TARNo1 // Day 5

May 19, 2024


Words by Ross Brannigan, Race Reporter

Thunder boomed across northern Albania last night as sparks flew in an already thrilling race through the Accursed Mountains. After tailing Alex Kopp (27) since the first day of the Race, Adrien Liechti (12) finally pounced to take the lead after the second Control Point.

The gap between the two has widened and narrowed over the last four days, opening out to several hours at times. Yesterday, on the rough off-road section through the Lurë-Dejë Mountain National Park, Adrien surged forwards, flying up the climbs and commanding the descents despite his front suspension being practically rigid due to mechanical issues.

Matt Grayson

The drama unfolded in the thermal town of Peshkopi, at the end of the extremely challenging and remote Lurë-Dejë sector. Alex was first to arrive at CP2, maintaining a relaxed demeanour. He pressed the doorbell in Hotel Piazza at 17:16 CEST but stayed to refuel at a local fast-food restaurant and resupply, meaning he spent a further 20 minutes in Peshkopi before hitting the road. 

Mayonnaise dripped from his loaded kebab as he said, “I'm now at my speed and I can't change the speed anymore. It is what it is. I think it's all right. Adrien and I are always doing this with stop times. I cycle a little bit faster, but I stop more; he’s going a little slower but stops less. I think [how much I stop] is something I can change  but I can’t push it hard anymore.” Indeed, Alex has stopped for around 24 hours to Adrien’s 18 hours. 

Matt Grayson

Less than an hour after Alex left the restaurant, Adrien Liechti flew into the Control Point. Despite having climbed over 20,000m since Shkodër, he ran up the stairs in Hotel Piazza two at a time to ring the doorbell and validate his arrival. Wasting no time on an interview, Adrien declared he was going to find food and sprinted out of the CP.

Until now, Adrien has been laid back about his position in the Race — now it is clear he is here to win. Setting off into the late evening sun like a cheetah in pursuit of a gazelle, it would not take long for Adrien to cross paths with Alex.

As the Race reached this decisive Act, the sky crackled with electricity, and thunder roared across the north Albanian mountains as the heavens opened. 

According to his social media, Adrien retreated as lightning came down around him to take shelter in a petrol station. It appears he encountered Alex also hiding from the downpour.

Once the rain subsided, the two pressed on, Alex later stopping for nearly five hours while Adrien paused for just a handful. This morning, the cloud hung low in the hills, slowly lifting to reveal another warm day. 

Sporting dozens of races under his belt, Adrien has opened a 20km gap to his nearest rival as the Race enters its final third on the push to Shkodër and one of the most remote sections.

Sheltering from the rain and tucking into a pizza, Josh Ibbett (29) remained sanguine about his race, displaying the kind of calm that can only come from years of ultra-distance experience.

Arriving at CP2 several hours after Alex, Josh said he felt the pace of his rivals might soon catch up to them: “Anything can still happen. The end is still a long way away. They both started hard so it’s bound to catch up some time.”

Michael Drummond

Race to Berane

Continuing their domination of the pairs race, the French pair of Julien Gravaud (40a) and Simon Taulelle (40b) are back in Albania while their nearest rivals India Landy (43a) and Ollie Radford (43b) ride the fast roads through Kosovo. They remain in close contact with Weronika Szalas (08) as she makes her way from Kukës, despite her previous challenges.

Tom Gibbs

One pair to have overcome the threat of scratching and continue their ride from CP1 in Berane are Peter Olah (42a) and Köves Lajos (42b). The Hungarian pair struggled ahead of the Control Point but have rallied after a good night’s sleep and the help of some upbeat music.

“We decided to have a hotel night”, they told us this morning. “And now we have started late, but today we are going to ride a little over 200km.”

Peter and Köves are safely through the first Control Point but there are a handful of riders at risk of missing the cut-off at 23.59 CEST today, namely Thomas Chateau (22), Lissa Breugelmans (02) and Damian van Loon (14). With 140km of challenging riding before CP1, we hope their strength will endure to carry them through to Berane before the unyielding cut-off.

Tom Gibbs

Mountain of pits

The lead riders are now entering the spectacular Mali me Gropa-Mizë-Martanesh Nature Park. It is a landscape defined by the mesmerising karst features of deep pits and wells which have formed over millennia of sculpting by water. 

Matt Grayson

Hulking mountains shape the landscape, carpeted with dense forests of pines and broadleaves, making the Park a haven for flora and fauna. Whilst the wild and remote landscape will no doubt bring wonder to the riders as they scale the demanding gradients, resupply options are scarce and so their preparation will continue to be tested.

Twenty-seven riders remain in the Race, and some of the most challenging terrain still lies in front of them. Those pushing on will discover the true depth and spirit of The Accursed Race.

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