8 days 15 hours 2 minutes. That is the winning time for the 2016 Trans Continental Race by returning 2 times winner Kristof Allegaert of Belgium. But what happened to the 2015 winner our Hunt Wheels Brand Manager Josh Ibbett? Read on to find out.
170 miles. Not quite the impressive trip across Europe that I had anticipated when I set out from Geraadsbergen 12hours earlier but my body still feels battered as a slouch against a grey wall in the small French town of Romilly-Sur- Sienne. Fatigue feels so much heavier when you know you are beaten. I’ve eaten all my food, drunk my rehydration drink, even drunk another recovery drink yet still the cramps are there.
The human body is a fickle thing. It can be pushed hard by the mind, beyond what even seems feasible yet sometimes it just says no, or non as they say in France. As I sit there weighing up my options my mind begins to run over the past few years. Suddenly the feats of the past 2 Transcontinental races seem ridiculous. How on earth did I push that hard? How did I force myself to carry on riding single speed when I was injured in 2014? How on earth did I force my self-awake and onto my bike every morning in 2015? It all seems so easy when you are on top of your game yet here I am unable to ride without cramping whilst the leaders ride off into the day, the first day at that!
The truth is I am not strong enough. I already knew deep down, but I’ve learnt to override body with mind. Just keep pedalling it will feel better soon, just eat some food and it’ll be fine, just have a quick nap and carry on. These are the things I normally tell myself to keep myself moving, however this time I know it just won’t work.
The irony is I am finally paying for the 2015 race. The TransContinental Race is a fantastic race and my victory in 2015 offered so much in terms of exposure and opportunity and I capitalised on this as much as possible. I mean who wouldn’t want to go and work part time and travel New Zealand for winter or do talks and after dinner speaking? However there is a price to pay and I paid it in the 2016 Transcontinental. The injury that has stopped my race isn’t even an injury now, however it is the net result of a busy schedule, not enough training and neglecting the fundamental foundations that make me ride well.
It’s only now that I really appreciate how deep I dug to win the 2015 Transcontinental race. At the time it never felt that I was digging that deep, my mind was strong enough to override the physical suffering and force my body to keep carrying on. I was incredibly efficient, trained myself to use fat as fuel and conditioned to spend days in the saddle. However I became so efficient that my body burned a large amount of upper body muscle and used it as energy to keep me moving forward. There lays the problem… it turns out I actually need a little bit of upper body strength to hold myself together and remain injury free and strong.
Instead of a winter of gym work and rock climbing I was gallivanting around New Zealand working and mountain biking. Unfortunately due to my weakened upper body I began developing a few back issues which ultimately have developed into a muscle imbalance between my left and right legs. The ridiculous thing is that while my back was tight and my legs misaligned I had no physical issues apart from a bit of a stiff back. In actual fact I was flying early on in the year and felt great on my bike despite know I was a little misaligned. At the Tuscany Trail I was riding well and feeling incredibly strong on the climbs and was mentally strong enough to deal with the horrific conditions and lack of sleep… that was until the Dog Bite put an end to that ride.
Despite this strength I was still aware that my back wasn’t 100% and was still especially tight on the right hand side. However upon my post Tuscany Dog Bite physio session we finally nailed it. In probably the most uncomfortable physio session I have ever experienced the stubborn deep knot in my back was finally ironed out and my back released.
However the result was that all the training and racing I had done with my unaligned back had the net result of developing my leg and glute muscles unevenly. The irony is that now I was injury free I was experiencing issues riding! Because of the imbalance in muscle strength and mass ultimately my left glute and leg was getting extremely tired as it tried to keep up with my stronger right side. This first came to light on my Transcontinental training ride across the alps when I cycled from France into Switzerland to check out the Parcours of CP1 from Grindewald across the Grimsel Pass and Furka pass. For the first time in my life I experienced cramp in my bum cheeks! My left glute was really tiring on the long climbs, the weakness of the imbalance now becoming apparent. It was bad enough to warrant stopping and stretching every half an hour on the climbs, however once I descended and rode the flatter valley roads it was less of a problem. I hoped that this would improve before TCR and on my final big training ride down the length of the Uk from Inverness it did indeed improve. Stretching was still required every now and again but I was hopeful that stopping would be a small inconvenience in the TCR.
However it appears I was wrong. My body has had enough of this nonsense and is kicking and screaming at me to stop. My mind can’t push though it this time and as I sit slouched in my grey mood against the grey wall I realise the sensible option is to cut my losses, go home and come back stronger.
I won’t be Racing the Transcontinental Race for a while now. It’s a race I love and it has a very special place in my heart however there are other events out there. The Race Across America and Tour Divide are high up on the list of priorities along with exploring some of the further reaches of our lovely plant on my bike. I haven’t decided what 2017 will bring just yet, however in the mean time I have been asked to present a TV series so keep an eye out for that over the coming months.
I have to thank my sponsors for all their support in the build up to the race. Although my body was weak I am confident I had the best bike, kit and nutrition plan out of all the racers. So big thank to:
Hunt Bike Wheels… for letting me get away with no being at work so often
Mason Cycles… for building me an incredible bike
Gore Bike wear… for next level technical kit
Miss Grape… for keeping my kit together
Giro… for keeping my head safe and feet cool
Torq Fitness… for the nutritional support
Rotor… for the extra efficiency
Exposure Lights… for keeping me company in the dark
Ultimate/USE… for the carbon bits.
Mt Zoom… for saving those extra grams.
Assos… for saving my arse