Something strange was happening to my body, a symptom I hadn’t ever experienced before on a bike ride. My tongue had seemed to swell, turning white with blisters lining the sides of it. My tonsils were swollen, and I had ulcers inside my mouth. Eating hurt.
I wasn’t sure how worried I should be – it didn’t exactly affect my cycling, but if you’re riding 300km+ a day you need to eat a lot and now consuming food was neither easy nor enjoyable. I tried to drink a Faxe Kondi (the Danish Sprite), but the bubbles hurt my mouth so much I threw it away after 2 sips. It persisted until I finished the race, and then cleared up after a day or two of resting.
I passed through the windswept North of Jutland, where van-life surfers and summer tourists lived alongside industrial harbours. Every now and then, after seeing nothing for a while, I’d pass a massive euro-style campervan site. It was a funny mix of people.
The wind was relentless and exhausting. When my route turned against it, I was reduced to an arduous 15kmph. When I turned with it, I’d fly at 40kmph with total ease. It never seemed to ease up.
At dusk I reached Skagen, Jutland’s Northern tip. The land funnels into a sharp point, and at the edge of the beach you can see where two oceans meet. From the end of the road, I could just about watch the waves clash, but I didn’t walk down to see it any closer. I’d have liked to, but there just wasn’t time.
By this point I was really pushing to take the course record. I’d been riding well, and although it was looking unlikely – it was definitely possible. I was surprised with my own ability to stay so motivated, racing against some imaginary dot and an arbitrary time stamp.
I reached another shelter that night, which was once again full. It was a raised structure, in the middle of a harbour, and a few tents were dotted underneath it. I’d have cover, but the wind was icy cold. I walked up the steps to the enclosed area, and rolled out my mat on the balcony. I’d be gone by the time the campers woke up.
I was now heading south with the end in sight. There was an unhelpful crosswind, but it didn’t slow me down too much in the morning. I’d been freezing at night, so I was glad to be moving again. The weather forecast has promised nights nearer 12C, which I thought would be fine in my summer sleeping bag and down jacket, but it had been much colder than that. I wished I’d packed a proper breathable cycling jacket or gilet, because I spent a lot of time riding in more than a jersey.
I caught the 3rd ferry in the late morning between Hals and Egense, before starting to head inland. I was entering the hilliest part of Denmark, and progress was slow riding into the wind along long off-road sections.
My tactic for the rough stuff was to ride as quick as possible and ‘get it over with’ as fast as I could. On 28mm tyres, they could be quite a pain. I eventually got my first puncture that afternoon, on a long gravel road. I’d meant to buy new tyres before the race, but a) ran out of time and b) couldn’t believe how expensive new Continental Grand Prix tyres were. A lot of bike components have gone up massively in cost over the last couple of years. I figured there was still plenty of life left on my current ones, so I had continued to run them for the race.
As the day went on, I only became slower. I’d been doing plenty of maths on target times, and knew I needed to at least reach Himmelbjerget that evening. As darkness fell, I was still a long way off schedule. I pushed on into the night, but then got a puncture on the other wheel. ARGH!
I toyed with the idea of riding through the night. The hours of darkness were so short here, that it wouldn’t be many hours at all. Besides, it was cold, and I didn’t think I’d sleep well in these temperatures. By the time I reached Himmelbjerget it was around 3.30am, and I was exhausted. I found a public toilet with an automatic light, and figured a wind-free power nap would do me some good.
Himmelbjerget is ‘Sky Mountain’ in English. It’s Denmark’s highest peak, at a whopping 147m above sea level. I couldn’t have slept for more than 45 minutes, and when I woke up I was freezing. I’d passed out with my sleeping bag barely zipped up, and had lost heat quickly.
Dawn was breaking as I rode out. It was a crisp morning in the hills, but I wasn’t exactly quick. I was finally grasping that it would be impossible to catch the ferry that would allow me to try and catch the record time, but that acceptance put me at ease slightly. I’d still try to get to Århus as quickly as possible, in the hope that I could finish the race at a civilised time of day.
As I started turning east again, the wind began to help my progress and although I missed the ferry I was aiming for I caught the one about 90 mins later. The crossing back to Sjaelland is 80 minutes, so enough time for a proper meal and perhaps a quick sleep. I’d now cycled about 500km on 45 minutes’ sleep, and was feeling pretty shattered.
When the boat docked, I’d have 90 minutes to ride 40km to the next one at Rorvig. If I missed that connection, I’d have to wait another 90 minutes for the next crossing. If I could catch the first ferry, I should finish by midnight. If I missed that, I wouldn’t finish before 1.30am. My only motivation was to get this ride done as soon as possible, but that was motivation enough.
The wind was blasting behind me, so I felt optimistic that I could make it. But that optimism died, when I felt my rear wheel rim hit the stones on another gravel road. I had another puncture. Fuck.
I was too tired to think clearly, and struggled trying to work out if there was any chance of catching my first ferry. I figured there was nothing to lose, so chucked a new tube in and fixed my flat as quickly as I could. I looped the old tube around my neck, and hopped back on my bike before charging east.
The next hour was a blur. I had an hour to cover 30km, a time that seemed impossible given my fatigue. Somehow I found the energy to give the biggest shift of my life, riding out of the saddle for most of the hour, and by some miracle arriving with 1 minute to spare. I pedalled straight onto the ferry and punched the air in delight. The end was in sight, thank God.
It’s a quick 20 minute crossing to Hundested, and then just 70km to the finish in Farum. I had time to patch my spare punctured inner tubes on the crossing, before beginning the final push. I know this area well, and sometimes come here with my family when we’re up at my grandparents’ summer house. Within a few miles I was passing the village centre close to where they live – oh how I was tempted to stop here and cycle down the road to where there was a warm bed for me!
I rode into the dark, and eventually finished around midnight. The two event organisers came out to meet me in Farum, and my mum travelled up from Copenhagen. It was an underwhelming way to finish, but perhaps that is what I love the most about these races. Ultimately, no one really cares about my ride other than myself, the event organisers and my close family. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We called a taxi, and after a 20 minute drive we were back at my mum’s flat. It was time to start recovery – I was wrecked.
Denmark has such incredible cycling infrastructure. All the roads I pedalled were so traffic-light, and I spent most of the time on bike paths that were well marked or entirely separate from the road. The drivers are so used to cyclists that I felt completely safe all the time. On only one occasion a driver pulled out without looking properly, slightly dangerous but an easy mistake to make, and he drove up to apologise to me. Even the taxis like the one we took home have bike-brackets in their boot ready to give a cyclist a lift.
It was cool to see so much of the country in one fell swoop. My Danish family have been joking about the fact that I’ve now seen far more of the country than them. It was worth it, absolutely.
It took a couple of days for me to feel normal-ish again, a slower recovery than either of my two previous big races. I think that last big push across the final 2 days really took it out of me. In the end I finished just 2 hours behind the course record, in 5 days and 16 hours – and I’m very proud of that. It means my daily average was around 340km, which is considerably more than I managed during the TCR. Admittedly, it was a shorter and easier route, but with my lack of preparation I’m quite surprised by that.
My setup was quite similar to what I ran at the TCR, just with slightly less stuff. For the first time, I managed to underpack – which is quite hard to do. For the nerds among you, here’s my full setup:
On the bike (a Boardman Team Carbon):
- Strada Exposure 1200 front light
- Garmin eTrex 30x
- Phone (on Quad Lock mount)
- Cateye Volt double light (goes on my helmet during the night)
- 2 spokes taped on to wheel stay
Apidura Racing Handlebar Pack (discontinued):
- Decathlon half length mat
- Patagonia Torrentshell raincoat
- Zendure Power Bank 10,000 MAH
- Spares (all mandatory under race rules):
- Inner tubes x 2
- Spoke key
- Brake pads x 2
- Puncture patches
- Quick link
- Multi tool (with chain tool)
- Zendure Power Bank 10,000 MAH
- Old iPhone (for music and map backup)
- USB plug
- Bag of cables:
- Micro USB x 2
- Iphone cable
- Electrolyte sachets
- Talcum powder
- Chain oil
- Bib shorts
- Down jacket
- Sleeping bag