer Adrian and his team; and so much more…

Singing
Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature’s recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life

The bare necessities of life
They’ll come to you
They have come to you
(Baloo, Jungle Book)

#TAW2018 – the aftermath

Bike, components, accessories
The bike was great. Loved it. Still do!
● Choosing my Fabric Line ‘handlebar-saddle’ over my ISM PN ‘aerobar-saddle’ was one of the more difficult decisions, but proved oh-so-right.
● Pleased with the Conti GP 4 season 28 mm tyres
● The Shimano 105 group is rock-solid, and I was glad for the hydraulic discs.
● The comfort of electronic shifting with secondary shifters on the aerobars would have been well worth the extra cost and hassle.
● 50/34 with 11/32 gearing was ok, but I wouldn’t say no to an extra granny gear and some smaller mid-range steps (maybe something like 13-15-16-17-18-20-22-25-28-32-36, instead of 11-12-13-14-16-18-20-22-25-28-32, if such a cassette is even possible?).
● Edco wheels are not very common. There is little information available, and very few mechanics have any experience with them. My Optima Roche rear wheel uses their “Multisys cassette rotor”: both the freehub body and the locknut ring are Edco specific, incompatible with Shimano or Campa. It only has 24 spokes. It is a good wheel but it caused me trouble. It wasn’t a good choice for this race.
● Glad I had good mudguards
● The armrests on my aerobars couldn’t be moved backwards far enough. Resulting in bruises on my forearms and painful elbows.
● Very pleased with the SON hub dynamo and the Edelux II front light.
● My rear lights (one for day-flashing, two for night-steady) used AAA batteries: no worries.
● My battery pack has fast-charge, charge-through & 2 USB outs. This made for a fully charged GPS, smartphone and battery pack with 1 charger, in one go. In 3 to 4 hours. After 1 full and 1 partial recharge, I finished with almost 50% charge capacity remaining.

● After a few days, my Bridge Street saddlebag started to sag a little and came to rest on my rear mudguard. First I heard something, then I started feeling the oh-so-little drag. But it still took me a few hours to find out what was going on. Easily fixed.
Other gear
Most of my gear performed well. Only a few details didn’t work out as planned.
● I had no light cycling shirt for the warm weather we got during the first days.
● I never used my merino long-sleeve cycling jersey for cycling, the ZR+ Shark was just too good! It was only used as pajamas.
● My stuff pack (basically an ultra-light-and-minimalist backpack) was very comfortable to wear, even with quite a lot of food and drink in it. But it’s not so easy to eat from it while riding. For this, a more classic draw-string bag/musette might have been handier. Or maybe I should overcome my dislike for a food pouch on the handlebars.
There was nothing that I absolutely needed but didn’t bring.
There were a few things I brought but didn’t use:
● Most maintenance and repair stuff. But you need to bring those anyway.
● Rain overshoes and warmer/rain gloves. But Ireland without full rain gear? No…
● Etrex 20. I only used my Bolt. But a backup GPS is never a bad idea.
● Torchlight. Only about 3 hours of real darkness per night, and those were the hours that I slept. Superfluous.
● Second battery pack. Not needed, I was too cautious there.
● Sudocreme. I only used the Assos chamois crème.
● Daphalgan and Motilium.

Body
I didn’t know my body could stand up to something like this. What a nice surprise☺!
No injuries or physical harm.
Very tired. Couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think. On the second evening after I finished, I walked into a bar to have dinner, and they refused to serve me because “you already had a few to many, son”. I got lost on the 250 meter walk back to my hotel (I was dead sober ☺). From the first 36 hours after my finish, I slept about 24. Those acute symptoms only lasted for 2 or maybe 3 days. But my energy levels
stayed low for a long time. Replenishing the reserve tank took weeks. And craving for food! I lost only 1.5 kilos during the race and I regained those within 2 days. But it took my body a few more days to realize that it was no longer necessary to eat everything in sight. After about a week of eating double breakfasts, double dinners and snacking like hell, things slowly returned to normal.

Mind
TAW2018 was my first ever ultra-cycling race. And it proved a “life-event”: an experience to help shape my coming years; an adventure that made me a little more complete as a person.

I am not good enough with words to describe what exactly happened or how this all works. So let’s try with a quote that I like very much (from Katie Ives, in Alpinist Magazine):

“Perhaps, amid the scores of practical guides, we need a few more maps for wandering, formed of hints and riddles, of stories and images that expand, rather than shrink, our vision of the
wild. During the most focused moments of any climb, all prior knowledge vanishes. We re-create a world for ourselves, at once ephemeral and eternal. Its cartography might be like (an) incomplete, ungraspable, shifting and radiant map of the real.”

There is the dreaded post-race-blues. But it feels similar to a mild post-expedition-blues. And that’s something I have dealt with in the past. Resetting your cartography to a practical “map of the real”, usable for day-to-day life takes time. And effort.

Erik Phalet, TransAtlanticWay Race 2018

One reply on “My first ever ultra-cycling race – The TransAtlanticWay 2018

  • Mark Newton

    Hi Erik,

    Mark Newton here, I reckon it was me that passed you 5 times in one day but not quite sure which one but was towards the end, maybe day 5? Memories of timings are a bit of a blur! At one stage I passed you but took a wrong turn at a roundabout and you then repassed me and shook your head at me to indicate I had ridden the wrong way! I finished in 7 days, 3 hours, I dropped some placings during Hector as I decided to have a decent rest and dry out before the final push to Kinsale.

    I loved your account of the race, very enjoyable reading. Congrats on your placing, a job well done! Nice and steady is a successful race strategy!

    Cheers…..Mark

    Reply

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