TARNo1 // Day 11 // FIN

May 26, 2024

The Journey Goes On

Words by Ross Brannigan, Race Reporter

“There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown.” — Edith Durham, High Albania

The curtain has fallen on the first edition of The Accursed Race. A journey that took riders from the Albanian city of Shkodër to the Accursed Mountains, through areas of natural wonder and history, has come to an end.

In some ways, though, their journeys have only just begun. As the nearly 40 riders set off to explore this unique and precious region, they not only explored its beauty, but also more about themselves. 

They have felt the push and pull of this landscape; they have experienced the ferocity and beauty of its mountains; they have strained against its unyielding gradients as sharp rocks bite their shoes and tyres; and they have felt its wrath in storms and its warmth in sunlight.

They have witnessed a place in a way few ever get to, and seen the struggle between humans and nature — and the harmony between them. In my Race Journals, I have tried to bring you the story of this landscape and the riders who traversed it, but only those who have lived and breathed these places through every climb and descent can truly tell the story of that experience.

It is over to them to spread the word about their Balkan adventure, and their no-fly journey to this wild place in a world where fewer and fewer exist. We have the power to change that, and it starts with a story.

Michael Drummond

Last night, more than 20 riders, alongside volunteers and the Race team sat under the draped lightbulbs that adorn the alleyway outside the Finish in Shkodër. 

Pizza was shared as they sat in the warm glow of having completed an incredible adventure. These riders will forever be the first to have raced and finished The Accursed Race. They rode out into the unknown and returned full of stories and delight at their experience.

Standing above the assembled crowd, Race Director Andrew Phillips brought the Race to a close, thanking all the riders and race team for their commitment to the Race and to its spirit.

“It’s been a joy to bring so many good people here on their bikes, appreciating the area, the people, the landscapes, the culture. It’s been an absolute privilege”, he said.

The Finishers Party is also a chance to recognise incredible feats, of both the winners and those who have ridden in the Spirit of the Race. First finisher, Alexander Kopp (27), was the first to be recognised, after his exceptional performance and thrilling race with fellow rider, Adrien Liechti (12). 

Matt Grayson

Throughout his race, Alex always came across like he was enjoying himself, even when he was racing hard. For him — and so many others — this experience was much more about the journey than the result.

“Every track was so different and I was always thinking, ‘OK, what will happen next? What is the environment?’ I never got bored at any point”, he said. “Every 100km the scenery would change completely.”

After finishing third at the second Trans Pyrenees Race, I was pleased to see Alex claim his first ultra-distance victory at another Lost Dot event. From start to finish, Alex was savvy and raced with incredible spirit. His close tussle with Adrien in the final days sparked a gripping end to an already spectacular race.

Matt Grayson

Fastest woman in The Accursed Race, Weronika Szalas (08), captured the imagination of so many riders and those watching at home. She persevered through a series of challenges on the race to arrive back in Shkodër as both the fastest woman, and the fastest rider on a drop bar bike.After spending two weeks exploring the Balkans ahead of the Race, Weronika plans to remain for some time longer.

Matt Grayson

“Somehow, the race feels so far away now”, she said after having had a day to recover. “When I was on the course, it felt like I would never reach the Finish. Once I arrived here, it felt so far away.”

After spending so much time here, I wanted to ask her what her main impression of the region was.

“The hospitality”, she replied. “The people are so friendly, even in the countryside where there are fewer people. And also just the wild nature. I loved to be in the forest forever and feel comfortable in nature. It was amazing, and I felt so calm despite the Race being so hard.”

First-placed pair, Julien Gravaud (40a) and Simon Taulelle (40b), were also congratulated on their dominant yet irreverent performance. The two had already left for home, but were given a rousing applause in admiration of their efforts.

Matt Grayson

While the riders assembled outside the Traveler Hostel in Shkodër, all eyes fixed on the road as they awaited the arrival of the last riders to finish within the General Classification cut-off. In the end, it was Isabelle Berti (41a) and Samuel Rosport (41b) who brought an end to the GC race after 10 days, 10 hours, and 41 minutes of racing. Their smiles stretched from ear to ear as they bumped onto the curb outside the hostel, the sun setting behind the skyline. 

Absolutely nothing could stand between them and their positivity, despite Isabelle having only started riding a mountain bike a day before the start. Both have one ultra-distance race under their belts, but racing off-road and as a Pair was a fresh challenge — and they met it head on.

Michael Drummond

“It feels amazing, totally amazing to be here”, said Sam, beaming. “We did not expect anything; we came here for the adventure, and that was 100 percent fulfilled.”

“There is so much we have experienced", Isabelle added, having been overwhelmed by the applause. “There is so much growth and I feel we have grown together. The course was technical, but day by day you feel more comfortable and you progress throughout the Race.”

With the sun low on the horizon, a myriad of colours appeared in the sky above our intrepid riders. This small group have experienced a race before any others and shown that incredible adventures can be had without the need to travel by air  . 

Andrew concluded his speech by thanking them all for their commitment to the no-fly rule, and wished the riders luck on the next part of their travels. 

As they set off on their journeys home, the next story is being written. The adventure does not end with the finish line. They will leave with fresh inspiration and expanded horizons, and memories to last them a lifetime. 

Planning for the second edition of The Accursed Race is already underway, the mountains awaiting the next group of riders to explore their deepest secrets. 

Michael Drummond

The wind still ripples the grass; the clouds still morph across the mountains; the rivers turn and poppies nod their heads. Fresh adventures await those bold enough to find them. 

And so I finish this Race Journal with a final quote from Edith Durham’s High Albania:

“I cannot write
For the END is not yet.”

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