‘I’m Go­ing to Turkey. Get Out of My Way!’

When Ge­of­froy Dus­sault raced across Europe this past sum­mer, he faced many ob­sta­cles, in­clud­ing the Alps

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Dean Camp­bell

When Ge­of­froy Dus­sault of Que­bec City raced across Europe this past sum­mer, he faced many ob­sta­cles, in­clud­ing the Alps

The road ahead of Ge­of­froy Dus­sault kept climb­ing. Around each cor­ner, past each false sum­mit, there was more moun­tain ahead. Dus­sault was ped­alling in the Alps. He was also real­iz­ing he wasn’t where he needed to be.

“The night be­fore, I had a bad re­cov­ery. I had a bad sleep and hadn’t eaten any­thing for din­ner. The first thing the next morn­ing was a 1,500 m climb to get to the Swiss bor­der,” re­called Dus­sault think­ing back to Au­gust 2016 dur­ing his first at­tempt at the Transcon­ti­nen­tal Race. “That morn­ing, there was a head­wind. It was mean. My body wasn’t there for me that day and I could only do eight hours of bik­ing be­fore I had to stop.”

Dus­sault was a new­comer to the race known as the tcr. He was re­gret­ting his choice of route. For the tcr, the rid­ers don’t follow a set course laid out by or­ga­niz­ers. In­stead, the par­tic­i­pants must con­struct their own routes from the start at Ger­aards­ber­gen, Bel­gium to the fin­ish last year in Çanakkale, Turkey. (Other edi­tions of the tcr have started in Lon­don and fin­ished in Istanbul.) Along they way, they must pass through a hand­ful of check­points. In 2016, four check­point lo­ca­tions were strung out between the race start and fin­ish. With no set route, there is also no fixed length for the race, but a good re­sult can be earned by fin­ish­ing in 10–12 days.

The first two check­point lo­ca­tions in the 2016 edi­tion were de­lib­er­ately placed to bait rid­ers into the Alps. Dus­sault fell for it. He took a more south­ern path that was sup­posed to be a straighter line between check­point one (cp1) and two (cp2). He faced moun­tain passes and val­leys, and tem­per­a­tures that ranged from more than 30 C to near-freez­ing at higher el­e­va­tions. ”I had picked the straight­est route on Strava, but the straight­est line is not al­ways the fastest. It was a good les­son,” said Dus­sault. More ex­pe­ri­enced com­peti­tors knew that the longer, flat­ter route to the north was in fact much faster. By skirt­ing the moun­tains, they re­mained fresher.

Dus­sault him­self be­gan the event with a lot of en­ergy. The start of the tcr was held at 10 p.m., two days prior to the Alpine strug­gles, with a ride up the in­fa­mous Muur van Ger­aards­ber­gen that re­turned to the Tour of Flan­ders this year. “As the race started, I felt strong. I was in race mode,” said the rider from Que­bec City. He had raced pro­fes­sion­ally on the Garneau squad, from 2012 to his re­tire­ment in 2015. “I said, ‘I’m go­ing to Turkey. Get out of my way!’

“The car film­ing the whole pelo­ton was just ahead of us. I at­tacked and got up to the car, but it was not mov­ing fast enough, so I dropped back. Then I said, ‘For­get that,’ and at­tacked and passed the car and climbed all the way up on my own. Af­ter that, I went into my aer­o­bars and rode like a crazy man to cp1.”

But the ef­fort was costly. About 350 km af­ter his break­away on the Muur, Dus­sault re­al­ized he was strug­gling. His knees were trou­bling him from grind­ing too hard on the ped­als. (He fo­cused on turn­ing a smoother pedal stroke for the rest of the event.) Still, he rode an­other 160 km be­fore fi­nally stop­ping, 17 hours af­ter he be­gan. What Dus­sault had not fully ap­pre­ci­ated, but was quickly learn­ing, was that en­durance events are not so much about who is the strong­est rider on the start line.

Each com­peti­tor at the tcr must be en­tirely self-sup­ported, car­ry­ing every­thing for the race east across Europe to the edge of Asia. Each en­trant must bal­ance the lux­ury of­fered by car­ry­ing more equip­ment against the slower pace re­sult­ing from the added weight. One ex­tremely min­i­mal­ist-minded rider brought no spare chamois shorts, re­mov­ing his lone pair only for wash­room stops and on the rare oc­ca­sion he had a chance to wash and dry them be­fore the end of a re­cov­ery break. Oth­ers took camp­ing gear, in case the need arose.

No draft­ing is al­lowed. Rules are strict with re­spect to how rid­ers must travel to and from places of as­sis­tance not on their route. Should a rider need a lift to a bike shop, it’s al­lowed pro­vided the rider then trav­els by bike back to where he or she had left the planned route be­fore con­tin­u­ing on. Dus­sault had opted for a fairly min­i­mal­ist ap­proach; he car­ried no camp­ing gear.

Dus­sault ar­rived in Nev­ers, France, ex­hausted at the end of the first day with nowhere to stay. He found a small shed near the road, took out the emer­gency blan­ket his girl­friend had given him, and tried to sleep on a hard wooden bench. Later, the route he had laid out in the weeks lead­ing up to the race took him into the Alps, where he spent two days suf­fer­ing while climb­ing the passes and drop­ping down the stand­ings. He had ar­rived in Europe with am­bi­tions to win. Just two days into the race, he felt bro­ken and was out­side the top 30 rid­ers. He had started to ques­tion el­e­ments of his race plan.

Upon re­ceiv­ing con­fir­ma­tion of his en­try the pre­vi­ous De­cem­ber, Dus­sault be­gan log­ging a min­i­mum of 400 km a week on his bike. He con­sulted the rules and pre­pared his route. He fi­nal­ized his gear and man­aged to fit it all into a sin­gle bikepack­ing bag slung un­der his sad­dle. As a teenager, he had toured around Que­bec car­ry­ing all his sup­plies in a pack on his back. It had weighed 30 lb. He used the same sys­tem to cross Canada a year later, cov­er­ing 8,000 km in 40 days. Those ex­pe­ri­ences made him con­fi­dent about his needs for the rel­a­tively short tcr.

“Even those prepa­ra­tions weren’t enough for a 510-km day that started at night.”

In the fi­nal month be­fore the tcr, Dus­sault rode 400 km in a sin­gle day, snaking through the moun­tains of the Beauce re­gion in Que­bec, and then hopped on his bike the next day for an­other 100 km to see how his body would re­act. He was left feel­ing con­fi­dent and ready. But even those prepa­ra­tions weren’t enough for a 510-km day that started at night. Dus­sault calls the 10 p.m. start a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort by the or­ga­niz­ers to force sleep de­pri­va­tion on the field from the be­gin­ning.

While Dus­sault had cho­sen a straighter but more dif­fi­cult route, other rid­ers also made er­rors in judge­ment. One rider fol­lowed a Strava route that ap­peared to in­clude a sec­tion of moun­tain bike trail. In­stead, he ar­rived at a hik­ing trail. Hoist­ing his bike, the rider started walk­ing. He found a ride­able road af­ter a 10-hour, 10-km hike through freez­ing rain and mud. There are re­ports of other rid­ers who took a stretch of road signed as hav­ing un­ex­ploded land mines in the vicin­ity.

Af­ter the Alps, things got bet­ter for Dus­sault. “I re­cov­ered enough that I was able to do back-to-back days of 300 km of rid­ing and 6,000 m of climb­ing,” he said. “When I left the Alps, I turned on the en­gine and was able to start to come back to the front of the race.” He also wor­ried a lit­tle less about his com­peti­tors. To see how they were do­ing, Dus­sault would have had to stop at In­ter­net cafés to check lo­ca­tor bea­cons. It was al­ways a choice to trade time in the sad­dle for in­for­ma­tion that would do lit­tle to change the out­come. Later in the race, Dus­sault would sim­ply glean what he could at check­points and bor­der cross­ings, fo­cus­ing on his own per­for­mance in­stead.

Route find­ing, how­ever, con­tin­ued to be a source of

anx­i­ety. “Just be­fore cp4, I was in Bos­nia cross­ing into Mon­tene­gro. I was on this dirt road up over a pass and thought, ‘This is not even a road,’” said Dus­sault. Nev­er­the­less, he chose to press on far­ther. “At some points, you just don’t know where you are at all. You must be con­fi­dent in the route you planned.”

Ben­e­fit­ing from flat­ter land, and be­ing more care­ful to en­sure good re­cov­ery pe­ri­ods, Dus­sault climbed up to sixth place out of 300 to­tal en­trants by the time he ar­rived at cp4, in Žabl­jak, Mon­tene­gro. Rid­ing in the city had been chal­leng­ing; twice Dus­sault had to dodge out of the way of cars, nar­rowly avoid­ing col­li­sion. But his mood shifted when he saw a stranger at the side of the road. A man stood wav­ing and cheer­ing, hold­ing two choco­late bars in an out­stretched hand, en­cour­ag­ing Dus­sault to come grab them. “It was like a feed zone. I didn’t even stop,” said Dus­sault. “I was go­ing al­most 45 km/h, and snatched the bars and then turned my head and just yelled ‘Waaaah!’ in a big cry of joy and waved and smiled at the guy.”

Some­where in Mon­tene­gro, Dus­sault no­ticed the side­wall on his front tire was start­ing to give out. With less than 1,000 km re­main­ing, he hoped it would make the trip. Dus­sault kept go­ing. By the time he reached Turkey, and with 125 km to the fin­ish, the tire failed. Dus­sault had one spare tube, still brand new in the wrap­per. But the tube had a punc­ture and was of no use. It was a Sun­day in ru­ral Turkey. There was nowhere to buy a new tire or tube.

Even though the fin­ish was an easy ride away, Dus­sault was forced to stay put. He ar­ranged for a ride into a town the next morn­ing to find a bi­cy­cle shop. On the Mon­day morn­ing, he and his front wheel hopped into a car with a lo­cal to find a shop. The store had no tires, so Dus­sault bought three tubes and man­aged a rudi­men­tary re­pair. He hopped back in the car to re­turn to his bike

with his wheel. He fit­ted the wheel into the fork and took off for the fin­ish. The re­pair held up for 100 km. Dus­sault was forced to com­plete the fi­nal 25 km on a flat. He had lost 17 hours as a re­sult, plus ad­di­tional time penal­ties for re­turn­ing to his route by car.

“Peo­ple were watch­ing the live track­ing, won­der­ing what was hap­pen­ing be­cause I was so close to the fin­ish, but not mov­ing. I stopped around 7 p.m. and didn’t start again un­til 11 a.m. the next day,” said Dus­sault, who had been un­able to com­mu­ni­cate with any­one, in­clud­ing race or­ga­niz­ers, to let them know what was hap­pen­ing.

When all the re­sults were in, and penal­ties cal­cu­lated, Dus­sault had fin­ished seventh over­all. The whole event left him with mixed feel­ings. He had done very well, but had also seen all the places he lost time as a re­sult of poor plan­ning and in­ex­pe­ri­ence. The tcr holds two facets. The com­pe­ti­tion demands a fast pace, min­i­mal stops, but the ter­rain cov­ered begs rid­ers to con­sider stop­ping to in­dulge in the beauty through which they race. Dus­sault rode past tourists sun­bathing, swim­ming and drink­ing on beaches in Croa­tia. He wanted to stop, but his racer’s in­stinct pushed him on­ward.

“Once you reach the end of the race, it feels like it has hap­pened so fast that you want to keep go­ing on this big ad­ven­ture,” said Dus­sault.

In fact, Dus­sault has cho­sen to con­tinue the ad­ven­ture. He’s reg­is­tered for the 2017 edi­tion of the race, which starts July 28, to ap­ply all he learned in 2016. Rather than talk­ing about whether he can win or not, he’s fine-tun­ing his route find­ing, us­ing soft­ware that does a bet­ter anal­y­sis of el­e­va­tion. He’s plot­ted his own pace against grades so he can se­lect a route on which he can per­form bet­ter. He’s also work­ing to im­prove his ef­fi­ciency dur­ing each rid­ing day and min­i­mize the time spent on stops for fu­elling.

“I don’t think this is an event I will keep do­ing, over and over,” said Dus­sault. “There are too many other ad­ven­tures in the world. And my girl­friend and I are think­ing about start­ing a fam­ily. That’s per­haps a dif­fer­ent kind of ad­ven­ture.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.