Contours

I love maps. They give me a sense of adventure and possibility. Poring over them trying to figure out where you want to go and what you want to see gives you a sense of the place long before you get there.

One of the joys of the Transcontinental is looking at maps of places I’m going to be riding through but I’ve never been to. I already know way more about the geography of Slovenia and Hungary and the Balkans than I did before. The challenge now is finding a route through that unfamiliar landscape. A few factors are going through my head at the moment. I’ll probably think of more.

1. Strategy

The TCR is a non-stop bike race of around 4,000km over 16 days. I see two broad strategies for approaching it:

  1. Treat it as continuous, taking each day as it comes. If one day I’m feeling good and the territory suits I’ll ride further; a harder tougher day I’ll go less far. As I’m planning to stay in hotels1 that means my route has to go through or near places where I can find somewhere to sleep every 50km or so meaning at most I’m 2-3 hours away from a bed.
  2. Break it down into stages with fixed start and end points based on what I think I can ride in a day. That will require a choice about daily distances: do I vary with terrain? Do I average 250km or do a few big days to build up a buffer in case of mishap? If I follow this approach I’ll have to aim for specifc stops but can be less picky in between.

At the moment I’m erring towards the first approach. It feels more flexible in case things go awry. I’ll just have to be careful not to push too hard at the start and pace myself over the entire distance. Depending on other factors it may not even make much difference anyway especially as the race rules don’t allow you to book accommodation more than 24 hours in advance.

2. Climbing

The straightest line isn’t always the fastest. Especially if it goes over mountains. The trade -off between distance and climbing is a difficult one. How far should you go to avoid a climb? Are lots of small climbs better or worse than one big one? What about steepness? On the way up and the way down?

This is something I’ve wondered about a lot so I decided to crunch some numbers to test my instincts. The chart below is the outcome. I have to be able to compare rides fairly – a 100km ride with 1,200m of climbing is more climby than a 200km ride with 1,200m – so I “normalised” climbing by averaging the amount of climbing per 100km in the seventeen “audax” rides I looked at. This is what’s shown on the horizontal access. I then plotted my average moving speed against those points.


As you can see there is a reasonable correllation. It’s bit skewed by a a ride I did in Colombia in December up the longest road clinb in the world; but even without it the relationship holds true. It says that if my route was pan flat I’d roll along all day at about 30kph which is probably about right if I’m not pushing it; and for every 100m I climb my average speed drops by about 0.5kph. I was expecting it to be more because I’m not a strong climber but I guess I make it up on the descents…

So that’s all very interesting but what does it mean for my route? Roughly it works out that for every extra 100m of climbing I do in 100km I could ride 1.5-2.0km to avoid that climbing in the same time2. Or to put another way I should ride 20km on the flat to avoid a 1,000m climb.

3. Traffic

Busy roads are unpleasant to cycle on, if not dangerous. Urban roads are slow. So ideally I’d ride on quiet, flat, country roads. Unfortunately geography is a bitch. Cities tend to grow up at cross roads of trading routes, river crossings and valleys in the mountains; and the flat, direct roads between them become busy because they join the most important places in the quickest way. So the roads that are flat and direct will be busy and take me through cities. They will also take me past more places to stay and eat. Somehow I will have to find a trade-off.


Footnotes

1 I mean proper hotels. Not audax hotels.
2 It varies depending how much climbing is already planned because at slower speeds covering the sames distance takes more time. So going from flat to 100m/100km isn’t as big a difference as going from 900m/100km to 1000m/100km. Which took me a while to get my head around.

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