Earlier this year in July I tested my body and mind in another ultra cycling race, this time across Europe in the Three Peaks Bike Race. Beginning in Vienna, Austria and finishing in Barcelona, Spain the route spanned the Dolomites, Central Massif and Pyrenees mountain ranges.
For details about the Three Peaks, and to understand my lead up to the race and feelings prior to hitting the start line, check out my pre pace blog posted HERE.
However, in general terms the event organisers supply three checkpoints or set parcours. There is one in each of the three mountain ranges, hence the Three Peaks title. It was then up to us to connect the checkpoints and create our own personal route. This means every rider had a different plan between the peaks. Do you go further but flatter? Shorter but steeper? Or choose some gravel over faster rolling tarmac? The route options were endless and in turn the planning became a key factor in the race.
This year the three set peaks were:
- Dolomites - Passo Sella and Timmelsjoch.
- Massif Central - Puy Mary.
- Pyrenees - Â Portet-d'Aspet.
Every edition of the race covers a slightly different route, however it still follows the basic principles of unsupported racing.
- Riders must complete the full course from start to finish on a self planned route between three specified mountain peaks.
- Riders must be fully self-supported.
- No drafting at any time.
- Riders must follow the local laws at all times.
- All bikes have to pass a check up before the start.
- Riders are required to use a provided GPS tracker if they want to be ranked in the general classification.
- No prize money.
Flying overseas again to embark on what was sure to be another wild adventure had me full of excitement. Match that with the nerves of the race and knowing I was the only rider from the Southern Hemisphere made for a strange blend of butterflies, excitement and fear. Whatever I was feeling at that moment there was no turning back, I was locked in to race.
I spent a week in Vienna prior to the start to try and settle all of those feelings, acclimatise to the other side of the world and put the final bits of my puzzle together. I tried my best but not much sleep was had the night before. I’d put the work in, packed my bike baggage one final time and scoured over my route for hours. All I had left was to ride it, there was no more prep or planning left to do.My route took me across Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, France and Spain. Totalling 2523 km with 34,700 m of ascent, I later learnt that it wasn’t the shortest nor the flattest. Whilst I spent many hours trawling over maps I guess local knowledge and experience trumps Komoot, and I missed a few tricks along the way.My final result however is one I’m immensely proud of, arriving into Barcelona in seven days, six hours and in 12th place. Bloody hell, I was stoked! I rode my heart out, made many mistakes along the way, but loved the journey and adventure that it was. The week out on the road was incredible but far from a smooth ride. Just like every race and for every rider I had my challenges. Looking back though it was one of the best weeks of my life - damn it was fun.At midday on July 9th, 249 Europeans and one Australian (me) began our journey to Barcelona. From the first pedal stroke it was race on. No one was hanging around. I found myself pushing along and sitting towards the front of the race from the get-go, settling into a rhythm over the first few hundred kms. Quite early on the race became a mass of confusion with a clear split in the field. Half were choosing to take a southern route option across Italy and half were taking the northern option across Switzerland. We wouldn’t converge again until 1500 km into the race. Who had chosen the faster option? Only time would tell…The major highlight of the route for me was crossing the Dolomites in the first 48 hours. Those mountains seemed to explode out of the earth and loom above us. Curving our way up and over the Passo Sella and Timmelsjoch afforded views like no other. Long 1000+ m climbs with hour-long descents down the other side made for stellar riding. It has got to be some of the best in the world.Then in contrast the greatest challenges for me came across Switzerland. As I entered the country it began to rain and didn’t stop until 24 hours later as I left. It felt like one thunderstorm cloud sat on top of me for the entire time. Cracking thunder, belting rain and pockets of hail. It was a lot… I needed some extra coffee stops that day to keep a smile on my face.
The plains of France turned up the heat and for the final couple of days into the Pyrenees we were hit by temperatures of 40+ degrees. Thick humidity on the lower slopes caused some almighty chaffing and saddle sore issues along the way.However, rain, saddle sores and thunderstorms couldn’t dampen my mood, I wouldn’t let them. Of course I went through plenty of highs and lows along the way, but overall I look back on that week of racing with a lot of fondness. Running in and out of bakeries as quick as I could, eating countless croissants and patisserie treats along the way, it was the best. With the sole goal of riding, life just became simpler and easier. Sleep, eat and ride, nothing else. It has definitely spurred my excitement to race further, and seek that feeling of purpose and simplicity again, soon.As I rolled into Barcelona I was met at the Arc de Triomf by fellow riders who had finished before me, along with the race organiser and photographer. It’s almost comical how anticlimatic the finish is. You shake hands, get a photo and then walk off to sleep, eat and shower. There's a big crescendo building up to a very simple ending. No medal and no big ceremony - just a smile, handshake and nod of respect. I don’t think an adventure like this needed anything more. 24 hours later I emerged from my hotel and spent some time with Michael, the race organiser and the others who had also finished already. Spending my days at the Arc de Triomf watching racers come in was a great way to cultivate the experience. I highly recommend any of Adventure Bike Racing’s races - they’re great. Find out more HERE.Now that I’ve ticked off a road ultra and had time to recover and reflect I think my hairy legs and baggy shorts belong back in the off road cycling world. I look forward to getting some wider tyres on again and finding some gravel/dirt to ride. I’ve already got some exciting ideas brewing.
Jimmy was racing on our Curve Belgie Spirit (now ULTRA), with our G4T wheelset. His bikepacking bags were made by Australian owned Treadlite Bike Bags.