Is this climb better than the Stelvio?

Is this climb better than the Stelvio?

Is the Transfagarasan Highway better than the Stelvio?

Transfagarasan Pass. © Martin Cycling Adventures

Transfagarasan Pass. © Martin Cycling Adventures

We’ve all heard of the legendary Passo Dello Stelvio, the crown jewel of the Giro d’Italia and a popular pilgrimage location for cyclists the world over. But what if we were to tell you that there’s a tougher and even more beautiful uphill stretch of road nestled in the Romanian Carpathians – the Transfagarasan Highway.

Head to head, peak to peak

We climb up mountains for a number of different reasons, but if there’s one thing that unites all cyclists, then it’s the overwhelming sense of satisfaction as we reach the summit. To get there however, one needs to gauge their effort and know a little about the road that lies ahead.

For beasts like the Stelvio Pass and Transfagarasan Highway it’s all well and good to know what’s coming, the steepest inclines, diciest hairpins and places to rest, but soon enough you’ll have to abandon all knowledge and channel the last scraps of energy into just moving the bike forward.

Knowing exactly what lies ahead on mountains like these, or cycling in the Alps, Pyrenees or Carpathians in general, is a double-edged sword, sewing seeds of doubt before you’ve even reached the foot of the climb. However, failing to prepare for such a climb will only leave you in a much worse predicament – gasping for air, stranded on the side of a mountain and at the mercy of Mother Nature.

To prepare for such colossuses, we need to be aware of the cold, hard stats of the mountain. Both the Stelvio and Transfagarasan share a similar looking list of numbers, but when it comes down to the cycling experience, they couldn’t be more different.

Stelvio Pass. Photo by  jean wimmerlin  on  Unsplash

Stelvio Pass. Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash

Starting with the Stelvio’s most popular ascent, the 24.3 km climb from Prato allo Stelvio, the road soon settles into a constant, but wholly unforgiving gradient of 7.4%. The gradients are abated by the 48 hairpins that snake their way up the mountain, but they very rarely drop below 7%, making for one incredibly tough climb. The final kilometer is the toughest, not only does it peak out at a lung-busting 2758 m, but it’s also the steepest section of the entire climb with ramps reaching a leg-breaking 9.5%.

Passo-dello-Stelvio-Prato_profile.jpg

The Stelvio can also be climbed from the Bormio side, a less scenic but arguably tougher route – the final 3 km ramp up to a cruel 11% average. The Passo Umbrail, on the Swiss side, is yet another route to the summit and climbs for just 16 km, starting at a higher elevation than the other two approaches.

All three converge at the same snow swept peak, the views from which are some of the most iconic in cycling. Looking back, you’ll see the thin sliver of asphalt that paved your way to the summit, paling in comparison to the huge valley flanks that surround it. Alongside the Alpe d’Huez, the Col du Galibier and the Col de l’Iseran, the Stelvio Pass is one of the kingpins in an Alps tour by bike.

Like the Stelvio, the Transfagarasan also snakes its way up the side of a huge mountain via a collection of numerous hairpins. The length of its southern ascent is also similar at 25 km, but once you look at the 29.4 km-long northern side, climbing from Cârtisoara, you’ll soon understand why the Transfagarasan is in its own truly monstrous league.

The northern side of the Transfagarasan, while incredibly long, manages to stick to a relatively consistent average gradient of 5.2%. It’s not the kind of gradient that will shatter your legs and force you to get off and push, but it will slowly eat away at you, leaving you totally exhausted by the summit.

Transfagarasan-south-climb_profile.jpg

Climbing the southern side is the more popular choice, thanks to the shallower gradient of 4.7% average and the arguably more beautiful scenery. Starting from Lac Vidraru, the site of one of the largest hydroelectric plants in Europe, the road starts to snake its way up the mountainside, offering stunning views of the lake behind. You’ll pass through tunnels, cross bridges and scramble up even more hairpins as you forge on towards the summit. All the while, incredible sights of man-made engineering and natural scenery will catch your eye at every opportunity.

The summit of the Transfagarasan is marked by Balea Lac, a vast glacial lake some 2034 m above sea level. Its shores are lined by two rustic chalet complexes which offer a warm welcome to the weary traveler.

History makers

Both the Stelvio and Transfagarasan have their own tales to tell and while one may be steeped in richer cycling history, the other is quickly garnering the attention of some of the world’s top endurance athletes.

The Stelvio Pass was first used in the Giro d’Italia back in 1953, 17 years before the Transfagarasan was even built. In that year it saw perhaps one of its most memorable moments in cycling history: Fausto Coppi cresting the summit solo before barreling down to Bormio to take both the stage win and an unassailable lead in the general classification.

As the second highest mountain pass in the whole of Europe, the Stelvio often features as the Giro’s Cima Coppi prize, an award for the first rider over the highest mountain on the route. This prize has been a rite of passage for many legendary cyclists before they later went on to win the race overall – Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Laurent Fignon and Marco Pantani to name just four.

The Transfagarasan hasn’t seen such legends traverse its sinuous ramps; in fact, the climb is nestled next-door to a region known more for its vampires than its cyclists. That hasn’t stopped it from carving its own niche in the cycling community over its short 44-year history, however.

After the road was completed in 1974 as part of a strategic military project to connect the north and south of the county over the Făgăraș Mountains, the climb quickly caught the attention of cyclists and motorists alike. Having once been a road only of myth and legend, lurking on the other side of Europe to popular climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees, the highway is now a hotspot for both adventurous cycle tourists and ultra-endurance athletes looking to test the limits of their bodies.

It earned the prestigious title of ‘best road in the world for driving’ from Top Gear back in 2009 and just eight years later it featured on the epic Transcontinental Race, showing just how good it was for cycling, as well as driving.

It may not have the pedigree of the Stelvio cycling-wise, but the Transfagarasan is slowly but surely making its own history. Who knows, in 30-years’ time it may just be the featured climb of a new, Eastern Europe-based Grand Tour…

Balea Lake, Transfagarasan. © Martin Cycling Adventures

Balea Lake, Transfagarasan. © Martin Cycling Adventures

Our verdict

You could say we’re a little biased, after all, the Transfagarasan Highway is quite literally our local cycling playground. But if you’re a cyclist on the lookout for a new kind of adventure, one that tours the lands beyond western Europe and the all too familiar Alps, then a boutique cycling tour in Eastern Europe and the Balkans is perfect for you.

Cycling is all about adventure and discovery and mountains like the Stelvio, Galibier, Alpe d’Huez, Tourmalet and Ventoux have all been done to death, either by yourself or your cycling heroes on TV.

It’s time to tread new ground, follow the road less traveled and add the Transfagarasan Highway to your cycling bucket list. We’ve prepared quite the tour for you featuring the Transfagarasan Highway as its star: the Transfagarasan Epic.

To learn more about our cycling tours and where we operate, click here. If you’re in need of some inspiration for your next cycling tour, then click here.

The Best Alternative Cycling Destinations In Europe

The Best Alternative Cycling Destinations In Europe

Europe is home to some of the most challenging and beautiful cycling in the world. The French climbs of Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux, the Italian giants of the Stelvio and Passo di Gavia and the Hellingen of Flanders attract huge crowds year after year, drawn by the desire to test their mettle on the same hallowed ground ridden by their heroes. But what if you want something a little different? The same challenges, the same majestic mountains and dramatic scenery, but without the crowds.

Why not pack your bags and head east, out of your comfort zone and right into the heart of Eastern Europe? From cloud-topped cols to sprawling forests and sapphire coasts, the east really does have it all.

Here are some of the best cycling destinations in Europe that you’ve probably never heard of. Grab a notepad and pen; it’s time to plan your next adventure…

Crossing the Carpathians: Romania

Transfagarasan Highway in Romania. Copyright Martin Cycling Adventures

The Carpathians arch their way through Central and Eastern Europe like a curved spine, providing stunning, mountainous scenery to rival that of both the Alps and Pyrenees. Forests sprawl through clandestine valleys as rocky peaks poke their heads above the dense canopies, providing the perfect backdrop for a pedal-powered adventure.

The Southern Carpathians are home to some of the largest swathes of forest in Europe, as well as dense populations of brown bears, wolves and lynxes. It is here that you’ll find some of Romania’s toughest, but truly rewarding stretches of road.

The Transfagarasan Epic is an aptly named seven-day voyage across some of the hardest climbs this side of Europe, with the Transfagarasan Highway (2,042m) and Urdele Pass (2,145m) both featuring on the route. The countless hairpin bends and heart thumping descents will evoke images of the Tour de France, but the complete isolation will soon reign your imagination in and remind you why we all started riding bicycles in the first place – for the simple thrill and freedom that a two-wheeled adventure brings.

The Transfagarasan King of the Mountain itinerary offers inspiration for a tamer, four-day adventure that teases rather than torments riders with its stunning climbs. The masochists are welcome to their seven-day epic, but for many of us the KOM tour is just perfect, striking the perfect balance between adventuring on two wheels and touring the local towns on foot. We can build you a bespoke tour around this itinerary, so be sure to reference it if this is the one that appeals to you.

Cycling Eastern Europe isn’t all about crushing cols and coming face to face with free-roaming wolves, our Transfagarasan cycling retreat itinerary offers the basis of a slightly different cycling experience. Based close to Sibiu in the region of Transylvania, you’ll meet vampire hunters in Brasov, tour the rolling hills around the valleys, sample delicious local food and sit back and relax in the hotel spa. Cycling holidays abroad don’t get much better than this.

An Alpine alternative: Slovenia

Cycling the Julian Alps, Slovenia. Copyright Martin Cycling Adventures

Nestled in the armpit of north eastern Italy and deep within the Julian Alps lies the relatively unknown cycling haven of Slovenia. Boasting the same idyllic mountain scenery as its western cousin, Slovenia offers an Alpine alternative devoid of tourists – an untarnished playground for you and your bicycle to explore.

The best way to tour this paradisiacal country is via the Julian Alps cycling tour, an experience that offers a unique take on Slovenia’s most epic roads and climbs. On this 4-day adventure, based around the alpine town of Kranska Gora, the Mangart Saddle (2,055m) and Vršič Mountain Pass (1,611m) lie in wait, as does the world-renowned paradise of Lake Bled, where restorative waters await to rejuvenate your body after a long day in the saddle.

You arrive and depart from Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital and a green city in motion. This is where city meets nature, a proud bastion of environmental awareness; it’s no wonder this city was awarded the European Green Capital of 2016. This is truly one of the best cycling vacations Europe has to offer.

Cruising the coast: Croatia

Cycling in Croatia. Copyright Tour of Croatia/KL-Photo

Not all of our adventures head for the skies, some head for the shorelines and beaches of Croatia. As experts in Balkan cycling experiences we can put together a bespoke, two-wheeled tour for those riders with a passion for sun, sea and sand.

Lying on the eastern Adriatic Coast, the scenery around coastal Croatia shines with a sapphire hue. Islands litter the horizon and act as fantastic way points for you to forge your own adventure, hugging the clifftop paths as you go.

Start with our Croatia Islands itinerary as motivation for your own adventure. The route explores both the mainland and islands of Croatia, snaking along the Dalmatian Coast as it passes through tiny, quaint villages and bustling, seaside towns. Both Dubrovnik and Makarska are explored on this seven-day tour, as well as the lesser known Pelješac Peninsula – an area that Lonely Planet describe as, “Croatia at its most relaxed.”

A tour on Croatia’s coast is no easy affair, however, and thanks to the rugged landscape you can expect to climb an average of 1,200m every day. It’s this up-and-down landscape that has attracted one of the most important cycling stage races in Central and Eastern Europe to these shores – the Tour of Croatia.

For an altogether sterner test, take a look at the Tour of Croatia route itself, an eight-day expedition that follows in the shadows of the world’s best professional cyclists. Ride the same route as the world’s best among some of the most spectacular scenery the country has to offer.

A snapshot in time: Prague to Budapest

Budapest. Photo by Keszthelyi Timi on Unsplash

This border-hopping ride starts in the Gothic city of Prague before heading east, freewheeling its way through four different countries as it heads towards the finish in Budapest. Time stands still along this route, with UNESCO World Heritage sites and historic relics blending into the surrounding eastern European architecture.

The Czech Republic soon hands you over to Austria and its capital, Vienna, where you’ll then follow the Danube River east, sampling the rich riverside treasures as you go. As you straddle the feet of the Austrian Alps, take a moment to drink in the views and let out a sigh of relief – you won’t be climbing any Alps on this trip.

The Danube continues to act as your compass as you leave Austria behind and pass through Bratislava, Slovakia, a capital city that sits on the border of three countries, combining the rich and unique cultures of each one. Hungary is soon reached and the finish in Budapest beckons, but not before you leave the comfort of the Danube behind and tackle the final hills that stand between you and the finish line.

This tour showcases the very best of Central Europe, taking you on an adventure that passes by ancient castles, former bastions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the famous wine-making region of Moravia. The melting pot of cultures in each city is sure to make this a cycling holiday that you’ll never forget.

Searching for solitude: Baltics

Perched in the north east corner of Europe are three criminally underrated cycling destinations boasting vast swathes of untouched landscape. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are ideal destinations for those riders averse to super steep climbs and long mountain passes, their flat, unspoiled marshlands providing the perfect playground for leisurely cycle tourists.

Starting from Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, and heading north to the Baltic Sea, you’ll soon swap the fairy-tale architecture of the city for the unbridled beauty of Mother Nature. This untouched haven is utterly devoid of humans, allowing you to revel in complete serenity and solitude.

Latvia’s capital, Riga, soon appears and throws you right back into civilization, plying you with delicious local dishes laden with dill and potatoes. From there the route continues north, following exquisitely tarmacked cycle paths along the Baltic’s most beautiful beaches and hummocky sand dunes.

Once again, you’re thrown back into the welcoming arms of Mother Nature, the sprawling beaches and Baltic sea on one side, and the vast, marshy plains on the other. You’ll pass through yet another national park, Gauja, before crossing the border into Estonia, the final country on your intrepid Baltic tour.

The route finishes in the castled city of Tallinn, Estonia’s cultural hub. The skyline here is dominated by steeples and spires, showing off the city’s stunning 13th-century architecture. It’s the perfect end to a perfect ride and easily one of the best cycling holidays Europe has to offer.

As you can see, it’s not just southern and western Europe that boast the best bike riding terrain – it’s about time we started to look east and see what the road less traveled has in store. To learn more about our cycling tours and where we operate, be sure to check out our inspiration page.

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part IV (last one)

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part IV (last one)

Part I is here >> 

Part II is here >>

Part III is here >> 

CP 4 - The Transfagarasan, Romania

Day 9, High Tatras, Slovakia. After all I went through in the last two days, I was so happy to make the CP3 cut, especially that it was with only four minutes to spare! Words are not enough to express the relief, the satisfaction and pure joy I was feeling. I called my family and I could barely control my voice. As I entered the hotel at the top of the mountain, the rain started to fall and the fog covered the top. Perfect timing! I joined fellow riders in downing one beer and I was looking forward to not do anything for as long as it would be possible. Not long though, I realize I had to start making plans for CP 4. Most of the riders around me, were quite pessimistic about making it on time to next CP. My morale was high especially that the next CP is the one I was dreaming about since I signed up for the race. I was going to my home country, Romania. I also felt I found my racing mode and I was feeling more confident about my cycling skills. I arrived 203rd at CP1, 195th at CP 2 and now I was 133rd at CP 3. I was improving relatively to the field so my plan was to continue in this same pace. It then struck me that I had exactly 68 hours to cover almost 800 km. Realistically speaking, since it was already 5 PM and I was planning to go the nearest town and rest, I had around two days to do that distance. Shit, I started to feel the pressure. I grabbed my bike and headed down to Poprad for shower, pizza and sleep. By that time in the race, "headed down" meant cycling one hour in the cold and rain, but it felt like going next door to buy some beer, compared to the brutal days that I've been through. :))

Day 10, Slovakia. As I wake up, it is pouring down rain and the weather is cold. It's so hard to leave the comfort of the hotel but in the end, after postponing as much as I could, I man up and start cycling through the cold rain. It's a miserable day out but it's my first day of cycling in the rain so, I can't really complain that much. But wait, wouldn't this be a great time to have a flat? Yes, indeed. My first and only flat of the race so I can't really complain. But wait, what about the Garmin failing now? Yes, let's have that too. But I can't really complain because I have another Garmin back-up with me...NOT! Actually my Garmin stopped working, for reasons still not known, for the remainder of the race. I had to rely on my phone for navigation and that was such a big, big pain. The battery lasted a lot less than the Garmin and the device was so much harder to use while cycling. Oh well, another day at the office. I cycle all day long through Slovakia and in the evening I reach Hungary. My plan was to cover the distance between Slovakia and Romania in one day but I can't make it. I decide to stop one hour before the Romanian border for a quick nap.

Day 11, Hungary. I wake up absolutely f*cking tired and with no energy at all. It's amazing how my body reacts to this effort. Some days just feel easy and on others I feel like I'm not going to make any progress. As the days progress, I usually find my rhythm but the start of each day is a pain. I eat some rice I bought from a Chinese restaurant the night before in Slovakia and head on straight towards Romania. No time to waste. I have to cycle 500 km and 8.000 m elevation in 30 hours to make it on time. My family is planning to meet me at CP 4 so I'm super motivated to give everything. The fact that I'm now cycling on home territory also makes a huge difference. Just the simple fact that I recognize the places and names gives me such a comfortable feeling. It's like I'm being pulled towards the CP. I take no pictures, no useless brakes, nothing but cycling all the time.

Day 12, Romania. It's midnight now and I still have 180 km and 12 hours to go until the CP closes. Not to mention the epic Transfagarasan climb, which, in normal conditions, would take me 2 1/2 hours to do. I'm tired and hungry, and for the first time, I think I'm not going to make it on time. That thought starts creeping in my mind and it starts building on itself. I find excuses for myself and for others. I tell myself that I was so close, that I gave everything but it was just not meant to be. Oh well, at least I tried. I know I'll get over it as long as I just finish the race. I tell myself that I'll just cycle for a couple of hours more and then just get some much needed sleep. My thoughts are interrupted by some lights coming from the distance. I can't believe it. Another TCR rider. It's Lea. We met before at CP 3 and she struck me as an incredible tough girl. She looks pumped on caffeine and adrenaline. She's talking soooo fast and she's hyper excited. "Let's go man, we're going to make it. Come on!" I try to sympathise with her but I'm just depleted. I let her convince me to give it one more try and we start riding together for a while. WTF man, she's too strong for me and I can't seem to be able to keep her pace. She fades away in the distance but she did her job for me. I'm cycling again and I'm believing again. Lea, if you're reading this. I owe you CP 4, at least. Thank you! :) We meet again tens of kilometers ahead in a gas station. She's drinking massive amounts of Red Bull. I'm getting a triple espresso, some ice cream and continue to pedal again through the night. I enter a state of trance and continue to go through the km's, one after another. The sun comes up and I'm almost at the foot the climb. I know that if nothing stupid happens, I'm going to make it on time. And to think I almost quit 8 hours ago...I take on the Transfagarasan climb and it's a grueling effort. My legs are close to shutting down as I was already did 3.000 meters elevation in the past 12 hours. I make it to the top and I'm in heaven. I have never been so proud of myself! The CP is only 15 km downhill and it's there where my family is waiting for me. I fully enjoy the effortless downhill and when I see them...oh man, it's so hard to describe the mixed feelings. I knew I looked liked shit but I didn't want them to see how much I was suffering. I hugged Tudor, Laura and both my parents. Priceless! We had a lovely lunch together and after, just a couple of hours of break, I had to continue with my race. I was 103rd now and I had an ambition to arrive in Meteora in time for the finishers party, in four days time. I cycled another 80 km to Curtea de Arges, where I stopped for the night.

The Finish, Meteora, Greece

Day 13, Romania. I woke up surprisingly fresh considering I had hardly slept in the two nights before and, after a ridiculous big breakfast, I hit the road towards Bulgaria. I was relaxed and focused as I knew that if I were to keep a pace of 250 km a day, I would check my main objective when I started the race which was to make it to the finishers party. The heat wave was still strong in this part of Europe and the day was incredibly hot. In spite of that, I was feeling strong and I was doing good progress. I was already 300 km closer to the finish. I decided to sleep for a couple of hours and then continuing through the night as it was cooler. I went to sleep in a gas station on the Bulgarian border.

Day 14, Bulgaria. I woke up after three hours feeling horrible. My stomach was bloated and was hurting like hell. I felt dizzy too. I tried to eat something but I instantly became sick and threw up. That wasn't good. Not good at all. I climbed on my bike but it was a disaster. I couldn't keep my balance and I had zero power in my legs. I was so sure I had sun stroke but there was nowhere to hide. On that day, the temperature was going to be around 40 C in Bulgaria. I managed "to crawl" 30 km and make it to the first city in Bulgaria, in Vidin. I stopped at the first gas station I could find and threw up again. It was clear that I couldn't continue at that moment. I could barely walk straight. I went to the nearest park, and passed out for a couple of hours in the shade. When I woke up it was noon already and I was feeling worse. I didn't know what to do next...I went back to the gas station and bought some ice to put on my head convinced that I was suffering from sun stroke. I found it ironic, as the last time I had this was when I was a kid. I believed I was Sun trained! A nice lady saw me suffering like a dog and I somehow managed to communicate that I was ill. She took my to a pharmacy. While talking to the pharmacist I arrived at the conclusion that I had a virus. She gave me some medicine and recommended that I rest for 3 days, eat and drink well, stay indoors. Exactly the opposite that I was planning to do... I had to take the hardest decision in my whole TCR. Quitting was not an option for me. But neither was cycling on that day. I had to take the day off and try to recover. That meant I would miss the finishers party which I worked so hard for. I was devastated to say the least. I found a hotel, went to sleep and woke up the following day, 15 hours later.

Day 15, 16, 17, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia. I started day 15 feeling better psychically but still weak. I didn't have any apetitive for food but I knew that, in order to continue, I had to eat something. The only thing I could eat was toast with white cheese. And tea. Lots of tea. It was no more Coke, ice-cream, coffee, chocolate. No more meat. Just rice and vegetables.

I decided to address the journal for the following three days together because they were all the same: a never ending struggle to stay in the saddle for as long as possible. I cycled from petrol station to petrol station, stopping every time to go the toilet. No need to go into too much detail. You get the picture. My rhythm dropped considerably, together with the hours I could pedale every day. I only had 700 km to go when the virus hit me and by day 17, I only finished 500 km. That's 160 km a day. My new objective was just to make it to the finish safe. The bonus was to make it before the finish line closed. I never felt so helpless and powerless in my life. The suffering was so real and constant that my mind blocked that part of the race. Even now it's just a blur and I don't know how I found the power to continue for three days in that state. Never retreat, never surrender. That's my mantra...

Day 18, Greece. I wake up at 5 am somewhere in the bushes close to the Greek border. It's the first night I sleep outside after the virus episode. It's also the first day when my appetite is back and I eat a huge ham and cheese sandwich and drink my first coffee. Tonight, at 11 pm the finishe line will close. I'm less than 170 km away from the finish and I know that I'll most probably make it on time. I decide to make most of this last day and be careful not to make anything stupid on this last stretch. The last three days were a nightmare and it feels so good not to worry about my body and just to be able to cycle. The views are amazing in northern Greece, a constant up and down through epic mountains and deep valleys. It's an important holiday today and the Greeks are celebrating at restaurants or barbecuing in their small villages. I spend most of the day crying and laughing at the same time. My family is waiting for me at the finish line and I know it's going to be an emotional moment. I try to clear myself before I meet them. :) I'm looking at my phone and it hits me: I'm 30 km away from the finish line... My mind can't really process that information. I hardly thought about the race as a whole because the distances just felt titanic. I took the race one day at a time, 100 km at a time. Only now I'm realizing what I'm just about to finish. 4000 km, 17 days, 19 hours, all alone. I cycled through Europe on a bike to explore the continent but I actually ended up exploring myself. The sight of Meteora takes my breath away. The suspended monasteries seem from another time. I could so relate to their solitude. I too was suspended in time, being there, but also in a paralel life.

I'm only 1 km from the finish line and my face is just a huge grin. I enter the hotel parking and I see my Tudor and Laura, Madalina, my sister, and Daniel, her boyfriend, waving the Romanian flag. I stop the bike for the last time and crash in their arms. I'm done. Since the last time we met at CP4, I lost a lot of weight. I look terrible but my soul is smiling. I grab my last stamp, the finisher T-Shirt and a beer. TCRNO5 checked. Out of the 250 riders that started in the solo category, 95 managed to finish on time and I was 94th in the end.

Aftermath

I spent a whole week in Greece with my family which was the best R&R I could get. My body and my mind took some time to readjust to the normal world. Here is what I noticed:

  • I lost 9 kg mostly in the last 4 days. It took me one month to put that back.
  • I ate around 3.000 kcal a day for the following first week
  • I lost all manners during TCR and I was eating like a pig when I got back
  • The palm of my hands continued to hurt for another three weeks
  • I had panic attacks the first two nights. I woke up in the middle of the night not knowing where I was

Final thoughts

Even though I was initially disappointed with the fact that I didn't make it in time for the finishers party, I'm now grateful I finished safe and sound. This was my first long distance cycling race so I'm humbled by the fact I finished it and I have learned so much about me and about cycling in the process.

I want to extend my congratulations to all the TCR participants. You're all heroes in my book! Also, a warm thought to Frank Simons family and to everybody who has lost someone dear in these cycling races. Stay strong and remember that you're not alone. A special thanks to Mike Hall who started all this madness and to his friends and family that decided to continue his legacy, even though they have been tested so badly this year. Much respect to you all.

In the end, I want to thank my dear family, my friends and the whole community here in Romania that supported me during the race. You all gave me the power to continue when I never thought I still could. I will always remember this feeling of closeness for the rest of my life.

 

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part III

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part III

Part I is here >> 

Part II is here >>

CP 3 - High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia

Day 5. It is now the evening of my 5th TCR day and, after waiting for the heat to go down a bit, I start to climb the famous Monte Grappa. Even though this is one of the most brutal climbs in Italy, I'm so excited that I made it on time for the CP, that it doesn't really affect me. I make it to the top at the same exact moment as they close the restaurant. That's good bye for the food, water and the Coke I was dreaming about for the entire climb! I put on my night shift gear and head off on the mountain. It's not long I find myself cycling at around 1.600 meters on the plateau on what seem absolutely non sense roads. I was expecting to start descending straight away but, after one hour, I am still cycling on this f*cking mountain just as my front light is starting to fade away. Just great! After some more skirmishing, I finally get to the descend and it's absolutely steep and with a lot of hairpins. I start descending in the dark and the feeling is amazing. I am both afraid and excited. I can hear my breaks squeaking and the tires sometimes loosing their grip. My hands hurt from so much pulling on the brakes but the feeling is fantastic altogether. As I arrive at the bottom, I meet some really nice Spanish guys and we start chatting. We end up having some kind of sandwich and ice cream dinner and we crash in the same orchard for the night.

Day 6. As I wake up on the 3rd August, I'm 1.000 km away from CP 3 with 3 1/2 days to make the cut-of time. The elevation profile is quite friendly so I figured that I can easily ride 280 km a day and make it on time without a problem. Yeah right!! What I didn't take into account was the fact the temperature was going crazy at that time in Italy due to a heatwave called Lucifer. That particular day, the temperatures was around 40 C, sometimes even more than that. I'm not that affected because I'm used to cycling in the heat here, in Romania, where the summers can get as hot. But what this means is that I need to make a lot more stops to get precious liquids in. I drank 10 liters at least, not to mention that I was stopping to soak my cap and and clothes in water. All in all, the day was a good one and I made a good progress towards CP 3 by getting 260 km in before stopping in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Day 7. I wake up refreshed today and feeling good. I'm still 750 km away from the CP but I feel confident. As the day unravels, the heat becomes unbearable again. As I start cycling through the mountains of Slovenia, something happens that it's difficult to put in words even now. I just love the Carpathian Mountains which are the biggest mountains in Romania. I cycled them, I hiked and ran them and there are a big part of who I am as an outdoors person. The Carpathians have a distinct smell because of the plants that grow there. It's different from the Alps altogether. As I was cycling through this beautiful forest area of Slovenia, by the side of river, the same smell, the smell of home just hit me. It was so sudden that I couldn't control my feelings. I busted straight into a river, no, a tsunami of tears. I stopped one the side of the road and let the emotion go over me. I was home sick, thinking of my family and my friends, and especially my 5 year old son. It took a while to get back on the bike after this but I managed to find my composure and continue. The day went slow because of the heat and, as evening was appropriating, I was nowhere close to the quota for that day. I made a decision to stop for a big dinner and then continue as much as possible in the night to make up the time wasted in the day. As I was heading into the night, a storm came out of nowhere with furious winds and rain. I had to stop in a small town close to the Slovenian - Hungarian border with no other chance than to wait it out. I managed to find some shelter in the form of bus stop and I finally understood why this amazing piece of human engineering is worshiped by the TCR participants. If it weren't for that shelter I would have been finished. I took my bivvy out and wrapped myself in it, while sitting on the small bench inside the bus stop. The next thing I remember was this weird feeling of falling that I had loads of times while dreaming. This time it was for real. I woke up midair while I was falling as a sac of potatoes, head first on the pavement. I woke up as in sheer panic. The rain had stopped and I must have just fallen asleep on that bench, sitting on my ass. My heart was exploding out of my chest. I bruised my hip, knee and elbow but luckily my head was ok.  That would have been such a stupid way to get an injury...Just another reminder that you always have to be vigilent. It was around 1 am when I started cycling again and I tried to do it as much as possible and after four hours I stopped again in a miserable bus station in Hungary and fell asleep for two hours.

Day 8. I wake up just as the sun was coming up and I couldn't wait to be on the road again and leave that miserable bus station I slept in. I was making the calculations and I realized I was almost 500 km and 34 hours away from the CP. Theoretically, it could be done but I wasn't sure that it could be done by me. I have never done anything like in my life so it really meant I had to dig really dip. I just took it one hour at a time and was doing my best to get closer to the objective. I cycled all day long through Hungary and in the evening I entered Slovakia by passing over the Danube river.  After 20 hours of cycling my body was shutting down and I decided to sleep for two hours in a gas station before pushing through.

Day 9. As I woke up, it was still dark and I was feeling very tired and confused. I tried to cycle but I was having trouble keeping my balance and I was falling asleep on the bike. I panicked and I stopped for another hour of napping in a bus station. By now, the sun was coming up but my brain was still not starting. I went into the first gas station and I pumped myself full of caffeine and sugar hoping to get some energy going. I managed to cycle 340 km in the last 24 hours but I was still 10 hours away with 150 km to go. It felt impossible as the gradient was starting to go up and I had no idea how the climb to CP 3 looks like. I decided then and there that I would just give my absolute best to make the cut off time. And that is what i did. I only took short, very short breaks, and I pedaled like crazy.

As the afternoon was approaching, I was growing confident that I could do it. I was looking at my Garmin and it was estimating that I would arrive at the top with 40 minutes to spare. My brain was trying to get me to take longer breaks because of that extra time that I seemed to have but I decided to push on. After days of not seeing any other fellow TCR participants, I started to meet them as we were all making our way to the bottom of the climb. They were all in a big hurry, bigger than me, anyway. Some of the guys I was talking too, seemed to be in panic mode, worried they would miss the cut off. I didn't understand that. Yet! My Garmin was showing me that there's enough time to do it. Anyway, I didn't mind the others too much and I kept my own pace. As I arrived at the bottom of the climb I pulled out my phone to check that I'm not missing the mandatory parcour. Well, it's then I finally understood why everyone was in a hurry. I was at the bottom of the wrong f*cking climb! When I planned my route, I just put the wrong climb in it. I almost fell of the bike in despair. I worked so much for this to miss it for a stupid mistake. I looked at the map and I was 13 km away from the bottom of the correct climb and the climb was 7 km long with more than 700 meters elevation. I had 90 minutes to do all this. It was going to be tight but I literally gave it all...I was not going to fail. I cycled those 90 minutes as my life depended on it. My heart rate was going through the roof but I just didn't care. Failure was not an option for me. I was shouting, growling and f*cking screaming at my self to keep going. And I made it to CP 3 with 4 minutes to spare!!! Brilliant! I just looked at the Strava stats for that climb and I have a TOP 10 performance from all the TCRNO5 competitors that uploaded their ride. :)) Adrenaline, baby!

I arrived at the CP3, got the stamp and crashed in the hotel restaurant for beer, lunch and tons of stories with the TCR heroes that were already there.

[to be continued]





 

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part II

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part II

Part I is here >>

CP 2 - Monte Grappa

The morning after arriving at CP 1, I woke up as if I was hit by a bus. Last night's push to do the parcour on an empty stomach and the fact that I fell asleep hungry didn't help either. Sleeping was also bad again because of the cold. Since I packed a bivy bag and air mat but not a sleeping bag, I ended up sleeping with all my clothes on every night.

As I was slowly waking up, I started to notice the diverse bunch that was taking shelter at the CP. People had arrived all through the night and also in first hours of the morning. We all had a small sense of accomplishment by getting the first stamp but we were also humbled by the realization that we are just 600 k's into a 4.000 k's race. I don't why but that thought just made me laugh out loud. By now, although only three days in, I found it normal to talk to myself loudly, to laugh or to swear out of the sudden. Nope, nothing strange there...

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My plan for the day was to cycle to Austria and sleep at the base of the Alps before making my way to Italy the following day. I knew that, considering my sleeping gear, I should definitely find a hotel for that night, otherwise I'd be freezing outside. The day went on absolutely miserably. I couldn't find my pace at all and I was constantly hungry. I managed to enter Austria in the evening and the welcome was as bad I as expected it to be: windy & cold. I went to the first McDonalds I could find and ordered basically everything they had. My mental status was one of relaxation because I knew that I would sleep in a hotel and, as the temperature was dropping, I was happy to do so. But wait...The idiotic thing I did was that I didn't take the time during the day to book any accommodation. Now, at 10 pm, I found myself realizing that...guess what...in this tiny city in Austria, there weren't any places available. My morale just fell through the roof at the thought that I would need to sleep outside again. After spending more than 30 minutes on research, I summoned up all my courage and went outside. Yep, still windy, even colder. What happened in the next hour is something that you could call "the desperate hunt for shelter"! I turned the small city upside down looking for a shelter, clothes, blankets, something to keep me warm. Nothing! Around 12 pm I realized that it's just useless - I either start cycling through the night or, just as well, go to sleep out there. I went into survival mode. I managed to find a secluded place and, after putting all my clothes again, I went to sleep. I woke up several times shivering and I had to massage myself to sleep every time. It was horrible...

As I woke up at 5, my Garmin was showing a temperature of 8 degrees C. I couldn't wait to start pedaling. My first stop was five minutes away in a life saving petrol station, for a hot coffee and a sandwich. I kid you not: I was hugging the coffee cup, crying and laughing at the same time. I was slowly realizing what it would take to get to the end of this race. New limits, here I come!

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My plan for the day was to cycle all the way to Bolzen in Italy via Reschen Pass. That would put me 160 k's away from CP 2. What an amazing day this was. I left the somewhat boring hills and plains of Germany behind and now I was cycling through these amazing valleys in the Alps. The vegetation was green and lush, water was plentiful and the most important thing, the sun was up and it was so nice and warm. The top of the Reschen Pass is one my favorite places in this whole race. After a grueling, long climb, arriving at top, with the turquoise lake and the 4.000 meters snow covered peaks in the distance, was just as arriving in paradise. I stopped to eat a pizza at the first pizzeria in Italy - literally it was in the first 50 m into Italy. While eating that pizza, I also booked the hotel in Bolzano. He-he, learned my lesson! :) The road down to Bolzano was epic - all downhill on bike paths trough the vineyards. Oh man, the first night at the hotel, after a hot shower and a cold beer, was a life saver. Only topped by the buffet breakfast in the following morning that I absolutely destroyed. Must have eaten 1.500 kcal at least :D

On that day, August 2nd, at 5 pm, CP 2 was going to close. I felt I had enough time to pedal the 160 k's as long as I wasn't going to waste any time. The cycling for the day went incredibly smooth and I reached CP 2 with 2 hours to spare. The only things that kind of slowed me down was the heat. Little did I know that it would only be the start of it. The atmosphere was extraordinarily lively at the check point. I also felt good and my morale was high. After four day into the race, I was getting the hang of it and I felt I was being more in control of the race. After I got the much desired stamp, I joined other TCR participants that we're waiting for the heat to go down a bit so that we could attack the Monte Grappa climb. We chatted for an hour or so about our adventures so far. Their stories of grit and resilience were amazing. I had the realization that everyone was suffering at some level. Just like me. We were all pushing our limits. I suddenly stopped feeling alone in this crazy challenge and I felt I'm apart of the amazing TCR community. I wasn't just the outsider anymore, the rookie that was dreaming to do this race one year ago. I was doing it! I left for the Monte Grappa climb all pumped up...

>> Distance from start: 1.200 km. Duration: 4 days 17 hours.

(to be continued)

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