Monday, 3 July 2017

Croatia's Four Corners in 59 hours: Hard Cro 2017, wow!

Lorries roar past, dogs bark, mosquitoes buzz around my ears.  I open my eyes, it’s still dark, even with the faint orange glow of a streetlight.  My arms are aching from holding them on my body, as I lay on the narrow bench of a bus stop for a quick sleep.  Not a good choice  of location.  I want to go back to sleep but it’s cold now, I have to get moving.
I pick myself up and look at the time on my Garmin – it’s 0230hrs and I’ve slept for a fitful 30 minutes, which makes a total of 90 minutes sleep in 900km.  I’m somewhere before Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, and still have another 500km to ride, through the second control point in the beautifully fertile Medjimurje, with its short, sharp, very steep hills, before 300km of hot, flat roads into Slavonia, to the finish in Ilok, the easternmost point of Croatia.  I haven’t seen my wife and daughters for a week, since I flew from the UK, and am desperate to see my girls, waiting for me at the finish, so I get myself up, get back on the bike and start moving, also remembering my pledge to complete the race in under 60 hours.

My bike has been flawless in all its constituent components, other than a slipping chain.  The Velocite Syn frameset and Venn Rev 35 TCD wheels are fast, strong and aerodynamic, the Panaracer Race A EVO3 tubeless tyres grippy and unpunctured, the Tripeak ceramic bearings smooth, the Magicshine lights bright and efficient.  No problems this year with failed lights, broken spokes, or duff batteries. Unfortunately, I consumed all the Torq nutrition I carried with me within 12 hours!

As I approach Zagreb, I see bright flashes of light to my left, beautiful white in the black night.  I wonder if they are fireworks, but realise it’s lightning and hours later, after dawn has broken, it’s not so beautiful as first it drizzles, then it rains torrentially, turning roads into rivers.  There’s no time to stop and take shelter, I must press on, even though I worry about puncturing from debris washed from the sides of the roads and my slipping gears, cresting the last big climb of Kuzminec and descending towards the flatter roads of Varaždin.  400km to go.

Dotwatchers and the race’s media crew greet me on and around the bridge, as I leave Varaždin.  I’ve seen a few dotwatchers on the road, from Delnice, and I’ll see more in Medjimurje and Slavonia, a few more of whom will ride with me a short distance.  These are some of the highlights of the race, as the road for the unsupported ultracyclist can get very lonely, especially in the long, dark nights.  I’m especially motivated by seeing dotwatchers from last year, such as Dubravko Bituh, the roadside cheerings and by cyclists (Tomislav, Bruno, Vladan) making the effort to meet me, thoroughly enjoying chatting to them and getting to know them a little, as I cross their entire country.  One lady even offers me bread and water, as I race through the northernmost part of Croatia.  I’m touched by all these gestures.

I stop at the second control point, and drink as much juice as I can.  I’ve met many of the people staffing the control point before and they’re surprised that I won’t stop to sleep, but they look after me well for the brief 15 minutes that I stay there, including fetching me ice-cold strawberry juice!  I know I’ll need as much fluid as I can carry for the last push, that temperatures will soar over 40 degrees celsius.  300km to go.

Indeed, it hits a high of 45 degrees.  The land is so flat, with barely any shelter from trees, the wind is so light, and the sun so strong that I have to stop every couple of hours to refill my now hot water bottles.  I seek out ice cream and ice lollies, as well as packs of frozen peas, which I stuff under my clothes on my back.  The air conditioning in the shops are such a relief and it would be easy to stay for longer, but the heat will not abate and the clock will not stop.  Push on, push on.

Streams of lorries roar past on the straight, scorching roads of Slavonia, belching hot air.  I warily listen and look out for them as I dodge cracks and holes in the road.  In this heat, everything has swollen: feet and backside especially.  Swarms of tiny flies smash into me, forcing me to zip-up my clothes.  Some fly directly into my open mouth, hitting my tonsils and making me gag and retch.

As I pass through small villages I stare at the bright blue water hydrants.  They, taps, and hosepipes in people’s gardens, tease me, and I fantasise about lying on the ground, drenching myself in cold water.  No public fountains exist in Slavonia, so I scan for a tap outside of a garden.  After many hours, I spot a tap on the side of a garage, but the desire to finish keeps me pushing on.  Anyway, I will only dry-up and heat-up in a question of minutes.  Push on.

I pass through the city of Osijek, with its plethora of frustrating red lights, no possibility of bypassing it as a motorway has been built on its ringroad.  70km to go.

In Vukovar, with its iconic water tower - this year I see it in daylight and, as I recognise various places, I remember hallucinations in the night of last year’s race, almost like ghosts.  Fitting for a city which was flattened in the war 25 years ago.  50km to go.

Leaving Vukovar, I start thinking that I can see Rich Griffiths, a talented photographer who joined the race’s media crew, hiding in bushes by the side of road  but, as I get closer, I realise that “he” is a small guide post.  A few minutes later, I think I see a photographer hiding in another bush.  Dismissing it from my mind as a hallucination, I ride on but, as I pass, the photographer reveals herself!  A lady in a yellow dress, no less, who leaps into a car with Zagreb plates (“ZG”), which then zooms down the road, she leaps out again, rushes into a position and starts snapping again.  I’m utterly filthy, not having brushed my teeth or showered for days, with almost 1,400km worth of dirt, dust, sweat, grit, juice, ice cream and dead flies covering my exposed skin, but I’m almost there.  Push on.

I ride down and up through the small villages which line the Danube, on the approach to Ilok: Sotin; Opatovac; Šarengrad; with interminable long stretches after each village. Finally I’m in Ilok and it’s almost dark.  I stop to hastily put my reflective night gear and lights on, then ride in a circle around the castle, knowing that people are dotwatching me.  A tribute to last year’s dotwatchers, who watched me make the same circle three times, when my ‘phone, my lights, and my Garmin were all dead.  I wonder if the race organisation will send people to get me if I make the circle another couple of times!  Time to go, down we go to the finishing line on the long straight road to the Hotel Dunav, on the banks of the Danube.

People cheer, cameras flash and friendly faces beam at me in the night as I cross the finishing line.  There are my girls, waiting for me, filthy me, and I kiss them.  1,400 kilometres and 14,000 height metres are done in 59 hours 50 minutes.

Take my bike, give me food, a shower, and show me to my bed… until next time.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Race Across Italy, 800km/10,000m, May 2017 - 2nd fastest!

The Pain
I can’t walk, can’t even bend my knees.  An ironic second place, second fastest overall, and two of my crew have to help me off the stage.  Marco, the jovial & enthusiastic race commentator, asked me how I felt: I had never been in more physical pain in my life and hadn’t slept for 34 hours.

The Route
However, I was relieved to have finished, and finished well, especially considering that this was mine, and the team’s, first supported race, although I was disappointed that I hadn’t done better.  Quite a baptism of fire: 800 kilometres and 10,000 metres of some brutal climbing over some terrible roads in the stunningly beautiful Abruzzo region, from Silvi, by the Adriatic sea, over the Apennines, to the Tyrrhenian sea, and back again.  Half of the racers did not finish the course.
The 800km/10,000m route for 2017's Race Across Italy
The Mistake
Even trying to sit down, get in the team car, and, eventually lie down on my bed to sleep, was further torture to my quads, but I had no one else to blame but myself, given that I had deviated from the race plan and pushed much too hard for the first 13 hours of the race.

How did I make this mistake?  When shifting down to the small chainring, the chain dropped and got jammed in the gap between the frame and chainset, and I saw Rainer, the eventual winner, disappearing over the hill.  I had also ridden my heavy Time Trial bike up a number of mountains, instead of one of my road bikes, wasting valuable energy.  I had felt so comfortable on the TT bike that I pushed seemingly effortlessly uphill and the flat, averaging 20mph over 5,000m of climbing in the first 13 hours, until fatigue and muscle exhaustion set in and the energy seeped away from me, to be replaced with excruciating pain in my quads - it felt like I had torn every muscle fibre and I wondered if my legs were disappearing.

The Equipment
Despite all the drive train problems, including the jammed chain and a suddenly-discharged Di2 battery, the Velocite bikes performed well, especially the Velocite Syn with disc brakes (with Velocite floating rotors) and Venn wheels.  The Venn Rev 35 TCD wheels, manufactured with a unique computer-controlled filament-winding process, proved to be incredibly robust over some awful roads.  I wondered if the pope, in nearby Rome, had passed over this route, as many of these roads were indeed holy!
Velocite Syn, Venn Rev 35 TCD wheels, Panaracer A EVO3 tubeless tyres, Recon cassette, Tripeak bearings
The Hole
After the third and final Time Station, in Scanno, being egged-on by my crew for the road home, I was descending at 40mph, rounded a bend and saw a hole as big as a doorway, and deep as a brick.  Seeing it so late, I bunny-hopped it but was only able to clear the front wheel.  The rear wheel took the hit and, sure enough, an unhappy noise emanated from the back of my bike.  My crew shouted at me to stop, I braked gently, and I came to a controlled halt.  The damage was bad.  The side of the rim was broken at one point, but clearly functioning fine, just brushing the frame, with the Panaracer Race A EVO3 tubeless tyre still, incredibly, fully inflated and well seated.  To be sure, no other wheel would have survived and kept me from hitting the ground, and I suffered no punctures throughout the race.
The damaged wheel and tyre were still functional and kept me from crashing
The Last Leg
After a quick bike change, I continued on, with every climb becoming harder, every pedal stroke becoming weaker and yet more painful, with my seat feeling more and more inflamed.  The crew likened my final climb to a lemon with the last bit of juice being squeezed out! So pained was I that, on the final descent, I decided to descend in just my short sleeved skinsuit, in order to numb the pain with the cold and keep myself awake.  It brought tears to the eyes of my crew chief, Graham, to see my legs shivering uncontrollably, visible even from the support car, and they shouted at me to stop and don a gilet.  Even rubbing my arms, in an attempt to warm me up, made me cry-out in pain.
Everything hurt
The last 50 miles are flat and straight, but I feel sleepy and start having some hallucinations, with poor focus on the road, but ever closer to the finish, the surroundings become familiar and I’m able to make it to the finish, riding up the ramp onto the stage in the Piazza, where the bubbly and enthusiastic commentator, Marco, declares me as the second fastest racer - the race is done, the self-inflicted pain can cease.

The Conclusion
A success or a failure?  Runner-up or first loser?  I can’t help but feel that I let the team down by failing to follow the race plan and a proper, steady pace.  However, given that this was our team’s first race, we also had a non-existent budget (I funded the entire trip, with my family car temporarily transformed into a bike-and-crew-carrying support vehicle), we had a minimal, inexperienced, but skilled and enthusiastic crew (but without a professional mechanic, although Rich, our photographer, did a stellar job, being bounced around in the back of the car, whilst Graham and Chris shouted out the approaching corners), who have been forged into a close-knit racing family, the limited bike equipment available (all drive train parts having been scavenged from my other bikes, some of which failed during the race, desperately in need of replacing and standardising).  I guess I am my greatest critic, so given it was our first race, despite my massive mistake in poor pacing, it must have been a success.
Conclusion: Race Across Italy was a success for our team

Photo credit to Rich Griffiths, follow him on Instagram

Monday, 24 April 2017

"C" is for "Crew"!

Introducing the team, crewing for me for Race Across Italy, which starts in less than 5 days!

Rich Griffiths: ex-Ironman now cyclist, Photographer extraordinaire,  A.K.A. "Tyre Kicker"
"My name's Rich, I'm looking forward to the pasta"

Follow Rich's ace photography work on Instagram, including a series of great photos from this year's Paris-Roubaix!

Chris Chadwick: Crazy driver, pharmacist & aspiring ultra cyclist, A.K.A. "Ferrari"
"I'm Chris. Cycling, adventure, and sleep deprivation enthusiast. At least two of those are true."
Chris has driven the Mongol Rally, cycled many famous Cols, and is currently training for his first 12 hour time trial this year.  Hopefully he'll learn something from Race Across Italy, like what not to do!

Dario Mandir: Chilled Dalmatian cyclist, weather and route expert, and my best friend in Hrvatska A.K.A. "Data"
Dario has hosted me innumerable times in Zadar, on my multitudinous trips to Croatia, and taught me a great deal about route planning and weather data.  He will be playing "base" and maintaining communications with the crew, providing real-time data.

Graham Mearns: ex-Ironman (yes, another!), logistics expert & Crew Chief, A.K.A. "Honcho"
"How do these things happen?  Crew Chief for the Race Across Italy!  Volunteering to stay up all night, drive huge distances, be at the beck and call of a needy cyclist?  All good questions, and I don’t have a one word answer.

I have been “active” all my life, but really got into cycling and IronMan 70.3 triathlon about 11 years ago.  I started by organising a charity ride for 12 cyclists from Zurich Financial Services, UK to Zurich.  We had a great time.  I enjoyed organising it.  We’re all still in touch because we achieved something together.  That turned out to be important for me.

Since 2006 I have cycled from Birmingham to Zurich, completed 10 IronMan 70.3 races, done one full distance IronMan distance and cycled Land’s End to John O’Groats (on my own, but staying with friends every night).

I love organising things.  I love being part of a team.  I love achieving things that are difficult.  So helping Ian with his UltraCycling ticks quite a few boxes.  We’re going to have a great time!"

With Graham's eye for detail I'm confident the crew will keep me alive (!) and going strong - we're all looking forward to competing against strong riders and teams such as twice winner of Race Across Italy winner Omar di Felice, Martin Bergmeister, and Joe Barr in my first supported race!

Follow us (team 6) on live tracking on - I start at 1200hrs CET (1100hrs GMT), with favourite Omar di Felice setting-off 10 minutes later.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

"B" is for "Bikes & sponsors: (5) Recon Cassettes"


Recon Cassettes are a Taiwan-based company specialising in the design and manufacture of the highest quality and lightest cassettes for all drivetrains: Shimano; SRAM; and Campagnolo.

Recon cassettes are often CNC machined from a single piece of alloy. This increases the strength of the cassette compared with the more usual riveted type or mixed metal options that are available.

I have used Recon cassettes for a number of years and I am still impressed by their quality and their sheer beauty.  Thanks to Recon's CEO, Harry Fang, I am honoured and privileged to be able to ride using this not-yet-released high quality steel cassette with specialised treatment - lighter than Shimano Dura Ace, yet even more hard wearing, and the blingiest, especially when combined with a gold Titanium Nitride chain!  Check out the bling!


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

"B" is for "Bikes & sponsors: (4) Tripeak Bearings"

I am excited to announce that bottom brackets and carbon rear derailleur cages with oversize 15 tooth pulleys, equipped with super-smooth ceramic bearings, have been provided by Tripeak!

These are indeed so smooth, and a wonder to behold, that the mechanics at Mitchell's Cycles enjoyed playing with the bearings by giving the pulleys a tiny push, and wondering when they would stop spinning, so long did they keep going!

Tripeak design and manufacture the highest quality bearing components and tools.  Thanks to Pony Ma, the CEO, and Tripeak Bearings for their generous sponsorship - check out the Tripeak website to stay up-to-date with the latest additions!

Happy smooooth racing from Tripeak!

Monday, 13 March 2017

"B" is for "Bikes & sponsors: (3) Mitchell's Cycles / TMC"

Having been a loyal customer for many years and grown to know and value all the staff at Mitchell's Cycles, I am extremely proud to become a member of Team Mitchell Cycles ("TMC").

A traditional bike shop with an eye on the future, I very much enjoy the atmosphere of Mitchell's Cycles, with its great banter, and I greatly appreciate all the skilled mechanical support and servicing provided to me, especially by Dave Webb throughout all my ultra races in 2016, special advice by Steve Mitchell, and the generous sponsorship by the owner, Andy Mitchell.

I look forward to representing TMC in ultra races, helping to promote Mitchell's Cycles as my Local Bike Shop of choice, and continuing to strengthen our very special relationship.

The Head Mechanic, Dave Webb (left), and myself, outside Mitchell's Cycles.  The Velocite Syn was assembled and tuned by Dave himself.

"B" is for "Bikes & sponsors: (2) Venn Wheels"

Venn Wheels will be providing fast, aero, and strong carbon wheels, as well as other finishing kit such as handlebars, stems, seatposts, and disc brake rotors.

I am lucky that the already super-fast Velocite Syn will be equipped with Venn's cutting-edge Rev 35 TCD 35mm-deep carbon wheels, the disc brake specific model, shod with tubeless tyres.  Previously, Venn have sponsored and provided wheels to the UCI Continental team, Team3M.

The name "Rev" is short for "Revolutionary", as it is manufactured by an accurate, computer-controlled, automated filament-winding process (not by sub-minimum wage human labour) making it much higher quality and stronger, not prone to sudden failures caused by human error.

Currently available in 35mm depth, a 50mm deep Rev 50 wheelset will be available soon - I look forward to trying these!

The Revs are so strong that they are also used offroad as 29er wheels with great success, and I look forward to demonstrating both their speed and strength in all ultra races this year!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

"B" is for "Bikes & sponsors: (1) Velocite Bikes"

Velocite Bikes: Ride Velocite, Feel Invincible

I am proud to be sponsored by Velocite Bikes and riding the Velocite Syn (pronounced "Sine") for 2017, the latest design in a long line of beautifully elegant, strong and innovative bikes.  Introduced in 2015 (its patented design features have been copied by other manufacturers), it is the most aerodynamic bike currently in the market, but is also stiff, comfortable, and equipped with disc brakes - it ticked all the boxes for me, which is why I pursued the CEO, Victor Major, for sponsorship.

Velocite's mission is: to make you feel invincible through high performance, high quality, and high value.  The Syn is indeed the fastest bike I've ever ridden and does make me feel invincible with its strong handling and stiff responsiveness.

Established in 2008, Velocite BVBA is based in Flanders, Belgium, and is an active member of the Flanders Bike Valley (which I've had the fortune to visit and see its modern offices and massive wind tunnel).  It has the highest level of in-house expertise in aerodynamic and structural engineering and analysis, a service also provided to many other big industry brands.

Velocite has won many industry awards including: Eurobike Winner; the Taipei Cycle Show; and the Golden Pin Design award.  These awards were justly won and they are proven through the speed, stiffness, strength and comfort of Velocite's framesets.

"B" is for "Bikes & sponsors announcement"

I am delighted to announce the first group of generous sponsors and briefly introduce them: 

Velocite Bikes: providing Fast, Stiff & Comfortable Aero Framesets

Venn Wheels: providing Strong, Aero & Fast Deep Section Carbon Wheels

Mitchell's Cycles / TMC: providing Excellent Servicing, Mechanical Repairs, Bike & Wheel Builds
Tripeak Bearings: providing Super-Smooth Ceramic Bearing Bottom Brackets & Carbon Rear Derailleur cages

Recon Cassettes: providing Super-Light, Beautiful & Durable Cassettes
Torq Fitness: providing Advanced, Scientifically-Driven, Pure, Organic or Fairtrade Nutrition

With support from:
Dash Cycles: uniquely-shaped, comfortable & light saddles.

Thank you to all these sponsors who generously provided equipment to race firstly in the Race Across Italy, then Hard Cro, and the Transcontinental Race.  Further details will follow of what equipment I'll be using!

I am still keen to hear from people who are enthusiastic about cycling, the world of ultra, or simply pushing the limits, and would like to provide support, either in equipment or coverage for race expenses.  If you would like to provide support, I would love to hear from you -  please contact me via Facebook or email:

Friday, 10 March 2017

"B" is for "Bikes & sponsors"

Sneak preview - what is this frameset?
The first round of sponsors will be announced this Sunday!  So far, I have been generously provided with the following bike parts and kit, for ultra racing, which I've been testing for the last week:
  1. Aero framesets - Fast, stiff & comfortable
  2. Carbon deep section wheels - Strong, aero & fast
  3. Ceramic bearing bottom brackets & rear derailleur cages - Super-smooth
  4. Cassettes - Superlight & durable
  5. Off the bike clothing - Comfortable compression & leisure wear.
Watch this space!

Photography credit & thanks to the super-talented Mr Rich Griffiths A.K.A "r3dfive"

Monday, 20 February 2017

"B" is for "Bus Stop"

When venturing forth on long distance rides, one of the great, versatile shelters which are found in every country, on many roads, is the humble bus stop.

Late at night, or even during the day, these marvellous monuments of civilisation (even though they're obviously not designed for use by cyclists) can be used by your weary, pedal-sore self for:
  • Sleeping - bus stops usually have a roof and are sometimes closed on three-and-a-bit sides, with a bench, which means that you can safely sleep sheltered from the rain and wind, and raised off the cold ground
  • Eating - a nice relaxing sit-down and munch away
  • Cooking - if you're touring, stoves can be sheltered from the wind
  • Changing - sheltered from the rain and wind, you can change into dry, warm clothes
  • Toilet stops - with a spare plastic bag, some toilet paper and/or baby wipes, a number two can be comfortably performed in privacy - do clean-up after yourself!

When you're tired enough, a bus stop can look like a five star hotel.  Ultra - you're doing it right.

Catch some Zzzzzs - goodnight!  Even if it's daytime...

Sunday, 5 February 2017

"A" is for "Aero"

2017 is All About Aero!  The dream is bike, wheels, and kit, all of it slipping smoothly through the air in the pursuit of going faster for longer.

As with every ultra race, this year's Transcontinental Race has plenty of flat sections (think of flat-as-a-pancake-Slavonia in the Hard Cro route, a candidate to rival the pancake flatness of Kansas), which is a bit disappointing, as I love mountains and climbing.  Also, Croatia won't feature in this year's TCR route (booo hissssss), unless you get really lost...

Weight is always a consideration, but the aerodynamic drag created by rider and bike consumes more power, even on uphill sections.  There are plenty of good, informative videos by Fastfitnesstips on YouTube, Specialized, as well as many other scientific studies (not GCN, bless 'em).

I'll make some compromises on the optimal aerodynamics, such as disc brakes and drop bars, but these will be (typically) very much about safety (eg: fast mountain descents - you'll kill your hands on TT bull horn bars, and probably kill yourself if it's wet and you have rim brakes and carbon wheels) and comfort over huge ultra distances, rather than pure speed.

All About Aero!  Watch this space for the unveiling of the aero setup...

Flatness of pancakes versus Slavonia versus Kansas - discuss...

Sunday, 29 January 2017

"A" is for "Adventures in 2017"

Firstly, a belated happy new year to you all!  Secondly, apologies.  I haven't written for a number of months and realise that I've left my blog to rot.  Being back in the UK during November and December was a depressing time, what with dark days, dreadful weather, dirty, wet, muddy, icy roads, news of our awful UK motorists running-over cyclists and friends reminding me about my own traumatic experiences, the mental torture of turbo training indoors, and not wanting to write about the adventures I'd recently had and wanting to be out riding in those places, rather than in the UK, writing about them and not being able to ride.  In my defence, I did confess to being a cyclist, and not a blogger/author or photographer!

The new year and January is definitely looking up, with the days growing longer and warmer, a number of sponsors pledging their support for various things (I'll make an announcement in February) and providing new sexy bits of kit, feeling closer to race dates including acceptance to the Transcontinental Race (2017 is the 5th edition ), new adventures (I've already spent two weeks in Croatia and am currently writing this in Tenerife) on new roads in new countries and meeting new people.

At the moment, my planned race schedule for 2017 is:

  • April 29th - "Race Across Italy" - 800km with a support crew
  • June 19th - "Hard Cro" - 1,400km around the four corners of Croatia
  • July 28th - "The Transcontinental Race" (5th Edition) - 4,000km around Europe, from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Romania, to Meteora, in Greece
  • August onwards - who knows!

Leaving 2016 in the past, I promise to write a short piece, every week, on an interesting and amusing topic (hopefully you'll think so) rather than thrash-out a blow-by-blow War And Peace account, which I've read a few of (past editions of the Transcontinental Race resulted in a glut of mind-numbing accounts in this style - maybe I was also guilty of this), starting with A, and cycling through to Z.

For 2017, I wish you all good fitness, fortune and new adventures!  Be fast, stay safe :-)

I've climbed Teide, on Tenerife, five times, whose peak is 3,718m.  Many more climbs to tick-off the bucket list!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Imminent Balkan Adventure (& Happy Birthday to Me!)

So, today’s my birthday.  Another year older, but any the wiser?  Certainly the last year has been an absolutely fascinating experience.  A summary of the year will follow at some point…

Happy birthday to me! A biscuit-like cake, made by my girls :-) 10 out of 10 for effort, 2 out of 10 for height!
My dearest Sarah, seeing me getting stressed and frustrated at work, a million miles away from these experiences, my dearest, has booked me a flight to Dubrovnik for my birthday.

The plan is to ditch my disposable cardboard bike box, at Dubrovnik airport, ride into Montenegro, around Kotor bay to Tivat, stay the night in a swanky (but cheap) four star hotel, then ride to Žabljak, deep within in Montenegro’s mountainous Durmitor National Park.  Another night’s stay in a luxurious (but cheap – see the theme?) four star hotel, then off to Mostar, in Bosnia, negotiating the tricky border crossings - there are very few for international travellers, far more for smugglers over gravel roads, so I’m told!

After a day of rest and visiting Mostar’s iconic medieval architecture (tips please!), I’ll be returning to Croatia to ride to Knin where I’ll meet my good friend Dario, from where we’ll ride together over Velebit to Senj, and finally to Zadar, along the coastal road, from where I’ll fly back to the UK.

The iconic medieval bridge of Mostar, destroyed during but restored after the war
I’m really looking forward to:
·         The adventure of new roads (hopefully all smooth and puncture-free), beautiful scenery (expect photos of mountains, sea, rivers and lakes), new countries and things to see
·         Meeting-up with friends along the route - I'm planning to use Garmin LiveTrack for people to be able to see in real time where I am
·         The weather: 25(ish) degrees Celsius and sunny (did you know that Mr Celsius, a Swede, originally had 0 degrees as boiling and 100 degrees as freezing?) 
·         Not working - anyone else want to join me in this sentiment??

Good Croatian friends
Wonderful country, wonderful people

Knin Castle - a great day out for the family
Velebit - beautiful mountains with a view of the blue Adriatic sea

I’m not looking forward to:
·         The Bike-Separation Anxiety, when the box disappears into the depths of an airport's gaping maw
·         Packs of wild dogs - pepper spray isn't legal in the UK, so I'll try to source some abroad...
·         Missing my family
·         Returning to the contrasting UK’s sucky weather and darkening days, with all the consequences of needing to train on the turbo, spiked tyres for ice, multiple layers to stave off the cold (and getting that "Michelin Man" look).
Time to pull out your best sprint - just hope it's not uphill
Believe it or not, the UK's roads really suck bad
As seems usual, nowadays, I’m also feeling somewhat apprehensive over the sheer amount of climbing needed over the first few days.  Feeling anxious seems weird when I think about this year’s distances and amount of climbing…

Thanks to everyone for all the well wishes, birthday greetings and cards!