On Sunday 24 July, Zeno will depart from Geraardsbergen for the Transcontinental race. The Transcontinental is the pinnacle of self-supported bicycle race across Europe. For the 8th edition it will leave from Flanders to end on the shores of the Black Sea.
We meet up with Zeno, our fellow BBB rider to catch up before his adventure.
What previous experience do you have in racing?
- Transpyrénées 2019 (1.000km 25.000m+ ; finished 4d20h)
- Northcape4000 2021 (4.550km 26.000m+ ; finished 14d14h)
Which races are you aiming for in 2022?
This year I will be doing the Transcontinental Race (TCR), an unsupported ultra-distance race across the European continent. There is no fixed route, only a few checkpoints, and no stages. The clock keeps ticking day and night, and you decide for yourself how much you ride or rest. The distance is typically around 4000km. After having tried to get a spot for several years, I have finally been lucky enough to get one. The TCR’s selection process is notoriously opaque although it does benefit underrepresented people in the sport.
What gets you motivated in these events?
What motivates me during these events is the privilege of sitting on a bike every day, seeing the gradual change in landscapes around me, just feeling alive really. Another important factor is the sporadic encounter with other participants, it takes a certain type of person to enjoy these things so you tend to connect over that.
If you have already surprised yourself by pushing beyond what you previous thought you were capable of, you have unlocked this “secret knowledge” that actually, your body is capable of much more than you think.
How do you prepare for the race?
Physically I just try to get into the best shape possible, basically doing 3 or 4 quality training rides a week starting at least 6 months before the race. This also means a lot of longer slower rides, apart from high intensity stuff. I usually also make sure to have done some back to back long days in the saddle as the race day approaches, but not too many because the body takes longer to recover from those.
Mentally, it helps if you have already “surpassed” your own limits a few times. Meaning: If you have already surprised yourself more than once by pushing yourself beyond what you previous thought you were capable of, you have unlocked this “secret knowledge” that actually, your body is capable of much more than we think. That’s not a figure of speech but literal, if you use willpower the body will at some point stop complaining and just get on with it. But I think you have to have experienced that a few times before you are able to apply it in a race scenario.
Do you have a recipe, song or equipment you want to share with the club?
Food and music during an ultra-race: anything you crave, as much as you want!
Equipment: For me, (raised) aerobars are a must. They give you a speed advantage and an extra position to relax your muscles. Tire-wise, I favor reliability and comfort over weight or rolling resistance. During last summers event, I had 0 flat tires over 4.500km, a real luxury.
Do it! Pick an event and work towards it. Do lots of bike-packing before. Know and love your bike & setup.
How did you get into doing ultra-races?
I started doing bike-packing with a good friend before that really was a term people used and it naturally evolved from there. Our first trip was Brussels to Düsseldorf, which we did on 1970’s steel race frame bicycles with way too much luggage. From that moment we were hooked and during consecutive trips, the challenge was always two-fold 1) how can we go further; and 2) how can be better equipped. Many trips later in 2017, completely by chance, I met a participant to the TCR on his way to the start line. Talking with him I realized there were people doing this kind of rides in a racing format so evidently I told my friend we should find ourselves such a challenge. That’s how we ended up doing Transiberica’s Transpyrenees together as a duo.
The same aspects that fascinated me doing bikepacking also play their role in ultra-races: the feeling of being out there and seeing the world float by, pushing your mental and physical boundaries, being a total geek and doing hours of research on the best materials and equipment, route-planning, unforeseen circumstances and wonderful encounters with other people.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to try doing an ultra-race?
Do it! Pick an event and work towards it. Do lots of bike-packing before. Know and love your bike & setup. Find a comfortable position on the bike that you can stay in for hours on end. Have basic bike maintenance skills. Learn to eat regularly, as in, all the time. Talk to others who have done it and learn from them. On long distances, many things can happen, so be prepared to embrace the unknown. And lastly be humble: finishing these things is already a feat in itself.