Rolling out from Geraardsbergen in Belgium on Friday 28th July and with a finish line in Greece, the Transcontinental Race is a challenging event for even the most seasoned of long distance cyclists. First time entrant and Rapha Ambassador Grace Lambert-Smith took time out from her planning and preparation to discuss what’s inspired her to compete.
I’d like to take you back to the talk hosted by Rapha Manchester in November 2016 during which Emily Chappell reminisced about her experiences racing the Transcontinental.
The registrations had opened not long before and I’d got my hands on the race manual to take with me that evening. So I was already kind of interested but maybe sitting on the fence. After listening to Emily, hearing the enthusiasm in her voice, it very quickly snowballed into me submitting an application for a place.
What reactions do you get when people find out you’re racing the Transcontinental?
If you tell people you’re going bike touring across Europe you get a fairly standard, ‘Oh, that sounds fun.’ But when you add that it’s a race you get quite a different reaction. A colleague at work recently asked what I had planned for the weekend and I told her that I was riding from London to Copenhagen for a training ride. She looked at me like I had three heads. But equally, there are friends from Rapha Manchester where I ride that totally get why I’m doing it.
Is it particularly poignant that Mike Hall, founder and inspiration behind the Transcontinental, sadly lost his life competing in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race?
The news was really upsetting but, interestingly, made me want to ride my bike even more. And then, looking towards the Transcontinental, it was Mike’s race so it’s going to be a really special year to do it.
Your emotions when first hearing that you’d been given a place on the race?
I was obviously pleased but it seemed so far away that I almost didn’t have to immediately think about it. The reality of what I’d signed up for hadn’t really sunk in. And then I recently had another confirmation email from the Transcontinental team that prompted a little meltdown. Me worrying that I won’t be able to do it. But I feel I kind of needed that so that I could zero everything and decide what I’ve actually got to do.
You’ve prepared for the Transcontinental by entering a series of long distance audax events and the Bryan Chapman Memorial ride during which you covered 600km in under 40 hours. What did you discover about yourself during these rides?
You have plenty of time for self-reflection on these types of events. Particularly during the Bryan Chapman when I discovered I’d forgotten to charge my Di2 [laughs]. But despite having no gears, the overnight rain and lack of sleep; I still finished it. That taught me I can be quite tough in difficult circumstances and that, mentally, I’m going to be alright. Even if I still need convincing on occasion.
How do you manage the more extreme aspects of this type of riding?
I’ve definitely had to train my body to survive on less sleep. Taking a little 10 minute power nap in a bus shelter during the overnight stretch on the Bryan Chapman was quite amusing. But it’s amazing what a difference it can make. You immediately fall into such a deep sleep that when you wake a few minutes later you feel ready to carry on. And I’ve been known to have a little cry here and there. But that’s just because my emotions are heightened due to tiredness. I’m not sad; quite the opposite. I’m happy to be out on the road. On the Copenhagen trip I found I could manage on 4 hours each night so, as training, I’ll take that to the Transcontinental.
This was the ride from London to Copenhagen in your role as a Rapha Ambassador. What goes through your mind spending such long days in the saddle?
It can depend on the route. One of the roads that skirted the North Sea was arrow straight and devoid of any interesting features apart from 28 wind turbines. I know that because I counted each one. Anything to break up the tedium. I ended up just plugging in my headphones and listening to music.
Have you considered what will be your biggest challenge?
Riding alone. All the audax events and the Copenhagen trip I’ve ridden with other people. But I’m happy with my own company and, when you break it down, it’s just a series of long rides. Only day after day without the usual gaps.
Alongside the endurance training you’ve undertaken, how have you prepared your bike in terms of equipment?
I’m riding my Giant Propel which might be totally inappropriate but I love it. It’s lightweight – designed to race crits – but it’s never going to do that with me [laughs]. I ordered some new wheels with a dynamo hub and a good spoke count. A bigger cassette with a 32 as I’ll be climbing with a fully-loaded bike and I’ve gone tubeless. They are the future [smiles]. I’ve done over 3,500km on these tyres and only had one puncture. All those tiny little cuts that you pick up from glass in the road; with a traditional clincher it’s an instant flat but I just get a little bit of sealant leaking, keep pedalling and I’m fine.
Has your preparation required any practical testing?
Lots of riding. Discovering what works and what doesn’t. It’s like the aerobars I’ll be using. They probably give a small aerodynamic gain but, really, they just give me another position on the bike and take the weight off my wrists. It’s all about managing these aspects of comfort over long distances.
Rapha brevet bib shorts – they’re amazing – and a classic jersey. It’s really comfortable and has lots of room in the pockets for what I’ll be carrying on the bike. And I’ll be wearing my RCC climbers. Super light and reflective so there’s an added safety benefit on the road.
How will you manage navigation on the ride?
I’ve broken it down to individual 200km sections that I can sync to my Wahoo Elemnt. I’ll have to add that to my ‘to do’ list [laughs]. Charge Di2 and upload routes.
Aside from four compulsory checkpoints on the Transcontinental, the route mapping is down to you. What’s informed these decisions?
I started with an atlas which might seem rather old-school but it provides a useful overview of the route before I focus on individual sections. Rather than constantly zooming in and out on the computer screen, I can get a general sense of the direction I’ll be taking. But then I realised that this particular atlas didn’t include Romania; a country I’ll be travelling through [laughs].
What are you most looking forward to experiencing?
Finishing. Having a beer on my 27th birthday as that coincides with the finishing party. I’d quite like to get there for that.