You are now at post 03 of my Transiberica series. If you want to check them out in order, voilà:
01 Transiberica Bike Race 2021 – Live Tracking (Cap33) & About the Race
02 Transiberica – Equipment & Packing List
03 Transiberica – The very late post-race post
Dear readers, and dear diary (after all, that’s what this blog is, too), I thought..: why not speed things up? I had published my Transcontinental Race 06 report 1,5 years after the race (it still found many readers and I got a lot of positive resonance about the format. Thank you!). So with this post coming ca. 3/4 of a year after my Transiberica 2021 finish I’m reducing the delay by half!
PODCAST: Before we start… to my German speaking readers: Last October (2021) I had been kindly invited by Pascal of the Gravel-Podcast who interviewed me about my Transiberica Race – it was great fun. In that episode you find a lot of information, anecdotes and also more general things, that you will not find in this blog post. So, if you’re interested you may want to have a listen. Viel Spaß!
“Gravel-Podcast – Die Transiberica ist immernoch in Spanien”
Now my actual blog post:
I will not bother you with a detailed daily report of my race. On 10 days and 3000km there are simply too many things happening to do them justice in a report that anyone would still want to read. With my interactive Transcontinantal-Race-map I had already found an alternative way to take you by the hand on my trip but still spare you hour-long reads. …and I have a similar goal this time, but by different means:
- 03a) first: a few words on my most important takeaways
- 03b) my Instagram-stories from during the race – because in this case both their form and their content are closely linked to my race experience. I will explain…
- 03c) facts & figures, Strava tracks & short reports & pictures: some stats and a map that summarise my race, some photos, the daily Strava-captions and links to each stint on Strava where you find more information and also more pictures.
03a) My most important takeaways from Transiberica 2021
I think all “ultra” (whatever that means) endurance racers can relate: You proudly accomplish your first race, and then the idea is:
Let’s do this again, but better.
In my case the first race was the Transcontinental Race 06 in 2018, and “better” meant to me: largely reduce my suffering / increase my enjoyment and increase my daily mileage. In between I had the Three Peaks Bike Race 2019, which I finished, but did not really improve any of those factors due to an injury-induced lack of training before hand. But 2021 was my year to seriously tackle that “better racing” mission.
I had a few goals:
- sleep better and more regularly
- more efficient riding through less stopping time – make 300km/day
- focus more on enjoyment, moments, landscapes, the social element. Do not “celebrate” suffering but instead avoid it as much as possible.
And to get right to it: I mostly succeeded!
I slept every night (more or less) either bivaking outside or in BnBs. I underestimated how cold it would get at night in the dry and elevated landscapes, so I certainly had a few miserable nights. But I took rests, and was mostly somewhat revived for the next day. Usually I rode on until at least midnight, and got up again a few hours later. BIG improvement over my Transcontinental Race performance where I often rode through the night and had very ineffective next days, with huge fluctuations in daily mileage and even sleep induced crashes (see my TCR blog post/map).
Sleeping spots outside ranged from bus stops to parking lots to football fields. Since large parts of the Spanish Peninsula is a plateau at a few 100 meters altitude and additionally very dry (sometimes deserts, cooling down quickly) or at rivers (i.e. cold & humid), it got incredibly chilly at night. With only my bivak, silk liner and sleeping mat I was clearly under-equipped and often declared my sleep over just because I wanted to cycle to warm up; i.e. bad conditions for sleeping, good conditions to get up early and make some mileage. Still… I had rest, slept or at least closed my eyes and that was enough to not be sleepy the next day. I guess my average bivak sleep was 4-5 hours. I slept 7 out of 10 nights outside.
Proper beds I found mostly through booking.com in affordable hotels. 3 out of 10 nights I spent in beds. Having a shower, charging devices, and having a literally clean and fresh start for the next 2-3 days. While sleeping in proper beds my average sleep was probably around 8 hours.
Only in two instances I was very close to falling asleep on the bike – that was in the two last nights: On day 8 I did a massive stint and in the end managed to catch up with some riders by doing some good old night riding. That day I had checked both Checkpoint 7 (Portugal) & 8 (back in Spain) that included two massive climbs. I was on top of CP 8 at midnight, full moon and Venus in the night sky – what a view and feeling, especially combined with the accomplishments of the day. At altitude I branched off from the road to take a hiking route through the wild mountain landscape into the very end of a long valley, because this would allow me to ride downhill almost entirely until CP 9 and saved me about 2000m of climbing. So I had already done 250km and 4700m of climbing that day, then that hike over rocks and dirt tracks and super challenging rubble descent into the last village of that valley, so was crazy exhausted. Weird feeling to arrive in that village – like an alien intruding human civilization and a random landing spot. Anyway: The valley went along some water stream, so it was very cold, humid and foggy – i.e. a kind of coldness that really gets in your bones. Since it would have been too cold for me to sleep anywhere I was forced to continue cycling until the villages got a bit bigger and the valley a little bit wider until I found a little square far enough from the water so the temperature at the sleeping spot would be a bit milder. That feeling of riding when you’re dead tired, after 8 straight days of cycling, the massive stint that day… your eyes just want to close. And they do, and all you can do is talk to yourself, shake your head, listen to loud music, scream sometimes just to get your adrenaline up again to keep you awake. Delirium – surreal. All that on pitch black, smoothly paved valley roads in the middle of nowhere, a slight decline pulling you forward; like on a monotonous highway.
The other instance where I got too close to falling asleep on the bike was the following and last night, after day 9. Again I had another massive day behind me with 320km and 2400m of climbing, including the super challenging Checkpoint 9 climb. The conditions were similar to the night before. I wanted to ride on for as long as I could so I’d have as little mileage left for the next and last day to the finish line. So I moved on, but got somewhat trapped in a similar situation: cycling along a valley with a river that made it too cold and humid to sleep. Again battled my eyes closing (failed a few times, but just about did not crash), stopped a few times to kind of pep-talk and collect myself, until I finally found a parking lot in a village that worked for me – see the 4th picture here. At least I had managed to reduce my remaining race distance for the last day to a comfortable 180km.
Some sleeping spots:
Ride more efficiently
I certainly reduced my stopping time. I tried not to give in to the continuous itch to stop for another cold drink or ice cream. Also: I kept a healthy pace, and as mentioned I slept more, so my daily mileage increased. Over all my average daily mileage was 297km, so I just about missed my 300km/day goal, but I didn’t mind. Close enough. Average daily elevation gain was 3177m.
Apart from being more rested thanks to (somewhat) regular sleep, another positive factor was eating. Don’t get me wrong: I still ate mostly crap which is the perfect thing to do: calories, carbohydrates, some protein, salt… the body doesn’t care where exactly those basic ingredients are coming from. What I did better was: i ate more frequently/continuously. Constantly taking a handful from my food pouches that I had placed between my aerobars: Haribo, M&M peanuts, Cliff-Bar (I brought many of those, love them), Chips. Even some fried pork skin that they sell in Spain and somehow appealed to me, hah. And of course occasional café stops, proper meals, sandwiches, many gas-station stops with the obligatory half liter Coke and icecream. That worked well. next time I should just eat a bit more.
Focus more on enjoyment, moments, people, places
Definitely worked! I was in great contact with other riders. Everyone in this scene seems to be kind – I realized that again. Additionally I tried to be as receptive and observant as possible for all things around me on my trip. Weird moments like where I found dozens of books spread all over the road, or the kind employee of the rural supermarket with who I communicated through gestures only, who handed me two cold pieces of watermelon on a 42°C day. The forest that had burnt down, was all black and still smelled like a camp fire… what a view and vibe. Being heavily chased by pair riders Richard & Sam Gate (father and son) on the last 180km, and arriving just 8min (in a 10-day-race!) ahead of them. And many more unforgettable moments and experiences that I will keep in my heart, but not write down here.
Needless to say I also had my moments of negativity. Especially around the middle of my race I was fatigued and didn’t make the progress I hoped; several riders who had been around me for days were getting more and more ahead of me, which was frustrating to see. Apologies to everyone who was exposed to my fluctuations in mood. I overcame this negativity not so much through a change in mindset, but “simply” through improving my performance: with some big efforts in the last 3rd of my race where I checked Checkpoint 7 & 8 in one day and did a good bit of night riding. Anyway…
I also tried to capture some of my encounters, situations and moods on social media, mainly Instagram stories. I had many followers – maybe also you – who watched them with interest, engagement and interaction. This was a very important experience to me, because it may have made me more attentive, selective in my attention, and more reflective; I looked out for things and situations that I would like to show, reflected them and myself. On a 15-hour cycling day there’s plenty of time to think about what story to tell with what image or words.
Which leads us to…
03b) My race through the lens of my Instagram-Stories
I think both form and content of my Instagram stories this year are well suited to make them this years main feature to let you participate in my racing experience.
The form, because – as mentioned – my goal was to focus on the positive, special and on enjoyment, to be more observant and reflective. That is exactly what Instagram stories are in form: a selective representation of moments. I also wanted to focus more on the social element, and as a social medium (even though some doubt it) these stories were a form of communication that brought me closer to you or anyone who was interested in me and my race and to many people that I was interested in, too. Such a race is an opportunity to experience many productive facets of loneliness: being with oneself, self-reliant and self-aware. This social interaction with loved ones and strangers and loved strangers managed to remove many of the unpleasant elements of loneliness while preserving the productive ones.
The content-level of these Instagram stories is for rather obvious reasons suited for taking you with me on my race: they depict things that I saw and experienced; often accompanied with some text, to give context. And on a somewhat “meta” level: the way I designed the stories – some humorous & ironic, some plan or even boring – they tell something not just about their subject but also about my state of mind and mood and take on things in the moment.
For anyone without an Instagram account, I created this compilation of all 100 stories in one video (ca. 15 Minutes). It’s the same content, but you miss some of the usability features that Instagram offers (like pausing or skipping stories)
03c) Facts, figures, pictures & Strava tracks…
Map of my race
And now… first a map of my race. Better click this link to open a larger and better to navigate version of the map. You also find a preview below.
The map shows:
- Start & Finish (Bilbao)
- the 9 checkpoints in between & compulsory parcours per checkpoint
- my individual route (the way I rode it)
- sleeping locations & types
Stats overall & per stint
Sat. 14th of August 2021, 22:00h at night
Bilbao, Spain, Guggenheim Museum
My overall stats:
– 2897km, 30980m
– daily average: 297km and 3177m
– 9d17h54min – 9 days, 17 hours, 54 min
– arrived on 18th position (out of 59 solo-riders at the start)
This means: in terms of daily mileage I almost reached my 300km-goal, and improved my performance by ca 25km. In the field I arrived on a similar position as in previous races, namely about top third of finishers, and top half of starters. This means that the field was stronger in this race overall compared to Trancontinental Race No. 6 and Three Peaks Bike Race 2019.
(Strava) 14.8.21, 22:00h Bilbao to 16.8.21, 00:13h Xerta
Total distance: 518km
Total elevation: 3017m
Elapsed time: 26:13h
Moving time: 19:27h
Stop time: 25%
Sleep afterwards: bivy on local football pitch
– Two personal records: longest distance in one go (518km) and longest distance within 24 hours (475km)
– light didn’t work at the start, so I had to fix it right when the control car released us; just outside of Bilbao stopped at a gas station to find the issue; turned out an extension cable I had soldered was shoring the circuit (of course I had tested the light before. It had worked). I was behind the field from that moment an. Also: picked an “exotic” route that left me way behind, so I was last. But during the day I slowly caught up (caught the first midfield riders around noon of the first day); the next morning I was already in the middle of the field at CP1.
Phew… what a ride.
I fell back behind the main field early because of a less efficient routing choice (see screenshot among pics. Nr 33). But looking at my stats (not current placement) I’m incredibly satisfied. I think it will be a matter of days to have caught up more, hopefully this was not a 1-day performance.
Was tough though, obviously. Especially the desert parts at 42 degrees or so.
Also have a new Personal 24h-record: 475km
Now gonna sleep properly and climb CP 1 in the early morning.
Found a water fountain, have some cookies… so nothing can go wrong ; )
(Strava) 16.8.21 Xerta to Barbastro
Total distance: 227km
Total elevation: 2898m
Elapsed time: 15:31h
Moving time: 11:43h
Stop time: 24%
Sleep afterwards: Hotel in Barbastro
– Checkpoint (CP) 1 climed in the morning: 1400m up, with a view on the Mediterranean Sea
Obviously shorter than yesterday. Was of course still exhausted from the long one, and had a cold few hours of sleep in the wind (was too lazy to get the bivy out), and also: this ride was opposite to the previous one:
– begann with a crazy long and quite steep climb in the morning (1400m), continued with several tedious climbs in the heat of noon
– route had a continuous incline
only the torturous heat in the afternoon was equal.
Also, I feel my Achilles and knees (no problem, will go away. Always happens after the first big climb), so better not overdo it.
Wanted to have a shower and bed after 2 nights on the road, and charge my power bank, so got a cheap hotel room kind of on the route. Will get up early to do the last bit to CP2 and the respective Parcours, so I‘ll climb before the sun hits.
Greetings from Barbastro, Good night!
(Strava) 17.8.21 Barbastro to Cáseda
Total distance: 255km
Total elevation: 3800m
Elapsed time: 17:55h
Moving time: 12:58h
Stop time: 28%
Sleep afterwards: bivy behind some parked cars in a village shortly before the Bardenas desert
– climbed CP2, descended westward on a gravel route. Rode until late into the night
Overslept in the morning (original plan: 5am), but also needed it. My legs felt fine: as predicted: Achilles issues gone, knee issues almost.
The route towards the beginning of the Parcours was stunning! In and along a canyon. The Parcours climb to CP2 was doable: long, but reliably between 7-10%, however with my road tires had to sit all the way (otherwise no traction). The descent was hell. I opted to continue the path down to Torla; instead of backtracking. Heavy gravel, so: 1,5 hours of full tension, keeping the brakes tight, full focus to not hit the rocks wrong, at ca 10-15 kph.
From there on quite straight forward. One climb, then long countryroads, slightly descending but also headwind. Felt very fresh until late at night. My playlist (made by my friends) helped a lot! 💪
Now in my bivy in Cáseda. Until the end I was still in shape to move on
(Strava) 18.8.21 Cáseda to Albarracin
Total distance: 319km
Total elevation: 2055m
Elapsed time: 15:36h
Moving time: 13:16h
Stop time: 15%
Sleep afterwards: hostel in Albarracin
Slept 3 hours in my bivy. Then moved on; at first super tired and feared falling asleep on the 40k way to CP3 parcours … during the Parcours slowly woke up. After the Parcours the north wind picked up to help me push south. Had a very strong, continuous ride with not much stopping. Later the wind turned around so I really had to fight. Found a room in Albarracib by phone and then started a race against the thunderstorm. I womit by 10 minutes. 💪
My Achilles pain is gone. My knees hurt, but will probably be better tomorrow. Worried ore about my feet… they hurt a Lot towards the last 3rd of the ride.
Greetings from Albarracin!!
(Strava) 19.8.21 Albarracin to Riaza
Total distance: 288km
Total elevation: 3430m
Elapsed time: 16:21h
Moving time: 13:27h
Stop time: 17%
Sleep afterwards: bivy on lawn next to gas station on CP5 parcours
By the way: I post frequent updates on Instagram as Malte Cyclingtourist.
Started at CP4 (Albarracín). At 22h arrived at the start of the CP5-Parcours and decided to still do the first climb of it.
First two thirds of the whole ride had headwind. And the elevation meters came through a constant up and down. Pretty tedious over all.
First third I was quite slow and had too many stops. Then changed my attitude and riding a bit, which worked.
Damn.. so tired, I’m falling asleep while typing this. Good night.
(Strava) 20.8.21 Riaza to Zapardiel de la Canada
Total distance: 280km
Total elevation: 3138m
Elapsed time: 18:46h
Moving time: 13:26h
Stop time: 28%
Sleep afterwards: bivy in rural bus stop
Original idea was to get up and really push through to a 300+ ride. But was exhausted, stopped a lot, rode slowly. Hot, boring landscape (except Parcours), constant up and down… not motivating. Pushed on until late at night when I noticed I‘d fall asleep soon. Stopped in a village, slept in a bus shelter. Tmrw will be better.
(Strava) 21.8.21 Zapardiel de la Canada to Fermoselle
Total distance: 248km
Total elevation: 3306m
Elapsed time: 16:16h
Moving time: 11:34h
Stop time: 29%
Sleep afterwards: hotel in Fermoselle
The numbers don’t look impressive compared to other days, but: I’m super glad it turned out that way. At my arrival at CP6, 18:30h I had only 135k on the clock and was a bit frustrated about it. Since I wanted a hotel for the night I was so restricted in choices that it might have been a 170k-day. I found one last room at a distance I originally thought was too far. I raced there with (by my standards) super high pace (35kph most of the 75k Ride to the hotel) to be in time to get the keys. Made it 23:55 – 5min before homelessness.
So: yay, a hotel, and a day distance + elevation that’s really ok.
Even ended up having 3 Colas on a street festival that was going on when I arrived..
(Strava) 22.8.21 Fermoselle to Lagunas de Somoza
Total distance: 261km
Total elevation: 4707m
Elapsed time: 18:38h
Moving time: 14:12h
Stop time: 24%
Sleep afterwards: bivy on side wall of little square
– on that day I cycled into Portugal to CP7. The terrain was tough; hopping from from one river valley to the next. Portugal was like the “Hungary of Western Europe”
– moved on and did two more huge climbs, incl. CP8 where I ended on top exactly at midnight with Moon and Venus high in the sky. What a view.
– Then moved on and took a little gravel/rumble path off the road to skip over into the last end of a tiny valley. This move was risky as I had no idea if I’d successfully pass that wild stretch; but it ultimately saved me ca. 2000m of climbing, and the the next day I would mostly ride smoothly downhill or flat towards CP9
Probably the most I ever climbed in one stint.
More text will follow later.
(Strava 9a & Strava 9b) 23.8.21 Lagunas de Somoza to Siejo
Total distance: 321km
Total elevation: 2490m
Elapsed time: 18:28h
Moving time: 13:41h
Stop time: 26%
Sleep afterwards: bivy on a parking lot next to a river; cold valley
– rode down the looong valley, country roads past León, ultimately to the edge of Picos de Europa
– downhill, and then up the challenging climb of CP9 where it was incredibly cold, rainy and foggy
– back down, and then as long as I could along the valleys eastward. at some points couldn’t keep myslef from sleeping but had a hard time finding a suitable sleeping spot because the river valley was so cold. ultimately found a parking lot and took shelter behind some container
(Strava) 24.8.21 Siejo to Bilbao (Finish)
Total distance: 180km
Total elevation: 2123m
Elapsed time: 9:33h
Moving time: 7:46h
Stop time: 18%
Sleep afterwards: bivy on a parking lot next to a river; cold valley
– after a few hours of sleep in that cold valley moved on. Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, finding some café
– overall took it rather easy and still had an efficient ride that day
– at some point by checking the live-GPS-tracks it dawned on: Richard & Sam Gate (father & son riding as a pair) who I had bumped into on the CP9 climb, were chasing me relentlessly. So for the last 70km over the hilly coastal roads with many tiring ascends, I really pushed it. After getting lost a bit in Bilbao I still arrived 8min before them! 8min! in relation to a 10-day ride. That was a close one.
Yaay, finished! 🎉
– finished in 9d17h54m (=9,75d)
– as the 18th (of 59) rider
– total: 2897km and 30980m
(that‘s on average 297km/3177m per day)
I‘m incredibly happy with the result… not just because of the stats. But also because my riding style matured a lot, I managed to do it with more joy/less suffering and managed to also enjoy little things in between and: be connected with many of you! THANK YOU SO MUCH. Really, this kind of interaction matters a LOT in these otherwise lonely and very challenging days. Every support-emoji and comment counted and put a smile on my face.
To anyone who got this far..: Thank you! You’re a real ultra-cycling fancier. I appreciate your attention. And here’s a little heads up to you exclusive bunch: My next big thing will be the Transcontinental Race No. 8 in 2022. Start is on 24th of July in 2022, if you like, follow me on Instagram for regular (also smaller) updates. If you have any comments or questions, use the comment function here, or contact me via the contact form or via Instagram. Byeee!