Eleo Balbi: Riding Further
On a Friday morning, late August 2020, I met an old dog. He just got up, his hips were stiff and he was coughing while he was slowly walking towards me, begging for belly rubs and the croissant in my hands. Little did I know, that this was just a little foreshadowing to how I would feel like a couple of hours later. Years older. Alone. And hungry.
Further has by no means been my first long-distance event. Although one might argue if a 500km race can even be called long-distance. What makes it feel like one, is the fact that it blurs all kind of cycling disciplines into one ride. And adds some - quite a lot of - hiking on top of it, so you’ll end up with a 2-4 day adventure. The reason why it is called an adventure bike race, becomes clear by the time you stand on top of the mountain and have no idea how you should be able to get down.
I came across Further for the first time in spring 2019, and followed the event in summer 2019. I was intimidated when I saw the start list back then and couldn’t imagine being able to take part in it the following year. But in January 2020 a message popped up. It said nothing else then “Hi” and it was time to get excited. The 2020 start list wasn’t intimidating anymore, it was absolutely terrifying which was mainly due travel restrictions. A small group of 11 riders, with some really well known names on it.
This years edition started on said Friday morning. The riders registration was scheduled from 6am to 7am - and actually started around 8ish, with a reasonable amount of 7 croissants per rider. There was no pre-set start time for the actual race... all we knew was that the race starts when the bell rings. Turned out it was a church bell, just next to the castle, that rang at the exact time when all racers had started to relax and sit around on the ground.
Further consists of a few mandatory segments, that you’ll have to do in a predefined order and with respect to certain night curfews. The starting segment in this years edition was a nice gravel section that was meant to split the riders up and it did its job well, especially since it was shortly followed by the first hike-a-bike segment. At that point, it felt like those hike-a-bike sections aren’t too bad. It was going up a beautiful gorge, the path was well visible and easy to walk on.
"My advice for it? Learn a few words of french, at least enough words so you can talk down the worried locals that you’ll meet in the mountains. If you don’t speak French, you are one of the lucky ones that doesn’t understand them, when they are preparing to call the mountain rescue."
A few kilometres and climbs later, the third segment was on the menu. The only mandatory full tarmac section of the race. By this time, most riders must have felt the heat and the reason why a lot of riders had to give up the year before became clear. Facing 40°C during a climb is hard, and is even harder when it is an exposed climb and shade is rare. Throw in a slower rider that arrives there around lunchtime, and you’ll see someone who jumps for joy at the sight of a fresh water resource on the side of the road (yes, that was me).
But Further wouldn’t be Further if there weren’t a few surprises and mental challenges in there. Just as you’ll get used to the tarmac, have the feeling of making some good time and make plans to arrive at the checkpoint at a certain time, there will be a turnaround. In this case, it was a sharp turn to the left, on to a hiking trail. Riding this section soon proved to be a Herculean task. Camille mentioned before the race that “This sector is very hard”, but when was the last time you believed someone when they told you something is difficult? Well, my last time was quite a long time ago, so I didn’t believe him. I was so wrong.
That was almost the end of day 1 for me. By the time I made it down again from the checkpoint (another hike-a-bike section down a “rideable” rocky mountain track in the dark) my legs started to ache from the bruising, my bike started to make weird sounds, my arms were tired from carrying the bike, I had blisters on my hands and feet, I was hungry, and generally felt like I'd aged a couple of years. Yet, the spirits were still flying high... because I still got the chance to do this for 3 more days! And the 3 following days did not disappoint. What can you expect from Further? Beautiful white gravel roads, easy hike-a-bikes, smooth tarmac roads, harsh gravel, hard hike-a-bikes, proper hiking trails, steep rocky paths, paths along cliffs and mountain ridges, scary Pyrenean sheep dogs the size of bears, and the most remote mountain passes of the Pyrenees. You’ll get it all. In less than 4 days of riding (and hiking, never forget the hiking.)
My advice for it? Learn a few words of french, at least enough words so you can talk down the worried locals that you’ll meet in the mountains. If you don’t speak French, you are one of the lucky ones that doesn’t understand them, when they are preparing to call the mountain rescue.
I left Further with some unfinished business (Ollie told me that I can’t write that a pizza is the reason for it, but a pizza was involved in it and it wasn’t nice), legs in funny colours, a couple of blisters on my hand, a few blisters on my feet, a few more personalised air-conditioning holes in my clothes and shoes, a few scratches here and there, a croaking bottom bracket, and a destroyed top tube bag.
Waiting impatiently for next years edition.