“A chaque tournant une nouvelle vue, par-delà chaque col un autre monde: ce petit département où l’on collectionne les panoramas est une perpétuelle invitation au voyage.” - Visages de la Corse
(Behind every corner a new view, every climb another world: this small place where we
collect panoramas is a constant invitation to travel.)
36 HOURS AND 46 MINUTES OF RACING AROUND CORSICA
BikingMan Corsica was an amazing experience. Racing 700 kilometres with 13.000 metres of altitude, the equivalent of climbing Everest 1.5 times, was both a physical and mental challenge. But the stunning scenery of l’Ile de Beauté made it a lot easier to bear.
April 29th, 6:30 am, Arinella Beach.
TOGETHER with 82 other cyclists I’m impatiently waiting for the start of the inaugural editionof BikingMan Corsica, a 700 km ultra cycling race with 13.000 meters of altitude. The route starts in Bastia, then we're going south through the Corsica Natural Park. After climbing the high hills of Le Pays Ajaccien we're passing along the Gulf of Porto and the vertical cliffs on the Mediterranean coast, then via Balagne, Giussani and Ostriconi to Cap Corse and back to Bastia.
THIS SUFFERFEST FOR CLIMBERS is a dream race for me. Climbing is what I love most about cycling. With a weight of 77kg the shorter explosive cobbled hills in Flanders or the beautiful short climbs in the Ardens suit me better. But it would be to easy to accept that I’m not made for longer climbs. Like a lot of cyclists I love climbing just because it’s not easy. Because more than fighting the mountain, you're fighting yourself.
Just like I love self-supported ultraraces because they're not easy. Mental strength is at least as important as physical power. You’re also fighting yourself and pushing your limits, more than you’re competing against the other athletes.
I started training in December, and tried to ride three times a week. A ride of max 2 hours, a short interval session on the rollers and a longer 4 hour ride. It wasn't always easy to train as I had to work a lot of night shifts. The lack of rhythm felt like an attack on my body. But in March and April I did some long training rides with a lot of climbing in the Ardens and Luxembourg, and the good form was coming just in time. Arriving in Bastia four days before the race was perfect to rest and eat a lot (carb-loading!). I felt ready.
NOUS SOMMES PARTIS. The first climb my heart rate is higher than normal. The
adrenaline of the race start I guess. One of my last big training rides in mind (I started too enthusiastically and was totally exhausted after 250 km and 6000 meters of altitude) I decide to take it easy and climb slowly. I’m riding around 50th position after the first climb but I hope to feel good enough at checkpoint 2 (350 km, 7000 meters of altitude) to ride the second part of the race without sleeping, so I decide not to hurry and continue this rhythm, even though it's
hard to temper my enthusiasm.
CP 1 (10 hours, 12 minutes)
AFTER 180 KM and more than 4000 metres of altitude I arrive at checkpoint 1. Just before the checkpoint I already passed some riders who started too fast. Some of them will sleep at checkpoint 1 today.
Just before the first checkpoint the race organisation already faced their first major challenge. The first riders (about 30?) had to make a 20 km detour with and extra climb because a road was temporarily closed due to a rally race. Because I started slowly the road was already reopened when I got there. The organisation decided to give away time bonus of two hours to all riders who had to do the detour. Definitely justified, but harder for me to know in what position I’m riding. Riding just before some of those riders still means I’m riding about two hours behind them. But right now I’m just focussed on surviving day 1 and I'll
worry later about my position in the race.
It’s around 4 PM when I leave at checkpoint 1 for another 170 km and 3000 metres of altitude until I reach checkpoint 2. I still have almost 5 hours of daylight and I decide to start climbing a little bit faster.
NIGHT IS COMING and I have to find some real food. Energy bars are a good and efficient way to keep your energy level high, but when you’re riding all day it’s important to eat a lot of ‘normal’ food too. I’m getting hungry and I marked a town on the route where there are some restaurants. The only thing I can think about now is pizza. Eat one, buy one for later at night. That’s the plan.
On the way to the small town I pass a little gas station shop, but my pizza tunnel vision makes me decide to ride straight to the small town. Stupid decision. When I arrive there are indeed two pizza restaurants, but both closing. Bummer.
Energy bars all night I guess. In one of the restaurants I drink a coke and put on some warm clothes. It’s dark now and it’s getting colder.
I still have to ride about three hours to checkpoint 2 and I’m done eating energy bars. I’m eating less than I need and afraid of losing too much energy I start riding slower again.
CP2 (20 hours, 4 minutes)
FINALLY , checkpoint 2. It’s 2:30 AM and I haven’t eaten a lot the last hours. Lucky as I am the organisation made it possible to buy pasta, a banana and a boiled egg at the checkpoint. The refuel gives me a mental boost and at 3:30 AM I’m ready to ride into the night. I've been awake for almost 23 hours but I’m still feeling good. For now.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE.
Hooting owls, some rustle in the bushes. No more landscapes, only the dark road slowly rolling by under my pedals. But it's so silent and calm that I don't mind. The full moon shines bright so it's not completely dark. After an hour a sleepiness overtakes me. More and more I’m looking to the grass banks next to the road, imagining how soft they are and how nice it would be to take a short power nap. But I’m not falling asleep on the bike so it’s safe enough to continue riding.
It’s 5 AM now and I’m really looking forward to the first daylight. But instead of a beautiful sunrise dark clouds are coming from the east and it begins to rain.
6:30 AM. Goodbye rain, good morning daylight. Finally. Just in time to see the impressive rocks on the west coast. Another amazing view in a totally different landscape. Corsica has so many faces.
I’ve only eaten energy bars since the last checkpoint. I really hope to find a place soon where I can buy some ‘real’ food. The BikingMan Survival Map shows me two small towns with a gas station or a restaurant but it’s still too early and they’re all closed. This is definitely the hardest part of my race so far. Physically I’m feeling quite okay, but mentally… I really want to eat normal food, a lot. Croissants, baguettes, cheese, bacon and eggs ...anything but energy bars.
IT’S 10 AM when the sun starts shining brightly again. Suddenly temperatures rise to above 25 degrees. I take off my jacket and leg warmers and my legs feel instantly good again. Two hours of smooth pedalling later I finally find a supermarket. In the basket: pasta with chicken, a slice of pizza, three sandwiches, two chocolate bars, some candy, a coke and two bottles
of water. Brunch time! The pasta and pizza is for now, the other things I’ll eat on the go.
I’ve lost too much time searching for food this morning. Now I’m sure I have enough for the rest of the race.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE. After my brunch I feel really good and I’m climbing faster. 20 km until CP3 and I pass a rider who tells me he’s riding around 11th position. The possibility of finishing top ten gives me another boost.
CP3 (30 hours, 40 minutes)
No time to loose at CP3. 150 km to go with 3000 metres of altitude. I really want to finish in six hours, so I have to ride at least 25 km an hour. A quick stamp on my map from the organisation and a refill for my water bottles. Six minutes later I'm on the road again. I don’t know how it’s possible after 550 km and 11.000 metres of altitude but it feels like I’m flying on the hills now. Like I’m only doing a short intense training ride and my legs forgot they've already done 24 hours of riding.
7:16 PM. FINISH.
After 30 beautiful but hard final kilometres, constantly going up and down following the coastline, I’m finally back in Bastia. Official time: 36 hours and 46 minutes. I'm the 9th finisher, but two riders who finished before me were unclassified because they (accidentally) skipped a 15 km loop. 7th place it is, time for a beer now!
Bike : Jaegher Phantom - Shimano Ultegra R8000 (34 - 52 / 11-30)
Wheels : SWS RCA38 TEAM COMP + Continental Grand Prix 4-season 25mm
Bags: Restrap Saddle Bag + Ortlieb dry bag 12 L, Restrap Frame Bag Large, Restrap Top Tube Bag, Restrap Stem Bag
Special thanks to : My love Margot, Restrap, Fiex Gent, Fietsen Jowan, Ruben De Gendt, and of course the BikingMan organisation and volunteers!