Ultra-endurance mountain-biker Jody Forrester is proud of his achievements in last week’s Transcontinental Race across Europe, despite having to withdraw at the 2 000km mark.
Forrester quit the race in Italy due to a combination of factors, not least of them the non-arrival of his bicycle at the start, which meant he had to buy a basic road bike and make do with that for the first few days.
The Transcontinental Race comprises a distance of between 3 200km and 4 200km, depending on which route the cyclist chooses, with about 41 000m of climbing.
“I’m not disappointed though. I raced to the best of my ability and managed 2 000km across Europe in nine days on an extremely challenging route.”
Forrester said his adventure started when the airline delayed his bike arriving in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. Due to the logistics of later flights and the race briefing being mandatory for riders, he was left with no alternative but to go into town and purchase a basic road bike.
“I then caught an overnight bus through to Burgas to attend registration, inspection and briefing. This was both a stressful and exhilarating process, [forcing us] to find solutions along the way.
“Through the fantastic can-do attitude of the Bulgarians we were able to make this happen and I lined up and set off, somewhat frazzled, somewhat unsure of how the race would unfold while not on my steed of choice.
“However, in a way it set the tone for my mindset of those initial days; that I was ‘lucky’ to still be in the race given the setback of the bike drama and to then just make the most of it, regardless of what may come.”
He said the first two days were incredibly taxing, with two parkour sections around checkpoint one being significantly harder than they all had expected, along with severe heat as the thermometer reached 38 degrees Celsius.
“This saw riders scratching from that first evening. I clocked up 302km on day one, riding from 6am to 12.30am, and then day two was a further 285km, riding from 7.30am to 1.30am.
“I was now back in Sofia and my bike had arrived at the airport, so was able to do a switch and send the ‘new bike’ home. With the upcoming gravel parkour of checkpoint two I really needed my gravel-bike setup.
“What had also become apparent was that the temp bike was too small and the 580km in two days in a bad position would later take its toll on my legs.”
Switching bikes in Sofia took up half a day of valuable riding time and put him dangerously close to missing the second checkpoint cut-off, which he got through in the morning of day four with just three hours to spare.
“So started the push from Serbia all the way across Eastern Europe to the next checkpoint in the high Tyrol of Italy and Austria.
“I had been hoping to make around 260km a day average but the intense heat and stress of the three days had taken its toll. Even though I was riding well and really enjoying the challenge and routine of ultra-distance riding I was really struggling to get past 220km a day, a lot of this into headwind with 35 degree heat.”
By day seven he could start to feel that there was an issue with his left quad and that he had ruptured or torn a muscle.
“Standing or walking had no pain, but each push down on the pedal meant a deep pain to the quad muscle as if getting a new ‘dead leg’ each pedal stroke.
“On day eight I stopped at a hospital in Austria and got hold of some strapping which managed to get me through the remainder of day eight and day nine, where I crossed into Italy and was at the foothills of the famous Gardena and Timmelsjoch passes.
“I had reached half way. However, early the following morning the checkpoint three cut-off closed with me still a good 150km away with 20% plus gradients in between.”
He set off in good spirits on day 10, but immediately felt that the strapping was completely ineffective, with the quad having gone rock hard and the pedal strokes feeling excruciating even on the flats.
“I made my way into the next town of Brunico, sat at a cafe and assessed my situation. I was now effectively out of the race, with the checkpoint closed and would not get a general classification placing.
“Had I no injury I would have continued to ride, simply to climb the next amazing section with the aim of reaching France and then assessed timing from there against my flight home. However with an injury of this nature the thought of suffering for a further 2 000km without the incentive of being in the race did not justify the reward.
“So I made the call to friends and family to let them know of my decision, which they supported fully, and finally went into race office.”
Forrester said he was devastated, but equally proud, given the start he had and his level of fitness and preparation coming into the race, that he had made it as far as he had.
“I was in a race with seriously experienced ultra-distance athletes and had held my own for a fair section of the race.
“And, perhaps most importantly, I had raced in a spirit that I was proud of, seeing each setback as another test to overcome with a positive attitude and willingness to make the best out of it.
“For those following the race through my blog and social feeds this is what they enjoyed the most, not necessarily completing the massive mileage but rather the mental approach to overcoming hurdles.
“So Transcontinental Race, you had me beat, but that’s perfectly okay. You took me to the absolute limit of my ability and grit and for that I’m extremely grateful and privileged to have been part of this insane adventure across Europe.”