TARNo1 // Day 10

May 24, 2024

Matt Grayson

‍Words by Ross Brannigan, Race Reporter

The morning has dawned on the final day of The Accursed Race. As the sun rose, it spilled light and colour across the Balkan landscapes — these places which have so long captured the imagination of all those who have been bold enough to explore the last wilderness of Europe.

As the final riders remaining on the course felt the first warm rays of the day, their spirits would have been lifted as the darkness faded. However, as with any ultra-distance race, there is rarely light without shadow, and so it will take their remaining willpower to overcome the challenges of this beautiful landscape.

Matt Grayson

Last night, riders continued to trickle over the Finish line in Shkodër. At this point in the Race, the Finish has reached a minimum quota for a welcome party: enough riders have arrived now to make sure those remaining receive a proper welcome and applause for their effort.

India Landy (43a) and Ollie Radford (43b) flew through the busy streets of Shkodër, rain jackets flapping furiously around them after a sudden thunderstorm on the final off-road section tested their remaining preparedness.

Matt Grayson

The second-placed Pair finished in 9 days, 7 hours, and 48 minutes, having overcome food poisoning, mechanical issues, persistent heat, and gruelling climbs. 

“It’s an amazing achievement just to complete it in the timeframe”, said Ollie, slumped over his handlebars, dust filling the lines in his face. “I think we worked hard to get through each stage. We broke it all down into little segments rather than looking at it as one big piece. We took each day as it came, made mistakes, and learned from them. It’s been an adventure, but we got here in the end.”

Matt Grayson

The duo, who have strong records of solo riding, felt they came into the Race not knowing much about Pairs strategies, but continued to learn and adapt as they traversed the relentless climbs of the Accursed Mountains and Dinaric Alps.  

I asked them if this was the start of more races riding in a pair, and India explained the value of shared experiences: 

“This was one of the first races I have done and not considered scratching after the first few days”, she said. “I just enjoy sharing the experiences with someone else. When I am by myself, I very often don’t actually experience what’s happening and I’m just in my head. When you are with someone else, you want to cheer them up and that helps you, too. You see something beautiful and you get to share that with someone.”

Matt Grayson

Today, we await the arrival of the third-placed pair on the trails, Isabelle Berti (41a) and Samuel Rosport (41b). They look set to be the last riders to reach Shkodër before the Finishers’ Party and the 23:59 CEST time cut. They will surely have stories to tell, after Isabelle posted on social media that they had encountered wolves on the trail — no doubt the wildest encounter we have heard in the Race so far. 

Matt Grayson

Sadly, Lissa Breugelmans (02), who was our Lanterne Rouge, scratched yesterday after leaving Peshkopi. Having shown incredible determination throughout the Race, even after missing the CP1 cut-off, travel plans have forced her to end her Race. We hope to see her at the Finishers’ Party tonight to celebrate her achievement alongside all the other riders. 

One last push

Whilst the Race was won many days ago, that does not mean it is over. Even for those towards the tail end, Mike Hall’s infamous phrase, “It’s a race”, remains paramount. 

After India and Ollie’s arrival, Nick Percival (09) reached the Finish line. Speaking to us with a thousand-yard-stare, Nick regaled the onlooking crowd with his story of the final kilometres to Shkodër, especially his final race effort.

Matt Grayson

“You usually keep something for the last bit”, he said. “Once I saw David [Kealhofer] coming down the other side of the climbing part, I thought, ‘Right, take out tractor mode and put in race mode’. I just unloaded everything.”

Nick, who is 61-years-old and with several prestigious ultra-distance races behind him, pounded the pedals over the rough off-road section before Shkodër, as the thunder beat its rhythm through the night sky in the distance. The night before, he had been caught in a hailstorm, taking shelter under a lean-to, only for water to start gushing through the walls.

After overcoming so many challenges along the way, Nick described his experience as “good for the soul”.

“Ultimately, what do you ride for?”, he asked. “You ride for yourself, for pleasure, to go through all those different places and scenes. It gave me a good kick, a good high. I am really pleased with that. It’s what I came for: a bit of culture and history, and everything else thrown in.”

Ronny Roelandt (34) became the nineteenth rider to complete the course earlier this morning, and it was clear how much it meant to him. Before he could speak for an interview, he took a few moments to shed a tear after a testing final few days. On the first day, Ronny was already reconsidering his decisions, opting for a rigid fork over front suspension. Despite this setback, he reached Shkodër in 10 days and 47 minutes.

Matt Grayson

Hailing from Geraardsbergen, which has regularly hosted the start of the Transcontinental Race, Ronny knew a road race was not for him, but felt the Accursed might be just what he was looking for.

“I didn't come all the way to surrender somewhere halfway through”, he said. “I saw this race in the news and thought I’d give it a try. I cannot wait another 10 years because I will be too old to do this.”

As more riders reach the Finish, stories will be passed around like playing cards over a drink, with the warm Albanian sun casting its gaze upon our intrepid travellers.

Each of them has overcome unique challenges and faced unique experiences, but they are all united in having been the first to face The Accursed Race. 

Tonight, they can finally celebrate, and awards given to the fastest and most resourceful to have taken on this grand cycling adventure.

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