On July 24, Barry Duplock will embark on the bike ride of a lifetime.
The 42-year-old Oxfordshire-based policeman will set off on the cobbles of the Muur van Geraardsbergen to begin an endurance event of staggering proportions - the fabled Transcontinental Race (TCR).
Awaiting him is a route of more than 4,000km across the European continent from Flanders to the shores of the Black Sea. There will be no team car stocked with refreshments, no support crew to deal with mechanical issues, no campervan for a good night's sleep.
For as much as 300km-a-day over two weeks, it will just be Barry, his Handsling A1R0evo, and the bare essentials strapped to the frame.
Training and Prep
Barry's TCR bid is the culmination of three years of planning - preparing body, mind and equipment for the suffering ahead - all made more complex by the pandemic.
He applied for the 2020 edition, but with just months to go it was postponed due to Covid lockdowns. He has spent the extra time fine-tuning his training to focus on tempo and technique - getting maximum distance for minimum energy expended.
Although he has ridden Lands End to John O'Groats several times and thrives on long solo rides, this will be his first ultra-distance event. He aims to ride about 300km a day for 14 consecutive days, with distance varying according to weather conditions and the strength in his legs.
"That epic solo thing where you've only got yourself to rely on really appeals to me," he said. "It's all about training the body to just tick off the miles, staying in the low power zones and keeping the heart rate below 150bpm. I'm not built for sprinting, I'm not built for climbing, but I can keep a steady pace for long distances.”
He added: "Big training blocks of about a week at a time have been vital - bike-packing fully loaded, testing the equipment, camping wild. Physically being able to eat enough food is a big concern. I basically need to be eating the right thing as often as possible."
Nutrition is a critical element of the race. Barry will mostly eat and drink while riding, scrounging supplies where possible, but minimising stops. Part of his training involves bulking up ahead of the race in anticipation of losing about 10kg by the finish line.
While many competitors will be on endurance bikes featuring relaxed geometry, Barry will be riding the A1R0evo aero road bike fitted with Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset and Handsling TLR wheels.
The frame is incredibly compliant, absorbing vibrations and making long days in the saddle a breeze. Barry has put the bike through single day rides of more than 400km, often fully loaded.
He said: "It's a fast frame and it's also a comfortable frame, especially with the 32mm Conti tyres I've fitted. It's the best of both worlds. It's not typical of a continent-crossing bike so it will certainly stand out."
In terms of modifications, Barry has fitted a Handsling Integrated Tri Bar. This enables him to get more aero on long stretches of flat terrain and to shift his body position according to what feels comfortable.
Other gadgets include a dynamo hub on the front wheel that powers his Supernova dynamo front light, a rear light and battery pack. Lights are essential for night riding, while running out of charge on his phone, bike computer or GPS locator would spell disaster.
Side loading bottle cages allow him to access bottles hemmed in by multiple Restrap bags mounted to frame, stem and saddle. At night when good rest is essential, he will rely on a packable down jacket and half sleeping bag, along with a blow up mattress and bivvy bag.
"There's always that compromise to make between weight and comfort. Luckily, there's a lot of good kit out there that's lightweight but comfortable. The only luxury item is my headphones to listen to music or an audiobook. I'll keep in touch with family and friends, but obviously I can't be catching up too much when I should be sleeping, eating or riding my bike."
Riders plan, research and navigate their own course and choose when and where to rest. Four mandatory control points and parcours guide their route via some of cycling’s most beautiful and historic locations.
Barry has been pouring over maps of Europe, selecting routes according to control points, border crossings, ferry timings and appropriate places to eat and sleep. Iconic cobbled sections, towering alpine passes, and the unknowns of countries including Montenegro and Serbia are cause for both excitement and trepidation.
In some mountainous areas, Barry has not always selected the shortest route, instead selecting roads that avoid steep, energy-sapping climbs.
He said: "The race is as much a logistical and planning challenge as a physical one. For example, you wouldn't want to end a day in the cold at the top of a mountain."
All being well, Barry will negotiate some of the most demanding cycling in Europe, bringing him to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast sore and weary yet elated.
"Reaching the start line is probably the hardest part," he said. "Once I'm there, there's only one way to go. It's just about getting on the bike and eating up those miles. The race has a high attrition rate so the aim is just to finish in the time limit, which is a pretty big target in itself. It's been three years of build up and now I'm looking forward to getting it done."
Handsling will be providing regular updates on Barry's progress via our social media channels. Follow @handslingbikes on Instagram and Facebook.
Photos courtesy of Barry Duplock and Craig Ridgley Photography