TCR 16 – Warmup Laps

The amount of training I did in the months leading up to the race was ok, but in no way comparable to cycling home from Norway, which was my training regiment for last years race. After finishing the 2015 edition of the TCR surprisingly well, I had toyed with the idea of shooting for a Top-something finish, but it was obvious that my training was nowhere close to enough for that to happen. Instead, the declared goal was to arrive in time for the finishers party.

The plan for the days leading up to the race was simple:
1.5 weeks before the start take a day to completely dismantle and reassemble the bike, finish the route planning and prepare the electronics (Maps, Audiobooks, Music,…). Then ride for 3 days from Augsburg to Aachen as a warmup lap, reassuring my mind that I have everything I need. Then chill at a friend’s place in Aachen for 2 nights, before taking the train for the last kilometers to the starting line in Geraadsbergen.
Sadly the whole plan fell apart when I broke a bearing and the 1 day repair turned in to a 3 day hunt for replacement parts. Just when I thought the bike might finally be ready, my Dynamo-to-USB-Converter (Bumm USB-Werk) stopped working for no apparent reason, and I had to borrow a lamp with the same capabilities from a friend.
When the bike finally was ready I was still a bit scared and feeling underprepared, running and faffing around like a headless chicken, trying to check all items on my ToDo-List, updating the planned route again and again and other things to delay departure.
Finally on Tuesday afternoon, 3 days later than planned, I took the train to the Bavarian border, catching up some of that distance I was supposed to be cycling, and began my trip to Aachen from Würzburg.

Cycling for the next two days helped me to calm the doubts about whether I brought everything I need. But those doubts got replaced by a new worry: I was getting way more tired than expected on those cute little climbs in and out of river valleys along the route… How the heck am I supposed to do climbs 10 times that long in Switzerland, if some lumps in the middle of Germany already have me sweating?
When I finally arrived in Aachen, my confidence was a bit shaken. Those 400km at leisurely speeds were way more exhausting than I anticipated, and in just 1.5 days I’d set off for 10 times the distance…

Normann, the friend I was staying with, did a great job distracting me from my worries with cake and tours through the city. The rest of Thursday I spent planning for how far I’d need to ride each day and where there might be suitable sleeping spots. The plannend daily distances varied between 170km and 350km, depending on how much climbing I’d have to do. On average though I’d need to do 250km and 3.000m of climbing per day, to make it to the finishers party. Not an impossible task, I had done roughly the same in the year prior, but then again, I hadn’t been complaining about small hills on the warmup lap the year prior…

The start of the TCR was at 22:00 at Friday, so I had all day to cycle across the border to the closest train station in Belgium, take a train to Geraadsbergen and then go through the registration procedure at the start. Of course, in the end it wasn’t that relaxed, because it took me forever to pack my things in the morning, leading to a hurried ride to the train station in Belgium, where they had issues with the train, which had me worried about making the connecting train in Brussels. Quite the contrary of the relaxed arrival at the starting line I had enviosnend, and it was mostly my fault…

In the end, everything worked out ok and I arrived in time for registration and to do some last minute groceries shopping for the upcoming night. But still, all the rushing during the day didn’t help me feel more confident about my level of preparation.
In the evening Mike Hall gave a final rider briefing, reminding everyone of any details of the checkpoints and not to do stupid or illegal shit. It’s a pretty intense moment, since you’re sitting in a hall with 250 other riders, everyone preparing mentally for the 2 weeks ahead, eyeing the riders around them. In my opinion it’s not a super competitive mood, more of a “hopefully the others don’t see how badly prepared I feel”, but still everyone can feel the tension and the impatience to get going.

After the briefing most of the riders will grab some more sleep, some of them right there in the hall where the briefing was held. I managed to get a spot next to a power outlet and started to put together a playlist for the night, when I realized that the SD-Card in my phone stopped working…
I could still see all the files, but couldn’t read them. And not just the music and podcasts, but more importantly the maps and routes for the whole race! No amount of rebooting, removing and inserting the card had helped, so two hours before the start I was forced to download as many maps and tracks as possibly fit on the internal memory. At home this would be a task of 10 minutes, but here the WiFi was frustratingly slow…
So instead of getting some shuteye and preparing mentally like the rest of the racers, I anxiously watched download bars on my phone and decided on important music that I still would like to keep.
In the end I managed to store like 3 days worth of riding on the phone, which should be more than enough since I’d probably get WiFi once a day. So not a game stopper, but still an unnecessary weight on my mind.
Half an hour before the start we got thrown out of the hall, but I kept hanging around as long as possible, trying to grab the last bits of WiFi…

When I finally arrived at the market square, it was already packed with racers. I saw some familiar faces from last year, but I was in no real mood to be social. I just wanted to get going and ride into the night.
A local photographer was taking loads of pictures and at some point turned his camera towards me. The result is one of the most fake smiles ever…


Fake Smiles

© Netwerk Geraadsbergen

At last the call to get on everyones bike came, and the wait had an end. The next hours would show how underprepared I really was…

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