TARNo1 // Day 8

May 22, 2024

Giving it Beans

Words by Ross Brannigan, Race Reporter

Thick haze hung heavy over the Albanian coast yesterday, desaturating the usually vivid colours of the country. It was there I spotted Rory Anderson (23) powering his way towards Lake Komani before the final push to the finish.

Snaking through cracked roads high above the lake, hemmed in by the sharp karst hills, Rory looked at ease and smiling — no doubt helped by the tailwind pushing him along the lakeside.

Since day one, Rory has ridden incredibly consistently, with a healthy gap back to the rest of the field. He has cut a lonely figure in the wilderness, but last night could finally sit down with his fellow racers and enjoy a well-earned beer.

Matt Grayson

At 21:08 CEST last night, he became the fourth rider to complete the inaugural Accursed Race, finishing in a time of 7 days, 12 hours, and 8 minutes. He is the first to finish behind a trio of decorated riders, showing he too, has ridden with intelligence and resolve through the Balkan mountains.

Racing just TransIbérica and the Dales Divide ahead of The Accursed Race, Rory has shown himself to be a capable ultra-distance rider, with the potential to do even better in future races. 

“I don't understand how I got there”, Rory said of his fourth-placed finish. “It’s a good result. I didn’t expect that, and didn't expect to get round, to be fair.”

Under the fluorescent light of a nearby shop, Rory told me he had visited the Balkans on a road bike before, but that this was “another level”.

“This was just so much more in-depth”, he added. “Now I am looking forward to enjoying Shkodër.”

Matt Grayson

Down but not out

With Rory safely back at the finish in the buzzing Albanian city, attention turns towards the riders behind him, namely fastest woman Weronika Szalas (08), and David Sanchez (19). 

In the depths of the night, a storm erupted around Shkodër, lightning illuminating the buildings surrounding the once busy streets. Both Weronika and David made the wise decision to hunker down 100km from the finish, waiting out the tempest.

Both riders appeared weary yesterday when our team caught up with them, Weronika sporting a fresh graze down her knee and grime across her once pristine white Albion jersey.

“I’m on autopilot now”, Weronika said, “All I need is food and sleep. It’s nice to be able to push yourself like [this] in a controlled environment, because then I know what my body is capable of.”

Tom Probert

Wolfing down a pizza, the Polish rider set off from Laç over the King Zog Bridge en route to the finish, where she is expected to arrive this afternoon.

Weronika is now the only solo woman remaining in General Classification. Despite missing the cut-off in Berane, Lissa Breugelmans (02) is pushing on towards CP2 in Peshkopi after a rest in Kukës overnight.

“After missing a Control Point, I felt super bad”, she said. “I really was in a self-pity hole and asking, ‘What's the point?’ Then I got myself out of it somehow.”

Despite her position, Lissa is still determined to reach Shkodër: “I still hope I can finish, but I just don't have loads of extra time. It’s going to be a couple of hard days, basically.”

Sam Dugon

Though a General Classification placing is no longer possible, Lissa and other riders who miss the Control Point cut-offs can still finish the Race and be classed as Finishers. With the time cut at CP2 falling tonight at 23:59 CEST, all eyes will be on the dots of Damian van Loon (14) and Sönke Kreft (04) who are yet to reach Peshkopi before the cut-off.

A trickle, then a flood

Today looks set to be a busy day at the Finish line. Aside from Weronika and David, we expect to welcome the first Pair to arrive back in Shkodër, alongside Christopher Rißmann (21). At the time of writing, Julien Gravaud (43a) and Simon Taulelle have 100km of riding left, which should take them around 10 hours. 

Sam Dugon

Speaking to us yesterday, they said, “The finish line is now becoming a possibility. Even yesterday we were sad about it. We are just getting into a rhythm; we even have the same lows and the same highs.”

Almost 110km behind them, India Landy (43a) and Ollie Radford (43b) are continuing to manage their mechanical difficulties, with Ollie now being forced to run uphill to protect a damaged crank. There are still 230km of gruelling terrain between them and the finish, so they will be hoping their bodies and bikes can make the final push to Shkodër.

Sam Dugon

India and Ollie have now passed through Mali me Gropa-Bizë-Martanesh with its karst wells and endless pits. Outside its protected boundaries, humans have taken to creating their own holes in the mountains. 

Natural reflection

Riders towards the back of the pack will now experience the eerie industrialisation of this section of the route. After hours in the wilderness, they will emerge into one of the largest chromium reserves in all of Europe, with trucks and workers extracting this valuable metal from the mountains. 

“It felt so unnatural”, said Roel Massink (30) as he recalled passing the mines in the late evening. “They have huge spotlights in the middle of the night and big machines taking heaps out of the ground. It’s really a stark contrast with the beautiful nature we have all around us.”

He added: “This is what we, as people, do. We take things from the ground, we remove beautiful places. That’s also part of our world.”

Sam Dugon

This level of contemplation on the juxtaposition between people and nature has played out across the route — but there is also a nexus. In this world, it is easy to believe our relationship with nature is a binary one, but it does not have to be.

Where we have seen contrast, we have also seen harmony. Across the Balkans, people are still reliant upon the natural cycle for their livelihoods; the relationship is not extractive but symbiotic. 

As more riders reach the finish, these concepts will no doubt continue to occupy their thoughts, showing just how valuable experiencing these places is in expanding our understanding of our world.

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