I woke up uneasy on the 24rd of July. I didn’t have to go to work as I was off, but I still couldn’t sleep, full of excitement and a head playing a reel of images. Images describing how I imagined things would be in the next couple of weeks.
I sat down on the couch in the kitchen with a coffee in my hands, opened the laptop and watched youtube for maybe an hour. I’d seen all the videos already, many times, but it was the only way I could be closer to what was happening in my mind. I was watching the Transcontinental’s youtube channel short videos from previous races.
On the other side of the room were my belongings, packed and ready. All I would have with me for the next two or so weeks looked like this:
I had breakfast, prepared the bike box and ordered the taxi. I couldn’t cary it to the train station, but luckily it fit easily in a black cab:
And so the journey, I’ve been dreaming of for at least two years, began.
The routine was very familiar for me as I’d travelled with a bike on a plane close to twenty times by this point. Everything was well oiled and I knew what I need to do. My only worry was not to damage something on the bike in transportation, as most of my previous trips were with fully steel frames.
Past check-in, oversized luggage and on to the plane. I was in my usual “travel trans” where my entire focus moves on the task at hand (arriving) rather than what will happen when I get there. This helped me relax.
I landed in Varna and had already booked a taxi, because I needed to get to Burgas where the start of the race was. Also, because I landed at 21:30 there was no chance to get either a bus nor a train. Let alone with a huge bike box that was cumbersome to carry.
The taxi driver was super friendly, we talked a lot. He was from the area and was a professional stone mason, working in the super luxury hotels, adding marble and other stone work there.
When we stopped at a petrol station for him to put some petrol in. I was super tired from a full day of travelling and a bit hungry. First thing I saw were the 7 days croissant, well known in the Transcontinental community for one of the “staple petrol station foods” of the cyclists when things hit their low points. I got one and posted a photo on the forum.
Months before the race, when I knew I was making the starting line, another Bulgarian contacted me, who also made the list – Pavel Stefanov. We really hit it off, just a super natural connection. In the months leading to the race we helped each other a lot with research, discussing strategies, specific tools and gear. It was really helpful and valuable to share the excitement and the experience of going through this process with someone that understands it.
When I arrived in Burgas Pavel had already been there for a few days and we’d rented an AirBnb together to keep costs low. I rang him on a phone he had given me, not knowing if it will work, sitting outside a block building in a dark alley, waiting for him to pick up. He did. Very happy he ran down the stairs and helped me get the box up into the flat. We were not allowed to have the bikes in the flat, but… who would know 🙂
I was destroyed and I needed to get rest, as much as I could for the race when sleep would become a luxury.
In the morning, as a first order of business, I started unpacking and putting the bike together, checking that everything was in order and nothing was broken.
Once I had finished we went for a test ride with Pavel, to check all the gear, breaks, etc (and to get some food).
We went to the bank to get cash and started circling through the streets of Burgas. We saw many other TCR riders. How did we know they were TCR riders since we were all just cyclists and didn’t have race numbers or anything, you ask? Well, there are not many people in Burgas that go daily with loaded bikepacking bags and aerobars on their handlebars. It was like an underground club. You could tell the pedestrians were staring, as cyclists from every other street popped up, smiled and greeted each other, clearly coming from different countries if not continents. It was exhilarating in a way that is difficult to describe. My stomach had butterflies, and I was full with excitement.
After a bit of riding around, Pavel said his saddle didn’t feel in the right position. I knew he was considering doing a bike fit but didn’t manage to do it before the race. So we found one of the legendary, old school bike shops in Burgas and went there to get his saddle fixed. What ensued can only be described as some of the most dramatic hours, loaded with so many emotions I can still feel them to this day.
The mechanic, Toni Nikolov, adjusted the saddle and everything was happy days. We even got our tires pumped to the precise PSI indexes written on them, etc.
And then… the details escape me, but from what Pavel told me, he took his saddle out to apply some carbon paste and when he was putting it back in the frame the seatpost was resisting. He pushed it and felt something not going right. When he took it back out he saw that his Di2 cable was mangled. He tried shifting the gears and nothing budged. Pavel went white like a canvas. Months, if not a year of planning, training, investing every available moment to think and prepare for this and now, because of a stupid rushed move it was evaporated in front of him in an instant. Without gears he couldn’t conceive starting the 4000km journey.
We began looking through our phones with greasy fingers, trying to find a bike shop that might sell Di2 cables. We kept calling, one after another. None of the local ones had any available. The only available ones were in the capital but they wouldn’t get here in time, even if they were to leave immediately. Pavel was ready ask his parents to buy one and drive across the country to bring it, so he can replace it. But there was no point.
In that moment I realised… I had brought a spare for every single one of my critical systems (gears, breaks, etc.), including two Di2 cables. I got on my bike and rushed back to the flat. Dug the cable out of my tightly packed bags and rushed back to the bike shop. It was so warm and I was already sweating, feeling the tension and hoping this could all be resolved.
When I got back Pavel and Toni, had discovered another problem. I could see that the Toni, a keen, old school cyclist was starting to realise the magnitude of the situation. This race was recognised internationally, and here we were, the only two individual Bulgarian participants (there was another, Zlatomira Petrova, but she was in a pair), one of whom might be out before it all began. He was telling newly arrived clients to leave as he was busy. You could see the stress written by his gestures.
The problem was, that Pavel had a special frame, full carbon, that also had a unique bottom bracket that was press-fit and required a unique, non-standard tool to take it off. He also, did not have that tool with him, because the chance of needing it was very low. The bottom bracket was sealed in such a way that it was unlikely anything could get in and damage it.
We were passing the bike around, looking for ways to get the cable out. The junction box was in the down tube of the frame and the mangled cable was at the top end of the seat tube. We found a little cap on the frame, under where the bottom bracket is. Somehow we managed to open it, all the brake cables were fed through it and pulling it, which made it very difficult to get it out, while making sure we don’t damage the carbon frame.
Luckily, after at least an hour of sweating over it, wearing cycling clothes, helmets and cleated shoes, we managed to get the cap opened and the junction box (where all the cables connected) out. Now, it was tricky once the old cable was pulled out, to get the new one in. Normally to thread it in, you need to remove the bottom bracket, but we couldn’t. So instead, Toni tied a thread to one end of the cable, Pavel pulled the other end out through the seat tube. Then we tied to that end the new cable, and Toni pulled the cable back through the seat tube.
It worked like a charm! Here’s some moments of this whole ordeal filmed:
Pavel couldn’t be happier. He kept wanting to get me food and beer as a thanks, saying I saved his race with that cable. He got his father to post another, replacement cable back to me so I have one when I get back home.
And there it was, the race hadn’t even began and things were already heating up.
We had dinner and went back for some rest. I had to also wash my cycling clothes as they were the only thing I had to wear. Tomorrow we would need to complete the official registration and briefing.