TARNo1 // Day 7

May 21, 2024

Wild Abandon

Words by Ross Brannigan, Race Reporter

The first three finishers of The Accursed Race are safely back in Shkodër after a week of exciting racing and landscapes which have captured the imagination.

Adrien Liechti (12) and Josh Ibbett (29) rounded out the top three following Alex Kopp’s (27) arrival earlier in the day. With the hot Shkodër sun beating down on the finish line, Adrien was first to arrive after Alex, after a thrilling chase between the two the previous day.

With an exceptional number of races behind him, Adrien was full of admiration for both the route and his nearest rival. Arriving after six days, six hours and 12 minutes of racing, Adrien swung off his bike and stood proudly behind it, looking fresh and alert after taking the last 100km at a steady pace.

Matt Grayson

After riding the Race at his own pace and avoiding looking at the tracker, Adrien said he became aware of his position and “tried everything” to take the win from Alex. 

However, after pushing hard to recapture the lead, he felt the effects of the thousands of meters climbed and eased off to protect his increasingly sore knee. 

“I prefer to ride my own race and to see what happens”, he added. “After three or four days, I tried some moves but it was impossible. Alex is just super strong.”

As the sun began to lower and the street vendors closed their shops for the day, we awaited the arrival of third-placed Josh Ibbett. His tracker had died earlier in the day, so it was difficult to know when he might arrive.

In the end, he rolled casually into the finish as dusk was setting in, embracing his fellow racers before sitting down with a beer in his hand.

Matt Grayson

Hair and beard in a state of wild abandon, Josh admitted he had some inefficiencies in his race which likely held him back from a faster finish.

Running his hands through his hair, he said, “I could have been a lot more efficient in the morning. I must have snoozed my alarm three times every morning. I was riding strong enough, but just not efficient enough.”

Josh will be hoping to improve on those inefficiencies ahead of racing this year’s Transcontinental Race. 

Today, we await Rory Anderson (23) before the likely arrivals of David Sanchez (19) and fastest woman, Weronika Szalas (08) tomorrow.

Sam Dugon

“This GPX is perfect”

Both Adrien and Josh are no strangers to ultra-distance races, with a plethora of strong performances under their belts. For that reason, their admiration for the route is a testament to its design, but also the strength of their fellow riders still out on the course.

“The more I think about it, the route was very good”, he declared. “The goal of the race is to follow the GPX and to finish the race, and this GPX is perfect. The length is long, but not super long. 

“[The other thing] is sometimes you don’t see people. We were fast, so it was one day or less without people, but if you are slower it is more like two days. It is the same on Tour Divide.”

Josh Ibbett, who has won the Transcontinental Race, Italy Divide and GBDURO, said the Balkans had surprised him in their variety and spotted landscapes akin to some of the most prized in the world.

Michael Drummond

“In some places it felt like Tour Divide, other places Kyrgyzstan, and then others like the Highland Trail 550. If you don’t want to do any of the big ones or travel to them, this is a very good option.”

He also added: “The length of the climbs was surprising. They don’t start at altitude but they start low and finish high. If you did this and then Silk Road or Tour Divide, you wouldn’t be massively surprised by anything.”

All three riders to finish have declared their wonder of this mysterious region, and are keen to explore its secrets further. 

Beavering away

Currently riding the famed Shëngjergj balcony road are the ever-joking Julien Gravaud (40a) and Simon Taulelle (40b). They have won the hearts of many with their good humour and stories, particularly when equating themselves to beavers as they become ever more wild as the Race goes on.

Despite their antics, they are not immune to the challenges of the mountains. En route to Peshkopi, they took on the demanding Lurë-Dejë section, which they said had taken “a piece of [our] soul”.

Michael Drummond

“We have been twisted; we’ve been eaten and digested by the mountain”, said Julien. “That was rough; the slowest 150km of my life.”

The two have led the pairs race for the majority of the Race, and were even motivated to catch the solo riders ahead despite them being in a separate category.

“It was a good carrot”, Simon told our team in Peshkopi. “We were thinking about going fast all week, but then we felt we had a bit of room to play with, so let’s enjoy it a bit more.”

Meanwhile, second-placed pair India Landy (43a) and Ollie Redford (43b) have overcome earlier problems to reach their strong position in the field. However, trouble is never far away on The Accursed Race, with India saying Ollie was struggling with pedal problems on her social media. 

Followed into the Control Point late last night, the two said it was an achievement to even arrive at CP2.

“Every day’s been hard and we have said, ‘Tomorrow looks quite easy — only 150km’, and then it will be one of the hardest days”, said India. “[We thought about] catching the other pair, but that’s not going to happen now.”

Michael Drummond

There are now 120km between India and Ollie, and Peter Olah (42a) and Lajos Köves (42b), who are still to face the demanding off-road section to Peshkopi.

It will be another hot day on the southern end of the course, and with just under 10,000m remaining for the likes of Julien and Simon to climb before Pehskopi, they will need to look after themselves and manage their effort to reach the finish.

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