The roar of the Muur is followed by the eerie quiet of the Belgian night, save for the buzz of freewheels and hushed conversations between riders. The road ahead is a sea of blinking red lights but it doesn’t take long for these to be swallowed by the darkness, as people begin following their own routes. Within an hour or so the field is relatively spread out but as the majority appear to take the N90 road there’s always someone in sight. The N90 runs generally South East to Arlon, on the border with Luxembourg. It is a pig of a road. Very straight, and in the dark very boring. It is also very lumpy as it passes through the Ardennes and as a result it’s not a particularly easy night. I make sure to stop at the few shops that are open in order to keep myself fed and watered, I never feel as if I’m going without . Whilst this first overnight ride is somewhat tedious it passes by without any drama and as the sun rises over southern Belgium I’m a very happy bunny. Or as happy as a bunny can be with 125 miles in the legs, and the prospect of the same again before bed time.
I stop in Leglise after 125 miles. Its 06:18 and its breakfast time. I join a bakery queue made up of three bleary eyed cyclists and three bemused Belgians up for their morning loaf. I exchange pleasantries with riders, we’re all pretty happy with how the night has gone and even happier to be getting an injection of fresh baked goodness into our systems. I was feeling a tad tired so I had a coffee. It was a thick black tarry thing and it worked wonders. Refreshed and fuelled I remounted the Condor and trooped on towards Luxembourg.
In Luxembourg I meet James 253A and we talk briefly. I note the absence of Johnny 253B who I’m informed is just up the road, I’m then dropped like a sack of spuds and off he disappears into the distance. They’d both out-slept and out-rode me in the first 18 hours, consequently I didn’t see them again until the end of the race.
Not long after I hear a sound, its a sound we’ve all heard before and it makes me sick, the dreaded creak of a poorly maintained bottom bracket. A creaking bottom bracket will drive a sane man to distraction in no time at all, I’m confident the sound is on loop in interrogation suites across the globe. I have a look at the offending region and discover about half an inch play when I pull the cranks. Now I’m no mechanic, but I safely assume this is A) bad and B) needs sorting by a human with actual skills.
I google for bike shops frantically. Fat fucking chance in France on a Monday apparently. Eventually I locate one in a town called Teterchen, which whilst a detour isn’t drastically off route and I point my nose in that direction. At this stage I’ll take a brief interlude to comment on how easy this is with a Wahoo Bolt and an iPhone. I plan the re-route and load it up in about 3 minutes. If I was still using my Garmin I’d have been frantically scribbling road names on the back of my hands in order to re-route. Wahoo for the win.
It’s blisteringly hot when I noisily creak into Teterchen. I foolishly allow myself to formulate a plan which involves depositing my bike with a friendly and efficient mechanic whilst I go for a sumptuous lunch in town. Yet as I slowly ride up and down what is clearly a residential street, my naivety of five minutes prior is smugly mocking me. After ten minutes of riding around the blue dot on Google maps, I’m no further on but I am about to combust with the heat. Dripping, I find a restaurant and go in for cold drink and hopefully some directions.
Two Oranginas on ice. Ideal. Even more ideal is the whole place finds me quite interesting which means I’m soon surrounded by well meaning Frenchmen. The slight fly in the ointment is that they too neglected their foreign language studies at age 16. However, after much too-ing and fro-ing I establish the following. 1) Nothing is open in France on a Monday. 2) There is a bike mechanic on the residential street but he’s on holiday. Obviously. 3) These people are very kind. They offer to drive me to another town where there is a Decathlon sports shop. I kindly refuse this because it causes a myriad of issues in terms of complying with race rules. Also I know Decathlon and don’t full believe they’ll be able to solve this issue. So after a third Orangina I decide this diversion has failed and there’s no use in it continuing to cost me time. I will ride on today, get as close to Strasbourg as I can and resolve the issue in that city tomorrow. I have no idea how serious it is and whether the bike will survive or the crank will fall out, but I don’t really have any other choice.
The rest of the day goes by without much incident. Other than the outrageous noise emanating from my bottom bracket every time I put any sort of pressure through the cranks. It doesn’t do much for my stress levels as you can imagine and I begin to contemplate the possibility of not getting past day one, which would be the WORST.
I stop in Phalsbourg at about 18:00 that evening. I’ve not slept yet, I don’t do naps like a lot of riders do so I’m starting to flag having been awake for around 34 hours and riding for 20 of those. I get my first of many TCR pizzas and take stock of the situation. I book a hotel in the next town called Saverne, about an hours ride from Strasbourg. It’ll be an earlier night than planned but at least I’ll get good rest and can be in Strasbourg early doors for bike shops opening.
The hotel is one of those F1 style things, full of truckers and cyclists, as Trackleaders will later reveal. I have an assortment of snacks and after confirming for the second time that day that my GCSE French counts for nothing in the real world, I acquire a towel. I shower in a weird plastic box on the other side of the hotel, force assorted savouries down my neck and get to sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, and hopefully a new bottom bracket…
I’ll include what data I have from my Wahoo, make of it what you will.
Day 1 – 270 miles. 15,209 feet. 15.1 mph average speed.
134 bpm average HR 10466 calories
Total time: 21:52:34
Active Time: 17:52:15
“Cafe” Time: 4:00:19