10 days, a continent and a piece of fabric
The unique story of Geoffroy Dussault, 7th place overall in the 2016 edition of the Transcontinental Race. August 2016.
Below is an excerpt from the blog, www.beyond.bike, written by Geoffroy Dussault.
It’s an insane adventure, a story that can’t be summarized. It’s an uncertain course, built on 4 control points over nearly 2,500 miles. It’s a goal both simple and complex: ride a bike across Europe as fast as possible.
To all those who know him, Geoffroy Dussault is a nonstandard rider who can do just about anything on a bike. He raced as a pro rider with team Garneau-Quebecor for years while holding down a full-time job. He cycle-toured throughout North America and Europe in a variety of tough conditions from massive thunderstorms, to freezing cold, to oppressive heat; let's just say that this dude is tough.
To celebrate his 30th birthday this past summer, Geoff decided to tackle a new challenge - to race across the entire European continent. Bidding adieu to his 20's, renewing himself with an on-the-bike adventure, and embarking on going head-to-head with some of the world's most experienced ultracyclists, Geoff was ready to test himself. The Transcontinental Race, a non-assisted race starting in Belgium and finishing on the Asian side of Turkey. This was Geoff's target, the next logical step for the rider who had already conquered so much on a bike.
The conquest of a continent is not something you improvise. This engineer and bicycle product manager at Garneau, has his own mathematical formula:
Efforts = results = watts.
Rational and very "Cartesian" at work but with an artistic flair (read: he rides on instinct more than calculation) on the bike, Geoffroy is simply passionate about riding bikes, any bikes, across any terrain, in any condition. Before the start of the Transcontinental, he did about 5,000 miles of prep, alternating between bucolic country roads and Strava segments. He feels ready.
The Muur Van Geraardsbergen, former justice of the peace of the Tour of Flanders, hosts the start of the Transcontinental on a late evening. Our hero takes it on as if he were in Tom Boonen’s wheel in a final sprint. At the top, the bear, as nicknamed by his friends, takes the lead alone, wearing his famous gray jersey. 2,360 miles to go.
It’s a rapid start. Geoff is leading the race. He's going hard...too hard.
"After 220 miles on the bike, Geoffroy got the better of Geoffroy. A true believer in excess watts, my left knee bears witness to the repercussions endured for the past 13 hours. Error and failure are essential to the learning process; they weave a strong link between experience and knowledge.”
Physically and mentally, the guy is cooked. Before reaching the first of four control points, this one in central France, Geoff needs a long rest just to get back in the game.
Rested and having passed the first check-in, the bear is back on the hunt. He is no longer in the lead. He is far behind. But, he's riding again. Next stop, Switzerland.
Soon, the mountains are approaching. Alps are followed by Dolomites. The dread of the elevation gives way to fatigue. The second control point will soon be in the line of sight.
Geoffroy takes solace in the good times, like his encounter with Czech competitor he meets along the way and who is doing his second Transcontinental:
“Zbynek is a veteran. Member of the #3 edition of the Transcontinental, he gave up in Italy last year, due to the road hazards in the north of the country. However, the beauty of this is that despite this abandon, he went back to the Czech Republic by bike because he loves to ride! Anodyne, simple, full of meaning. It hits me. It shakes me. It all makes sense. From that moment on, I as no longer going to endure the ride. I was going to keep my head up, appreciate this opportunity, let the ride revitalize me.”
Mozzarella, prosciutto, gelato and other Italian pleasures are becoming more and more integrated in his day-to-day. With no intention of overindulging in the dolce vita, he progresses at his own pace, now nearing the 3rd control point. Meanwhile, the mad race continues up ahead. Many are following the same route as the leader, the Belgian alien Kristof Allegaert, who has a day’s lead over all his pursuers. He rides fast and sleeps less than 4 hours per day.
Soon, the GPS signals of many riders in the top 10, exhausted by this staggering pace, stop for several hours. A little further to the west of Europe, the bear is coming out of hibernation, awakened by delicious espressos and his on-the-bike spirit. He had sworn to start “racing” after 5 days. Although he broke this promise after the first few pedal strokes from the starting line, and paid the price he was now ready to kick it up a notch. Halfway through the race, with some 1,200 miles in the rearview, it’s time to produce watts.
The real start
Eastern Europe takes shape on the horizon. More than ever, the race rewards the nobility of those able to persevere and triumph over fatigue. As the road is eaten up, the race also praises the modern-day explorer:
"There are almost as many ways to get to the 4th control points as there are participants! I’m taking gravel shortcuts which, on Google Earth, seem welcoming. Wrong. The shortest route leads me to encounters with women dressed in black, set in a distant era. Withered with time, they are probably a thousand years old. They are stunned to see my carcass passing by on a bike, defying the gravel paths. No landmarks, finding yourself in the middle of nowhere, capital N, in an arid, desert-like region, vultures possibly observing my progression until exhaustion. The heat is crushing, wind blocks, progression is difficult.”
Here comes the Durmitor monster, a 30-mile giant that culminates at over 6,500 feet, towers in front of the strong, bearded climber. At the top of this ascent, he unknowingly heads into the darkness of the Transcontinental.
“The night has just fallen with a drizzle, plunging this last 40-something mile portion in a sinister atmosphere, the fog adding to the suspense. Every car that passes me flashes its headlights, welcoming me to the hairpin bends that reach nearly 6,000 feet. Getting to the plain below is done via a 6-mile technical descent, losing 4,200 feet of altitude in the process. In the distance, I see an exploded sky, a storm is headed for Macedonia, and I get there just in time to feel its power. A wall of water accompanies me, cold, fear. Shivering, shaking, no shelter, descent mandatory. I no longer have any control on the situation, fear takes hold of my body, I’m seeking refuge. Subjected to a descent at crawling speed just to stay on my bike, ‘take a kayak’ conditions. The Athena Hotel will take in my distress for the night. At least the mountain is behind me. The road to Turkey is wide open.”
The last stretch
The tireless rider gets his rhythm back on the Alexander the Great highway. Long, flat and gray, this fast track to Turkey is good for morale… Until the side of back tire splits open. Geoffroy uses a 5-euro bill to plug the hole in the tire for a moment, but this improvised patch eventually gives out:
“80 miles from the line, the GPS shuts down, dreams fade away, and destiny settles in. You’re pushed to your limits, facing yourself, in front of the void of the impossible. The finish line is further than ever before.”
For 15 hours, Geoffroy Dussault, contender to the podium on his first Transcontinental, drops off the radar. Halfway around the world, his family, friends and fans are worried.
After reaching the closest town, going from shop to shop in search of a solution to repair his tire, but to no avail. Desperate, he installs a piece of fabric sturdy enough to keep the tire in place and prevent the tube from slipping out.By some miracle, he’s back under way!
Next stop: the finish line. Less than 20 miles from the goal, a flat front wheel complicates things. But, now, nothing can stop the bear. Despite being worn down, swollen, frustrated and exhausted from 10 days of racing he's too close to stop. He rides on his flat, finally finishing this crazy race in 7th place. He's there. He's done. It's time to relax.
It’s the beginning of a long, well-deserved rest, enjoyed savoring several local dishes and desserts over several days.
The Transcontinental made him grow as a person, as a cyclist, and as a 21st century adventurer. This epic saga inspired him these final words:
“Riding 2,330 miles, withdrawn into yourself, pressured by performance and the miles, inevitably brings out the profound nature that characterizes us. For me, it’s impatience, but also control. Show me how you ride and I’ll tell you who you are.”
Geoff used the all-new Garneau Gennix D1 for his Transcontinental adventure. An all-purpose bike, the Gennix D1 is comfortable, offers great tire clearance, but is still stiff enough for some hard riding.